F(ood)TV

Why is it that I always find it the hardest to start and finish my essays? It’s much easier to write on here so that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll just call it warm up for my essay writing. If you smell horse shit, well… okay, yeah. I concede.

If you’re in Australia and don’t live in a cave, you’ll notice that the entire nation is riveted by Australia’s own cooking reality show, Masterchef. I wasn’t in the country to watch the first season, and when I checked it out on YouTube, there were about 300 episodes or something crazy like that and I thought to myself, do I really want to dedicate that much time on low quality, online streamed video? No.

But I’d heard so much about this show from my friends. One friend even sent me the entry form and I heard more than once that I should join the competition but I honestly think I’d flunk out during the first challenge. Trust me, I’m not a skilled cook. I’m like the amateur amateur cook.

I’ve enjoyed watching this show, though. The best part is that it’s on TV almost every night (how addictive is that?!) and there are some quality characters to hate and others worthy of cheering on. I’m aware it’s all reality TV which means a heavy hand in editing to get the perspective the producers want but goodness, the amount of crying that goes on! My friend Andrea calls this season Mastersook and rightfully so! I’ve never seen so many people get so emotional about cooking.

I’ve already picked out my favourites: Alvin because he’s got a Malaysian background and he made drunken chicken last night, which is one of my favourite dishes. All he has to do now is make Black Vinegar Pork Trotter and I’ll write him a love poem. Jake and Marion are also the ones I clap wildly and whoop pretty loudly for. Can you tell I’m a real joy to have as a TV buddy?

I’m not sure if I truly like the show or if I only like it for its entertainment factor. I make a lot of snarky remarks while watching and sometimes I laugh so hard that I miss entire food tasting sessions because some people are so ridiculous! I’m not a fan of the judges babying the contestants either. I may be a cynic but they don’t need that much encouragement, do they?

I was just thinking that maybe a Masterchef Drinking Game is in order. Take a shot of liquor for every time:
+ a contestant cries
+ there is mention of a family member
+ a judge gives encouraging comments despite inadequacies and failure that the contestants should be chastised for
It’d be the most effective method of getting drunk.

I’ve also been fixated with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I think it’s admirable what Jamie’s doing to improve the food that kids get in school. I’m not sure if the food I got as a student in Malaysia’s public school was better or worse, but I’m pretty sure it’d make Jamie pretty upset, too. The amount of oil and carbohydrates that are in foods in Malaysian school canteens; the lack of greens and all the deep-fried snacks is pretty revolting. The one redeeming quality is we always had a fruit stall with fresh, cut fruits in little plastic bags for really cheap and I always had them whenever I was peckish. Our food was also made fresh on the premises and it wasn’t frozen food or pre-packaged garbage. It’s just the dishes that were made aren’t too healthy an option anyway.

I recommend signing Jamie Oliver’s petition if you believe in what he’s doing. He’s even got a link on there for you to sign if you’re not from the USA. I’m all for good, fresh foods. Change has got to start somewhere and I believe once the ball starts rolling, it will spread out globally. If you get a chance to catch any of the Food Revolution episodes, you should watch it. It’s a real eye-opener. I actually hope it gets out onto DVD so I can start spreading it out to people!

Of course I’m a massive fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Who wouldn’t be? I enjoy living vicariously through this brave man with a stomach of steel. Sometimes I watch in sick fascination, but most times I watch in envy. However, I think it’s his unique and hilarious narrative I enjoy best.

This season has been amazing. He did another episode of Food Porn, which made me wish jumping into a TV screen was possible like in Last Action Hero. Or at least being able to taste the food by licking my screen. Someone should really look into making that possible.

Then there was this episode:

You can watch the following parts on YouTube. My favourite quote from the episode was obviously, “Basically, the excruciating pain you feel when you sink your knife into your thumb, a lot of the pain comes from the knowledge that you’re really an idiot.

Finally, my favourite of favourites: Top Chef. I first discovered this reality TV competition about two years back when I had Foxtel IQ and they were showing season 3 and Hung stole my heart with his Smurf Village.

You gotta love a chef with crazy wit and creativity! After catching a few episodes, I ended up programming my Foxtel to record every single Top Chef episode so I think I caught season 1-3 then because Foxtel is a bazillion years behind, obviously.

Most people outside the US don’t seem to know what the show is about, which is a shame, because it’s excellent. I guess an accurate comparison would be to say it’s Project Runway but for chefs. Again, it’s reality TV so I take the editing with a huge grain of salt, especially when it comes to showcasing personalities, but the skill and talent is impressive and after you’ve watched this, you can’t help but feel irritated by the contestants on Masterchef. (I have to remind myself constantly that Masterchefs are amateurs but honestly, sometimes it’s pure common sense that seems to evade them!)

The spin-off, Top Chef Masters is seriously good too. It’s a more respectful competition rather than a get-outta-my-way-or-I’ll-slice-you competition style as the former and there’s a lot more friendly help and advise provided than sabotage. This warms my cold, catty heart despite my loud snorts of disgust at the tearful babies on Masterchef.

Another perk is the recaps off Please Pack Your Knives And Go. Such wicked sense of humour! I don’t advise reading it at work because your boss might get suspicious when you howl with laughter. Jacey gave me a sanity-questioning look when I let out an uproarious, thigh-slapping-laugh whilst browsing the blog the other day. No judging my (COUGHendearingCOUGH) eccentricities.

I’m now getting pretty excited about another Top Chef spin-off, Top Chef: Just Desserts. There’s hardly enough pastry dedicated television despite all the food programs on TV and it’d be especially fun to see it in a competition setting.

Pst! The good thing about these shows are the gorgeous men that look more delicious than the food they plate up. There’s something innately sexy about a man who knows his way around food, don’t you think? They inspire my friends and I to get creative with our food-based sexual innuendos. I’d type them out, but they are shockingly filthy. We’re just putting our Arts degrees to good use ;)

This has reminded me of the most hilarious ads that have me in hysterics every time they come on, which I shall leave you with. Enjoy!

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When The Going Gets Tough

I wish I actually had something to put in here but I don’t. The past two weeks have been hellish because uni work have started hitting me hard and this is just the first wave. You should see my schedule. I have a total of 8500 words spread over 4 subjects due in 3 consecutive days in June. I’m going to be a walking zombie by then.

Being busy means less time to cook up dishes that get photographed for the blog. There are still some healthy home-cooked meals but sometimes I get lazy and succumb to magical online food ordering and delivery.

Like this:

Crust Pizza

Crust pizza

I tried out Crust for the first time after hearing rave reviews from my friends. It’s pretty all right. I had the Peking Duck pizza which was fantastic. I’m a crazy huge fan of Peking duck. I make pleading eyes with my dad when we go to nice Chinese restaurants so we can have Peking duck but the occasions that we actually get to eat them are pretty rare. I wish they’d had covered it with crispy duck skin instead of just the sauce and (slightly chewy and tough) meat but eh, I’m lazy and needed food delivered to me, so I try not to complain too much. The crust wasn’t as amazing as I thought it would be (I mean, the place is called Crust for a reason, right?), in fact, it was chewy and tough for me so I ended up throwing away the crusts. Still, the idea of a Peking Duck pizza is genius, even if slightly lacking. I’d suggest tender duck, actual crispy duck skin, and a more enjoyable crust. Oh, and a little lighter on the hoisin sauce, please!

Uh, this wasn’t meant to be a review!

Snacks

Snacking on…

Then I’ve been snacking on these. I can’t get enough of these brilliant Yoplait ForMe dessert flavoured yogurt. I particularly love the Sticky Date flavoured one, which I’ve finished. And V… it’s the only thing that works at keeping me awake. I’m not a coffee drinker; never have been, probably never will be. In fact, I usually take a coffee and crawl right into bed and have no problem with sleeping. But V keeps me bouncy and hyper, which gets the essays done!

Psyllium husk

Psyllium husk

I’ve also taken to having a glass of water with two teaspoons of psyllium husk a day. It’s one of my counter-actions to the crappy food I’ve been ingesting these few weeks, and also because I consume a considerably smaller amount of fruit and vegetables without my mother around. My mother’s refrigerator is filled to capacity with fruits and vegetables after every trip to the market. Back home, after dinner every night, she usually serves up about three varieties of fruits. I’m usually so full after all the fruits every night that I’m barely able to breathe. It’s force-fruit-feeding! And without her, well, it’s just not the same. I try to keep on top of the fruit consumption but it’s easier when things get cut and peeled and shoved in front of you and you’re told to finish it while you catch up on TV!

I’m ashamed to admit it’s pretty bad during assignment periods. However, I’m proud to say that I’ve consumed ZERO instant noodle packets and ZERO instant food anything. I fry up noodles (non-instant), make salads and sandwiches and easy pasta. So while I understand being too busy to cook something elaborate, I think saying that you’re too busy with work to come home and cook yourself a meal is just an excuse for someone who’s lazy. I’m surviving on 4-hours sleep a night these days, have a full on day at uni, slave over essays till the wee hours of the morning and wake up and do it all over again AND I still whip up something for myself using fresh ingredients.

The few nights of takeout and delivery had me feeling so disgusted with myself that it hit a pinnacle yesterday and I sincerely had the largest craving for vegetables. So I went out and got myself two big bags of salad mixes and had one entire bag by myself for dinner.

It was a Mediterranean salad leaf mix with one orange (segmented), one whole avocado (chunky cubes), halved cherry tomatoes, one piece of goat’s cheese fetta marinated in olive oil (the bottled stuff from delis), balsamic + olive oil dressing and a squeeze of orange juice from the pith of the unwanted pith of the orange. It was delicious and I felt so good afterwards. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d crave a salad! Sometimes with all the crappy junk we put into our body, I think our bodies know when it’s disgusting and it needs something good instead.

(I hate to admit this, but we still have leftover pizza AND KFC in our fridge from our bad days!)

But it’s okay; today I had wholegrain toast with turkey ham slices, two plums, another salad for dinner, and my snacks were digestive biscuits. Oh, and a Bulla Creamy Classics ice cream but shh!

Thankfully, my housemate looks after me when she can. The other night she made chicken curry and cold tofu with brown rice, and watercress soup. Then a few nights back she made this.

Prawn Mee

Jacey’s Prawn Mee

It was delicious and we were SO ridiculously full after. We went overboard with the ingredients in the bowl. There was probably two people’s worth of pork ribs and prawns in each bowl. I had to forego some of my noodles to enjoy the ingredients instead.

But now, I’ve got to continue letting my pile of uni work kick my ass. And I mean it quite literally.

Bruised

Battered victim

One of my many magical abilities: mysterious bruising. I woke up from a nap one night with this gorgeous bruise on my knee and I had no clue where it had come from. I imagine it’s from the uni essay fairies trying to kick me awake so I can continue slaving in front of my laptop.

Oh well. Just another day in a slumming university student’s life.


Stew-ie Wonder

I present to you this picture and recipe due to the pressing demands of my impatient (but loved!) friends after I posted this picture up on my Facebook album.

Spicy Chickpea and Chorizo Stew

Spicy Chickpea + Chorizo Stew

The temperature in Melbourne has been steadily dropping and I say this in a gleeful tone because winter is my absolute favourite season of all. Maybe I should be specific and say Melbourne winter because I don’t think I’d be a fan of slushy snow and negative zero temperatures but as a person who grew up close to the equator and experiences humidity and summer weather year-round; winter is sublime. I love the cold and there’s something deeply satisfying about how chic everyone looks in winter gear. Boots, coats, scarves, leather gloves, beanies, pink cheeks… Magnifique!

Naturally, with the temperature change, the cravings for hearty meals have hit me full force. I’ve spent too many moments daydreaming of soups, stews and steamboat dinners! The moment I saw a picture of this dish, I knew I had to make it. It sounded so hearty and naughty, and it’s about two-thirds pork (my favourite kind of meat!).

I’ve augmented the recipe to accommodate my love for spicy food, and dare I say it probably elevated the dish a little. What can I say? You can take the girl out of Malaysia, but you can’t take Malaysia out of the girl. Gotta have my chilli kick.

Spicy Chickpea & Chorizo Stew
Adapted from Delicious magazine March 2008
Serves 3-4

1 Tbsp olive oil
250 g spicy pancetta, cut into cubes
2 chorizo sausages, sliced at an angle
1 red capsicum, diced
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 large potato, peeled, cut into cubes, cooked for 2-3 minutes
400 g can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained
700 ml tomato passata (basically a jar, whatever size your jar is, mine was 700 ml)
1 cup chicken stock
2-3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp dried chilli flakes (or less, if you can’t handle the heat)
Chopped flat leaf-parsley, to garnish
Bread, to serve, preferably crusty

1. Heat oil in a deep pan over medium-high heat. Cook pancetta and chorizo for 2-3 minutes until starting to crisp. Remove from pain and drain on paper towel. Drain oil and fat, but reserve 2 Tbsp in the pan.

2. Return the pan to medium flame. Add onion and capsicum, cook for 5 minutes or until softened.

3. Return the pancetta and chorizo to the pan with the garlic and oregano. Stir for another minute, then add the potatoes, chickpeas, passata, bay leaves, stock and dried chilli flakes.

4. Season, then bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and cook until the sauce has reduced and thickened, approximately 10 minutes.

5. Garnish with parsley and serve with bread.

The recipe is actually fairly quick to whip up. The original didn’t call for spicy pancetta (just plain) or chilli flakes, and it had white wine included but I didn’t have any on hand so I accommodated with more passata and chicken stock. If you’d prefer the wine, then halve the chicken stock amount and fill it up with white wine. If you’re wondering what tomato passata is, it’s like tomato puree but… I don’t know, different. I found it in a deli but no sign of it in the supermarkets I frequent so head down to a deli to find yourself a jar. There are heaps of these gems in Melbourne so go explore a little. I love wandering around delis, it’s basically food window shopping!

I also recently celebrated my birthday. It was a quiet birthday with little fanfare, although my Facebook wall hadn’t been that active in… oh, about a year. After a certain age, it gets tiring trying to organize something with people outside my family and being so far removed from any family, I decided to let the day come and go as silently as possible. Perhaps I’m a little jaded from one too many exhausting attempts to gather my dearest friends in the one place whilst fending off requests for date and time change, and the permission to have a Plus One (usually people I have not met, too!), on top of everyone’s inability to RSVP in a timely manner. Besides, after celebrating the grand 21, people tend to ignore the significance of birthdays. After all, it’s a downhill slide to arthritis and dentures from there.

Regardless, I was still spoiled by my one of my best friends (and housemate), who cooked me a delicious meal and even got me cake with a singing candle!

Birthday spoils

Birthday spoils

I’ve been on a strict and greatly reduced budget for my final year in Melbourne. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s guilt or a combination of both for taking forever and a century to obtain my bachelor’s degree, but I’ve told myself no more extravagant and unnecessary purchases. Trust me when I say that my self-gifted birthday presents have been much more obscene in previous years but this year I permitted myself ONE cookbook.

I was tossing up between A Day at elBulli and The French Laundry Cookbook, both of which I’ve seen in bookstores, and have spent some time caressing and absorbing with great delight but I ended up choosing the Alinea cookbook. Why? Mostly because I have yet to see it in a bookstore in Melbourne and also because I found it for a reasonable price online here. Other reasons are: I’ve been fascinated with Grant Achatz since I heard of him, and I know Alex Stupak provided the dessert recipes in the book, and I’ve been fascinated with his Pliable Chocolate Ganache since I saw Bryan Voltaggio’s version of it on Top Chef season 6.

The gigantic encyclopedia that is the Larousse Gastronomique is a gift from the wonderful Jacey, although she later dropped it on her foot and if her yelp and the look upon her face is anything to go by, it hurt like a bitch. Coincidentally, it was a book that I had put on my wishlist on Amazon a few months back and had pored over in Borders rather recently but had cast aside as beyond-my-means so thank you very, very much, Jacey, for this extravagant and highly treasured present!

As for the I ♥ Macarons book, it was a lucky find in a bookstore and for such a good price, I couldn’t resist! It’s just adorable and any book that features a bazillion pictures of macarons is my kind of book.

I must say, even if some of it was self-gifted, I’ve never enjoyed my birthday presents this much in a long time!


Ch-ch-chutney, Honey

Tomato chutney

Tomato Chutney

The great thing about being a magazine hoarder is the modest collection of food magazines that I get to flip through for ideas, especially for seasonal food. Nothing worse than attempting a raspberry tart in the middle of winter because you’d be hard pressed to find the main ingredient and it ends up being really expensive. So I like going through my old magazines according to its publication month. Sometimes I’ll have zilch (like for April and May – so I borrow from March and June), and sometimes I have about five different magazines to flip through (like I will in August!). But I stumbled upon this little gem of a recipe in the March 2008 copy of Delicious.

To be completely honest, I think I’ve tried chutney only a handful of times. Usually in burgers or some sort of sandwich. I may have bought a bottle of chutney once but I don’t remember much of the experience. Maybe I never even opened the bottle… It’s probably still in the back corners of the pantry in my parents’ kitchen.

Tomato Chutney
Adapted from Delicious March 2008

300 ml malt vinegar
500 g ripe tomatoes, diced roughly
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves
Thumb-sized ginger, grated
160 g sultanas
90 g brown sugar

1. Place half the vinegar in a large, deep saucepan with all the ingredients.

2. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 2-3 minutes until sugar has dissolved.

3. Simmer for 30-40 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions and tomatoes have softened and the apple is tender.

4. Add the remaining vinegar and leave pot on low heat for another 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chutney has thickened and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Note: I kept mine on the flame for close to an hour because I really wanted most of the liquid to evaporate.

5. Divide chutney among sterilised jars (I filled up two jars) and cool. Place a circle of baking paper directly on chutney and seal with airtight lids. Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight for at least a month, up to 6 months.

I, of course, ate it the very next day because I’m not very good at being patient with my food! I had it for breakfast with some bacon & onion quickbread that I had whipped up a while back, but still had a few pieces of in the freezer. I’m pretty crazy about savoury and sweet paired together, especially when done right. And in this instance, it was excellent in my mouth! But I’m a little weird with the savoury and sweet… the other morning I had pancakes with smoked salmon and honey drizzled on top and I thought it was really delicious. I also moped up the drops of honey with a slice of hot salami. I can sense the look of repulsion on people’s faces as they read that but if it’ll improve your opinion of my strange palate, I absolutely loathed it when Domino’s had Apricot Sauce or something horrible like that in their bacon pizza. That might’ve been a few years back and I hope they’ve removed it from their menu, but I won’t find out cos I’ve since discovered wayyyy better pizza joints that do deliveries in Melbourne.

I digress…

As for sterilising the jars, it is recommended that you let the jars go through a cycle in the dishwasher or place them upside down on a baking tray and popped into a 140˚C oven for 15 minutes, then turn the oven to the lowest setting and leave them in the oven until chutney is ready.

Tomato chutney

My new love

I’ve finished up an entire jar already and am working my way through the second jar now. I’ve been having it with a lot of things and discovering how to work it into my meals. So far one of my favourite combinations is tomato chutney with cheese. The other day I smooshed some buffalo mozzarella onto a piece of hot toast and slathered the chutney on and mmmm, it was excellent. Then I bought a small block of King Island Dairy’s Roaring Forties Blue Cheese. I’m a little picky with blue cheese because it can become overpoweringly disgusting but this one was perfect for me. Stinky but not offensively so, sharp but not gag-reflexively-challenging. And with some crisp bread and tomato chutney? DING DING DING! We have a winner, folks!

I’m probably the worst person to talk chutney but my own attempt at this wonderful sweet and sour vegetable-fruit mishmash was a mini revelation. Don’t judge me if you find me eating chutney out of the jar with a spoon. I’m officially an addict.


Flexing

Fish

Blue Grenadier fillet with Lemongrass-Infused Lime Syrup, on Rocket, Caramelized Fennel and Orange salad

Ever get an idea in your head that you just can’t get out until you see it through? I get this way about food a lot. A few weeks back I was thinking about lemongrass and lime together in a non-spicy way. It’s a very common pairing in Thai food and I love it but I just wanted that aroma in a non-Asian cuisine. Through some strange thought process I knew I wanted it with fish (maybe because of the citrus) and it had to be an infusion of lemongrass in something sweet.

Then came my random scrambling for what components I wanted it with. I knew I wanted the fish crisp so I couldn’t have anything with sauce and I bumped into the recipe for this salad on the Epicurious application for iPhones. I’m one of those people who cooks with a laptop or an iPod Touch on the counter as often as I cook with a cookbook. I can’t help it, I like my technology close to me!

I’m going to attempt to write down this recipe but honestly, I was winging it most of the time.

Blue Grenadier fillet with lemongrass-infused lime syrup
2 Tbsp sugar
Lime juice (I used 2 whole limes)
1 lemongrass, sliced thinly
2 fillets of Blue Grenadier, skin on (actually, I just randomly picked the freshest white fish I could find at the market)

Fish

1. Clean fillets well, pat dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place sugar and lime juice in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. The rule is that the lime juice has to entirely cover the sugar. Heat over low-medium heat until sugar dissolves, then turn the fire down to as low as it will go and add in lemongrass. Continue heating until it looks like syrup, shiny-thick-glossy. Leave aside to cool.

3. Heat some olive oil up in a pan and gently fry the fillets until just done, but skin is crisp.

4. Plate on top of salad, brush on syrup with a brush, then garnish with the lemongrass.

For the salad, the recipe is here. This salad was picked because I’d never tried fennel before (I know, I know!) and apparently this caramelized fennel is the best way to test the waters if you’ve never had it before. It was also pretty great practicing my knife skills learning how to segment an orange. You see it done on TV and you think, “BAH EASY!” but not that easy for the first orange. A lot easier for the second orange once I figured out where to cut into. You should’ve seen my first orange, though. It was barely a spherical fruit anymore!

I’ve got another flavour idea in my brain that I really need to put to work soon before it fades. This time it’s going to be a dessert, so that will be a little more fun. Funny too, because I came up with the flavour for a dessert I’ve never even tried making. But I hear it’s easy so I reckon I’ll be okay.

It’s always fun to flex my brain this way and it is so satisfying to see it come together perfectly on the plate and on my palate. Even if it doesn’t, it’s all in the name of education so there’s no real loss there.