Patch-ant For Pumpkin

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Roasted Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup

As previously mentioned, I go vegetarian twice a month but when I was back home, I actually flaked out on that because I do a solid 24 hours of vegetarianism whereas my mum only does a half-day and it was hard to negotiate family dinners when I’m vegetarian.

So when I got back to Melbourne, I had to replace those vegetarian days. It’s not an arduous task at all and vegetarian cooking is yummy.

I don’t know if anyone does this but I sit around with a pile of old food magazines and cookbooks the night before I go marketing and write down my menu for the week, and the groceries I’ll need. It eliminates wastage and over-buying (although this happens sometimes!). The leftovers means I never have to buy lunch during the week. I’ll make a post on my process in the future; it’s rather comical to see me buried under cookbooks and it looks like I’m about to perform some massive catering job but it’s just my weekly grocery list!

I pulled this recipe from the July 2008 issue of Delicious, and it’s a recipe by Jamie Oliver. But as I can’t help myself, I augmented this recipe a little.

Peeled and chopped pumpkin

Peeled and chopped pumpkin; the most hateful kitchen task after sieving almond meal

My friend Kristine once asked why people don’t just sell pumpkins readily peeled and I have to concur. It’s one of my favourite vegetables (fruit?) but I don’t buy it often because I hate the peeling. It’s a terrifying task and Jamie Oliver recommends using a potato peeler but either he has a better potato peeler (although I have a fantastic one from OXO Good Grips) or his pumpkin’s skin must be considerably softer. Either way, I just took a Global to it and sliced it off thinly without injuring myself so hurrah!

Roasted Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Chunky Butternut Pumpkin & Chickpea Soup from Delicious magazine July 2008
Serves 3-4

Half a butternut pumpkin, peeled, diced, seeds rinsed and reserved
1/2 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
Olive oil
2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped and stalks finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
1L vegetable stock
1 can of 400g chickpeas, drained
2 tsp of dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 tsp each of fennel seeds, sesame seeds and poppyseeds
25g almond flakes
Zest of 1 lemon, juice saved for when serving
A few sprigs of fresh mint, leaves chopped
Extra virgin olive oil

Mise en place

Mise en place

1. Preheat oven to 200˚C. Put the pumpkin, cumin and dried chilli on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil, mix together and roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the celery, garlic, parsley stalks and two-thirds of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until softened.

3. Add in the roasted pumpkin and sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, turn downy he heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 15 minutes more.

5. Meanwhile, toast the reserved pumpkin seeds with the fennel seeds, sesame, poppyseeds and almonds in the oven on a baking tray for 3-4 minutes or until nicely coloured all over. Issue: pumpkin seeds take longer to cook so I might go and pop those in a few minutes beforehand, then add the rest in after.

6. Season soup with sea salt (I used Fleur de Sel, which actually tastes better) and freshly ground black pepper. If you’re using the dried chilli flakes, add them now (quantity subjective to personal preference).

7. Using a stick blender, whiz for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. This, I did not do as I don’t have a stick blender (I know right? WHAT?) so I just put it in the food processor that’s why mine is a more puree-like consistency but it still tastes the same!

8. Keep warm while you mix together the zest, parsley and mint leaves. Chop the remeaning onion finely, then mix it into the zesty herb mixture.

9. Serve soup in a bowl, sprinkle with toasted nuts and seeds, followed by the zesty herb mixture. Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

The lemon juice is something I highly recommend. I liked the soup just fine without it but if you watch Top Chef and you hear the judges always saying things like, “It could use a little acid” and you’re thinking Hm? Well, it’s true. Sometimes I taste things and I know they taste great but there’s that missing something that isn’t salty or sweet and I know that it’s acid now. So trust me on this when I say, that lemon juice will make this soup a whole lot better.

Serve with a side of garlic bread or plain sourdough if you’re so inclined. I like making my own garlic butter (butter, whole garlic cloves, few pinches of salt and a teeny tiny bit of sugar – put in food processor and blitz. Try it! You’re never going to buy frozen garlic bread anymore) and it’s always worth it.

And I confess: I bought pre-packaged Campbell’s “Real Stock” vegetable stock for this soup. I would’ve made my own but I didn’t have the time.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

I’m vegetarian today and it’s chickpea ragu on the menu! Although I am planning a massive undertaking soon. Honestly, it required a LIST and timelines because it has so many components. I have a headache thinking about it tbh but it’s going to be fun!


Something Worth Screaming For

Churning

My new favourite appliance

One of the things I decided to tackle when I was back home this time around was ice cream. My brother has a pretty amazing ice cream machine, photographed above, that my father lovingly lugged back all the way from Italy. I don’t remember exactly how this story goes but apparently one day my brother was enquiring about some ice cream machines from Italy, then my father decided to ask some of his Italian colleagues and they all said this was the best and then my father bought it as a gift to my brother and voila! We had a Gaggia Gelatiera ice cream maker in our house, which I’m made to understand is a good machine because even Nicky and Oliver of Delicious Days have it.

Believe it or not, the machine has been with the family for many years and was even under my very own roof for years when my brother still lived with my parents before he got married. But I never touched it ever. I always thought to myself, “Nup, too hard. Won’t bother!” and stick loyally to my KitchenAid and whipping up warm baked goods instead.

But then there was an itch once I started reading David Lebovitz‘s tips on ice cream. I was actually browsing through Johnny Iuzzini’s very complicated, multi-component desserts extraordinaire book, Dessert Fourplay, one night and was stuck on his Apple and Pear foreplay for a few hours because I was torn between wishing I could dive right into the pages and take a little bite of everything, and reading the recipes in its entirety (this is why it took hours!) and figuring out how I’d tackle it if I were to make it. And there was this delightful green apple sorbet recipe and I couldn’t get over how beautiful it looked. It was just one scoop of sorbet on a tiny dish with apple chips as garnish and it seriously just drew me in.

Then my mum and I had dinner at Cumulus, Inc. and apart from being one of the best meals I’ve had in Melbourne ever, I was entirely fixated on the dessert we had.

Cumulus dessert

Pear sorbet, burnt butter shortbread and almond milk

It was hands down the best dessert I’d ever had. It’s no secret I don’t really enjoy dessert (I enjoy making them, but I’m not too much of a sweet tooth) and I’d choose sweet citrusy flavours over sweet chocolatey ones. This dessert had me gasping with surprise and pleasure from my very first bite. The moment it was laid down in front of me I wanted to push my waiter away and greedily start shoving everything in my mouth. My first bite, I actually painstakingly took tiny little portions of everything to fit onto my tiny dessert spoon just so I could taste everything in one go. It was like an explosion in my mouth. The contrast of tangy and sweet, the combatting textures of the shortbread and the smooth almond milk and the crunchy dehydrated passionfruit (that’s the tiny dots everywhere) with the almost mushy cubed poached pears, the different temperatures of frozen sorbet with the warm shortbread; and that smell of alcohol that just stuck with me long after I’d left the restaurant. It was the pear sorbet and the wonderful aroma of the alcohol with the pear… I can’t describe it, it was sweet and strong; mouthwatering, enticing.

So I ran off with this memory of a pear sorbet after reading Johnny Iuzzini’s recipes on his pairings of pear and green apples and it was like something had gotten under my skin and I wouldn’t rest until I tried it.

Pear sorbet

Churning pear sorbet

I almost immediately started my feverish hunt for a pear sorbet when I touched down in KL. A quick call to my brother and I was in possession of the ice cream machine for the rest of my holiday. I’m uncertain which recipe I used now, but I do think it was from the Epicurious application for iPhone. It involved poaching the pears in white wine for a few minutes (oh the smell of wine with pears still lingers in my memory) and then blitz in the food processor for a bit, before being chilled and then churned. It was all so easy, I almost couldn’t believe myself because it was so amazing when it came out!

Quenelle attempt

My attempt at a one-spoon quenelle

I was so excited to serve it up, even if in my head I had imagine it being served with a garnish or even a cake but it was so brilliant even on its own. I was pretty excited to try my hand at a quenelle, let me tell you that. And a quenelle? Not as easy as it looks. Some people form quenelles with two spoons but apparently the traditional and correct method is to use just one spoon. It took me about six or seven tries before I ended up with the one perfect quenelle and I had to photograph it instantly before the humidity in Malaysia got the better of it.

“Gee, Soph, how hard can a quenelle be to form? It’s just a random shape of ice cream. I see it all the time when I dine out!” you might say.

Trust me, I’m with you. I was with you. I watched this video of Alex Stupak forming about 80 quenelles lightning quick and I thought, “I have to try this! I’m sure I can do it! Look at him go!”


(Skip right to the 42:00 mark and watch from there to see what I mean)

Yes, I watched that 1.5 hour video in its entirety. You’d watch it too just to see his food and techniques. It’s amazing. I now have this dream of traveling to USA and eating at all the amazing restaurants of chefs I admire. It’ll happen one day. I don’t expect that kind of reverent interest from all my readers so really, let the video load and skip to 42:00 and watch the lightning fast quenelles popping into bowls. It’ll make your jaw drop.

Appreciate your quenelles, people. It’s an art form.

Next, I wanted to try a chocolate sherbet. The refrigerator in my parents’ home has a pretty good stock of Valrhona cooking chocolate at the moment because after my macaron classes in Singapore, I bought a lot of Valrhona chocolate back to be used for my ganaches and for intense chocolate ice creams.

I quickly learned the different types of frozen desserts you can churn in an ice cream maker. If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me), an ice cream is made with custard (egg-milk/cream combo); a sorbet is usually alcohol-based; a sherbet was water-based. The latter two do not contain any eggs at all so would do well for the vegans.

The chocolate sherbet was pretty killer. It was so rich and thick and I initially considered reducing the sugar (I always reduce sugars on my recipes because my mum’s diabetic and my entire family is pretty sugar-shy; we prefer salt!) of the mixture but I stuck with the recipe because if I’m not mistaken I was using the 70% cocoa Guanaja chocolate and the Guanaja’s pretty intense. In hindsight it could have done with a little less sugar but not by too much or I should have just swapped it out for the less intense chocolate.

Chocolate sherbet

Chocolate sherbet

One thing I learned was that frozen desserts are almost impossible to photograph, especially in the oppressive humidity in Malaysia. It doesn’t get more unappetising than looking at an island of chocolate sherbet surrounded by a chocolate ocean.

I did enjoy this sherbet, though. I had loaded it up with a few tablespoons of rum as well (what can I say? I love having booze in my desserts) and the texture was actually really amazing. It was very smooth and it felt like it just slid down your throat in a pleasurable chocolatey chilly cascade.

Then, as you all well know (or can safely assume), I religiously follow the blogs I have linked on the left of my page. I have them on my RSS feed and was pleased to see the appearance of bacon ice cream on Delicious Days. I was itching to try it the moment I read the recipe. In fact, I immediately printed it out and it was the dessert for our BBQ dinner.

Bacon ice cream

Bacon ice cream

I didn’t have any maple syrup on hand so I swapped it out for some Lyle’s Golden Syrup instead so it didn’t have the breakfast bacon and maple syrup flavour profile but I see where it could have gone with that, and the golden syrup was a close enough substitute in my opinion.

I actually really enjoyed it in a bizarre way. My mum could not handle it at all. She took a bite and returned it to me because it was too rich for her. I just took bite after bite wearing a puzzled smile on my face because it was such a funny thing to eat. I wanted to laugh yet my mind was repeatedly asking, “What??”

My brothers claimed it tasted just like bak kua in ice cream.

Bacon ice cream

Bacon chunks

I suppose they’re right as bak kua (Chinese sweet grilled pork slice) is grilled over a charcoal fire so it has that strong smokiness to it like bacon. Isn’t smoky bacon so, so good? I don’t know about you guys but I’m a huge fan of bacon with maple syrup. One of my favourite breakfasts is crispy bacon with fluffy pancakes with butter and maple syrup. But the trick is to have everything in one gigantic forkful. In fact, I’ve been known to dip my bacon into maple syrup and eating it just like that. Gooo-ooood.

I can see why my mother found it entirely too bizarre but I was just blown away by how crazy and amazing an ice cream could be. The crispy bacon bits in the ice cream was the pièce de résistance for me. I never got around to it but my dad and I were discussing how excellent the bacon ice cream would be in the morning on a stack of fluffy pillowy pancakes, possibly with some scallions and cheese in the batter. Mmmm! I regret not trying this out now because I’m pretty sure it would have been a satisfying breakfast.

The verdict on ice cream making? I’m glad I decided to try my hand at them because they really aren’t as difficult as I thought they’d be and they’re so much fun to make. So addictive too. I also went out to buy The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, even if the ice cream machine doesn’t technically live under my roof anymore.

There’s an endless plethora of flavours to play with in ice cream; the possibilities are endless! I can’t wait to test out more of them when I’m home next.


Family BBQ

I’m finally back in Melbourne and will probably be back writing on here more often now that I don’t have my mum’s food to keep me satiated and effectively out of the kitchen because why would anyone cook their own food when they could eat their mother’s home cooked deliciousness?

That said, I still managed to spend some time in the kitchen, mostly using appliances that I don’t have in Melbourne (although I’ll sorely wish for the ice cream machine come summer!).

One of my favourite things about being home is family barbecues. We don’t have it very often and usually when we do, it’s an exercise of over-indulgence because we always have way too much food. This time around, we were determined to fix this “flaw” but we perhaps underestimated the food although it was just-enough, perhaps we should have had just a wee bit more so everyone felt like they had very full tummies. I guess I just prefer to know everyone had enough instead of watching portions to make sure everyone had just enough. Not fun.

Spread

The “spread”

Unfortunately, I only reached for the camera after we had all dug in but it was kinda worth documenting anyway. It rained on us so we ended up indoors but what we did was cook all our food outdoors, then convened in the living room to eat. The food disappeared before I could properly photograph them.

Red wine marinated squid

Red wine marinated squid

This is probably one of my favourite dishes for the BBQ. It’s actually an adaptation of this recipe but I use squid instead of an octopus and I load up on more chilli than recommended and it’s actually not sweet chilli. But it’s really good and even better when we luck out and our squids have eggs in them. Squid eggs are freaking amazing. I pretty much love the roe of all seafood. Fish, crabs, squid… all good.

Cholesterol? What cholesterol?

Prawn and Fish Skewers

Prawn and Fish Skewers

This is another favourite of mine, and the family’s. Here’s the recipe. I use Panko breadcrumbs instead of normal breadcrumbs and I make my own mayonnaise cos I get mad about how bottled mayonnaise tastes like and it’s really not that hard. I promise.

But the flavours of this dish is just so good. The citrus is the perfect kick to this fishy skewer and the dill and lemon juice in the mayonnaise? SO good. We end up using it as a dipping sauce for everything because that’s how good it is. Also, the idea of using disposable chopsticks as a skewer was too brilliant. I haven’t gone back to the stupid skinny skewers that people usually favour because you know what? Nothing stays on that too-thin skewer and chopsticks are so easy to grip and perfect to flip over, etc.

Mayonnaise

Night’s glory: handmade mayonnaise

This was my bragging-rights achievement of the night: the mayonnaise. I’d tried making my own once and it split and I gave up and decided it was too crazy an idea and there’s surely a reason why people sell them! But finding really yummy mayonnaise is tough and often expensive. It’s ridiculous how inexpensive mayonnaise is to make and how easy it actually is. Yes, a whole lot of elbow grease and you may feel like your arm has lost all feeling in it for a while, but a worthy endeavour.

The mayonnaise I made was actually a whole lot thicker – mayo-like consistency but the recipe calls for lemon juice so that’s why this photo is a more watery version. Okay, small confession: I got my mayo to almost thickened stage and it didn’t split and my arm was about to fall off so I dumped it into the MagiMix and let it do is job as I drizzled even more oil in. And voila! But whipping it by hand was good (until my arm felt dead) because I could see how the emulsion comes together from nothing but an egg, vinegar, mustard and oil. Pretty cool! Of course you can just use an immersion blender but I don’t have one. Definitely next on my kitchen appliance wishlist!

Pork ribs

Ribs, of course

And we can’t have a BBQ without some staples like ribs. It was adapted from this recipe (can you tell I love the Taste website for BBQ recipes?) but I added a whole lot of herbs to my marinade because that’s how I roll and we had a few bunches that would otherwise go unutilized.

Grilled Pumpkin Baby Spinach Salad

Grilled Pumpkin Baby Spinach Salad

I also made a salad of baby spinach leaves, roasted pumpkin, fetta cheese, roasted-caramelised shallots in a mustard vinaigrette. We attempted to BBQ the pumpkin but we all got annoyed by how slow it was going so into a 200˚C oven it went with the shallots. I love caramelised shallots with anything so this salad was a winner for me.

The benefactor

The biggest benefactor

And of course, the one that probably received the best of everything was our little Grizmeister who was excitedly shadowing our every movement at the grill and begged us with her pathetic brown eyes until my dad gave in and fed her some ribs.

It was really good being home :)


An Attempt At Sous Vide

Sous vide

Sous vide

I’m back! I’ve done and dusted my assignments for a while now and I’m back home for my month-long sojourn filled with many days lazing in bed and indulging in my current obsession, Friday Night Lights. I’ve pretty much blazed through three entire seasons in under a week. I’m totally addicted and can’t believe I have never watched this show before. It’s just so good!

I’ve been wanting to try the sous vide cooking method for a while now but never got around to it. Like any true obsessive personality, I did copious amounts of Googling to see how it can be done at home without spending too much money. There appears to be many forms of equipment you may need to buy to do proper sous vide cooking but for something I was merely experimenting with, I didn’t want to break the bank.

I went with the basics: a stockpot, a thermometer, a ziploc bag.

And I referred greatly to all the information provided by the Cooking Issues blog over HERE. There’s a list of links on the bullet list of that post that’s highly informative as well. It’s great information and so very useful, if slightly geeky. But I love the geeky aspects of this blog, which I highly recommend. Everyone needs to read this blog! Especially if you love food…

Sous vide

I marinated my chicken with some butter, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Then I chucked it into the stockpot and let it cook at about 64˚C for about 1.5 hours.

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Chicken fresh out of the bag

Gravy

Gravy…

I poured the juices left behind in the bag out and into a saucepan; added white wine, some chicken “stock” from my mum’s Hainanese chicken rice dinner the night before, and Lea & Perrins sauce. Whacky and I may have overdid the alcohol…

Plated

Sous vide chicken with orange + caramelized fennel salad

I then browned the chicken on a grill pan just to get some colour on it.

Chicken

Sous vide chicken

Overall, I’d say it was okay. I think I messed up a little so I need to redo this correctly and give my final verdict then. My mistakes were:
– Too much meat in one bag
– Various cuts of meat in the one pot
– The bag wasn’t completely “vacuumed” (see Cooking Issues blog link above on their method of “vacuuming” a Ziploc bag)
– I over-seasoned
– I didn’t regulate the temperature well enough (I should have calibrated my thermometer better)

I was almost disappointed with the results but it was pretty much a trial and error run so now that I now where I tripped up, I can fix that and hopefully the results will be even better.

Salad

One of my favourite salads

Dinner spread

Dinner spread

Served it up with some mash potatoes as well.

I can’t wait to try this again although I’m pretty sure there needs to be an easier way to regulate the temperature. I have a dish in my head involving sous vide lamb… Stay tuned for part two.