Simplicity

I saw this simple recipe in the September issue of Delicious, a recipe by Jill Dupleix, and immediately wanted to try it. It sounded really easy and the ingredients were of things that I love like butternut pumpkin, mushrooms, spinach and with Japanese flavours. Yum!

The only problem was that the recipe wasn’t vegetarian despite the fact that the ingredients were, as it called for dashi in the broth. I decided to improvise and I think I ended up with a completely different dish with similar ingredients. Still good, though!

Simple Soba Miso Soup

Simple Soba Miso Soup

My friend Sarah suggested I miso-roast the pumpkin instead of boiling like the recipe suggested so I tried it out and turned out amazing. So thank you, Sarah, for that wonderful suggestion!

Simple Soba Miso Soup
Serves 2-3

Miso paste
Mirin (optional)
Silken firm tofu (one brick) – cut into squares
200g of assortment of mushrooms like enoki, shiitake, hiratake (oyster), bunashimeji and eringi
Note: I just bought a pack of assorted mushrooms from the vendor in the market
Spinach/baby spinach leaves
Half a butternut pumpkin
Soba noodles

1. Preheat oven to 200˚C. Peel pumpkin and dice. Lay in a roasting tin and coat with 2 Tbsp of miso paste. Mix with your hands to evenly coat the mushrooms. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and pop into the oven for 30 minutes.

2. While pumpkin cooks, bring 2L of water to a boil. Add in 4 Tbsp of miso paste. Add 2 Tbsp of mirin if so inclined (I skipped this).

3. Place the fresh out of the oven pumpkin and tofu into empty bowls.

4. Cook soba and mushrooms in the pot for about a minute or so. Plate up the soba and mushrooms with the broth, topping the pumpkin and tofu.

5. Place spinach in the pot until just wilted. Serve and enjoy.

Simple Soba Miso Soup

The pumpkin is hidden underneath all the mushrooms

Actually, I have a little trick about how I cooked all the ingredients. I used two sieves/colanders with a long handle (what on earth is a proper name for this tool?), placed the mushrooms and soba in one, spinach in the other, and soaked them in the hot broth. So when it was cooked, I just lifted it up and served it up. Just like how the hawkers do it back home! It saves a lot of time and effort than trying to get every last strand of soba out of the broth with a pair of chopsticks!

Confession: I actually had the entire brick of tofu by myself. I can’t help it, I’m a major tofu lover. One of my favourite dishes in Chinese restaurants is the claypot tofu dish with snap peas, carrots, cauliflower and a starchy gravy. Mmmmm!


The Weekly Shop

This post is meant to provide an insight to how I plan what I eat and cook, but may also prove that I’m a little crazy. My friends who know of this routine think I’m a little kooky for it but I’ve explained that it helps me budget and eliminate waste. It doesn’t always work out as planned but it certainly helps keep things in a semblance of order.

I do most of my grocery shopping on Sundays despite the fact that I have off days during the week and the market would be way less crowded on weekdays. I don’t know, it feels right to go on Sundays. I think I’m just used to it because my mother goes to the market on Sundays back home as well, and when my parents lived in China for a few years while my dad worked there and I helped run the household, I always went marketing on Sundays too. I guess I really am a creature of habit.

Late Saturday night, I usually sit around with my food magazines and cookbooks and plan what I want to eat the following week. I also take into considerations cravings and dishes I’ve been wanting to try.

References

This week’s references

I like gathering magazines of the month we’re in so August magazines regardless of the year is good. I also have the latest Delicious magazine in there because I saw it on the stands. The reason is obvious: seasonal produce. If I took a magazine from January, it’s going to be full of summer salads, berries, and probably lots of BBQ dishes. While yummy, it’s going to be impossible gathering those ingredients together and they’ll just taste rather strange in the dead of winter.

In progress

Menu planning in progress

The two cookbooks are for inspiration and ideas. I’m constantly flipping through The Cook’s Book because it’s such an invaluable source of information. I actually got lucky and bought it back in Malaysia recently and lugged it all the way back to Melbourne. I believe it is now out of print but if you ever get your hands on one, I urge you to buy it. I don’t necessarily cook from it but it provides a lot of how-to on basic stuff that I find really useful.

Bouchon is a book I recently bought and can’t help but admire the recipes in it for its simplicity. I admire Thomas Keller and his principles on cooking so much and that picture of that roast chicken sold me. I’d been thinking I wanted to make a roast chicken because I’ve been craving it, and I want to learn how to truss a chicken. Then I saw that gorgeous roast chicken and thought, okay, I’m making the Bouchon chicken with my favourite roasted root vegetables.

Menu

The menu

I then jot down what I want to make on the days I want to make it. I take into consideration the lifespan of the fresh produce for the dishes and if I find some are more fragile, those dishes get pushed to the top. It also depends on the schedule of my days cos that would mean more or less energy to make more complicated dishes. I also try to make dishes that would use more or less the same ingredients to eliminate waste, especially when it comes to herbs. Even then, I always end up with wilted herbs that need to be thrown out. I don’t trust dried bottled herbs; nothing compares to the real deal! Sometimes you can’t help it but most times, I go for the fresh stuff.

Shopping list

Shopping list

This week my housemate was away until Tuesday night and she usually makes dinner every Monday and Wednesday night. Mondays are my busiest days so I’m more than happy to relinquish cooking responsibilities because I only get home close to 7 p.m. Also, it’s pretty safe to say that our fridge is always stocked with leftovers of some sort. I think right now we still have some bolognese sauce enough for one serve and two roasted chicken drumsticks. Either me or J will get to it for lunch one of these days. I may even shred the meat off the drumsticks and make a chicken sandwich for both of us for lunch, actually.

On the menu this week is:

Monday – leftovers. I had leftover Indian take away from my lazy Friday night in – excellent lamb Rogan Josh and a garlic naan.

Tuesday – I’m vegetarian for religious reasons so it’s a Soba Miso Soup dish inspired by a recipe in September’s Delicious magazine by Jill Dupleix but hers called for dashi soup so I switched it around and eliminated some ingredients to arrive at my own version of the stuff. Recipe will be posted soon.

Wednesday – homemade pizza from scratch with some sort of grilled vegetable and bacon topping. Bacon leftover from a quiche I made for a potluck at my friend’s last week. Usually my housemate J takes the dinner on Wednesday but she’d be arriving late at night Tuesday from her business trip and I knew she’d have to go to work on the following morning so she’d probably be exhausted so I’m making her dinner. I’m going to try making pizza dough from scratch for the first time so I’m excited about this. I always try something different every week.

Thursday – roast chicken with roast vegetables; Bouchon method. Nothing I like more in winter than a good roast chicken meal.

Friday – chicken, leek and mushroom pot pies, a recipe based off something in Delicious as well but I’m also augmenting it and making my own pastry. Usually I head out but I’ve been over indulging last week and I reckon I need to catch up on school work. I know this will make enough for leftovers as well so I’m covered for Saturday lunch too.

Week's produce

Produce for the week

So on Sundays, I troop down to the market with three green bags and spend a good hour and sometimes more browsing the market. I usually head to the Queen Victoria Market, but I’ve also explored the South Melbourne Market on occasion. It’s absolutely geeky to admit this but shopping in the market is one of my favourite things. I head straight for the organic produce section and get as much of the things I want there (being conscious of the price, of course). I generally find the price difference between organic and non-organic small, and sometimes it’s even cheaper at the organic end despite the crowd converging at the non-organic end. This constantly puzzles me but I suppose it’s just people’s mindset that organic is synonymous with expensive and they don’t bother looking.

I avoid supermarkets unless absolutely necessary but I tend to never buy any meat or fresh vegetables and fruits from there. The price difference is astounding, especially with meat. And there’s just a huge difference in quality. I’m not naive enough to believe that there isn’t a middle man involved with the purveyors in the markets as well, but there’s a lot of holding time between the farmer and the shelving at the supermarket which decreases the freshness of the produce. There’s a lot of middle men between the harvesting of the produce to the shelf at the supermarket and they can swear up and down that they’re “fresh produce” but really, it not. It’s just logistically impossible for the volume a supermarket demands to the loading of their trucks and the many locations of supermarkets in the country.

I don’t know a better way of explaining the difference other than to buy an onion from a supermarket, then buy one from any vendor in the market. There’s just a huge difference.

I’m not saying that I’m such a strong advocate of fresh produce that I never step into the supermarket because obviously the convenience of it (and nearness to me!) is great when I’ve been too busy to go to the market. Also because I still eat cornflakes and muesli bars, and I get my milk there. Sometimes I buy pre-packaged salad bags there, too. It’s just a lot more economical if I don’t and I honestly believe that I minimize my carbon footprint tremendously just from buying from the market and not the supermarket.

More than that, it’s the experience of it all. Seeing what’s really in season. Talking with the vendors about how to use certain vegetables, the scent of insanely fresh herbs, getting dinner suggestions from your butcher, getting your your meat cut the way you like, learning of the flavours of different sausages from the passionate man who makes them all by himself. Plus, forming a relationship with all the people you buy from on a weekly basis helps. Trust me when I say there are discounts to be had once you form a relationship with them.

Then there’s all the delicious food to be eaten at the markets, too. I love the hotdog stand and the organic pizza stand in Queen Victoria Market, and the Spanish restaurant in South Melbourne Market.

Other

Asian grocer goods, and a chicken

There’s an Asian grocer right beside the Queen Victoria Market that I just adore called Minh Phat. It stocks pretty much everything and anything from Asia (and beyond). There are many Asian grocers in the city and in Chinatown but none as well-stocked as this store. We’re talking Buddhist prayer items, claypots, woks, varieties of rice from Asia, and Asian dinnerware. They even have tinned Milo imported all the way from Malaysia, which I prefer to the Australian version. I pop in there pretty often to stock up on the things I miss from home – like those awesome Hup Seng cream crackers. Saltines? Nuh-uh, Hup Seng cream crackers all the way, baby!

Another reason why I love the market?

Gerberas

Gerberas

The florist. It’s a lot cheaper than any of the florists in the city, or even the flowers you see in the supermarket. I got these gerberas to brighten up our apartment, and it’s made a big difference. They’re not exactly a weekly expense but more a sporadic luxury. It brings a smile to my face in the morning when I awaken and wander into the dining and see this on the table (rare as I’m not a morning person!). We’re in desperate need of medium-sized vases so I improvised with a pasta sauce bottle we had lying around, peeled off the ugly label although it still left an ugly white residue at the back. The ribbon is from a parcel I bought from Net-A-Porter many years ago that just did a good job at adding some character to an ugly ol’ pasta jar. I always knew there was a reason I kept all sorts of silly tidbits!

In total (including the flowers!), I spent about $80 and this would feed two girls for four different dinner meals a week, and would probably result in leftovers that we have for lunch. And we’re talking about some really good meals here too (there’s a ball of bocconcini and I bought three packs of dried porcini from the deli).

So yeah, while I may seem like I’ve overdone the menu planning and thought process of my weekly meals, it really is something worth considering. I certainly don’t expect anyone to go through cookbooks and magazines the way I do, but I enjoy doing it and it really is more fun and relaxing for me than it is a chore. Menu planning just helps with the budgeting and avoiding waste.


Courtesy of Mama

One of the many perks of growing up with a domestic goddess for a mother is the wealth of knowledge and recipes I have at my disposal. My mother should take full credit for my love of food and cooking, and for expanding my palate from a very young age. I think my only restriction was my ability to handle spicy food but otherwise, I was a champ. I happily chowed down sashimi, offal and chicken feet since I was in primary school. My mum would proudly recollect that she had lots of Japanese food when she was pregnant with me (I don’t think they worried about mercury then!) and it certainly explains my insatiable love for the cuisine.

Apart from all that, learning how to cook in my mum’s kitchen was one of the best things ever because of the countless appliances and tools she is equipped with. In fact, cooking in my parents’ kitchen is probably the comfiest place ever (it’s air-conditioned!) and I’m never at a loss for things I need. We didn’t always have a dream kitchen, though, as my childhood home had a cramped kitchen with hardly enough space for two people to work in there together without getting in each others’ way. My mother still always managed to whip out absolutely delicious treats from her tiny kitchen and tiny oven.

Suji Cake

Suji Cake

One of my childhood favourites is Suji Cake. It is also known as Sugee Cake, and is a Eurasian version of a Pound Cake. It’s basically one of the moistest, richest butter cakes ever but with a slight crunch to it that comes from semolina and ground almonds.

My mum and I rediscovered the recipe during my last trip back home and made it twice because it was just so damned good. You can take a peek at the recipe here.

Suji Cake

I decided to make it again because I’ve been wondering how to christen the fantastic Nordic Ware pan I received from my two amazing friends, Mboo and Fbomb. They totally caught me by surprise with this birthday present and I wanted to do it justice with just the right cake. I knew if the cake was too light it’D shrink and wouldn’t hold its form, and I really didn’t want to try just a plain vanilla bundt cake or a heavy fruit cake recipe so I settled for the delicious Suji Cake instead.

Baked bugs

These cakes are so sinfully addictive. My favourite types of sweets are the non-sweet but deliciously buttery type, or citrus flavoured to cut through the sugar. I reduced the sugar on these and I got an ultra rich crunchy cake that I couldn’t stop eating. I had to hand them out to a few friends just so it wouldn’t sit on my benchtop testing my willpower!

I was happy to spread the Suji Cake love as a few of my friends had never had them before. It’d also please my mum who laughed when I begged her for the recipe a mere few days after landing in Melbourne despite having a few bites of the cake in the car when my parents were dropping me off at the airport!

My mother

My amazing mother and I

And because I talk so much about my beautiful and amazingly talented mother on here, I thought I’d share a picture of us from when she visited back in June. I’m actually off to give her my weekly phone call now, and to casually mention that she’s being talked about on the blog again (she’s secretly chuffed about it!).


Crackdicted

I’ve heard about David Chang for years now because the man is a pork-fiend and because pork is also my kind of candy, it is safe to conclude that I adore David Chang. When I was back in KL, I finally got to see the Momofuku cookbook in person and basically drowned in my own torrent of drool at the mere sight of his food. He uses kimchi with his pork dishes, which is reminiscent of one of the dishes I tasted at Cumulus, Inc. a few months back. To this day I still speak very excitedly about pork, crackling and spicy kimchi in the same dish. Honestly, one of my best pork experiences.

I recently bought the Momofuku cookbook and have been excitedly awaiting an occasion (and guinea pigs!) to test them out. Such an occasion has yet to arisen but I’m sure they will soon enough. Not surprisingly, I am surrounded by like-minded “Pork Is Candy” friends.

Here’s a little food porn from Bourdain’s No Reservations “Food Porn” episode back in season 5, one of my favourite No Reservations episodes. Here you will experience envy and excitement at the sight of all that food. If you’re like me, you’ll also experience a sudden determination to find a way to New York by hook or by crook, because it is obviously a gastronome’s mecca populated with restaurants that I would willingly sell my organs and first-born child for a chance to dine at. I have a list and everything.

Anyway, recently the food blogosphere has been hit by the Crack Pie phenomenon.

Crack Pie

Crack Pie

I won’t tell you all about it because it’ll just be a copy and paste of what has been said already, and in this day and age, you should just Google things on your own. If you’re too lazy, CLICK HERE.

Actually, watch the video here because I fell in love with both David Chang and Christina Tosi (pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar and creator of Crack Pie) in this video. They’re both too freaking adorable!

Last Sunday I was invited over to a friend’s place for a spectacular dinner of seafood paella. It was freaking amazing. Really. I kid you not.

Seafood Paella

Seafood Paella

My amazing friends Stan and Joyce made that, although I think Stan gets most of the credit (hic!). And that was the second round. Oh yeah, there was an equal amount of crazy good deliciousness earlier which we pretty much inhaled. I was thinking, “How can we finish two paella pans worth of paella?” But we did. We also had siew yuk (roast pork), made by another couple. It’s fun being surrounded by people who know good food and who make good food.

Joyce and I had been talking about Momofuku together like a bunch of food geeks for a while and when I saw the recipe for the exalted Crack Pie I just knew I had to make it for the potluck.

You can find the recipe here. You’re welcome. Worry about your waistline another day.

Oatmeal cookie

Crust base: oatmeal cookie

The recipe calls for an oatmeal cookie for the crust. I loveloveloved this cookie recipe. So rich and salty! Then it was crushed with butter, sugar and salt to form the crust. I’m thinking next time I may double the cookie recipe to get more crust because I loved the crust more than anything else. But then again, I’m the type who makes cheesecakes with more biscuit base than cream cheese filling.

Beautiful crust

Crusty goodness

The painstakingly patted on crust. Mmmm.

Ingredients

Filling ingredients

And the filling? Deliciously simple and basic. And sinful. Very sinful. Please don’t ever let my personal trainer see this recipe or I’d be doing lunges and squats for eternity. Yes that golden puddle in the left bowl is melted butter. And yes, the top two bowls are sugar.

Motto with Crack Pie: Forget your waistline.

The thing on the right is milk powder. Luckily for me, I have plenty of that on hand because I detest fresh milk in my drinks as it dilutes them and I only take powdered milk. What can I say? I am a true blue Malaysian child set in her ways.

Filled up

Filled up

A few moments in the capable hands of my KitchenAid and this came out. Oh I didn’t mention that the recipe yields two pies? Double the pleasure. Double the fun.

Crack Pie

Crack Pie

It popped into the oven, then into the fridge (I left it overnight), then it was dusted with icing sugar before being served and eagerly sliced into. Yes, this was after siew yuk and two round of seafood paella. I am pleased to announce that all my friends managed to eat two slices each, at the minimum. The brave even managed to eat it with ice cream! I wouldn’t recommend that unless you were determined to commit to a sugar stroke.

What does a slice of Crack Pie look like?

Gooey goodness

Ooey Gooey Goodness

Or mine does, at least. Gorgeous gooey goodness. This is definitely going on my “to be made over and over again because it will never get old” list. I may reduce the sugar a little and double the crust, but that’s a personal preference thing. I am officially a Crackdict.

Christina Tosi, you are my (and my Crackdicted friends’) hero.


Filler Post: From The Banner

A bit of a filler post because I haven’t been cooking food worth photographing or writing about, although yesterday I had a really great meal at Mamasita. I don’t do reviews nor photos of restaurant food on here; but that was a really enjoyable lunch.

I’ll get to actual recent photos soon but this is just an image-heavy post of larger pictures of the food in the banner.

Green tea cupcakes

Green tea cupcake

There’s this bakery in Singapore that makes the fluffiest, lightest green tea sponge cake with adzuki (red beans) in the cream centre filling and it was one of my favourite cakes I’ve ever eaten. Inspired by that, I decided to try my hand at making my own green tea cupcakes.

Green tea cupcake

Read the rest of this entry »


All That Ragu

This is the ragu I made for dinner the other day. It’s quick and easy, and is definitely going on my reportoire of weeknight dinners.

Cannellini and Chickpea Ragu

Cannellini and Chickpea Ragu

Cannellini and Chickpea Ragu
Adapted from August 2008 Delicious magazine
Serves 4

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (save extra for garnish)
1 sprig of rosemary
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 can of chickpeas
1 can of cannelloni beans (or two of the same kind of beans, or as the magazine’s recipe says: soybeans)
25g freshly grated parmesan
Toasted or grilled bread of your choice

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, then add onions, garlic, thyme and some salt and pepper.

2. Cook until onion softens then add carrots, celery, tomato and 125ml water, then bring to the boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.

3. Add the beans and rosemary sprig, cover and cook for a further 5 minutes until vegetables are tender, thens mimer uncovered for 5 minutes or until thickened. Season to taste.

4. Serve in bowls, garnish with extra thyme and grated parmesan (and rosemary flowers if you’re lucky like I was!), with a side of your toast.

Rosemary flowers

Rosemary flowers

Is anyone else a total herb addict like I am? (wow, that reads so wrong!) I’m that freak you see in the market holding up bunches of herb to her nostrils and deeply inhaling with a blissed out expression. Honestly, I regret so much that I live in an apartment because I think if I had a garden, I’d have a vegetable and herb garden and I’d save so much money not having to buy herbs from the market. It’s a bit of a romanticised view of cooking that I have, just popping out the back door into the garden and snipping off some fresh rosemary and skipping back into the kitchen.

…Yeah.

Anyway, I especially love when herbs have their flowers on them because they’re so micro-mini and gorgeous. Then I thought, why not use them as a garnish? They’re just so pretty and they’re edible so I did.

Ragu

And they tasted as pretty as they looked.