Sometimes I get a little restless and long to create something a little strange. I’ve been thinking about a thyme-infused panna cotta for a while now, which I’m sure I will get to eventually; and I’ve been wanting to use up the frozen raspberries in my freezer. It wasn’t long before I decided I would make muffins, even if I usually detest them. To be specific, I detest the ones that are in most cafes that are rock-hard and dry and tastes a lot closer to cardboard than any form of baked good.
I ran into some issues with executing ideas in my head, as you do. Firstly, I have no muffin recipes on hand. Secondly, I wasn’t content with just plain ol’ raspberry muffins (which I’m sure will be yummy) but I wanted some sort of herb in it and some crunch. Talk about wanting to run before even learning to walk!
Thank heavens for Smitten Kitchen and her endless archives of awesome recipes. I’ve always admired her blog but had never attempted her recipes, but found her Perfect Blueberry Muffins recipe and knew it was the right base to bounce off. It is called perfect, after all.
I would like to take all credit about the use of pistachio and star anise with the raspberries but I had some help. Namely from The Flavor Bible which is a book I could not recommend enough. It’s excellent if you’re like me and fancy yourself to be better than you really are and would just like to make something that’s in your head into actual food. Based on the suggestions in the book, star anise and pistachios pair well with raspberries. I assumed they meant individually but I wanted them all together because I live on the edge like that.
More importantly, I was dying to test out my Beater Blade, which was sent over from my friend Karen from USA (Thanks, Karen!).
Raspberry, Pistachio & Star Anise Muffins
Yields 8 muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
71g unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1/2 tsp lime zest
191g all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grounded star anise
105g frozen raspberries (unthawed)
A small handful of pistachios, grounded
1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Add egg and beat well, then add in sour cream and lime zest.
3. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and star anise together and sift half of it over the batter. Mix until incorporated then sift remaining dry ingredients and mix until flour disappears.
4. Gently fold in raspberries and pistachios. The batter will be dough-ish and it will be easier to disperse with an ice cream scoop. Fill up the lined muffin tray or lightly oiled muffin tray with the batter and bake for 30 minutes, and a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the muffin.
So the Beater Blade is pretty amazing stuff. I loved that I didn’t have to scrape the sides of the bowl anymore and I felt like it took a lot faster to cream the butter and sugar too.
I figured my Microplane deserves an honourable mention as well. Words cannot describe how much I love all my Microplane graters and how much easier they’ve made my life. I love them. I love them. I love them! I’ve lost some skin off my fingers in my haste many times before but even such accidents display the greatness of this tool because my wounds are so fine and I can actually see the shape of the grater on my finger. Too much? Seriously, one of absolute must-have kitchen tools.
This was when I knew the muffins would be amazing. After I added the sour cream and before the dry ingredients, the texture of the batter was amazing. So fluffy and creamy!
The aroma of the muffins were so overwhelmingly delicious when they were baking. The smell of star anise came through really prominently but encapsulated by the sweet scent of the raspberries had me pacing my tiny kitchen staring impatiently at the cute little magnetic Daschund timer I have on my fridge.
I popped these babies out of the oven and pretty much dived right into one, anxious to taste how my silly little experimentation went and I became a muffin convert right then.
I loved the surprise interior of red and purple streaks and the little dots of green from the lime zest and grounded pistachios. The combination of star anise with raspberries was sensational, and the crunch of the pistachios? Crazy good.
Herbs in sweets may sound a little bizarre but they are so, so good together.
I hardly ever cook Asian food as you might have been able to deduce from all my blog posts. I’m usually a one plate dinner sort of cook, even if there’s many components on that plate. But with Chinese food you gotta keep washing a wok about three different times and it just isn’t as seamless (or maybe it isn’t for me).
Sometimes Jacey and I get massive cravings for home-cooked Malaysian meals. It’s hard to describe because it’s definitely not available in any of the Malaysian restaurants in Melbourne. It’s the food we ate at home when we were growing up and no restaurant in Malaysia would serve it either. It’s things like deep fried fish with soya sauce and freshly cut chillies, chicken curry, soya sauce pork, any leafy greens fried with small prawns and loads of garlic, and other variants.
Two weeks back when we sat down together to plan our weekly grocery list, we decided it would be Asian Week. Due to my social life getting in the way, our biggest event for the week, the Momofuku steamed pork buns got postponed to the following week so we made it Asian Fortnight.
It was pretty cool. The first night we started with Jacey’s steamed barramundi with Shao Hsing wine, soya sauce, ginger and spring onions (mmm!) and fried vegetables. I’m not remembering the dishes clearly now but we had Prawn Mee, Fried Crispy Yee Mee and of course, the meal below.
I was having the biggest cravings for food that my mother would cook so I actually got her on the phone to give me her recipe for her Chinese style chicken stew. It’s a good thing I understand my mother’s recipes because they’re full of, “A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and slightly more of this.”
I was pretty excited to make this because I just dumped it all in a slow cooker and let it do its job while I went to class. There’s chicken liver in there as well but it completely disintegrated with slow cooking which was awesome, although probably not as awesome for Jacey who doesn’t deal with chicken liver. Everything was falling off the bones and the vegetables were super tender. Tasted just like home, too.
This is one of my favourite things about the food I get at home. Usually our fish seller back home just throws it in for free but it’d be the highlight of the meal for me. Who said I have expensive tastes, am I right? ;) These were so cheap at the market, too. They were seasoned, covered in corn flour and deep-fried. Together with the soya sauce and freshly cut chillies it was so good.
I’m just skimming right over the fact that everyone who has seen this picture has mentioned the phallic nature of the dish. To that I say… DELICIOUS ;) Just kidding. Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s move along.
This definitely wasn’t something from my childhood but when I saw the recipe for it in the Momofuku cookbook, I couldn’t help myself. Miso butter?! Are you kidding me? I think I soaked the cookbook with my drool while reading the recipe. This was the week after my lunch at Maze where Joyce and I were pretty close to writing Shakespearean worthy sonnets about the seaweed butter. We almost hatched an Ocean’s Eleven-esque plan to steal the restaurant’s supply of seaweed butter – we were that enamoured.
The recipe called for pan-seared asparagus and miso butter but I wanted Asian mushrooms because it sounded yummier to me. And it was perfect with the asparagus and miso butter. Naturally I had leftover miso butter so the next day I made a vegetarian dish of soba noodles, lightly sauteed mushrooms and the miso butter. It was like a killer creamy pasta but a thousand times more delicious. I now live for miso butter.
As I was saying, photographs of Asian style food hardly ever look nice when I do it. It doesn’t even look half as delicious as it was!
I’ve got some exciting things planned for my kitchen. I recently got a Beater Blade so I need to see how that works, and a lot of sous vide Ziploc bags so that’s going to be fun. I’m also planning to attempt a recipe from the Alinea cookbook, am dying to test out about 3 different macaron recipes to see which is the best, and I want to make duck confit. I need more hours in a day and more mouths to feed (and possibly less uni assignments to work on).
The weather in Melbourne has finally shifted into gear for spring and I’m getting ready to set aside my flannelette PJs for skimpier cotton options. As much as I have adored everything about winter, I am ready for spring.
This past weekend has been so good to me that I’m typing this with a satisfied little smile on my lips. I kicked it off with a Sophia Day, which is my favourite type of day. I wandered around Dymocks picking up novel after novel compiling another killer wishlist to add to the Book Depository but nevertheless was seduced by the words of one particular book that I had to bring it home with me immediately.
The rest of my weekend was a blur of delicious morsel after delicious morsel, and the fact that I surfaced from my food coma to type this is a testament of my strength but please pardon me while I wear elastic banded bottoms for the next two weeks. It was well worth it though, being surrounded by amazing company and beautiful food.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the weekend was so good was because we launched into it with a fantastic dinner of steamed pork buns on Thursday night. It was one of those fantastic meals where I didn’t believe I had made what I was eating because it tasted too damned good to be true.
The recipe is from the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang whose name is almost eponymous with pork, to be honest (a man after my own heart!). The recipe is available here because I am way too lazy to ever type that out.
It was pretty labour intensive for a weekday meal but if my insane persistence on making everything from scratch results in a luscious meal, you best believe this is a madness worth ignoring.
It started the night before, where a 2kg slab of pork belly was cleaned and skinned. I tried asking my butcher to remove it for me but he gave me an incredulous look that can only be described as, “Are you fucking kidding me?” that I had to do it myself. His exact words to me were, “But pork belly is not pork belly without the skin!” I hear ya, man, I hear ya. But the fat would still be left on – just the skin that’s gone. He still gave me that strange look that I had to admit defeat and allowed the pork belly to suffer at the hands of my meagre knife skills.
And by suffer I truly mean I need to apologize to the pork belly for it was skinned unevenly. Forgive me, fellow pork lovers. That was sacrilege. It was then rubbed with salt and sugar, wrapped up and abandoned in the fridge. The next day it was unwrapped and all the juices that the salt drew out was poured away.
It was then chucked into the oven while I went about the most labour intensive part, making my own buns. I definitely could have bought them but where’s the fun in that? All that labour also yielded us with 50+ buns so really, I’m not complaining.
I also pickled the cucumbers but that was so easy and quick that I forgot to photograph it.
Then the pork belly emerged from the oven and it had to rest before it was sliced into.
Jacey and I circled the pork belly like vultures, impatiently staring at the clock. Slowest ten minutes ever.
But golly, it was gorgeous on the inside.
We steamed the buns and had our set up ready.
Side note: My mum saw this picture and asked, “Why are your buns so shiny?” *immature sniggering ensues* But in all seriousness, I have no clue. Life’s Greatest Mystery #90480. Report back on findings, please.
At this point, it was getting pretty late and I was afraid Jacey was going to strangle me out of frustration because the smell of the roasted pork belly had permeated through the entire apartment and the sounds of our growling stomachs were becoming embarrassingly audible.
The buns were spread with hoisin sauce, luscious pieces of pork belly were placed within along with a few slices of pickled cucumber and thinly sliced scallions.
Then it was total silence. I think we were trying to process the party in our mouths but our brains simply weren’t catching up. I think we managed some faint “mmmmm”s.
We obviously had enough for leftovers and the next day I tried some with a few dots of Sriracha chilli sauce. Oh, man. That’s all I have to say.
Life can be so ridiculously porking good.
I’m having a strange little day where my head is not screwed on quite straight. My sleep was really messed up and I felt horribly exhausted the whole day so I spent most of the day in some strange zombie state of dysfunctionality but my brain is on full-speed and well, it’s an off-kilter day.
Sometimes I wish I had a mute button for my brain.
One of my biggest problems is once I get an idea in my head, it’s near impossible to wrench it out unless I see it to fruition. A nice way to address that would be to call it drive or motivation; but in all honesty, it’s probably because I’ve lived a life where I’ve gotten almost everything I ever wanted. No? What kind of word is that?
We’ve been having Asian-only meals in our household for the past two weeks. It’s been fun if messy to photograph. I can’t explain it but I can’t make Asian meals look pretty. I try my darndest and I will probably post those photos up at some point but trust me when I say they won’t look as pretty as they tasted. Hats off to anyone who makes Asian food look pretty. Not an easy task!
It’s weird as it’s even transferred over to my dining out. I’ve been having Asian meals when I head out too. I guess there’s some cosmic force at work ensuring I stick to this Asian Fortnight we have going. Naturally I started craving non-Asian food and the thing I had the biggest craving for was quesadillas.
I don’t claim to have authority on Mexican or TexMex food in any way. I mean, I’m Chinese. I grew up in Malaysia. I’m the furthest away from Mexican cuisine as I could possibly be but it seemed easy enough. Toasted tortilla, some sort of mixture with lots of cheese, served with sour cream and jalapenos? Done and done.
Chicken, Mushroom & Corn Quesadillas
Serves 2 not-very-hungry people, or one ravenous person
100g sliced mushrooms
100g shredded chicken (confession: I was desperate enough to buy the roasted chicken from Coles)
100g corn kernels
Good melting cheese (every American recipe said Monterey Jack, which I’m not even sure we get in Australia but I had Gruyere on hand so I used that – yes, fancy quesadilla!)
1. Saute the mushrooms in a pan with a little bit of olive oil, then add the shredded chicken and corn. Season to taste.
2. Remove from the pan, add to a bowl and grate cheese into the mixture. Gently stir through.
3. Put a clean frypan on the stove, place a tortilla in, top with filling, and cover with another tortilla. Cook for 2 minutes or until brown, then flip (with great skill and patience that I sorely lacked for my filling spilled boohoos!) and heat the other side for another 2 minutes.
4. Serve on a plate, cut into quarters, top with sour cream and jalapenos and dig in.
Actually, I was feeling fancy so I made a special sour cream. Also cos I can’t leave things well enough alone.
Cumin & Cilantro Sour Cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A handful of chopped cilantro
1. Put ingredients in a bowl, stir with a spoon.
It’s nice to know that with some things that get into my head, I can execute and put an end to the craziness. Some other things… not so easy.
It may come as no surprise that I’m a homebody. I find pleasure in tinkering about the apartment or just curled up on the couch with a teapot of tea warmed up beside me and my laptop on the armrest of the couch. Other times I’m happy to be curled up with my throw and a book.
That was taken one afternoon almost a month ago when I was feeling particularly fancy. I whipped out a Wedgwood teacup.
Another of my mum’s influence on me as she’s an avid teapot and teacup collector. But I digress.
I’m having one those days today. Enjoying being home on a miserably cold day. I was trying to figure out what to do with an opened can of sour cherries (from a Black Forest Gateux which I should blog about…) and was thinking of making muffins but it’d require me to brave the cold to hit the supermarket for some ingredients and anyway, I didn’t really feel like eating a muffin for lunch.
I’ve been meaning to consume the wholemeal loaf of bread we have sitting on our counter but never got around to it. I really wish they’d sell half loaves at the supermarket. In a two person household of girls who don’t really eat bread on a daily basis, our bread intake is never enough to warrant an entire loaf. Then comes the mad rush to use it all before it goes bad. Sandwiches, bread and butter pudding, French toasts… I actually had two Croque Madames for dinner two nights ago.
Today I decided it was time for some French toast, which I usually love with some cinnamon sugar or maple syrup.
I’m not really sure this warrants a recipe but here it goes, something quick and easy. In and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes and ready to shove forkfuls of delicious bread into my eager mouth.
Quick & Fuss-free French Toast
Serves 1 very hungry girl
4 slices of bread, cut into half diagonally
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
1 Tbsp butter, plus extra to serve
Sour cherries, syrup reserved
1. Beat the eggs, add the vanilla extract and salt to it.
2. Heat up butter in a small skillet over low-medium heat. Dip bread slices into egg mixture, fry in skillet until brown. Turn over and repeat for other side.
3. Serve up on a plate with a bit of butter, top with sour cherries and drizzle reserved syrup all over.
4. Dig in and thank me later.
One of the greatest things about winter apart from the gorgeousness of winter fashion, is the hearty and satisfying meals that’s almost a necessity to consume. Stews, soups, pies, and meat-heavy dishes that fills your tummy up and warms your body and heart. Is there anything better?
If it isn’t already obvious, winter is one of my favourite seasons and I kinda hate summer. You would too if you grew up in sunny and humid Malaysia. The scorching heat is never pleasant!
A dish I’d been craving the entire winter is Shepherd’s Pie but somehow life always seemed to get in the way of me making it. But I finally got around to making it and dare I say, it was one of the best Shepherd’s Pie I’d ever made simply with a few additions of choice ingredients that helped elevate the taste of everything to a whole new degree.
Soph’s-Possibly-Inauthentic Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 4-5 hungry people
1 brown onion, diced
500g lamb mince, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 green capsicum, seeded and diced
6 fresh tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
A tub of tomato paste
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Red wine, as much as you like – I didn’t measure so I’m guessing I had about 3/4 cup in there
4 large potatoes, mashed with butter and milk and seasoned with salt
1. Heat up about 2 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a deep pan or if you’re as Asian as I am, use your wok. Fry onions until translucent then add in minced lamb. Cook until lamb no longer looks pink.
2. Add in carrots, capsicum, tomatoes and rosemary leaves. Stir to combine.
3. Add in tomato paste and red wine. Mix through well and cover pan and lower fire to low-medium heat and allow mixture to simmer and for tomatoes to completely disintegrate (you can help it along by pressing on it when it’s soft), about 10-15 minutes. Just keep an eye on it, don’t run away!
4. Add red wine vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave it to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. The dish should be quite thick!
5. Spoon into a deep dish or a casserole.
6. Top with freshly grated mozzarella.
7. Top with mashed potatoes and bake in a preheated 200˚C oven for 30 minutes or until browned.
I actually piped my mashed potatoes to create a more interesting look. I used to just pat the potatoes on and score it with a fork to create a pattern but I much prefer the look of piped potatoes. If nothing else, this encourages you to make the fluffiest, most perfect mashed potatoes ever to make it easy to pipe.
The thing I really liked about this pie was the acidity of the red wine vinegar in the mince. It made such a huge difference to the taste and obviously, the pairing of rosemary with lamb as always is beautiful.
Taking a bite of the pie, my first thoughts were on the texture of it. The crisped tops of the mashed potatoes with the fluffiness of it beneath that, combined with the soft texture of the mince was just great.
As always, I had leftovers but I happily dug into it days after making it.
Really, can you blame me?
It’s no secret that I’m a lover of all things pork. Maybe it’s the Chinese upbringing (all amazing Chinese food is made with pork) or maybe because I don’t eat any beef at all and never have (at least not consciously!) so it’s my choice of red meat.
To be honest, I don’t think it’s any of those things at all. Pork is just simply the best meat ever.
My friends know of my massive pork love and the one I get quoted on the most is, “Pork is my favourite food group.” I actually crave pork if I don’t have it for a while and I’m proud to say that I’m the kind of person that eats the entire body of a pig. I think this contributes greatly to my love for pork because I think of it as such an amazing animal that’s so versatile and so delicious! Fergus Henderson is one of my heroes.
In no particular order, here’s a list of some of my favourite pork dishes:
+ My mum’s black pepper pig stomach soup
+ Bak Kut The with pig intestines and spare ribs
+ Pork noodle at the hawker with all the spare parts like intestines, liver and BLOOD mmmm!
+ BBQ pork ribs
+ Char siew
+ Siew yuk
+ Anything with pork crackling
+ Suckling pig
+ Roast pork
I mean, seriously. That animal is magnificent and the sole reason why I would have problems being vegetarian for life. Hi, my name is Sophia and I’m a porkoholic. In the words of Kevin Gillespie of Top Chef season 6, “Pork is my jam.”
However, there are strange little creatures out there who say absolutely crazy things about pork. They say pork smells bad (only if you don’t wash your meat before cooking it, you lazy disgusting cook!), that it’s too close to human flesh (unless you’ve actually dined on human flesh, you need to stop saying this), and the worst of all: they don’t like the taste of it. To that I say you are a lost cause and bless your unfortunate tastebuds for all that you are missing out on!
My housemate and best friend, Jacey, is one of these strange creatures. In fact, I used to make a conscious effort not to use pork as a protein for meals that we would be sharing together. After a month of this, I awoke one morning and actually just craved pork and I think I may have gone mad and eaten pork dishes for three whole days. I do not remember much because it all seemed to pass by in a haze. I plead food coma.
So imagine my surprise when we were shopping in the market last Sunday and I was pressing a bunch of basil right up to my nose (fresh herbs! my other love!), she turned to me and said, “I feel like making a pork dish.” I swear I felt my knees buckle and I stared wide-eyed at her for a moment before squeaking, “Are you serious?!”
I didn’t give her too long to think about it lest she changed her mind but we huddled together in front of a closed stall with her iPhone and browsed the Epicurious application for roast pork recipes. We read several before deciding that this recipe was the best despite the crazy cooking time.
I won’t repost the recipe because I didn’t augment it at all apart from the cooking time, although I may suggest going a little easier on the salt. I found it just a tad too salty for my liking, but then again, I used ungrounded sea salt so that could’ve been my own fault. My other trick was to pat the outside of the pork completely dry and sprinkle salt on top of it to encourage crackling to form :)
Thing is, I had every intention of cooking the pork for six hours. But it took me longer than I expected to put the pork in the oven, that if we had stuck with the suggested cooking time, dinner would have been at 10 p.m. Yeah, I suck at timing dinners.
Jacey and I headed to the gym for a workout and were pumped to dive into our meal. We popped the oven open and the meat looked good, but the skin wasn’t crisp. I’m still unsure if I would’ve eventually wound up with crackling had I not sped things up but I’m guessing no.
So being impatient and impossibly ravenous, I cranked the temperature up to 200˚C, put the oven on grill mode and left it for 15 minutes. I should’ve done 10 because I think I overcooked the meat a tiny bit.
Looks a little bit overcooked, am I right?
My hands in action. I hold my knives funny and my grip on the meat is wrong but it was hot and I was trying my best to cut through amazingly crispy crackling. Mmmm!
I had all these intentions of making roast potatoes with duck fat, a gravy and some other roast vegetables to serve with the dish. However, starvation and impatience won out so we had the pork plain (I had it with Dijon mustard, actually) and we had a simple leafy salad with raw carrots and a simple vinaigrette dressing. It was still insanely satisfying.
Best part of it was, we had leftovers.
Inspired by the amazing Roast Rolls in the David Jones Foodhall, which by the way, I massively love and have at least once a month. I missed it badly when I was back in Malaysia last year. There was a running joke somewhere that I’m the President of the DJ’s Roast Pork Roll Fan Club and honestly, with the amount of people I’ve dragged there to have it with me, I’m starting to think I should receive a small percentage of their profit. Probably not the ultimate bestbestbest pork sandwich in Melbourne but it does the job and it’s under $10. What more do you want?!
Wow, did I run off on a tangent there.
This is why I love leftovers, especially leftover roast. You get such wonderful meals out of them! I made this sandwiches and brought them to a friend’s house and we had them for lunch. My friend wanted to toast them so we did (which helped a lot) and I wouldn’t normally put fresh rocket leaves to be baked because that’s crazy, but I had no choice here.
For the sandwich, I sauteed some onions with butter until caramelised then I scooped them out. Whatever sweet greasy residue was left in my pan, I added chicken stock and cornflour to for the gravy. The Turkish bread loaves were sliced in half horizontally, and spread with butter. It was then filled with rocket, roast pork (and crackling!), onions and gravy. When I got to my friend’s place, she whipped out her jar of wild pear chutney which we both spread generously on our bread and it made the sandwich about 909280x better.
Let me say it again: I love pork.
Author’s note: Jacey is now a reformed pork hater. Since this dinner, she declared that one night of each week’s dinner should be Pork Night. I nearly teared at her joyous declaration and would like to claim sole responsibility for turning her around on this matter. Yes, I am that good.