Brownie Points

I’ve been craving something chocolatey for the past fortnight. Something sinful and rich and dark. I usually can do without chocolate but lately I’ve been a total chocoholic and this was a particular craving that would not be ignored.

Thankfully, a month ago I bought this book of chocolate recipes by Pierre Herme. I knew I had to make something from it to satisfy my craving because really, who else would I trust with a chocolate recipe other than Pierre Herme?

Brownies

Moist & Nutty Brownies

My mind, which seems to live in the gutter, couldn’t help but snigger at the name of these brownies but the picture of it in the book had my mouth watering so I knew I had to make them.

Moist & Nutty Brownies
Adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme
Keeps at room temperature for 2 days in an airtight container, or frozen for 1 month

145g bittersweet chocolate (I used 70% Lindt Excellence bars) in tiny pieces
260g unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
250g sugar
140g all-purpose flour
145g pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Butter a 9 x 12-inch baking pant, fit the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, butter the paper and dust the inside of the pan with cocoa powder; tap out excess and set pan aside.
(The recipe says dust with flour but I personally hate seeing white on brownies and I think cocoa powder enhances the taste of brownies even more so no disrespect to the master, but cocoa powder is a more brilliant answer, in my opinion!)

2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, ensuring that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Remove from heat and leave to cool slightly until it is warm to the touch or registers 45˚C on an instant-read thermometer.

3. Beat butter with paddle attachment until smooth and creamy but not airy. Stir in the chocolate.

4. Gradually add in the eggs. If the mixture separates, swap to a whisk attachment to blend the batter and continue with the whisk for the sugar, but return to the paddle attachment for the flour and nuts. However, it should not separate if you add the eggs in a thin, steady stream.

5. Add the sugar, followed by the flour and nuts, stirring only until each ingredient is incorporated.

6. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 19-22 minutes. The brownie is ready when the top is dry but a skewer inserted in the center will come out wet.

7. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes.Run a blunt knife around the edges to unmold the brownies. Remove the parchment paper and turn the brownies over to cool to room temperature right side up. Cut the brownies into 18 pieces.

Batter

To be honest, I may have overcooked the brownies a little bit because it isn’t as fudgy as I’d like it to be but it is still the best brownies I’ve ever had, let alone made! It is SO ridiculously easy to whip up as well so I highly recommend this.

A word of caution though: They are extremely, extremely addictive. I cut a weird long strip off the rectangle to test a small cube of brownie but ended up devouring the entire strip! Then I had two piece for breakfast today. I had to give some away to friends because my waistline is in danger with the presence of such irresistible brownies.

Speaking of… I think I may sneak another piece right now. Willpower? What willpower?

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Conduct

One of the things I think my mother should be proudest of in her job of raising her personal three-person circus is the good manners she’s managed to instill in us. I’m not talking about not being brutally sarcastic and having sharp-as-a-whip tongues because we all seem to possess these qualities too (hey, we can’t help it if we have zero tolerance for idiots) but I’m referring to being really decent human beings. We never go to parties empty-handed, we never treat anyone like they’re beneath us (unless provoked, of course), we never fail to use our Ps and Qs, and most of all, we’re unfailingly polite, courteous and gracious.

Goons

Mum may not have done such a good job on teaching us how to pose for photographs…

It’s a mix of being raised by a teacher (and a discipline teacher at that!) and a traditionalist Chinese woman. When dining with elder Chinese people, we would actually address each and every elder person at the table to invite them to eat before us in a chorus of, “Uncle, eat! Auntie, eat! Mum, eat! Dad, eat!” spoken in Chinese, of course. It’s about serving elders before you regardless if it’s a piece of chicken or the refilling of a teacup. We ensure everyone has had a first serving before reaching for seconds. We never ever take a last piece of a dish unless we’ve been “invited” to do so. I’m sure if you’re Asian, you know exactly the kind of delicate dance of manners that is involved when dining out with relatives and your elders despite the uproarious noise levels that may deceive one into thinking that everything is majorly casual. If you’ve ever watched Joy Luck Club and thought, “Geez, that’s an exaggeration!”, I’m here to tell you that it’s all true.

Circa 1992

I address my siblings as Eldest Brother and Second Brother in Chinese. I’ve never grown up calling them by their names despite us having really silly pet names for each other. There have been many crude Chinese words and impolitically correct terms used to address each other fondly, which are unfortunately way too rude to be publicised, along with names like Bird, Dope, Loser, etc.

Recent family portrait, sans me and second brother’s fiancee on his 30th

Despite all of that silliness, my mum still gets compliments from her friends about how well-behaved we are. I think that’s just a major part of being a human being, though. All of my friends are equally as polite and beautifully behaved and I so adore them for it. We may have really inappropriate humour and conversations, but they’ve never exhibited behaviour that was less than.

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up so accustomed with manners being such a prominent part of everyday life that I’m seriously rattled by people who epitomise bad manners. I usually make leeways for personal life matters and subsequent apologies but continuous bad behaviour and lack of courtesy and grace really gets my blood boiling. In my opinion, you can be the wealthiest man on earth but if you’re a rude prick, you’re worth diddly-squat. Just like how money can’t buy style, money certainly can’t buy class and manners either.

My friends tell me I spoil them by gifting them with free meals and sweets but I honestly don’t mind because they’re such lovely people. They rigorously stroke my ego by gracing me with their gratitude and praise — probably explains why I had trouble fitting into most of the hats in David Jones last weekend! In all honesty, my friends are so great at being really casual about everything and repaying me in kind, and I don’t mean in the monetary sense, that I don’t think much at all about my feeding them. The generosity definitely flows both ways, as it should with all great friendships.

Meatball sandwich

Meatball Sandwich

On Friday and Saturday night, I fed two of my best friends separately just because we were camping in my apartment. Miss S came by to hang with me on Friday night for a good girly catchup and a sleepover, and I was making this anyway so we had it for dinner. The following night, Miss J also stayed the night after spending the night with me studying.

Both girly chitchatting and studying were definitely physically exhausting so it was good to be so filled up after! The recipe was from the Gourmet Traveler Annual Cookbook, which is quite possibly one of my favourite things right now. It is just an inexhaustible source of recipes that all sound so delicious and easy that I want to cook from it for a few months. It’s currently so heavily tabbed that I’m not quite sure of what to make of my usual trusty colour-coded system.

Day Two

It looked a lot prettier on the second day, although it was equally as delicious on both days. I adored the tomato sauce that I made from scratch. It was ridiculous how delicious it was!

On the third day, with the tiny bit of leftovers I had left, I boiled up some pasta and topped it with the tomato sauce and meatballs. I so enjoy versatile meals and leftovers.

Meatball Sandwich with Homemade Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet Traveler Annual Cookbook 2010
Serves 6

For meatballs:
200g soft white bread, crust removed, quartered
500g minced pork
1 cup mint, firmly packed, finely chopped
1 tomato, seeds removed, finely diced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Soak bread in 200ml cold water until just soft, squeeze out excess water, then finely tear into a large bowl.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, season to taste and mix well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight.

3. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on lined trays. Refrigerate until required.

For tomato sauce:
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
1 can of chopped tomatoes (no salt added)
60ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaf
1/2 cinnamon quill
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
60ml tomato passata
2-3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp butter (or more cos that never hurts!)

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add onion and garlic and saute until tender. Add bay leaf, cinnamon, basil, fresh and canned tomatoes; then reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly reduced, stirring occasionally.

2. Add passata, butter and red wine vinegar, season to taste and simmer for flavours to develop. Remove from heat and keep warm.

To assemble:
60ml olive oil
6 crusty rolls (I used parmesan flavoured baguettes), halved lengthways
Comte cheese or other good melting cheese, grated
Choice of salad of greens or potato chips (heated up) to serve

1. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half the meatballs and turn occasionally until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Wipe pan clean and repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.

2. Preheat oven/grill to medium-high. Place base of bread rolls on a tray, divide meatballs among rolls, top with tomato sauce followed by grated Comte (amount is up to your discretion) and grill until cheese melts. Sandwich with top of rolls and serve with greens or potato chips.

As for my two amazing friends, I have to say that their friendship; their roles as sounding boards and my voices of reason, as well as the endless laughs we shared are repayment enough for all my efforts.

My amazing Miss J and Miss S

Disclaimer: I appear to be about 5’0 in this photo but trust that I’m actually 5’5 and I just have really tall friends!


Basil My Heart

A few days back I was thinking I really wanted basil in something sweet and I wanted to try a basil buttercream. It’s probably one too many episodes of Top Chef: Just Desserts rubbing off on me but it sounded really delicious.

Vanilla-Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Basil Buttercream

One of the most obvious choices for a cupcake to me was something citrus flavoured. Inspired, I thought to myself I’d just make my usual cupcake recipe but add lemon zest in and I’d fill it in with lemon curd.

Just grab any vanilla cupcake recipe (there are 20 million versions out there) and add the zest of a whole lemon to it. I also swapped out the vanilla extract and used the seeds of a whole vanilla pod instead because I wanted to be fancy. And also because I have a whole lot of vanilla pods waiting to be used up from a past project.

The lemon curd recipe is an Alton Brown recipe but I stumbled on a few problems whilst making it. I’ve never made lemon curd before so I was really going in blind on this. My lemon curd just didn’t have the right consistency to it, even after adding in the butter. Instead of throwing it out, I just popped it back on the double boiler, chucked in another egg yolk and cooked it for another 10 minutes or so until it really thickened up, then I took it off and added even more butter (guesstimation!) and just stopped when it felt right.

It’s pretty cool being able to save lemon curd based on feel.

Curd-filled cupcake

I added the lemon curd using the “cone method”, which is basically cutting a top out of a cupcake with the knife angled inwards as to create a “cone” shape, lifting the top out, putting your filling in, then top it again with the cake piece.

Batch of lemon curd-filled cupcakes

For the buttercream, I made my favourite type of buttercream, French buttercream! Click here for the recipe. It’s definitely more labour intensive than a regular buttercream but it’s so worth the extra effort. It’s light, fluffy, rich and yet not disgustingly sweet. It’s my kind of buttercream where it really feels like buttery goodness and not just a cavity-inducing load of sugar. I especially hate grainy buttercreams that a lot of cupcake stores top their cupcakes with. HATE!

Temperature watch

It starts with making syrup but watching the temperature very closely that it doesn’t go over 118˚C. It has to hit 118˚C but it can’t go over that or you run a risk of having to start all over again so I was standing over the stove like a hawk with my insta-read thermometer (my baby!) and I took it off the heat the moment the thermometer registered 118˚C.

My incorporation of basil into the buttercream began with the syrup. I chopped up a handful of basil leaves and put them in the syrup to let it infuse into the syrup while it cooked. To be honest, I didn’t find that the basil was too well infused into the buttercream so I think in the future, I may actually pack the chopped basil leaves with the sugar in a vacuumed bag for a few days to let it fully perfume the sugar before boiling it with another handful of basil leaves. But that’s what all this fun experimentation is for, right? Discovery and rectification of methods to get the best possible results.

It’s still great this time around but much too subtle that you couldn’t really tell immediately it was basil you were tasting. Also because the lemon curd was really amazing so it kinda stole the show away from the basil buttercream. Maybe there’s a way to infuse basil in my cupcake?

But the greatest thing about these cupcakes?

Curd-filled hearts

When sliced in half, the curd actually formed a heart within the cake due to the “cone method” of filling. Isn’t that just precious? Love curd filling, aww!

To quote Sheena, who has been on the receiving end of many cupcakes from me, this may quite possibly be one of the best, if not the best, cupcake I ever made.

I have to say, I agree. I really adored this and it was, as always, so fun to conceptualise and then watch it materialise.


Idling

I shouldn’t have promised that I wouldn’t update this anymore because I forgot what a great procrastination tool updating is. Let’s pretend I never said it. The number of hours I clock with my laptop has convinced me that if my laptop had great hair, a cheeky smile, a deep timbre voice, the right body parts, and the ability to cuddle; we would totally be soulmates. Alas, my laptop is but a 13″ rectangle of awesomeness encased in pink, even if we do go to bed together every night.

If not for a certain Miss J and Mr N, I would probably be cooped up in my apartment a whole lot more than I already am. But thanks to them I’ve been fed well and entertained with good conversation.

So here’s a picture post of random bits in my world beyond the kitchen, which is entirely irrelevant to the theme of this blog but there is some food in here so I guess that’ll have to do.

Workspace

Workspace

The above is where I’m permanently planted when I’m home these days. It’s usually a lot messier but with distracting things like magazines and cookbooks, because my subject notes are all on my laptop anyway.

From my lover, Joyce

This little card makes me smile.

Freesias

Freesias

Fresh flowers in the apartment cheer me up greatly so I try to make sure we have a small vase of them around most of the time. This week I went for freesias for their amazing scent. I am choosing to disregard the Twilight associations with this gorgeous flower.

Flower tea

Flower tea

One of my favourite things to have around me when I’m sitting around the apartment is to have a hot pot of tea close by, and I adore flower teas. They’re beautiful to look at and they’re delicious too. They keep me going (to the bathroom).

Cutlery jewelry

Cutlery jewelry

I decided to incorporate my love for food and my love for accessories. When I first laid eyes on these cute little pendants, I knew I had to have them. Aren’t they just adorable?!

My heart rate monitor is my favourite self-punishing tool and it’s one of my favourite purchases of the year. It makes cardio workouts a whole lot more fun and makes you feel like a total machine when you maintain the craziest heart rate for a long period of time.

Heaven

Sometimes (okay, often!), I just crawl under the covers and snuggle up with my mountain of pillows and forget about my assignments. Have I mentioned how much I love sleep and my bed? Because I really, really do. It’s the kind of bed you don’t want to crawl out of, which is why I sometimes don’t. I’ve been known to talk to my pillows in a loving voice, too. I think that’s perfectly normal (and understandable!).

Yay!

I picked this up last night and I’m terribly excited about it. It is now heavily tabbed with page markers and I probably have meals planned for the next three weeks based on this cookbook alone. Exciting times ahead!

I have to say though, my next two projects are desserts. I have the nastiest craving for a moist and fudgy chocolate cake and unfortunately, there’s hardly any truly good cake places in Melbourne so I’ve decided I’m going to make it myself. I find majority of the cakes I’ve had in Melbourne depressingly disappointing and I’m usually left more disgruntled after attempting to satisfy a craving. Anyone else agree with me on this? If you disagree, please recommend a cake place for me to try. If you say Brunetti’s, your opinion on food is officially unreliable and you will be ignored.

That said, I’ve been craving fried chicken, the kind you’d find at the dirtiest places in KL. You know, the kind that would soak up five kitchen towels with oil in no time but taste so damn good that you’d happily munch on the crispy chicken skin rather than worry about your cholesterol levels or the possibility of food poisoning. Need. Fried. Chicken. Soon.

I have the unhealthiest cravings, ever.

I leave you with a quote I live by, and Superpig. Superpig is one of my childish quirks that make me endearing (apart from my modesty, you know) and I have also drawn it on Jacey’s mirror and doodled it on countless page margins. There’s even a rhyme that goes with it, which I’m sure you’re all dying to hear.

Wasn’t this pointless post ridiculously fun?


Evoke

Whenever I read interviews of chefs, they often talk about the interaction between chef and diner without actual contact but through their plates. A chef is able to really interact with a diner by invoking memories or provoking their thoughts with their food and I happen to greatly agree with this. I find food to be intensely personal and more often than not, deeply comforting.

I guess there in lies the problem with my love for chips, hey? ;)

But in all seriousness, I’m pretty great at attaching momentous moments with food (dates, birthdays, anniversaries, fights, accidents) and there’s all sorts of associations with food that make it so personal. A freshly made batch of basil pesto remind me of my eldest brother and how he cooked us meals during his university holidays and how I loved all his food and his passion for it probably triggered mine; a sweet spicy scented Hokkien dish called hong bak reminds me of my late great grandmother as every time my mum cooks that dish, she reminds me that it is a dish from her childhood and the recipe came from two generations away; and whenever I make Hainanese Chicken Rice I am reminded of my late paternal grandmother who would cook it for us after slaughtering her own chicken and how she so enthusiastically watched us eat every mouthful and proceed to smother us with kisses because we never learned to speak Hainanese so we couldn’t communicate with her and that was the only way she knew how to tell us she loved us.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns

I’m not certain I have an actual memory that involves cinnamon buns but this recipe was the first bread recipe I ever attempted. I must have been about 21 and was testing out the generous gift from my father, my very own KitchenAid in a girly pink colour. To date it’s still one of my favourite presents ever, but my parents are pretty awesome at gifting for “milestone” birthdays.

Fresh from the oven

Fresh from the oven

I had the biggest craving for these pillowy soft buns for over a week and I was too busy and lazy to get to it and was pretty close to heading out and just buying some from a bakery to satisfy the craving but I remembered just how great this was and I couldn’t bring myself to pay for something inferior.

This recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess

For the dough:
600g flour (plus more depending on stickiness of dough)
100g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
21g yeast or 45g fresh yeast
100g butter
400ml milk
2 eggs
(A 33 cm x 24 cm roasting tin or large brownie tin, or like me: a 12″ springform cake tin, lined at the bottom and sides)

For the filling:
150g unsalted butter, softened
150g sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, beaten, for glaze

1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Melt the butter and whisk it into the milk and eggs, then stir it into the flour mixture. Mix to combine and then knead the dough either by hand or using the dough hook of a food mixer until its smooth and springy. (If you find it is too sticky, just add more flour until its easier to handle – I added quite a fair bit more flour just to be able to get it off the dough hook) Form into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it to rise for about 25 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 220˚C.

3. Take one-third of the dough and roll it or stretch it to fit your tin; this will form the bottom of each bun when it has cooked.

3. Roll out the rest of the dough on a lightly floured surface, aiming to get a rectangle of roughly 50 x 25 cm. Mix the filling ingredients in a small bowl and then spread the rectangle with the buttery cinnamon mixture. Try to get even coverage on the whole of the dough. Roll it up from the longest side until you have a giant sausage. Cut the roll into 2 cm slices which should make about 20 rounds. Sit the founds in lines on top of the dough in the tin, swirly cut-side up. Don’t worry if they don’t fit snugly together as they will swell and become puffy when they prove.

4. Brush them with egg and then let them rise again for about 15 minutes to let them get duly puffy.

5. Put in the hot oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, by which time the buns will have risen and will be golden-brown in colour. Keep a close eye on them and rotate if you need to, because they do brown quite fast.

6. Don’t worry if they catch in places. Remove them from the tin and leave to cool slightly on a rack – it’s easy just to pick up the whole sheet of parchment and transfer them like that. Best served warm and just roughly torn (don’t worry about getting it in perfectly shaped buns, I know I wasn’t fussed!).

Ready for the oven

They don’t taste quite as great cold (although they’re not bad in any way!) but a few seconds in the microwave will fix it right up.

There’s just something soothing about sugar and cinnamon together and the crunchy crispness of that buttery mixture after its been baked in the oven. I’m so terribly in love with these buns that I had to give some away to prevent myself from scoffing it all down. It really pays to be my friend because of the goodies I hand out rather frequently! Apart from the fact that I’m all around awesome and I have modesty in spades.

Pillowy softness

I have to confess that they’re all gone right now and unfortunately, majority went straight into my own tummy during my assignment writing. My snacking habits are rather disgusting but better this and raw almonds than Grain Waves, right? That’s what I keep telling myself but I’ve started punishing myself in the gym by going to RPM classes as well. My bottom hasn’t felt this sore since the first time I attempted ice skating and my friends refused to let me hold on to the sides. I did eventually learn to ice skate without falling but I fear my bum has been permanently flattened from that ordeal. My only consolation is it’s better to have a terribly sore but firm ass than a jiggly one that screams, “I ATE AN ENTIRE BATCH OF NORWEGIAN CINNAMON BUNS BY MYSELF!”

Perhaps a few more years down the road, my memory of this particular recipe would be of the time I made it whilst struggling through my painful assignments as a university student, or better yet, they will forever remind my friends of me and the batch I shared with them.


Toma(y)to, Toma(h)to

This might possibly be one of my last (or final few) blog post(s) for a month or so because things are really starting to get intense with my workload. So intense that I’ve drawn a regimented work schedule to ensure that I stay on track and get productive. Honestly, we all know I’ll suck at keeping to it to the T but I will try my hardest. I have of course generously penciled in good breaks for myself like trips to the gym and nice dinners with my amazing support system lest I go crazy. It’ll also be a nice break to head out of my apartment/library and be forced to interact with human beings occasionally.

Another reason for the lack of food posts is that my housemate is leaving on a small holiday for a while so I’ll be all by my lonesome and well, cooking pretty food isn’t as fun without anyone cheering me on and giving me their enthusiastic feedback. I will however be susceptible to procrastibaketion. I used to be teased for my Stress Brownies because when I’d get overwhelmed by my essays, I’d whip up a batch of brownies at about 2 a.m. just to have something better to do. So mayyyybeeee there’ll be baked goods. I have a bunch of egg whites to use up actually, so I may be trying a pavlova soon.

Tomato and Basil Spaghetti

Tomato and Basil Spaghetti

I like to think of myself as a non-fussy eater but there’s one thing I absolutely abhor: fresh tomatoes. I hate it in sandwiches and am always picking them out and disgusted that I have to deal with the slimy mess that’s left behind. The texture of it just reminds me of… well, vomit. It might be me projecting a childhood experience with tomatoes and the reappearance of a meal when I was sick but it seriously grosses me out. I’ve seen people bite into a tomato like it’s an apple and that’s skincrawlingly unacceptable in my books. Why oh why!

That said, when I saw Ruhlman’s recipe for this pasta dish, I knew I just had to make it. Seriously, read the recipe and watch the video. You’ll want to make it, too.

As much as I dislike raw tomatoes, I seriously loved this dish. It was ridiculously satisfying and pleasurable to (cook and) eat. Yet another recipe to add to my lazy weekday repertoire.

Maybe I can be talked out of my tomato-hate yet. I’m not going to crazily add it to my sandwiches or bite into a juicy fruit anytime soon but perhaps I won’t be so quick to dismiss it as something revolting. Baby steps, baby steps.

Upon seeing this, Joyce sent me a desperate request to cook this for her with the addition of bacon. Well really now, am I going to say no to that?

Ps. I took a look at my stats for the first time ever last night and noticed that I’ve received a grand total of 7,500+ hits to date. What?! When did that happen? Thank you for reading, all of you. I had no idea that a thousand people had dropped by let alone over 7000! It’s comforting, albeit a little disturbing to know that I’m not babbling to a silent abyss after all :)


Hostess With The Mostess

Last weekend was one of my final weekends of freedom before things get really hectic and I become a sad student living in the library in sweatpants, glasses and unplucked eyebrows with horrible eyebags so I decided to host a little dinner party. Coincidentally it was a weekend where all my nearest and dearest were actually in Melbourne so it was basically the most perfect timing of the year. I’m surprised my apartment didn’t implode with the chatter and laughter ricocheting off the walls.

It was actually a pretty big event having people over for dinner. It’s not that we live in a barn or anything but we don’t entertain too formally so we don’t really need to care if we haven’t dusted in a few weeks and our couch has an unfolded throw over it because we usually need to keep our feet warm while watching TV. But we went all out for this dinner party: we tidied, scrubbed, dusted, mopped and cleaned the kitchen up so well that I almost felt guilty for having to cook in it for fear of dirtying it up again.

Then there was the menu planning. From the get go, the main two requests I fielded were for Crack Pie and some form of pork or another. You see, my friends are equally as crazy about pork as I am. With those requests in mind, I got to work.

References

References

The initial menu was really ambitious. It was going to look like:
Starters/Nibbles:
Prosciutto Ring bread
Rosemary Focaccia Sheet
Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse

Main:
Six-Hour Roast Pork Shoulders
Potato Gratin / Gratin de Pommes de Terre
Provencal Vegetables / Byaldi

Dessert:
Crack Pie

Unfortunately I was not the Superwoman I previously assumed myself to be, so I had to eliminate the items that I italicised. Anyway, maybe having those other two items would have been a slight overkill but I still really want to try making the Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps. It’s a recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook and it sounds so simple and delicious!

Then I had to go grocery shopping on a Friday with my trolley, which I usually detest because I find it so bulky. I had a really good time shopping though, as one of my favourite delis in Victoria Market doesn’t open on weekends so I was able to catch up with the proprietor, sample some cheeses (yum!) and talk a little bit about salts and butters. I found most of the proprietors a lot cheerier and chattier on Friday as well as the market was more pleasant to be in without the overwhelming weekend crush.

Vegetable loot

Vegetable loot

When my housemate saw all the vegetables unpacked, she joked, “Wow, is this FarmVille?”

Deli goodies

Deli goodies

Then there were the goodies from the deli like prosciutto and hot sopressata sausages (for the Prosciutto Ring bread), Comte, goat cheese and Parmigianno Reggiano, and of course, one of my favourite things to cook with, Lescure butter. If you’ve never tried French butter, you really need to. It’s a tad pricier but it makes a world of difference. I remember when I first had Galette des Rois, which my friend made after her stint in France, and I was blown away and the secret to the perfect creaminess of the galette was the French butter. H-E-A-V-E-N.

I really enjoyed cooking for the dinner party because of the new dishes I was trying out from the Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love this cookbook because of how approachable all the dishes are and how I look at them and just want to eat them. The dishes I chose didn’t come with pictures, unfortunately, so how it turned out is my assumption that I’ve done it right.

The Byaldi or Provencal Vegetables was described as a refined form of ratatouille and Keller said it’d go with anything so that drew me in immediately. As much as I love pork, I understand that with a meat-heavy meal you need a subtle flavoured vegetable dish to go with it and I so loved that I could cook it a day in advance as it was recommended for the flavours to be fully incorporated into the vegetables.

Uncooked Byaldi

Uncooked Byaldi

The fun part of this dish for me was getting to use my mandolin. I smartly used the finger guard as I was working pretty quickly slicing the vegetables. I know I’ve swooned about my mandolin before but can I just say again how useful it is?

Byaldi

Byaldi, out of the oven

Let me tell you why I love Thomas Keller’s recipes: the details. I fully understand why he’s one of the best chefs in the world because of the tiny little details that he pays attention to. I enjoyed making the dishes from his cookbook simply because it was so educational (hence the fun!). For the Byaldi I learned how to peel the skin off tomatoes and to make a sachet; both techniques are obviously important and will benefit me but no recipe picked off a food magazine would demand these details off you, or perhaps there’s an assumption that the home cook only wants to make “simple food”.

Up close

For the potato gratin, the new techniques I picked up were the soaking of the potatoes before cooking them to remove the starch (so handy!) and how to tie a bouquet garni.

Bouquet garni

Bouquet Garni

The final dish itself was beautiful, although it didn’t photograph well. I forgot the final coating of thyme and Panko breadcrumbs but thankfully the taste of the dish did not suffer for it.

Potato Gratin

Potato Gratin

Another reason why I love Keller’s recipes is just how simple everything is. I remember the first time I flipped through The French Laundry Cookbook, I was surprised at how simple all the ingredients were but yet with the right combination of ingredients, he made them great.

For the main course, we had Six Hour Roasted Pork Shoulders. I made this recipe once before with a pork loin. It was a pretty massive meal of 2.7kg worth of pork and the entire apartment smelled like heaven while it was roasting.

Pork shoulders

Pork Shoulders

As Jacey said, “I wish we could bottle this scent.”

Melty goodness

Melty gooey goodness

For dessert, it was Crack Pie with some improvisations. The first time I made it, I mentioned that it was much too sweet for my liking and I adored the crust a whole lot more than the entire pie so I needed more crust. So with version 2.0, I doubled the cookie recipe for the crust and ended up with a lot more crust and extra cookies to snack on, and even extra pie crust that I ate out of the mixing bowl with my bare hands. Shh, it’s my dirty little secret!

Crack Pie

Crack Pie

I also upped the salt quantities in both the crust and the filling, and I reduced the amount of white and brown sugar in the filling by 50g each. I still think it could be a little less sweet but my darling friends who tasted my first batch loved this version a whole lot more too, and the ones with the sweet tooth all found it ideal whereas I personally could do with less sugar as well. I was just a little worried it’d compromise the texture of the pie but I could mess around and add more cream. No disrespect to pastry chef Christina Tosi, it’s just that I’m not a sugar junkie.

I hope everyone had fun that night but I definitely had the most fun cooking up a storm. I went to bed after the dinner party with my shoulders stiff and my legs achy from being on my legs for the better part of two days but it was still immensely satisfying especially when I got to bring everyone together to break bread (literally!).

I wish I had remembered to photograph the Prosciutto Ring bread but I forgot all about it. I have enough prosciutto and sopressata for another batch so I might make it again and photograph it then.

The great thing about my friends, apart from their crazy company, is how thoughtful and generous they are to me. Apart from the generous bottles of wines and non-alcoholic beverages,

Spoils

I got a box of macarons from Lindt Cafe (I had two for breakfast on Sunday) and a bouquet of flowers because once Stan came by and there was a vase of flowers on my dining table and he asked, “Who’s your secret admirer?” and I sadly admitted that I bought myself flowers as I hadn’t received flowers from guys in well over a year (oh the depressing timeline of my single life!). Imagine how tickled I was that Stan remembered that conversation and decided to gift me with flowers. Thoughtful little gestures warm my heart.

Of course the biggest pay off was the fact that everyone went home stuffed and happy. It’s what every hostess wants most out of a dinner party.