Americana

My closest friends know that I have an obsessive personality. I’ve gone through the Top Chef obsession, the Twilight faildom, and most recently I’ve been pretty caught up with Game of Thrones (does anyone else watch this? It’s SO good!) and Southern food. This is probably because I have two really close friends in America and we love talking food, especially when I’m chatting with Jasmine. With the aforementioned Top Chef obsession, I was always curious about this biscuits, gravy, chicken fried steak, collard greens, BBQ, “soul food”, etc phenomenon that had professionally trained chefs drooling and sometimes really cranky. So after a night of too much discussion on Southern food and too much time browsing Epicurious for recipes, I decided I just have to make myself a southern meal one day.

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Southern fried chicken, biscuits & gravy

That day was yesterday.

I should say that the first thing one should know when thinking about Southern food is all notions of dieting, healthy eating, a trim waistline and especially a fear of pork/lard have to be thrown right out the window and absolutely forgotten. Dismissed and never to be brought up while you’re chowing down on glorious, sinful food.

I even whipped out my deep frier for the first time in years! It ended up using a lot of oil but it was worth it because I love that I didn’t have to deal with painful oil splatters, a greasy kitchen floor or uneven cooking. Deep friers are such handy appliances. Look at that gorgeous golden colour!

A meal of such epic proportions required guests so I asked Tessa and Jason over for dinner. Tessa asked if I needed anything, but as I was strictly sticking to an Americana themed menu, I told her she could supply the drinks. So she brought us sangria! Mmmm. Tessa is the queen of sangria. This was such a good jug of potent deliciousness. We still have some leftover which I’m sure my housemate and I will dispose of safely.

If you’re wondering what exactly this is, I’ll be kind and redirect you right to the recipe. It’s called Chicken Biscuits. Now, I have absolutely no clue what this was meant to taste like, especially the biscuits. I’ve asked numerous friends and I think they all told me it resembled scones but more buttery. I’ve had some dreadful scones in my lifetime so I wasn’t really excited about the idea of scones with my fried chicken. But then I made this biscuits and the moment they were fresh out of the oven, I tore into one and widened my eyes in surprised pleasure. It was flaky on the outside but the inside was pleasantly fluffy. And yes, there was a certain sort of buttery flavour to it that added to its magic. Before dinner rolled around, Jacey and I had managed a biscuit each. Plain!

Let’s talk about this gravy for a while. When I heard gravy, I was thinking of your typical deglazed pan. Then I saw this recipe (which you should click HERE for), I knew it would be spectacular. First of all, SAUSAGE. Looove sausage. And bacon drippings? Hello, sold!

I’m going to go a little off-track and ramble on about some TV show I was watching the other night about raising pigs and slaughtering them and the contents of a supermarket sausage vs a butcher’s sausage and why the price difference is there. I bought sausages from the deli in the market today but I had underestimated my portion by about 100g so I had to run to the supermarket and get some pork sausages. When I tore off the casings of both sausages, I was appalled to see the difference in colour. I wish I had taken a picture now. The sausage from the market was a gorgeous red with not much fat in it and you could see herbs in the mix but the supermarket sausage was pale, a light pink, almost like the colour of chicken. There was SO much fat in there as well and the texture of it was so disgusting; soft and sticky. The butcher’s sausage was firm and didn’t just all out of the casing like guts from a cheap horror film.

Now, although the idea of bacon drippings set my heart aflutter with keen anticipation, I decided it was just ridiculous to buy bacon to render the fat and discard it. I also have a handy tub of duck fat just sitting in my refrigerator for when I want to make roast potatoes (mm!) so I thought, “Hey, I could up the ante on the fat. I’ll make it with duck fat!” and so I did. And it was glorious. Oh the smell of duck fat as it permeates through the air is heavenly. Plus, I loved that it wasn’t a dark, unforgiving taint the way bacon drippings tend to be. I played fast and loose with the recipe too, I think I doubled the flour and the milk. I just went with the texture and taste (and volume!) that felt right.

Before you think me a terribly unhealthful hostess who didn’t provide any sort of colour for her dinner guests, I actually made a really delicious salad. Unfortunately for me and you, salads don’t tend to photograph too well, especially not this one. Also especially when I don’t have a salad bowl and in my haste, I ended up using a metal mixing bowl. All class.

The salad was something I took off the September issue of Delicious. It’s a watercress, fennel avocado, tarragon salad with goat’s cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. I pretty much doubled the salad recipe for four of us but we actually wiped the salad bowl clean. Despite the fact that we were pretty much struggling to finish our dinners!

New York Cheesecake

For dessert I figured it was absolutely necessary to end with a great American dessert: the New York Cheesecake. It was mainly for selfish reasons because I’ve been craving cheesecake for a long time. I hate to admit this on here because I will sound like the biggest snob you’ve ever met, but I hate buying cakes in Melbourne because I don’t think Melburnians know what good cake is. The places I often get recommended to serve dry, too sweet, too ordinary, subpar cakes. They look pretty but they taste like flavoured sawdust. However, when I have a craving for a cake, it’s really annoying to think that I can’t fulfill that craving by just walking out the door and handing money over to a proprietor and getting what I want. I’m always met with disappointment and then I’m fueled with the need to fix my problem by making the dessert I want, and splendidly too.
(Ps. I’ve had some really good cake in Melbourne too, though. Always seems to be of the chocolate variety, though. Burch & Purchese and Le Petit Gateau have made me a happy camper so far)

Long story short: I wanted cheesecake. I had to make it.

I found the recipe in my new favourite cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook. All the accolades and praise that has been bestowed upon this book has not done this book enough justice. I don’t know how much more I can praise this book and promote it to friends and family short of buying everyone a copy for their birthdays. If you’re one of those people who hates cookbooks without pictures ( I am sometimes this person too actually), this may be a tough one to follow through with. But then I sat down and just read through the book and I marveled at the well thought out layout, the recipes and the brilliant serving suggestions (they hook you up with other recipes in the book that will go with the dish! Dinner party menu solved!) and I got over my need to see pretty glossy pictures beside every recipe. I have an overactive sense of imagination anyway, it was starting to get blunt in my old age.

Anyway, the cheesecake recipe is called Junior’s Cheesecake and it is wonderful. I messed up because by some fluke, my conversion of ounces to gram came up 100g short and I was too lazy to jump out of the apartment for a brick of cream cheese… I actually made the cake with less cream cheese than was called for. Hey America, how about getting on board with the metric system, huh? I was nervous about it because I was afraid it would be too watery, or it wouldn’t taste creamy enough but thankfully, it was fantastic!

My one gripe is the loose biscuit base without flavour. If you’ve noticed in the picture, there are biscuit crumbs everywhere. The recipe called for crushed graham crackers, patted into a buttered pan base. I was hesitant but thought hey, might be worth giving it a shot and now that I’ve done it, my advice is never ever do this to a beautiful cheesecake. When I make this cheesecake again (and trust me, I will), I’ll be doing the crust the delicious way with melted butter, sugar and a pinch of salt then patted down and either baked or frozen to set. Other than that, the cheesecake was wonderful. It was fluffy and light and just creamy enough.

If you can’t take my word for it, I’ll just quietly tell you that after spooning the batter into the pan and popping the cake into the oven, I brought the mixing bowl over to Jacey to let her have a little bit of batter left in the bowl. She loved it so much that I had to leave my bowl and spatula with her as she polished it clean! She also had a slice of cheesecake all to herself for dessert. And may I quote her praise, “This may be the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.”

Next up from the Southern food recipes I browsed: Fried Oyster Po’ Boys! Mmm!


Fizz

It appears that my interest in this blog ebbs and flows like an angry shoreline after a tumultuous storm. I promise I am still here but I think while I was busy regrouping over the past few months, I lost a little of my sparkle and enthusiasm for the kitchen and writing about food. I’m still in the kitchen although these days it seems to be for functionality rather than hobby-refinement.

It is a little ironic that I actually bought a proper domain for Hey, Sugar! and I stopped writing for months! It is now Hey, Sugar Sugar! like that Archies song. So you can update your links to http://heysugarsugar.com if you want, although the old address will instantly redirect you regardless.

I really need to get to the housekeeping of this blog. I need a new layout, one that allows larger photo displays and better colours. But I totally cannot be bothered. I used to be all up in the HTML shiz but I am unbelievably rusty at it now and need so much referencing to put a layout together that I am almost willing to throw some money at the problem. Any recommendations? Or tips?

This was from a potluck meal I attended at the recently married D & Y’s place and I was put in charge of dessert. It was a delicious meal of D’s legendary rotisserie lamb. I was delegated the task of preparing something sweet yet light and after a quick few minutes browsing through my modest collection of cookbooks, I settled on this from David Lebovitz’s Ready For Dessert.

Champagne Gelee with Summer Fruits

The gelee was surprisingly bubblicious, with the effervescence from the sparkling wine I mixed with the gelatine. I kept calling it “sparkling wine” and my friends kept telling me I could just go with calling it “champagne”. The pedantic side of me says NAY, HOW CAN?! (in my super Malaysian aunty voice) but it was bubbly. That’s all that really mattered. It’s not like it was a bottle of Krug or anything.

I really enjoyed it because it actually tasted like there was alcohol in there. Who could ever dislike that sort of flavour? The zest of the citrus was a nice contrast but mostly the tart and sweet combination of the variety of fruits helped the dish a lot.

I highly recommend this for a quick, fuss-free dessert that can be prepared ahead of time. Just be ready to spend some time slicing up fruits (no, canned fruits is not an acceptable option). If you don’t already have David Lebovitz’s book then I strongly suggest you rectify that problem as soon as possible.

Ps. Yes, I’m back and with a bit of backlogged pictures/food to post. I just hope I can remember them all!


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?


Golden Goodie

One of my favourite things to eat and cook is the roast chicken. I love how versatile it is and how you can add on to it with whatever you have in your fridge or according to your whim and fancy. I like mine pretty classic with carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and shallots. The shallots are my favourite secret ingredient and they’re so good roasted with their skin on; soft and mushy, translucent and beautifully caramelized.

Roast chicken and vegetables

Roast Chicken & Vegetables

In my years of roasting chickens, I’ve never bothered trussing them. I just never thought to and always assumed it was difficult until I saw this video on Ruhlman’s blog and it was so easy I almost slapped myself on the forehead in a major “D’OH!” moment.

This is the video on Ruhlman’s post on how to truss a chicken:

Coupled with the fact that one of my favourite episode of No Reservations ever, where Bourdain talks of cooking techniques (and I’m positive I’ve talked about it here before too) had the great Thomas Keller talking about his method of roasting a chicken, I knew I had to truss my chicken.

Thomas Keller on No Reservations:

I also mentioned the Bouchon cookbook, where Thomas Keller describes the food at Bouchon and why the roast chicken is one of his favourite foods. Who could blame him, really? After watching him make a roast chicken on No Reservations, I was actually dying to dive into my screen to get a bite of that chicken. It was so perfectly golden and crispy!

I was a woman on a mission to make the perfect roast chicken!

So I heeded the advice of Thomas Keller. I tempered my chicken. I took it out of the freezer at midnight the night before to thaw so it was perfectly thawed and at room temperature when I was ready to cook it the next day at 6 p.m. I wasn’t worried about it going bad, it’s still wintery cold over here.

I then obsessively patted the chicken dry inside and out. I diligently removed the wishbone as advised and found it popped out almost effortlessly. I stuffed the cavity with a few sprigs of thyme, salt and pepper. I trussed the chicken and got it down perfect on my first try.

“Hey, this IS easy!” I thought to myself in surprise.

I liberally coated the chicken with salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. I popped it into a 220˚C oven for an hour, and popped it out. I gasped in delight at the beauty of my first evenly golden roast chicken.

Perfect roast chicken

Perfect roast chicken

I let it sit for 15 minutes before carving into it. I admired it for the 15 minutes it sat on my wooden chopping board.

Cripy

Crispy skin

Look at that perfect crispy skin! I was positively salivating watching the chicken rest. I was getting impatient about the resting period but I knew it was necessary.

Then I carved it, and served it atop some roasted vegetables and drizzled some of the pan juices over the chicken and vegetables.

Ready to eat

And I ate it. My eyes widened in surprise. My tastebuds rejoiced. My heart fluttered. My brain cheered fanatically for Thomas Keller. I patted myself on the back for executing this so well. Crispy skin, moist and juicy insides, perfectly cooked. No red bones, no pink flesh, NOTHING. And the carving was so easy with the wishbone gone. No hairy bits. No struggles to sink my knife into the carcass of the chicken and covering myself and my counter with oil.

Easy. Perfect!

It was so good that when I had friends over for dinner less than a week later and they requested a roast chicken, I happily obliged. This time it was two chickens at the same time with a mountain of vegetables. I was up for the challenge despite having to rush to put the meal on the table after uni.

I decided to spruce it up a little. I stuffed butter under the skin (and pathetically ripped it in my haste!).

Butter under skin

Butter under chicken skin

I chopped up a lot of vegetables, seasoned it, mixed in some rosemary and thyme, added some bay leaves, and liberally doused it in extra virgin olive oil.

Vegetables

Vegetables

I patted the chickens dry. I stuffed it with rosemary and thyme. I trussed it. I seasoned the top of it, added some fresh thyme leaves and some crushed garlic cloves.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

And I made sure I used good salt.

Fleur de Sel

It popped out of the oven after an hour to the deep sniffs of my friends and cries of, “Oh God, it smells so good in here!”

To be honest, I can’t decide if I liked it more or less with the butter under the skin, or if it even made a difference. I’m going with not really so I’m going to skip that out next time.

The best part about making roast chicken? There’s always plenty of leftovers for the next day and I looooove them even more then. It’s strange but I love them (and the vegetables) cold. It’s so good.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’d eat roast chicken every day of the week; hot or cold, and would never complain.


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.


Third Time’s The Charm

I feel a little bit like a snobby little bitch saying this but I rarely encounter absolute dismal failures in the kitchen. They may not be perfect-excuse-me-while-I-tell-the-universe-about-this! but it’s never been inedible or far off from what they’re meant to be. Even with macarons!

But there’s one thing that I tried making that was totally, totally horrible. HORRIBLE.

A sponge cake.

The recipe required the gentle whisking of eggs in a double boiler before combining them with the other ingredients. It was a recipe from the Baking & Pastry book by The Culinary Institute of America so you know, I was like, “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST SPONGE CAKE IN THE WORLD!”

The thing about that book is all the recipes are meant to make an insane amount of cakes. I think the recipe I used was meant to give me six sponge cakes, so obviously I had to size it down. I’m still uncertain if it failed because I suck or because you’re not meant to size it down but it was a FLAT sponge cake and totally hard. Seriously.

Rock. Hard.

It was so disappointing. I made it twice and both times were disastrous. The worst thing was it was meant to be part of my brother’s birthday cake. I had made him a Black Forest Gateaux because he loves them.

Black Forest Gateaux

The failed Black Forest Gateaux

It looks okay, huh? Totally deceiving.

It was actually really yummy apart from the stupid cakes. The cake was filled and iced with dairy-free whipped cream (one of my favourite things!). It’s more like a take on the Black Forest Gateaux because there was no kirsch, but I do think I replaced it with another liquor.. It’s all fuzzy now. I blocked it out of my memory because it was such a mess. The cake would NOT stay stacked, in fact, it slid apart in the fridge and I had to insert dowels to support the cake, and some of the cherries were popping out of the sides of the cake and obviously, I didn’t know how to decorate a cake that would look acceptable for a man. I mean, look at that! Laughable!

It was a NIGHTMARE.

Moist Chocolate Genoise

Moist Chocolate Genoise

So when I found a whole section of Genoise in the Rose Levy Beranbaum book The Cake Bible, I was willing to squelch my paranoia and fear for the possibility of a triumphant cake.

The reason I picked this recipe was Rose’s description of the cake. “This cake has the light texture of a genoise but is more velvety and moist.” What? Velvety and moist genoise? SOLD!

Moist Chocolate Genoise

I’ll admit it was a little terrifying to whip up because it was rather simple. I kept thinking, “Surely it can’t be this easy?” The cake’s ingredients were really interesting too. It required bittersweet chocolate mixed with boiling water. There was absolutely no butter or flour. Just eggs and sugar.

And there was a little warning at the end, “Avoid opening the oven door before the minimum time or the cake could fall.” I was afraid I’d peep into the oven and discover another flat cake.

But thankfully the cake turned out all right.

Fresh out of the oven (and emptied out of the pan)

Better than all right, actually. I was surprised to be staring at this perfect, fluffy genoise. Then I sliced into it and ate some.

Fluffy goodness

Fluffy spongy deliciousness

It was seriously freakingamazingohmygod good! Because there was no cocoa powder in this, and instead just a really good amount of dark chocolate, the chocolatey taste of this was intense! I used Lindt Excellence 75% cocoa chocolate bars, and it was like eating chocolate, just in a fluffy and light cake form. It had a very mild sweetness as it’s meant to be a base for a Black Forest Gateaux or any other form of ganache. I left it plain, though.

It was a good thing because the next day, I crumbled it into my cereal and Weet Bix breakfast and it was the perfect chocolatey kickstart to my morning. Then I dunked it into my tea and slurped all the crumbs off the bottom of my mug. Mmm.

Sometimes a plain genoise has its benefits.


Oh, Madeleine

Madeleines

Madeleines

The first time I had madeleines, I actually made them myself too. I remember being delighted by the unique texture of it. If you’re Malaysian, I would liken it to kuih bahulu, except the taste is much richer and it’s fluffier.

I recently procured David Lebovitz‘s book, The Sweet Life in Paris, and upon quick perusal through the recipe index, I zoomed in on the Madeleines. I figured his recipe has got to be better than the my first attempt recipe from years ago.

Madeleines

It involved a few more steps than my other recipe but it turned out beautifully. Actually, I wish I had bothered to read through his blog post on it because he recommends a few things that I didn’t do: the freezing of the madeleine tray beforehand as well as at least 3-hour of refrigeration of the batter before baking. I only refrigerated it for an hour before my brain was chanting, “Madeleines, madeleines, madeleinesssss!” like a madeleine-crazed zombie.

What can I say? I’m impatient when it comes to delicious little morsels; especially fluffy, sweet, buttery, zesty goodness in the shape of a seashell.

Madeleines

Humpy glazed goodness

When I was back in Malaysia, finding madeleine trays was like trying to lick my elbow. Impossible. So when I headed to Singapore, my brother’s fiancee’s mother was kind enough to hop on over to one of their huge baking stores (which I’ve forgotten the name of because my brain is a sieve) and got me two trays. Sadly, I haven’t used them yet but I will now that I have this amazing recipe.

They’re not too easy to find in Australia, too, to be honest. But I got myself an inexpensive, non-stick version from Baker’s Secret, off Peters of Kensington. Oh, Peters of Kensington, what would my kitchen be without you?

Freshly glazed

Freshly glazed madeleines

You may notice that sometimes I don’t put up recipes, and it’s not because I’m a recipe hoarder or I’m stingy but I observe copyright laws and unless I’ve tweaked it and can claim it was merely “adapted” from the original, I don’t feel comfortable with posting the recipe.

That said, there was tweaking here, but it was merely the addition of vanilla extract. I just can’t leave things well enough alone.

But as luck would have it, David Lebovitz is a very generous (and funny) man, so hop on over here to get the recipe. I highly recommend reading his blog too. His Parisian life is entirely fascinating and he makes the most mouth-watering looking food.

Madeleines

Oh and what became of 24 madeleines? I gave 8 away, and devoured most of the rest myself, with a small sharing portion for Jacey. And I’m already planning my next batch because I need them.