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!


Winging It

Baked Wings with Creamy Polenta

The other day I was browsing Coles and they had some crazy special on chicken wings. I think I got a kilo for $5 or something silly so I of course bought it. Then realized I didn’t know quite what to do with it. And so I made this.

I don’t have a recipe per se, it involves a Herbie’s rub, which my lovely friend Fleur gifted to me all the way from Sydney and a random concoction of honey, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and I think dried oregano. I think. It was then baked in a 180˚C oven with all the marinade poured over. You end up with some pretty awesome gravy that goes excellently with the polenta.

I have a newfound appreciation for polenta. Especially the creamy variety. It tastes the best with cream cheese but I don’t always have that on hand so even a tiny bit of butter works. Mmm. This was some good stuff.


Joyeux Noel 2010

I realise I have been terribly absent and I probably deserve a small slap on the wrist for it. I wish I had an excuse but going beyond, “I just didn’t feel like it”… I have nothing. I don’t really reckon I have a “following” per se but I’ve been questioned by numerous friends about this neglect and I guess it’s time to buck up!

I was busiest in the kitchen during the festive season because Nick hosts an annual Christmas BBQ at his gorgeous abode and I volunteered to help with grocery shopping and marination. I have also infiltrated the inner sanctum of his friends so I was kindly invited to the Christmas Eve potluck shindig for close friends, for which I also cooked some dishes. Then after Christmas, we had to deal with leftovers and the repercussions of overcatering. I’m not complaining, though. It was so much fun and it’s always great to break bread with good company. Mostly because there was always copious amounts of alcohol involved.

(Digression: A guy from the UK made us some Snakebites, a really delicious concoction! It’s half cider, half lager and a little bit of Ribena cordial. DELISH!)

There were two things I had my mind set on when Christmas was around the corner: cute Christmas sugar cookies and steamed fruit cake. The former is always such a cute idea and I’m a sucker for different cookie cutters. And the latter is just such a Christmas thing. I always associate fruit cakes with Christmas and I usually loathe them but my mother makes the BEST steamed fruit cake ever. I nixed the recipe from her book and got baking.

Sugar cookies

Sugar cookies

I have to admit I don’t have a no-fail-go-to recipe for cookies except a chocolate chip one that I found on About.com and when I share the recipe with others they think I’m trying to pull a fast one on them and am actually being a stingy little shit about my recipes. Please believe me when I say that I Google recipes more often than not and they just work and taste good. Not all recipes are duds and it doesn’t have to come from my Grandma’s Super Secret Recipe Archives to be good.

This rolled sugar cookies recipe is from here. Over a 100,000 people have saved the recipe. I was like, “Okay, majority rules.” It’s pretty great, actually. It wasn’t too sweet and the addition of my icing helped add a little more crunch and sweetness to it which was a lucky thing.

The recipe for the icing was from here except I changed the quantities of the liquid to tablespoons after reading the reviews. Just go easy with it. Don’t dump in 2 tablespoons of milk and corn syrup without waiting to see the consistency. I think I went with only a tablespoon of syrup and 1.5 tablespoons of milk.

Icing the cookies was really fun. I knew I didn’t have the patience nor the time to sit around and delicately decorate each and every cookie (I had something like 40 cookies) so this crazy drizzle method worked best for me. It still looked festive and *ahem* “modern”. I especially loved my new reindeer cookie cutters but they were so annoying to use as the antlers broke off every time I lifted my cookie onto the Silpat. In the end, I decided to roll the dough out ONTO the Silpat and removed the excess.

Steamed fruit cake

Steamed fruit cake

The steamed fruit cake was all about rum. In fact, I think it tasted more like rum than cake. That’s a good thing, btw!

One of the most fun parts of the cake-making process for me was making the caramel. I love the scent of caramel and the fact that it lingered on for a few days.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

This was a partial part of the spread for the Christmas Eve dinner. There’s ham on the left by Dennis & Yosa with the most crazy good chilli-mango mayonnaise ever, my two roast chickens and pot of potato gratin above it, Simon’s quiche, and Dennis & Yosa’s grilled vegetables with fried haloumi.

Pauline’s amazing pipis linguine was missing in the pic above.

For dessert we had a gorgeous pavlova made by Kylie.

My cookies and cake also made it to the Snack Table for the guests to graze on while we were getting the food ready for the table.

And if you want to know what silliness ensued in the kitchen… well, the most absurd was cooking the two chooks and the potato gratin in my pretty silk dress.

A+ for looking groomed while cooking!

Kudos to Nick who trusted me not to burn down his gorgeous house, who generously offered his kitchen to my ministrations and who patiently washed dishes that I kept dumping in the sink. And who photographed most of the pictures of the food used here.

Coming up: Christmas BBQ and what I did with leftovers!


Irresistible

And so the not-so-prodigal author of the blog returns.

I’ve been eating out a lot or just eating bad junk at home so I decided it was time to return to home-cooked meals. The weather’s warming up at last although the past week has been horribly wet and humid. For the first time in my life I’ve been dealing with the horrible symptoms of hayfever and it’s been torture! I’ve been catching up on sleep so that’s the only upside because I’m finding the sneezing and sniffly nose so very unsexy.

Today for lunch I decided to make some chicken nuggets. Last night before heading out I marinated two chicken breasts, and it was ready to bake this afternoon.

Sunday Lunch

Sunday Lunch

It was a little bit of everything. Wedges (frozen and baked), the nuggets, Sriracha mayonnaise (uh-huh you heard me right!) and a salad of leafy greens, toasted walnuts and a honey-red wine vinaigrette.

My favourite part of the meal

Chicken nuggets

Chicken Nuggets

I adored these nuggets and they were a bit of a random whim of fancy so I’ll try to think of the quantities and ingredients used. If you watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution or if you have half a brain, you’d know that most of the chicken nuggets you get from the frozen food section contains a lot of disgusting junk like chicken skin, cartilage and fat. Good stuff when you have the munchies or if you’re drunk and starving, but not exactly the most healthful stuff to eat. I happen to love nuggets but I love them more when I make them from scratch.

Tender Oven-Baked Chicken Nuggets
Serves 2

2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
5 Tbsp Greek yogurt (or more if needed)
Paprika
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 sprigs thyme
Salt and pepper
Panko breadcrumbs

1. Put the chicken pieces, yogurt, paprika, garlic, thyme and seasoning in a glass bowl, and toss to coat. You don’t have to remove the leaves from the thyme, I just chucked it in on the stem. I also went pretty heavy on the paprika but I happen to love the taste of it so go light on that if you’re unsure. You can taste the yogurt (then spit it out!) to check the taste.

2. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours.

3. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Toss chicken pieces in a bowl of Panko breadcrumbs to completely cover each piece and place on a sheet tray. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.

4. Turn the grill/broiler on and leave the nuggets in for a further 3-5 minutes or until lightly brown. Mine didn’t seem to want to darken up though!

5. Serve with Sriracha mayonnaise, a salad and potato wedges. Or whatever you want, but that’s what I did!

So what you’ll be needing to make mayonnaise is a stick blender. I suppose you could use a whisk and I’ve done that before and my arm almost fell off. The stick blender method takes about a minute so I’d go with that option if I were you!

Here’s what you’ll be needing. You can use lemon or lime juice instead of vinegar, though. I mixed a bit of both but I’ve done with either as well.

Sriracha Mayonnaise
Makes 200ml mayonnaise

1 egg yolk
2-3 tsp lemon/lime juice or white vinegar
170ml olive oil or canola oil (something with a very light flavour so canola oil is preferable but I ran out)
A pinch of salt
1.5 tsp Sriracha hot chilli sauce

1. Place the egg yolk, salt and acid (lemon/lime juice or vinegar) in a small bowl, glass measuring jug or the container that came with your stick blender. Blend it until it just comes together.

2. Pour the oil in a steady, thin stream whilst continuously blending. DO NOT STOP. You can jiggle the stick blender about or move it up and down. When you see the mayonnaise start to thicken and you feel like it’s the right consistency that you want, you can stop pouring the oil. You may not use all of the oil, even.

3. Add the Sriracha and blend until well combined. Stop, taste and adjust seasoning according to preference.

Sriracha Mayonnaise

Sriracha Mayonnaise

I feel like I just discovered the bees knees and it’s all thanks to Esther who talked about her Thanksgiving leftovers and Sriracha mayonnaise. Mmm! I suppose you could use bottled mayonnaise but why would you? Mayonnaise takes a minute to make and it’s so much tastier than the bottled versions and there’s zero preservatives!

Apart from how easy and fuss-free and healthy these nuggets were, I think I loved the fact that it was so tender despite the fact that it was baked chicken breast. The yogurt makes all the difference. If you wanted to be naughty you could use buttermilk but Greek yogurt (more protein than the average yogurt!) is a better call.

Those black dots you see on it are peppercorns, not burnt bits, by the way. I have a little bit leftover but I don’t think it’ll make it until tomorrow. If you’re a Sriracha fiend like me, you’re going to love the combination of paprika in the nuggets with the Sriracha mayo. And if you aren’t a Sriracha fan, I’m pretty sure the mayo would change your mind!


Niggles

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?

Chicken & Mushroom Quesadilla

Chicken & Mushroom Quesadilla

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!)
2 tortillas

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.


An Attempt At Sous Vide

Sous vide

Sous vide

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

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

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

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

Sous vide

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

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Chicken fresh out of the bag

Gravy

Gravy…

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

Plated

Sous vide chicken with orange + caramelized fennel salad

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

Chicken

Sous vide chicken

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

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

Salad

One of my favourite salads

Dinner spread

Dinner spread

Served it up with some mash potatoes as well.

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