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.
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!
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 :)
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.
The initial menu was really ambitious. It was going to look like:
Prosciutto Ring bread
Rosemary Focaccia Sheet
Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse
Six-Hour Roast Pork Shoulders
Potato Gratin / Gratin de Pommes de Terre
Provencal Vegetables / Byaldi
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.
When my housemate saw all the vegetables unpacked, she joked, “Wow, is this FarmVille?”
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.
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?
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”.
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.
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.
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.
As Jacey said, “I wish we could bottle this scent.”
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!
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,
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.
I saw this simple recipe in the September issue of Delicious, a recipe by Jill Dupleix, and immediately wanted to try it. It sounded really easy and the ingredients were of things that I love like butternut pumpkin, mushrooms, spinach and with Japanese flavours. Yum!
The only problem was that the recipe wasn’t vegetarian despite the fact that the ingredients were, as it called for dashi in the broth. I decided to improvise and I think I ended up with a completely different dish with similar ingredients. Still good, though!
My friend Sarah suggested I miso-roast the pumpkin instead of boiling like the recipe suggested so I tried it out and turned out amazing. So thank you, Sarah, for that wonderful suggestion!
Simple Soba Miso Soup
Silken firm tofu (one brick) – cut into squares
200g of assortment of mushrooms like enoki, shiitake, hiratake (oyster), bunashimeji and eringi
Note: I just bought a pack of assorted mushrooms from the vendor in the market
Spinach/baby spinach leaves
Half a butternut pumpkin
1. Preheat oven to 200˚C. Peel pumpkin and dice. Lay in a roasting tin and coat with 2 Tbsp of miso paste. Mix with your hands to evenly coat the mushrooms. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and pop into the oven for 30 minutes.
2. While pumpkin cooks, bring 2L of water to a boil. Add in 4 Tbsp of miso paste. Add 2 Tbsp of mirin if so inclined (I skipped this).
3. Place the fresh out of the oven pumpkin and tofu into empty bowls.
4. Cook soba and mushrooms in the pot for about a minute or so. Plate up the soba and mushrooms with the broth, topping the pumpkin and tofu.
5. Place spinach in the pot until just wilted. Serve and enjoy.
Actually, I have a little trick about how I cooked all the ingredients. I used two sieves/colanders with a long handle (what on earth is a proper name for this tool?), placed the mushrooms and soba in one, spinach in the other, and soaked them in the hot broth. So when it was cooked, I just lifted it up and served it up. Just like how the hawkers do it back home! It saves a lot of time and effort than trying to get every last strand of soba out of the broth with a pair of chopsticks!
Confession: I actually had the entire brick of tofu by myself. I can’t help it, I’m a major tofu lover. One of my favourite dishes in Chinese restaurants is the claypot tofu dish with snap peas, carrots, cauliflower and a starchy gravy. Mmmmm!
This is the ragu I made for dinner the other day. It’s quick and easy, and is definitely going on my reportoire of weeknight dinners.
Cannellini and Chickpea Ragu
Adapted from August 2008 Delicious magazine
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (save extra for garnish)
1 sprig of rosemary
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 can of chickpeas
1 can of cannelloni beans (or two of the same kind of beans, or as the magazine’s recipe says: soybeans)
25g freshly grated parmesan
Toasted or grilled bread of your choice
1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, then add onions, garlic, thyme and some salt and pepper.
2. Cook until onion softens then add carrots, celery, tomato and 125ml water, then bring to the boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
3. Add the beans and rosemary sprig, cover and cook for a further 5 minutes until vegetables are tender, thens mimer uncovered for 5 minutes or until thickened. Season to taste.
4. Serve in bowls, garnish with extra thyme and grated parmesan (and rosemary flowers if you’re lucky like I was!), with a side of your toast.
Is anyone else a total herb addict like I am? (wow, that reads so wrong!) I’m that freak you see in the market holding up bunches of herb to her nostrils and deeply inhaling with a blissed out expression. Honestly, I regret so much that I live in an apartment because I think if I had a garden, I’d have a vegetable and herb garden and I’d save so much money not having to buy herbs from the market. It’s a bit of a romanticised view of cooking that I have, just popping out the back door into the garden and snipping off some fresh rosemary and skipping back into the kitchen.
Anyway, I especially love when herbs have their flowers on them because they’re so micro-mini and gorgeous. Then I thought, why not use them as a garnish? They’re just so pretty and they’re edible so I did.
And they tasted as pretty as they looked.
As previously mentioned, I go vegetarian twice a month but when I was back home, I actually flaked out on that because I do a solid 24 hours of vegetarianism whereas my mum only does a half-day and it was hard to negotiate family dinners when I’m vegetarian.
So when I got back to Melbourne, I had to replace those vegetarian days. It’s not an arduous task at all and vegetarian cooking is yummy.
I don’t know if anyone does this but I sit around with a pile of old food magazines and cookbooks the night before I go marketing and write down my menu for the week, and the groceries I’ll need. It eliminates wastage and over-buying (although this happens sometimes!). The leftovers means I never have to buy lunch during the week. I’ll make a post on my process in the future; it’s rather comical to see me buried under cookbooks and it looks like I’m about to perform some massive catering job but it’s just my weekly grocery list!
I pulled this recipe from the July 2008 issue of Delicious, and it’s a recipe by Jamie Oliver. But as I can’t help myself, I augmented this recipe a little.
My friend Kristine once asked why people don’t just sell pumpkins readily peeled and I have to concur. It’s one of my favourite vegetables (fruit?) but I don’t buy it often because I hate the peeling. It’s a terrifying task and Jamie Oliver recommends using a potato peeler but either he has a better potato peeler (although I have a fantastic one from OXO Good Grips) or his pumpkin’s skin must be considerably softer. Either way, I just took a Global to it and sliced it off thinly without injuring myself so hurrah!
Roasted Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Chunky Butternut Pumpkin & Chickpea Soup from Delicious magazine July 2008
Half a butternut pumpkin, peeled, diced, seeds rinsed and reserved
1/2 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped and stalks finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
1L vegetable stock
1 can of 400g chickpeas, drained
2 tsp of dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 tsp each of fennel seeds, sesame seeds and poppyseeds
25g almond flakes
Zest of 1 lemon, juice saved for when serving
A few sprigs of fresh mint, leaves chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 200˚C. Put the pumpkin, cumin and dried chilli on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil, mix together and roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.
2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the celery, garlic, parsley stalks and two-thirds of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until softened.
3. Add in the roasted pumpkin and sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, turn downy he heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 15 minutes more.
5. Meanwhile, toast the reserved pumpkin seeds with the fennel seeds, sesame, poppyseeds and almonds in the oven on a baking tray for 3-4 minutes or until nicely coloured all over. Issue: pumpkin seeds take longer to cook so I might go and pop those in a few minutes beforehand, then add the rest in after.
6. Season soup with sea salt (I used Fleur de Sel, which actually tastes better) and freshly ground black pepper. If you’re using the dried chilli flakes, add them now (quantity subjective to personal preference).
7. Using a stick blender, whiz for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. This, I did not do as I don’t have a stick blender (I know right? WHAT?) so I just put it in the food processor that’s why mine is a more puree-like consistency but it still tastes the same!
8. Keep warm while you mix together the zest, parsley and mint leaves. Chop the remeaning onion finely, then mix it into the zesty herb mixture.
9. Serve soup in a bowl, sprinkle with toasted nuts and seeds, followed by the zesty herb mixture. Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
The lemon juice is something I highly recommend. I liked the soup just fine without it but if you watch Top Chef and you hear the judges always saying things like, “It could use a little acid” and you’re thinking Hm? Well, it’s true. Sometimes I taste things and I know they taste great but there’s that missing something that isn’t salty or sweet and I know that it’s acid now. So trust me on this when I say, that lemon juice will make this soup a whole lot better.
Serve with a side of garlic bread or plain sourdough if you’re so inclined. I like making my own garlic butter (butter, whole garlic cloves, few pinches of salt and a teeny tiny bit of sugar – put in food processor and blitz. Try it! You’re never going to buy frozen garlic bread anymore) and it’s always worth it.
And I confess: I bought pre-packaged Campbell’s “Real Stock” vegetable stock for this soup. I would’ve made my own but I didn’t have the time.
I’m vegetarian today and it’s chickpea ragu on the menu! Although I am planning a massive undertaking soon. Honestly, it required a LIST and timelines because it has so many components. I have a headache thinking about it tbh but it’s going to be fun!
I recently did a week-long vegetarian stint so that’s the reason for the multiple vegetarian dishes. I much prefer being vegetarian in Australia than in Malaysia. The fresh produce here is just so beautiful.
I’ve developed a new habit of going to the market every Sunday morning. I sit down with a few recipe books or food magazines on Saturday night and plan my menu for the week and write down a shopping list. This is really important for me because it makes me focus on the things I know I will make. I get distracted by the sight and scent of gorgeous produce and sometimes I get carried away. I’d end up with a heavily stocked fridge and no clue how to use up all the produce before it goes bad. Since I’ve adopted this more logical exercise, my produce dwindles down to almost zero by Sunday so I fell all right about hitting the market. I love doing this too because I want to avoid buying anything from the supermarket. It’s expensive, the produce isn’t as fresh and it takes away from the experience of shopping for your food. Now I’m only in the supermarket for cleaning products and the occasional tin of tuna or dried pasta. I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to try making pasta from scratch. I want to, though I have no clue if I have the space to dry them…
One of the things I always make when I go vegetarian is pesto. It’s great for a quick snack with toast or for an easy meal with some pasta. I first tried pesto when my brother made it from scratch many years ago and I fell madly in love with it. I’ve tried some bottled varieties in the supermarket but they never live up to their fancy description of ingredients so I just steer clear away now knowing that anything I buy will be inferior to the tried and tested recipe that I’ve perfected over the years.
The recipe I use is the same one I first tasted when my brother made it for me all those years ago, and if I’m not mistaken, he snitched it from a Gordon Ramsey cookbook, although exactly which I can’t ascertain. It is fantastic and I can’t insist enough that everyone try this at least once because it’ll put you off the bottled versions in the supermarket forever.
This recipe uses basil and pine nuts, and I know there are other versions with other herbs and nuts like parsley or spinach or cashews but I do enjoy the scent of basil a whole lot more than the other alternatives.
adapted from some cookbook of Gordon Ramsey’s
50 g pine nuts
70 g fresh basil leaves, plucked from the stems, washed and dried
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
50 g Parmesan cheese
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Fry the pine nuts in a pan (with no oil) until slightly brown. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
2. Place pine nuts in a blender with basil, garlic and Parmesan. Blitz to combine.
3. Scrape down the sides. With the machine running, add in the oil slowly. Scrape down occasionally. (I don’t have a machine that has an accessible open top that I can open while it’s running so I just dump the oil in batches)
4. Taste and check for seasoning, add salt and pepper according to your preference. I usually add only a teeny tiny bit of salt (the Parmesan salts it enough) but I do go heavy on the black pepper because that’s the way I like it.
5. Dump in bin and go to bed. This was what my brother e-mailed to me many years ago. I hadn’t noticed until I was making the pesto and pissed myself laughing for ages after. He’s a prankster, that one!
To make the really simple, really easy Pesto Pasta Salad in the photographs, I’m not even going to bother giving you a recipe. All you need is some pesto, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a few balls of bocconcini cheese, and some fresh mushrooms. Boil some pasta, saute the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. Dump the cooked pasta in a bowl, add a tablespoon of pesto per individual serving, mix it up so it coats all the pasta. Add in the mushrooms and tomatoes and shredded bocconcini. Season with a little salt and pepper if you feel like it (I personally didn’t find a need for it). DIG IN!
I feel the need to express my undying love for bocconcini for a moment. I have a massive savoury fang, even though I love making desserts (this shocks people a lot). I’m not the kind of person who would choose dessert over a main course. That’s just crazy talk! One of my biggest savoury delights is cheese and while I enjoy cheese, I can’t handle eating camembert and brie or even blue cheese too often. I can take them in small doses but I have to be very light handed with them or they gross me out and put me off a dish. However when it comes to my two greatest cheese loves: fresh mozzarella and bocconcini, I would sing a different tune. I especially love buffalo mozzarella (which I’m told is the larger version of bocconcini) although I am convinced buffalo mozzarella has a stronger taste. Or maybe I’m hallucinating.
Bocconcini has the loveliest, fluffiest texture; it’s the right amount of chewiness and the taste! Oh the taste! It’s really mild and it absorbs the flavour of whatever it is served with but I have been known to munch on a plain bocconcini ball. They’re a very subtle, joyous party in my mouth. I could eat bocconcini daily and wouldn’t utter a single word of complaint – there’s no such thing as too much bocconcini in my book.
One of the things I enjoy about being vegetarian is the chance to explore really delicious and healthy recipes. I found this recipe for a vegetarian lasagne in a Real Living magazine pullout from 2008. It’s called the Summer Cookbook. I’ve been cooking from it A LOT because the recipes are really quick and easy (helps when I only trudge home at 6 p.m.) and I like using seasonal ingredients.
Easy Spring Vegetable Lasagne
adapted from Real Living Food Summer Cookbook
2 zucchini, sliced lengthways
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup tomato passata
1 packet instant lasagne sheets
75 g baby spinach, steamed for 2 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, woody bases trimed, spears steamed for 3 minutes
100 g fetta cheese, crumbled
2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 200˚C (180˚C fan-forced). Place zucchini in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and scatter with garlic and a little salt and pepper. Cook zucchini slices in frying pan over a high heat for 2 minutes each side until golden.
2. Pour half the passata into baking dish and spread evenly over base. Place a single layer of lasagne sheets on top of passata, then top with zucchini, spinach, asparagus, and fetta. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cover with another layer of lasagne sheets. Cover with the rest of passata plus sliced tomato and oregano. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with the olive oil from the zucchini tray.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Slice and serve.
This isn’t like your average lasagne without the bechamel sauce, mozzarella and obviously, meat. But I liked it. It’s quite crunchy with the oregano and breadcrumbs on top (although I may have overdone it). In the photo in the magazine, they appear to have topped the lasagne with more fetta as well, but I didn’t do that. It is a little messy to cut into because the layers don’t glue together like with a meat lasagne and the asparagus kept falling out but apart from all that, it’s seriously delicious.La