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!

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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!


Proof Of The Pudding

I’ve noticed how bad I’ve been at updating this for the past few months. I’ve just been back home in the land of nasi lemak and while I haven’t been doing anything substantial, I’ve been really busy. I haven’t even really been spending much time in the kitchen because I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic cook for a mother.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been productive in tiny doses. I finally succeeded in applying false eyelashes, which is a triumph I will continuously toot of as I once spent an hour in front of a mirror in frustration trying to glue eyelashes onto my eyelids but only managing to glue my eyes shut. I’ve also been reading for leisure again (oh literature! I’ve missed you!), watching countless movies and I’ve been working hard on expanding my wardrobe (not going as well as I would like). I’ve also been working on something for the blog, which actually have been put into effect. Have you noticed? I’m working on an obvious change soon so stay tuned! I just have to flex my CSS writing skills a little – it’s been a while!

I’ve been in the kitchen a few times, of course. A failed swiss roll experiment (little buggers are harder to make than they seem! Or I just had the wrong cake recipe), my trusty shortbread that turned on me because my mum’s KitchenAid is on the fritz and it spit out all my flour when it was mixing the batter leaving me with soggy shortbread (gah!), and a tepid attempt at one of my favourite Malaysian desserts which turned into a roaring success that I’ve made it numerous times now. I can now make do without referencing the recipe. It’s all in here (I’m tapping my temple and mouthing, “UNAGI” – kudos if you know where that’s from).

Sago Pudding

Sago Pudding

I of course, speak of sago pudding. I think it’s a Nyonya dessert and one that I thoroughly enjoy. I’ve been meaning to make it for a while now but never got around to it. Then I had a disappointing serve of sago pudding at a restaurant and it provoked my ire so I just had to make it myself to prove that HAH, I am better than this! Seriously, bad desserts are way worse than bad savoury dishes because you think, “Ahh, I’ll end my meal on a happy note with one of my favourite sweets!” then it comes out barely recognisable and I’m just baffled that someone had decided to ruin my meal, nay, my week, like that! How dare they??!

The recipe I used was based loosely on the one here but I guess I do have a few nuggets of wisdom to share from several successful executions of the dish.

+ Do not add sugar to the palm sugar. It tastes pretty fantastic on its own. In fact, I recommend adding a pinch of salt to it.

+ Also add a pinch of salt to the coconut milk.

+ Never ever leave the boiling sago unattended. Keep stirring it gently and squash out any clusters you see forming or it’s going to make your life more difficult than necessary.

+ Make sure to rinse the sago before boiling it. There’s tons of impurities in there!

+ You don’t have to make it in one giant mould, I quite liked it as individual serves. Way cuter and easier to serve! I used mini bowls and teacups!

+ Compress the sago when placed into the mould so it’s well packed. You don’t want to end up with loose pudding after popping off the mould.

+ Boil the palm sugar until it is thick. It’s like making a reduction. (Duh)

It isn’t really a difficult dessert to make by any means but it is tedious with all the rinsing, stirring, rinsing, and oh.. rinsing. You will get pretty sick of standing over the sink with a sieve full of cooked sago running under cold water.

However the pay off is totally worth it. That combination of the cool, silky pudding sliding down your throat and the perfect balance of salty and sweet dancing on your tongue is just heavenly.


Wrapped

I lied. Here’s a final picture post of all the things I missed from 2010, before I move on. Really.

From the Christmas BBQ at Nick’s.

One of the main approaches when it comes to a BBQ for many people is to not BBQ everything. My mother was persistently reminding me to tell Nick that he had to have to get some fried noodles handy. If things can be baked off, do it. Salads, pasta, rice, noodles, garlic bread, etc. should always be on standby because it’s unpredictable how long starting up the grill would take and people might want to nibble on something else while waiting for the meats to be cooked.

This is one of my favourite things to make and it’s always well-received. It’s not some magic trick; the recipe’s right here on Kitchen Wench’s site. It involves a two-day marinade but it is well worth all that effort and space in your refrigerator.

Barbecued Piri Piri Prawns

A quick Google search by Nick gave us this gem of a recipe. It’s ridiculously good. The prawns had so much flavour and still maintained the satisfying crunch that only the best cooked prawns provide. Credit to Dennis who was the Grill Master of the day. Two thumbs up and a very enthusiastic nod of endorsement for this recipe.

Lamb chops and pork + fennel sausages

Another product of a Google search was this recipe for the lamb. Ignore the skordalia bit and the last two ingredients in the lamb recipe. Basically all that was needed was the cumin seeds, parsley, lemon juice, garlic and oil. I really liked this as well. The cumin made it different and wonderful. It was nice not to be faced with yet another Worcestershire + BBQ sauce marinated meat, you know?

Grill at work

Avocado and Corn Salad

Another byproduct of a Google search. I never understand why people think I’m pulling their leg or trying to be secretive when I admit that I usually Google my recipes, not having to rely on a heavy endorsement from someone I know personally. Google does not lie!

Recipe here but in all honesty I could do without the shallots. I liked it fine with, and everyone seemed to love it with so I may be in the minority on this, but I thought it tasted so much better without the shallots. A really useful recipe for anytime of the year, to be honest. This recipe I’m going to store in my repertoire of To Be Used Forever And Ever because it’s fuss-free and bare-pantry-friendly.

Yosa’s amazing Greek Salad

Yosa is an amazing, amazing cook. Seriously. Look at that gorgeous salad! It disappeared with absolutely no trace by the end of the day. I still can’t get over her delicious ham from Christmas Eve dinner. She took the leftovers home and returned with… pea and ham soup! Seriously, how awesome is that? I was more than happy to have it with some crusty bread on one of the miserable rainy days that followed the sunny Christmas day.

There was also a ton more food at the BBQ; a healthy heap of steaks, fried kuey teow, fried noodles, fried rice, and fried mee hoon. There’s a very good reason why we had leftovers to feed us all for a few days after!

And from my kitchen, the last few dishes before the year ended.

Vanilla macarons with raspberry+lemon buttercream

I decided to try my hand at macarons again. I’ve still yet to try the aged egg whites method, which I intend to soon. I keep saying that but I’m a terrible procrastinator. I’ve learned a little more about the little nuances about macarons now that I’ve made them again and the first two trays were a little bit sadder than I’d have liked them to be.

So my tip when it comes to macarons is:
1. Don’t be afraid to leave them in the oven a little longer because I always had a problem with hollowed out centres and I thought I messed up during the macraronage process but nay, it’s the cooking time. My subsequent macarons were perfect!

2. Bake off almond flour in the oven for 5 minutes or so before using. There’s a possibility that almond flour that’s from the supermarket may be a little old and there’s a little too much moisture (oil) that’s been excreted so a quick bake off in the oven ensures that it’s drier and therefore, fresher. Or so my logic claims is a reasonable deduction.

3. Grind almond flour with sugar THEN sieve them all together. Always, always sieve. I didn’t this time around and suffered with the annoying bumps in my macarons.

I have no other tips. I don’t really count how many times I fold my batter before piping them out, I don’t age my egg whites (I use the Swiss Meringue method), and I don’t know what does and doesn’t make feet because I’ve always managed to get feet on mine. And I’ve also always gotten a glossy finish so I’m not sure what exactly I’m doing right here. I guess I’ve been lucky because I’ve never failed at making macarons before. They were not store-perfect but they always had the characteristics of what a macaron should be. Kitchen luck!

But as you can see, the consequences of not sieving your almond flour and sugar is the lumps that make for horrible uneven surfaces. Preferably, this tower of macarons would be straight!

For the buttercream, I whipped up a batch of French Buttercream with some lemon juice added. Unfortunately it became a little too runny for my liking so I decided to whip in some raspberry jam. This created a gorgeous red marbled effect in the otherwise cream coloured buttercream, which I kinda loved. The lucky coincidence was that it went perfectly together.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I ended up consuming a lot of this batch of macarons by myself. They were addictive! Plus, macarons are SO ridiculously cheap when you make them yourself. They’re definitely not worth $4 per macaron!

I also recently dabbled in making my own pasta. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. This was a semolina pasta and didn’t require any drying time, which was nice. Unfortunately my stupid el cheapo pasta machine didn’t have a spaghetti cut setting, just angel hair and fettucine so I ended up with what looked unimpressively like Chinese egg noodles!

Spaghetti con Pesce D’acqua Dolce

It was a lovely dish with white wine, barramundi fillets (which I destroyed because I simply cannot cook fish perfectly!), prawns and capers. I loveloveloved this dish despite its sad appearance.

I also tried my hand at cooking with rabbit. Melbourne had been unseasonably cool in December and it was actually perfect weather for a hearty ragu! The rabbit was delicious and I loved it, my only complaint is that it is so full of tiny bones! Deboning it was an arduous and slow task that has me second guessing my desire to ever cook this dish again.

However, it is supremely delicious and tender. There was a tiny hint of spiciness to it and just… mmm. The recipe was from the Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook, as was the spaghetti dish above.

And now, we’re done with 2010! Whew!


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!


A Mash-y A-Fare

I type this as I’m splayed out on the couch completely paralysed from overindulging in food and guzzling my wine. In my current state, I’d probably give Homer Simpson a run for his money although I’ve just indulged in some seafood pasta (made from scratch), macarons and some sweet Lexia wine; not pizza, donuts and beer. Ahh, to be young and free.

Bangers & Mash

Bangers & Mash

I made this for dinner last week when the weather was chilly and it didn’t feel entirely wrong to indulge in something so heavy and sinful. Another recipe nicked off the Gourmet Traveller Cookbook; oner of my favourite cookbooks this year. Seriously, it’s an endless source of recipes!

Onion-braised Sausages with Paris Mash
Serves 2
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller Cookbook

Paris Mash
300gm potatoes, preferably Pontiac, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces
70ml pouring cream
40ml milk
55g butter, coarsely chopped

1. Combine potato and plenty of cold salted water in a lage saucepan, cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Uncover, cook until tender for 10-15 minutes. Drain well, return to hot pan and mash well (I recommend the OXO Good Grips masher).

2. Meanwhile, bring cream, milk and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, Gradually add to potato, mixing until smooth. Season to taste and keep warm.

Onion-braised Sausages
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 pork sausages (mine were from the Polish deli… a little too salty for my liking tbh)
3 thyme sprigs
100ml red wine
125ml chicken stock
Boiled peas, to serve

1. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat, add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to caramelise, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a separate frying pan over high heat, add sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until browned; 3-4 minutes. Transfer to onion pan. Deglaze sausage pan with wine, then add stock.

3. Add to onion pan with thyme and cook, turning sausages occasionally, until cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Serve onion-brased sausages hot with Paris mash and boiled peas.

Dinner for two

Needless to say, we were very satisfied and stuffed that night. And Paris mash? Best type of mash there is. Of course, I’m still dying to try the famous Joel Robuchon mash to challenge this statement!

I do love a good bangers and mash. This was particularly good as I rooted around our alcohol loot and discovered a forgotten bottle of Montalto pinot. Not really being a red wine drinker, all red wine is only used for cooking in my household; as horrifying as that may sound to wine aficionados. Oh well, at least this one came to some good use, right? Fret not, the more treasured wine bottles (gifted by more worthy people) are safely ensconced in my little alcohol nook and will not be relegated to the dishonour of being used as a base for my onion braise.


Sinful Solace

I fear I may be going cross eyed from staring at blocks of texts highlighted in neon yellow and processing information about Ancient Rome and her crazy emperors, and overanalysing buildings in ancient Middle East. History; fun subject and definitely thrilling to be able to trump other people with my vast knowledge of the past but seriously? Frustrating as hell to study. In fact, I’m starting to feel the rise of a migraine with the steady beat of a pulse beginning inside my skull.

You can tell I’m stressed when I end up baking a lot. I know some people stress out when they have to cook but I am my most comfortable in the kitchen. In fact, a good form of procrastination for me is to bake, clean and rearrange my kitchen. But the best part is baking sweets because having sweets on hand during stressful periods is one of the best balms for frenzied nerves. I’m not sure the scales will agree with my overconsumption of butter and sugar but it’s a small price to pay to hold on to one’s sanity.

Scottish Shortbread

Scottish Shortbread

Needless to say, my diet has slipped into disgrace with my meals of over-processed crap like instant noodles and luncheon meat. I’ve improved a little the past few days and have actually been making food from scratch but it’s still rather pitiful – almost too pitiful to photograph and discuss.

However, I’m a person who always has butter, sugar and flour on hand no matter how barren my refrigerator and freezer is. I don’t know what that says about me but it’s certainly handy when one needs a break from huge chunks of texts and illicit substances aren’t an option.

This recipe hails from one of my favourite food blogs out there, Michael Ruhlman’s. It was so easy I was in and out of the kitchen in 15 mins but the most torturous part was waiting for these babies to cook just so I could dig into them.

Scottish Shortbread
Adapted from Ruhlman’s recipe

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rice flour
226g salted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer and use the paddle mixture until the dough comes together.

2. Press into a cake pan or two, depending on the thickness you prefer. Poke with fork for design if you like.

3. Bake in a 175˚C preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned. Cut into appropriate sized pieces while still warm, then allow to cool completely before removing from pan.

Vanilla specks

Vanilla specks

I used a brownie tin and a tiny little loaf tin for the balance of the dough. I had my shortbread pretty thick, which is just the way I like it. Of course my appropriation of the size to cut the shortbread into was way off so I had some really strange sized shortbread. This reminds me that back home in my parents’ kitchen I actually have a shortbread tray. It has cutters that you place into the tin after it’s baked to get the exact size you want. A lot more convenient than my game of guesstimation.

I have to confess I could not wait to get a piece into my mouth so I bit into one when it was right out of the oven. Obviously it wasn’t crisp enough and it was also much too hot so I had to spit it out into my hand (I’m so full of charm and grace) and I burned my tongue. Still, absolutely worth it. I feel like the shortbread just gets more delicious over time.

It’s perfectly buttery and sandy and so freaking addictive. I’ve been having two or three pieces as my meal these days. Then when I get sufficiently hungry, I’d begrudgingly make myself some real food. I would happily survive off shortbread, if I was perfectly honest. Except I don’t think my complexion or my wardrobe would appreciate it.

You know what else I’m absolutely itching to make now? Thyme-infused panna cotta with caramel sauce. Chocolate cupcakes with raspberry jam centre and a peanut butter frosting. As you can tell, my focus is nowhere near Augustus Caesar and his pietas or the Pompeiian peristyle homes.