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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Overdoing It

Wow this backlog of blog posts is a bit overwhelming. I don’t even know where to begin anymore! All I can say is, there’s a lot of pork!

Pulled Pork on Crispy Polenta

First there was Pulled Pork, which I made in a slow-cooker with root beer and a bunch of spices like cloves and aniseed but I really didn’t like the taste of this dish. I hated the crispy polenta as well. it really didn’t compare to my creamy polenta and the root beer kinda killed the flavour of the pork for me. I must get a different recipe and try that one out.

Chickpea and Tomato Salad

The salad however, was brilliant. It was a really simple thing I threw together. Chickpeas, cherry tomatoes and some finely diced parsley. Try it, I swear it’s one of my favourite salads ever.

Pork Meatloaf

I don’t really remember where I got the recipe now or if I just consulted a basic meatloaf recipe and made it Sophia Style. It was basically pork mince, spicy pancetta, spicy salami, homemade breadcrumbs, carrots, celery, spring onions, shallots, garlic and red wine. There was ketchup on the top before it baked as well and I served it up with thyme Paris mashed potatoes. It was goooood. Pork overload!

Roast Pork Sandwich

Then there was that time we made roast pork and there was plenty of leftovers and I knew I had to make a sandwich with the leftovers. I sauteed the apples in a little bit of butter, sauteed some onions, spread some amazing chutney on the bread, topped it with some pancetta and baked the entire monster. The bread was heavily buttered too, of course. I think I brought some over to Joyce and let her eat it before we had a massive dinner, too. We’re such gluttons. But they don’t make such crazy sandwiches in restaurants!

There are a few more pork dishes which I think I will save for proper entries with actual links to recipes. If I can still remember them, that is. I have a huge list of food I want to make this coming week too so that’ll be really fun to update you guys on. I’ll be back! Promise :)


Family BBQ

I’m finally back in Melbourne and will probably be back writing on here more often now that I don’t have my mum’s food to keep me satiated and effectively out of the kitchen because why would anyone cook their own food when they could eat their mother’s home cooked deliciousness?

That said, I still managed to spend some time in the kitchen, mostly using appliances that I don’t have in Melbourne (although I’ll sorely wish for the ice cream machine come summer!).

One of my favourite things about being home is family barbecues. We don’t have it very often and usually when we do, it’s an exercise of over-indulgence because we always have way too much food. This time around, we were determined to fix this “flaw” but we perhaps underestimated the food although it was just-enough, perhaps we should have had just a wee bit more so everyone felt like they had very full tummies. I guess I just prefer to know everyone had enough instead of watching portions to make sure everyone had just enough. Not fun.

Spread

The “spread”

Unfortunately, I only reached for the camera after we had all dug in but it was kinda worth documenting anyway. It rained on us so we ended up indoors but what we did was cook all our food outdoors, then convened in the living room to eat. The food disappeared before I could properly photograph them.

Red wine marinated squid

Red wine marinated squid

This is probably one of my favourite dishes for the BBQ. It’s actually an adaptation of this recipe but I use squid instead of an octopus and I load up on more chilli than recommended and it’s actually not sweet chilli. But it’s really good and even better when we luck out and our squids have eggs in them. Squid eggs are freaking amazing. I pretty much love the roe of all seafood. Fish, crabs, squid… all good.

Cholesterol? What cholesterol?

Prawn and Fish Skewers

Prawn and Fish Skewers

This is another favourite of mine, and the family’s. Here’s the recipe. I use Panko breadcrumbs instead of normal breadcrumbs and I make my own mayonnaise cos I get mad about how bottled mayonnaise tastes like and it’s really not that hard. I promise.

But the flavours of this dish is just so good. The citrus is the perfect kick to this fishy skewer and the dill and lemon juice in the mayonnaise? SO good. We end up using it as a dipping sauce for everything because that’s how good it is. Also, the idea of using disposable chopsticks as a skewer was too brilliant. I haven’t gone back to the stupid skinny skewers that people usually favour because you know what? Nothing stays on that too-thin skewer and chopsticks are so easy to grip and perfect to flip over, etc.

Mayonnaise

Night’s glory: handmade mayonnaise

This was my bragging-rights achievement of the night: the mayonnaise. I’d tried making my own once and it split and I gave up and decided it was too crazy an idea and there’s surely a reason why people sell them! But finding really yummy mayonnaise is tough and often expensive. It’s ridiculous how inexpensive mayonnaise is to make and how easy it actually is. Yes, a whole lot of elbow grease and you may feel like your arm has lost all feeling in it for a while, but a worthy endeavour.

The mayonnaise I made was actually a whole lot thicker – mayo-like consistency but the recipe calls for lemon juice so that’s why this photo is a more watery version. Okay, small confession: I got my mayo to almost thickened stage and it didn’t split and my arm was about to fall off so I dumped it into the MagiMix and let it do is job as I drizzled even more oil in. And voila! But whipping it by hand was good (until my arm felt dead) because I could see how the emulsion comes together from nothing but an egg, vinegar, mustard and oil. Pretty cool! Of course you can just use an immersion blender but I don’t have one. Definitely next on my kitchen appliance wishlist!

Pork ribs

Ribs, of course

And we can’t have a BBQ without some staples like ribs. It was adapted from this recipe (can you tell I love the Taste website for BBQ recipes?) but I added a whole lot of herbs to my marinade because that’s how I roll and we had a few bunches that would otherwise go unutilized.

Grilled Pumpkin Baby Spinach Salad

Grilled Pumpkin Baby Spinach Salad

I also made a salad of baby spinach leaves, roasted pumpkin, fetta cheese, roasted-caramelised shallots in a mustard vinaigrette. We attempted to BBQ the pumpkin but we all got annoyed by how slow it was going so into a 200˚C oven it went with the shallots. I love caramelised shallots with anything so this salad was a winner for me.

The benefactor

The biggest benefactor

And of course, the one that probably received the best of everything was our little Grizmeister who was excitedly shadowing our every movement at the grill and begged us with her pathetic brown eyes until my dad gave in and fed her some ribs.

It was really good being home :)


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.


Flexing

Fish

Blue Grenadier fillet with Lemongrass-Infused Lime Syrup, on Rocket, Caramelized Fennel and Orange salad

Ever get an idea in your head that you just can’t get out until you see it through? I get this way about food a lot. A few weeks back I was thinking about lemongrass and lime together in a non-spicy way. It’s a very common pairing in Thai food and I love it but I just wanted that aroma in a non-Asian cuisine. Through some strange thought process I knew I wanted it with fish (maybe because of the citrus) and it had to be an infusion of lemongrass in something sweet.

Then came my random scrambling for what components I wanted it with. I knew I wanted the fish crisp so I couldn’t have anything with sauce and I bumped into the recipe for this salad on the Epicurious application for iPhones. I’m one of those people who cooks with a laptop or an iPod Touch on the counter as often as I cook with a cookbook. I can’t help it, I like my technology close to me!

I’m going to attempt to write down this recipe but honestly, I was winging it most of the time.

Blue Grenadier fillet with lemongrass-infused lime syrup
2 Tbsp sugar
Lime juice (I used 2 whole limes)
1 lemongrass, sliced thinly
2 fillets of Blue Grenadier, skin on (actually, I just randomly picked the freshest white fish I could find at the market)

Fish

1. Clean fillets well, pat dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place sugar and lime juice in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. The rule is that the lime juice has to entirely cover the sugar. Heat over low-medium heat until sugar dissolves, then turn the fire down to as low as it will go and add in lemongrass. Continue heating until it looks like syrup, shiny-thick-glossy. Leave aside to cool.

3. Heat some olive oil up in a pan and gently fry the fillets until just done, but skin is crisp.

4. Plate on top of salad, brush on syrup with a brush, then garnish with the lemongrass.

For the salad, the recipe is here. This salad was picked because I’d never tried fennel before (I know, I know!) and apparently this caramelized fennel is the best way to test the waters if you’ve never had it before. It was also pretty great practicing my knife skills learning how to segment an orange. You see it done on TV and you think, “BAH EASY!” but not that easy for the first orange. A lot easier for the second orange once I figured out where to cut into. You should’ve seen my first orange, though. It was barely a spherical fruit anymore!

I’ve got another flavour idea in my brain that I really need to put to work soon before it fades. This time it’s going to be a dessert, so that will be a little more fun. Funny too, because I came up with the flavour for a dessert I’ve never even tried making. But I hear it’s easy so I reckon I’ll be okay.

It’s always fun to flex my brain this way and it is so satisfying to see it come together perfectly on the plate and on my palate. Even if it doesn’t, it’s all in the name of education so there’s no real loss there.


The Quack Salad

My family is food obsessed. My brother Ern, my mum and I are the ones who actually get behind the stove and attempt to make the food but my dad and other brother, Alvin are obsessed about eating really good food. It might be a Malaysian thing, this obsession with food. I don’t know a single Malaysian who isn’t constantly promoting some great food find to their friends. There may be much to critique about Malaysia but good food is not one of them. We have amazing food here.

So it is little surprise that my mother watches the Asian Food Channel and Travel & Living channel almost exclusively on the TV in her bedroom. We both particularly enjoy watching Chef’s Story. I had no idea they had it on DVD; I might have to get myself a copy soon.

One of our favourite chefs is Anthony Bourdain (who can resist that quick wit and bad boy charm?) and we grew roots watching him on Chef’s Story. When he made his Duck Confit with Frisee Salad, we watched hungrily, rapidly swallowing the saliva that was starting to pool in our mouths.

“We have to try that one of these days!” my mum had said to me.

That was months ago. Although we’re a food obsessed bunch, we’re also a procrastinating lot. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? My mum had reminded me that she had bought duck about two weeks ago. Last week I finally got around to making the salad, but not of my own accord. She had merely said, “I thawed out the duck, go make the salad.” Ma’am, yes, ma’am!

I printed out the recipe and I quickly noted that I would not be able to confit the duck because a) I didn’t have any rendered duck fat and b) I wanted to eat it for dinner and it was already 5 p.m. – no way would I have time to make a confit anything.

So here’s my speedy version of Bourdain’s way fancier (and probably tastier) Duck Confit Salad.


Sophia’s Hurried Pan Roasted Duck Salad
(Serves 4)

1 bag pre-packed salad leaves (this way I don’t have to wash any leaves and dry them – I believe I used the Caesar bag here)
Quarter-half a duck (no idea, my mum had them chopped and handed to me) – seasoned with sea salt and black pepper
Thyme
Garlic

1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
2. Heat up oven-safe pan until very hot. Place duck pieces on pan and brown all sides to seal in the juice. I didn’t use any oil, it was rather fun watching the oil ooze out of the duck. Turn off fire.
3. I removed the leaves off 3 sprigs of thyme and scattered it around the pan, then placed a sprig on each piece of duck. I then spread out about 4 cloves of smashed garlic.
4. Pop the entire pan into the oven for… well this is a good question. I just checked for doneness, didn’t keep track of the time. Just until it’s cooked. Oh boy. I told you this isn’t a food blog, I cannot be trusted to offer precise recipes!
5. Remove from oven and let sit in pan for 10-15 minutes.
6. Slice duck thinly – well not very in my case cos I am pretty bad at carving any type of meat.
7. Place salad leaves on plates, top with duck slices. Spoon up the yummy, runny duck fat that’s in the pan and drizzle all over the salad leaves.
8. Garnish with the thyme sprigs (now wonderfully dried and crinkled looking) and garlic cloves.
9. Impress and enjoy.

It was an intensely enjoyable salad, and my mother claimed it was her favourite salad ever.

I will one day attempt the duck confit, though. I looooove duck confit. But really, who doesn’t?