Sunday, 26 August 2007

Fantastic 4 MeMe & David Lebovitz's Black Bottom Cupcakes

A week ago the lovely KJ from A Cracking Good Egg tagged me for the Fantastic Four MeMe. KJ has a lot of terrific recipes on her blog, like her Chocolate Buttermilk Pancakes that I will be making for breakfast this morning as soon as I finish this MeMe. I love Sunday mornings!

For this Meme, I have to list four points for five categories. I will keep some points brief since I my tummy is calling out for pancakes. Feel free to ask me questions if you would like to know more. So here I go:

4 Jobs I've had:

(1) Bakery Assistant. I took up this job so that I can buy my sister a wedding present with my own money. This was the physically most tiring and most under paid job I ever had. I was paid $4.50 an hour and was on my feet from 8.30am till 10.30pm. I did everything except for the baking - serving, packing, cashier, cleaning, cake decorating, etc. The only reason why I hung on to that job for 3 months was because I wanted to work close to home, it gave me the exposure to what it was like to run a bakery, the owners were nice (they gave me a raise - I was initially paid $4/hr), I could eat as much bread as I wanted and I could bring home all the leftover breads.

(2) Volunteer at a large hospital in Perth. I spent most of my time with elderly patients. I also got to push a tea trolley and made drinks for them. It was enjoyable but I also felt sad for them because some patients didn't have any visitors and were battling terminal illness.

(3) University Tutor. I've been tutoring first year psychology for the last three years. I've always been doing some sort of teaching/training/talks for the last 10 years.

(4) Forensic Psychologist. I was doing that for 6 years and although it was a very fulfilling job, I felt really burnt out and I also realised that it gave me a rather dark view of life. That's why I've switched to clinical psychology.

4 Places I've lived:

(1) Singapore, where I was born.

(2) Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA). Lived there for a year when I was at the University of Michigan on a 1-year research scholarship.

(3) Perth, Western Australia. I completed my undergraduate degree there. I loved Perth.

(4) Sydney, New South Wales (Australia), where I am living now. I moved here to complete a doctorate program.

4 Places I've been on Holiday:

(1) Thailand. Friendly people + beach + spicy Thai food. I'm in heaven.

(2) Hawaii. I took a surfing class and tried surfing. All I can say is that I got 10/10 for effort!

(3) British Columbia, Canada. I had my first taste of skiing when I was there. I was by myself and I signed up for a beginners class. It was fun but I still found it a bit scary so all I did was go up and down the bunny slope. :-)

(4) Scotland. I was very fascinated by the castle in the middle of Edinburgh.

4 of my Favourite Foods:

(1) ALL breads, especially wholegrain.

(2) ANY chocolate desserts, especially molten choc cake.

(3) Seafood, especially prawns and raw oysters.

(4) Green, leafy vegetables, e.g. spinach, rocket.

4 Places I would rather be right now:

(1) Singapore. I really miss my family and friends.

(2) Anywhere on a beach, with Quikong, reading a book.

(3) Climbing Mount Everest (o.k. that might be a bit extreme. Maybe a smaller mountain).

(4) New Zealand. I've heard so much about NZ through a Kiwi friend and recent travel shows I've seen on TV.

Thanks for tagging me KJ. That was fun and brought back good memories. Now, on to the cupcakes. And I'm off to make KJ's pancakes. Have a wonderful Sunday everyone!

David Lebovitz's Black Bottom Cupcakes

You can find the recipe for this utterly luscious black bottom cupcake from David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate and also via this site. It is moist and not overly sweet - I love the contrast between the fluffy choc cake, creamy cheese and the chunks of choc. I highly recommend this recipe.

I followed the recipe exactly (yes, sometimes I do know how to follow instructions!). It's super easy. The only thing to be aware of is do not over-mix the chocolate mixture. If you do over-mix it, the cupcakes will still turn out ok, but might be a little on the dry side. The first time I made this, I made it in a square cake pan (see photo below) and it also worked out fine. I've also made the recipe with the addition of an egg in the cake mixture and it also turned out super moist and fluffy.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Rocky Burger

A movie that inspired me when I was a kid was Rocky I. Seriously. Yes, I'm female, I don't have a drop of Italian in my blood, I am not an aspiring boxer and I was 2 years old when it was released. I probably first saw it when I was 9 or 10 years old because my dad loved Rocky movies. Somehow, the Italian Stallion left a strong impression on me. I loved the movie so much that I even named my pet turtle Rocky. The movie was filmed in just 28 days and with only a budget of US$1.2 million but yet it became such a popular movie (it got 10 Academy Award nominations and won 3 Oscars, including Best Picture) and launched Sylvester Stallone's career.

It was more than the whole "underdog wins the day" story line that inspired me. There were several scenes that left an impression. The scene that I stuck in my mind most clearly was when Rocky finally got fit and ran up the steps to the museum at the end of his run with his arms raise and fists thrusting in the air, in a victory pose. Due to my love for running, I could relate to that scene very much and I have to admit that I've actually done that before after running up a big hill (when no one was looking, of course!). I even have the Rocky soundtrack ("Gonna Fly Now") as running music (o.k., laugh if you want, I don't mind). Another scene that I could relate to was when he had to wake up before dawn to run. He also cracked I-don't-know-how-many eggs in a glass and drank the raw eggs in a few gulps! I guess those were the days before protein shakes. And how can anyone forget how Rocky trained by punching the hanging cow carcass in the meat cold room?

Why am I going on about Rocky? This is my my entry to the Food in Film blogging event hosted by Susan at The Well-Seasoned Cook. The most memorable food scenes in Rocky was the raw egg scene I mentioned. I didn't think all of you will enjoy a a recipe for a cocktail of raw eggs. So that's when I thought of making a Rocky Burger. Basically what makes it a Rocky Burger to me is that it has to be kept unpretencious, wholesome and high in protein. Quikong helped me with this project (he is the expert when it comes to meat). We made a thick, good quality beef mince patty and marinated it. Of course the cooked patty has to be topped off with a runny egg. Instead of lettuce, I used fresh spinach (Popeye's secret weapon!) and all the other usual burger accompaniments such as sliced tomatoes and grilled onions.

This burger is Rocky-worthy :-)

Do check out the terrific entries in the The Food in Film round-up which is now available here.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

When life gives you lemons, make Lemon Meringue Pie!

If you have been reading my blog for a few months now, you will realise how obsessed I am about the weather. I check the weather forecast each morning before I choose my outfit. Today, it has been a grey and wet day. My outfit - comfy trackies, t-shirt and an old college jumper.

This is perfect weather to be home and it's a good excuse not to go running. I've also been in a lot of pain since early Friday morning but I won't go into that right now. If you read the MeMe on 7 Random Things about Me back in July, you would know that I am allergic to pain medication. So, I have been suffering not-so-silently. Poor Quikong had to tolerate my grumpiness and hourly reports of the degree of pain I was experiencing. He's been so patient so I thought I should bake a nice treat for him. He loves lemon meringue pie (not with curd but regular lemon filling). If a pie can be referred to as happy, I would say that this is a happy pie due to the bright cheerful colours and the refreshing flavours. Perfect pain medication for me, don't you think?

I haven't made this pie for ages. My favourite lemon meringue pie recipe is in a cookbook which I left in Singapore, so this is from memory. Quiking just finished a slice and he said that it was "Very Good!". A man of few words. :-) So I guess this recipe is good enough for me to share with other bakers. The only problem I encountered was due to the my newly acquired 35 x 13 cm loose base rectangular tart pan. Due to it being quite a shallow tart pan, when I baked the pie with the filling and meringue, it over-flowed a little. When I've used a normal round flan tin in the past, I didn't have this problem because it was deep enough to hold the filling. This recipe makes one big and one mini pie.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Sweet Short Crust Pastry:
2 cups plain unbleached flour
2 tbsp ground almonds (almond meal)
155g butter
60g caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
ice water

Lemon Filling:
½ cup cornflour
1 cup caster sugar
¾ cup lemon juice
1¼ cup water
finely grated lemon rind from 3 medium lemons
3 egg yolks
40g butter

4 egg whites
½ cup + 1 tbpn caster sugar


- Process flour, ground almonds, butter and sugar in a food processor till it resembles fine crumbs. Drizzle egg yolks and rind over the mixture and add enough iced water to form a soft dough. Remove dough and knead lightly. Form a round disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

- Roll out the pastry in between two plastic wraps or a lightly floured surface, large enough to fit a rectangular tart tin (or 9-inch flan tin) . Carefuly lift pastry into the tin without stretching the pastry. Press pastry into the flutted sides. Prick the base and sides witha fork. Chill for 30 minutes. This prevents shrikage of the pastry when baked. Pastry can be refrigerated up to 3 days.

- Line pastry with a sheet of non-stick baking paper and fill tin with baking weights or dried beans/rice. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees C) for 20 mins. Remove the weights and paper and bake the pastry case for a further 20 mins, or until it is light golden in colour. Cool to room temperature.

Lemon Filling:
- In a saucepan, combine cornflour with water and stir till cornflour dissolves. Add sugar and lemon juice.

- Over medium-high heat, stir the mixture with a wooden spoon till it thickens. Remove from heat and briskly stir in the egg yolks, rind and butter. Cool to room temperature.

- Whisk egg whites till it looks foamy.

- Add sugar gradually and whisk until stiff peaks form.

Assembling the pie:
Pour lemon filling into the pastry. Using a spatula and starting at the edges and working inwards, arrange the meringue over the filling. Bake for 20-30 mins. Cool before serving.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

how NOT to fillet a fish...

...or why you should pay attention when the cooking instructor is demonstrating.

A selection of sushi and sashimi prepared by Nora-san

The path to learning how to make the platter above was not a smooth one. I mentioned in my last post that Quikong arranged for us to attend a 4-hr Sushi and Sashimi Workshop by Chef Hideo Dekura at the Sydney Seafood School last Saturday. It consisted of 2 hours of demonstration by the chef and then participants get to don aprons for 2 hours of hands-on practise in another room where there is a kitchen space for each participant. Hideo-san had a great sense of humour so the workshop was a lot of fun.

Chef Hideo Dekura

The class kicked-off at 11am and Hideo-san began explaining all the tools that we needed for sashimi and sushi making like the types of knives, ingredients, etc. He also showed us how to cook an omelette Japanese style. Japanese style omelette is a little sweet because sugar is added to the batter (see recipe at the end of post). It is made up of a few layers and its made in a square pan. He even "branded" it with a flower motif. Look at how beautiful it is:

Japanese Omelette with Asparagus (Recipe at the end of post)

He also showed us how to make a few simple makis (sushi rolls):


Assortment of "inside-out" style of maki

By the time Hideo-san demonstrated how to prepare fresh seafood for sashimi, my mind had started to wonder off to what I was going to have for lunch.

Chef Hideo demonstrating how to fillet salmon for sashimi

I am sure all of you can understand that after seeing all these lovely food being prepared (and it was lunch time by now), naturally I was happily dreaming away about all the different types of sushi I was going to make when we move into the kitchen. I was thinking, of course Hideo-san is not going to make us clean cuttlefish or fillet fish, it's too complicated. I was even making fun of Quikong who was writing copious notes and drawing diagrams of how to fillet the fish:

Quikong's notes

Guess what we saw when we made our way to the practise kitchen? WHOLE FISH and CUTTLEFISH that were waiting for us to fillet. I should have paid more attention. Now it was Quikong's turn to tease me as he watched me struggle to gut the fish, fillet the delicate skin off the whiting, remove the cuttle bone of the cuttlefish, etc. It got messy, folks. But I think that I didn't do too badly because I still had a lot of edible fish fillet left after all that de-boning and skinning. Never worked that hard for my lunch before!!

Then comes the fun part of making the sushi and assembling the sashimi on a plate. I really learnt a lot and it's so much fun to play with food.

Cuttlefish Sashimi with Okra and Pickled Turnip

My lunch!

The organisers were very generous with ingredients so I ended up with a lot of food. Enough for lunch & dinner. The freshness of the seafood was amazing. The sashimi (salmon, kingfish, whiting and tuna) just melted in my mouth. It was my second time eating raw cuttlefish and I really liked it - it had an almost creamy texture and not chewy at all. I also love how the salmon row "pops" in my mouth. Quikong and the other three friends who came along to the workshop did not like it though. Knowing that I prepared the meal myself made every morsel even more satisfying!

Hideo-san has written a few books and is in the midst of writing another one. I purchased this book at the end of the workshop. It covers all the basics of Japanese cooking in a clear manner. Hideo-san wrote a lovely message and autographed my book (does this make me a groupie?) ;-)

Each participant was given a few freebies at the end of the workshop (e.g. sushi rice, soy sauce). Quikong & I also went to a Tokyo-mart a few days later and bought other ingredients for sushi making. Our first try will be tomorrow for a friend's birthday party.

Tamago-yaki (Thick Omelette)
Serves 4 as a starter
(Omelettes are tradiotional made in a rectangular/square pan called makiyakinabe)

4 x 70g eggs

1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp mirin
pinch of salt
2 spears of asparagus, blanched
oil for frying or non-stick cooking spray
1/2 cup grated daikon & 1 tbsp soy sauce, to serve

1 - Beat eggs with sugar, mirin and salt.
2 - Heat omelette pan with a little oil (or use non-stick cooking pray) until medium heat.
3 - Gently pour in a third of the mixture to cover the base of the omelette pan.
4 - Place asparagus in the centre of the omelette and roll omelette across to the other side of the pan.
5 - Pour a little oil to the empty section of the pan, and pour another third of misture, making a rectangular double omelette.
6 - Move the omelette to the back of the pan, and repeat with the final third of the misture, making a rectangular triple omelette. Press with wooden paddle or egg-lift to form a neat rectangular shape.
7 - Cut omelette into 2.5cm strips and serve with grated daikon and soy sauce, or use as a nigiri-sushi filling.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad

Only in Sydney can one be wearing a winter coat one day and have a BBQ the next. I feel that spring is in the air and that instantly lifts my mood. I made this salad last weekend. Quikong went to the fish market to get some seafood which he cooked on the grill. It was suprisingly warm enough for us to sit in our backyard.

The produce that I wanted to highlight is the humble sweet potato. It is so versatile because it can be used in both savoury and sweet recipes. I used the brown skinned (orange fleshed) sweet potato for this salad. Less common in my family's kitchen is the purple skinned (white fleshed) sweet potato (photo below). Some people think that there is little difference in the flavours but when I was at the market, a man hawking his goods was trying to convince me to buy the purple sweet potatoes because "it's sweeter, sister!!". So, for the sake of "research", I bought both types, baked thick slices of each variety and did a taste test. I think that the orange-fleshed variety has a richer, deeper sweetness than the white-fleshed variety. But you will have to try it out for yourself and tell me what you think.

Since this post is for the Weekend Herb Blogging event which will be hosted this time by Melissa from The Cooking Diva, I had to do a bit of research about the sweet potato. I assumed that it was native to Asia since it thrives in moist, hot climates. Sweet potatoes are actually native to south America. At least I got the moist and hot part correct.

Sweet potatoes can be boiled, steamed, fried, grilled, baked. Basically anything goes. Even its leaves and shoots are edible. I love sweet potato in salads, a pie, candied, mashed, puddings and also made into not-so-healthy chips (crisps).

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad

1 medium orange-fleshed sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 yellow capsicum(bell pepper)
1 red onion, cut into 6 wedges
1 garlic shoot*, chopped
baby spinach leaves
garlic infused olive oil
lemon juice
pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted
salt & pepper

(*garlic shoot is like a firmer chive which tastes like a cross between an asparagus and mild garlic. It can be eaten raw or cooked in stir-fries)

Preparation: Toss the sweet potato and onion in a little olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Knowing that Quikong was going to BBQ the seafood, I decided to grill the sliced sweet potato, capsicum and red onion wedges. When the skin of the capsicum starts to char, I placed it into a plastic container (or zip lock bag is also fine) to allow it to "sweat". Then, I removed the skin, sliced it thinly and marinated it in garlic infused extra virgin olive oil.

Assemble the salad: Place the spinach leaves on the plate, then the grilled sweet potato, then the marinated grilled capsicum. Drizzle some lemon juice and season with salt & pepper. Scatter the garlic shoots and pumpkin seeds over the salad.

Sushi and Sashimi Workshop:
On a different note, I am very excited because Quiking signed both of us up for a 4-hr Sushi and Sashimi workshop tomorrow with Hideo Dejura at the Sydney Seafood School. Hideo may not be as famous as Jamie Oliver, but he has written a few books and received awards. It's always fun to learn something new, food related or not. What is also great is that it was Quikong who suggested it and organised everything. I told you that he is a gourmand-in-denial!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Christmas in July Report

Thanks to all of you for hearing my call for help and taking the time to e-mail me and commenting on my previous post. I knew that I could count on your support. :-)

Many of you have also been very curious about what happened at the party last Saturday. So I feel that it is my duty to write a report on the party. In my excitement, I forgot to take photos of the food. Fortunately, I my dear friends who were concerned about capturing some food photos for my blog snapped a few shots. Thanks to Nadia for taking the food photos below. I do regret not taking a photo of the massive turkey that we had. My nephew would have enjoyed the photo because he loved that Mr Bean episode when he got his head stuck in a very large turkey.

The Menu
(notes or variations of recipes in brackets)

David Lebovitz's Buckwheat Crepes with various fillings by Eva
(Eva reduced the sugar to one tsp. The recipe yeilded about 14 crepes, not 18-20)

Roasted Turkey
(The turkey was marinated with crushed garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary (fresh), coriander (fresh), tumeric, paprika, lemon juice and olive oil. I roasted it according to these instructions)
Creamy Potato Bake
Warm Zucchini, Tomato & Eggplant Salad
Spiced Prawns with Green Beans and Red capsicum
Balsamic Roasted Dutch Carrots and Baby Onions

(I tossed in some fresh sage just before serving it, as suggested by Rose)
Cranberry Sauce (store bought)
Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Poached Bosc Pears served with mixed berries sauce and Chocolate Truffle Stars.
(I added a cup of frozen mixed berries in the poaching liquid. When the pears were tender, I removed them and reduced the sauce. Plating: Place a dollop of freshly whipped cream on the plate, place the pear on it. Pour 2 tbsp of the berry sauce over the pear. Place one big and one small choc truffle stars and dust icing sugar over them.)

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any frozen cranberries. I would have loved to have made this:
Veronica's Cranberry Salsa

Due to my inexperience in roasting turkey and planning my time around that, I actually had to leave out two items because the turkey took 4.5 hours to cook and took up all the space in the oven:
Heidi's Sage, Walnut and dried Fig Stuffing
Valli's Sweet Potato Studel with Balsamic Mushroom Sauce

Enough talk ;-) Here are a few photos from the party last Saturday:

Some of the happy Christmas elves....
Christmas Wreathe pinyada that Rom brought. I've seen pinyada for birthday parties but this is the first time I heard of such a thing for Christmas. It was a lot of fun! We had to do this outdoors so luckily T made some German hot spiced wine (Gluhwein).
Thanks again for all the helpful suggestions, recipes and moral support. I really enjoyed planning and preparing the meal. Thanks also to Quikong and my dear friends who shared this very memorable and wonderful evening with me.