Sunday, 27 December 2009

and the rest....

Christmas' Eve
I had 14 friends over for dinner and cooking for a crowd can be tricky. It's all about time management to get all the food ready at the same time.
For the past four years, I always have the Christmas turkey on Christmas' Eve. I usually buy the turkey few days before, but my fridge isn't big enough, so I went shopping for fresh turkey early in the morning. And guess what? I was too late. There was no whole fresh turkey left. I decided to get two extra large chicken instead (they're from the same poultry family, right?), and they actually looked like two small turkeys. To be honest, it was a better idea than having one big turkey. With two chickens, I have more cuts to share, more wings, legs, thighs and breast meat.
I roasted the chicken with herb butter, maple syrup and white wine for two hours and the result: super juicy chicken. Oh it was good. The only bad thing was my carving skill. We had the chicken with my country dressing, cranberry sauce and potato gratin. Store-bought New York style cheesecake for dessert.
Played charades and had so much fun.

Christmas Day
I wasn't very happy that day, because my friends came late. I'm just annoyed with people who aren't punctual. I told myself to calm down and after few drinks, I did.
We opened our presents and I'm so pleased with mine. One of my presents is Jamie Oliver's granite pestle and mortar. Yay!
For dinner I made roast leg of lamb with aubergines and onions. If you have Jamie's My Guide to Making You a Better Cook-book, turn to page 168 and you can see the lamb. It was beautiful, but then I have to destroy it with my bad carving. Despite of that the meat was nice and tender and juicy. The aubergine, onion and tomato sauce was very nice as well.
The lamb was served with Jamie's favourite coleslaw (with mayonnaise I made from scratch), and potatoes. Dessert was fifteen chocolate brownies. Yum!
The rest of the evening was spent watching the new TV show, Glee (my favourite programme at the moment), and lots of vodka shots and baileys.

Boxing Day
Woke up at about nine-ish and I went to town for a little bit to check the boxing day sale and I bought the complete series of friends.
I went to the Stadium of Light in the afternoon for the boxing day match. I don't have a lot of knowledge about football, but I do enjoy watching it live. My friend, Julia and Mark invited me to the match and we had lunch at the stadium. I've been to this event few times now and I always had great times. I met some great people (Sunderland legends, current players, etc) and made some new friends.
Food wise, I had the pate to start, roasted duck with plum sauce for the main, which was nice but a little overdone for my liking, and sticky toffee pudding. yuuummmm... and had quite a lot to drink as well. I felt really guilty for not going to the gym.
The match itself was good, Sunderland scored first and it wasn't until the last 15 minutes when Everton scored theirs. I hate that. Come on Sunderland! or should I say ha'way the lads! :)
After the match I met up with some friends and watched Sherlock Holmes.

I went to church in the morning. Got home and started taking off some of the Christmas decorations. I'm gonna start a little bit of packing tonight as well for my London/Oxford trip next week for the New Year.
Made myself all day breakfast salad for lunch. I'm so impressed with my poached egg. My poached egg normally looks like a watery mess, but today it was perfect.
I'm going to a friend's house later and we're gonna watch some more Glee! Good times!

Day 118, Recipe 51

Have a very Happy Christmas and joyful New Year!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Seasonal dinner #1

went really well. I had a great time cooking for some wonderful friends. And once again, I managed to almost stuffed my guests to death.

To start I made some finger food that consisted of brushetta with curried chicken and mango, goat's cheese and smoked salmon, and goat's cheese with onion marmalade. I also made my favourite cheesey garlic bread. I topped a generous amount of mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese on the bread and then baked in the oven until all the cheeses has melted.

For the first course, I made fifteen Christmas salad which was easy enough to assemble at last minute; and it looked and tasted beautiful. Crunchy radicchio, peppery rocket and cool mint leaves, dressed with lemon dressing, and then wrapped in smoky prosciutto, on top of creamy buffalo mozzarella, and a scatter of sweet clementines, salty and rich parmesan shavings and sweet balsamic vinegar. It's Christmas on a plate.

For main, we had roasted chicken breasts wrapped in pancetta with leeks and thyme, and a side dish of creamy butternut squash. Yum!

Dessert was extra special. We had my orange panettone bread and butter pudding. This is definitely my favourite winter dessert. It's very comforting and it takes hardly any work to make which is a bonus for the hectic season. And to me, the scent of oranges just says Christmas all over. The pudding was served with lightly whipped orange cream. Heaven...

Tonight is another party with friends, I've done most of the cooking preparations and I'm ready for some more fun!

Sunday, 20 December 2009


Christmas is exciting, with all the lights and decorations, the carols, Christmas TV shows, and most importantly, the seasonal food and drinks. At the same time however, Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year, with all the shopping, queuing in the shops, and don’t even get me started on the wrapping the presents. And it gives me great pleasure to announce that I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping (two more presents to be exact) and also the wrapping! YAY!

Next week I’m hosting three dinner parties in a row and as crazy as it sounds, I cannot wait! The dishes are all planned and I love feeding people (just about any time, really) especially at this time. The thing about Christmas food is, they have to be familiar, nothing overtly complicated, and most importantly, comforting.

And don’t worry, I have not forgotten about the project. I’ll be serving some recipes from the book this Christmas, like fifteen Christmas salad and fifteen chocolate brownies; the best roast turkey – Christmas or any time for Christmas Eve; and I have also decided to have roast leg of lamb with aubergines and onions on Christmas day.

This year, I have also been making edible presents. I have made few jars of vanilla sugar to share with some dear friends and I’ll be making few batches of Jamie’s best shortbread in the world in the next couple of days.

All very exciting...

I had spaghetti with olives and salad with Jamie’s Sicilian dressing for lunch; old-school pork chops with apples and sage for dinner; and mulled cider with lemon and orange to keep me warm. Good times!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

last night

my appetite's back! Yay!

I had some friends over for dinner and we had my white bean, garlic and thyme soup with white pizza; penne with roasted Mediterranean vegetables; and orange panettone bread and butter pudding. YUM!

Great food and great company. I think that's the secret to a great night.

Thanks friends.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

London trip: taste of Christmas

When people go on holiday, some like to engage in cultural activities, some like to visit famous landmarks, but for me, holiday is all about the food. I like to visit museums and historical sites, but with all that sightseeing and walking, I do get hungry and I need to eat.

I always have a great time in London. There are many excitements to see and loads of places to eat. I went with some friends the past weekend and it’s no exception this time, we had a great time. The first night was celebrated at Maze for some cocktails. I had the espresso martini, orange daiquiri and my favourite, mojito. The last time I was in London, the whole place was booked by the casts of Sister Act – the musical, so I was thrilled to be able to go in this time.

Saturday was the day: ‘taste of Christmas’ – food festival. But before we went there, we had breakfast at the Hummingbird Bakery. My friends and I, we all love Hummingbird Bakery. The cupcakes, cakes and pies are all beautiful and scrumptious. I had a cup of cappuccino and a slice of apple pie. Yum!

We arrived at ExCel London for the festival at around lunchtime. There were hundreds of food stands and restaurants in the arena and I imagine this is what heaven would look like. We went from one stand to another, getting all the free samples, beers, champagnes, cheeses, chutneys, chocolates, liquors, spirits, etc. After wandering around, we had to eat, and this is what we had among the four of us (name of dish – name of restaurant):
Dines ham hock with colcannon and parsley sauce – St Pancras Grand

Free-range duck egg with A. Romani Italian truffle – Dolada

Seafood biriyani, white fish, scallops, tiger prawns, squid, cucumber & black pepper raita – Thrishna

Roast Duke of Berkshire pork belly, sweet potato & fenugreek mash with green pepper relish – Modern Pantry

Spiced Hungarian beef goulash with potato dumplings – Baltic

Bentley’s fish pie – Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill

Maldon rock oysters - Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill

Japanese beef roll with yakitori sauce – Sumosan

Christmas pudding ‘cigar’ with cinnamon sugar and mince pie ice cream – Menu

Beef rendang with rice – Awana

Out all of the dishes I had there, the best was probably wild mushroom fettuccine with black truffle, from L’Anima. I’d happily have that anytime.

The highlight for the day was probably meeting Anthony Worrall Thompson. I like him on TV, but he’s more entertaining in person. I arrived just in time for his book signing session and I also had a photograph taken with him. I attended the ‘taste of France’ workshop with him and he was awesome. He made chicken liver pate brulee, monkfish bourguinon and chocolate rosemary custard. Too bad we weren’t allowed to taste the food because he only made a portion for two, and there were about thirty people in the audience.

Before we left, we had some gelato the famous Italian ice-cream for dessert. I had a scoop of tiramisu and a scoop of hazelnut gelato. The perfect way to end the day.

Oh and, like other holidays, you have to get some souvenirs and I did. I bought a jar of chilli jam that will be great with leftover turkey; a jar of almond pesto; and onion marmalade, perfect for snacking with sharp cheeses or I sometimes like to put it on home-made burgers, just like caramelised onions.

We went around for a little walk at Oxford Street to see the Christmas lights and to burn some of the calories we had throughout the day. We got back to the hotel early with a bucket of KFC (to replace the calories that’s been burned) and we watched the X-Factor semi final (Yes, a little sad but true and I don’t care because I love the show).

The next day, we had Sunday roast at Bumpkin at South Kensington. It’s one of my favourite places to eat in London. The restaurant has this countryside feel and it’s just nice, even though I’m a city boy at heart. I had the Leg of Elwy Valley Welsh lamb, studded with rosemary and garlic, mint sauce, served with red wine gravy, roast potatoes, cauliflower and cheddar cheese sauce, seasonal root vegetables and greens. It was good, as always.

And no London trip is complete without a second stop at Hummingbird Bakery. My friend is a hummingbird bakery addict and she needed to get her supply of cupcakes.

I have had a great weekend away, but I'm glad to be back home. :)

Thursday, 3 December 2009


I just don’t understand people who throw away leftovers. I love leftovers! Especially at this time of the year. Whenever I invite friends over for supper, I make sure I plan enough to have some leftovers. Let’s say if I have four friends coming, I normally plan the menu for six. I can create a whole different menu just from leftovers. And this new menu will take half of the effort because most of the ingredients are already done. Leftover roast turkey dinner can be transformed into so many delicious treats. I can make my Christmas Panini that is my version of classic Italian grilled sandwich with turkey, stuffing, melting cheese and cranberry sauce. Yum!

Adding sliced smoked salmon, spring onion, egg and flour to some extra mashed potatoes is the ingredients for my potato pancakes; perfect for a light supper with side salad.

And my favourite, leftovers roast beef, which I rarely have; can be made into one of my favourite food, Philly cheese steak sandwich. Slice a soft roll length way, spread with a little butter on both sides, and then lay the sliced steak on one side of the bread. Generously sprinkle some cheddar cheese on the steak and top with the other bread. Wrap the sandwich with foil and put in the hot oven for few minutes until all the cheese has melted. Serve with chips and mustard. Ah... Just writing about it makes me hungry.

I’m going down to London tomorrow for a long weekend to go to a food festival. It’s probably the equivalent of Glastonbury for foodie. Instead of having rock stars on the stage, you have celebrity chefs talking to you. I know, I know, how geeky. I just can’t help it. I’ve planned my day for cooking class, chocolate, wine and champagne workshops. I can’t wait. I’ll tell you all about it later.

And I’ve been informed that I have new readers to the blog for which I’m very grateful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing about my passion for food, cooking and eating.

Day 94, recipe 42

Monday, 30 November 2009

Season's Eatings

It is a shame that Thanksgiving Day is not celebrated in Britain. I think any celebrations that involve stuffing your mouth with delicious food should be celebrated everywhere. I heard about Thanksgiving Day from TV shows and films but I didn’t experience the whole rituals until when I lived in America. I still remember my first Thanksgiving with my host family. Well, I didn’t remember much what we did on the day, but I remember all the food we had; traditional bread stuffing with onion, celery, sage, sourdough bread, sausage meat and lots of butter; creamy mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and of course, it is not thanksgiving unless you have a beautiful and golden roast turkey on the table. And for dessert, a generous slice of warm pumpkin pie and a big dollop of whipped cream. You just eat and eat and get ready for the Black Friday sale the next day.

This year is the fourth year I host Thanksgiving dinner since I moved to the UK. I invited some friends over yesterday (normal Thanksgiving dinner falls on the last Thursday in November, but due to some scheduling reasons, I had mine on the Sunday). I made Jamie’s the best whole roast turkey, Christmas or any time which was delicious. One of the biggest challenges when cooking a turkey is the legs and thighs take longer than the breasts. The breasts tend to dry out in the oven while you’re waiting for the legs to cook. Jamie’s solution to this is by pushing an amount of stuffing between the turkey’s skin and breasts to increase the thickness of the breasts so they take the same time to cook as the legs. The result? Juicy turkey all round!

The stuffing is made with sausage meat, lemon zest, sage, red onions and celery. Yum! I had some extra and I made them into stuffed mushrooms which again, Yum!

I also made my traditional bread stuffing because it is my favourite dish at Thanksgiving dinner. Side dish wise, I made some boiled new potatoes with lemon, butter and parsley and maple glazed carrots. The cranberry sauce is store bought, and there is nothing wrong with that. I know making cranberry sauce takes hardly any work, but if I can save some time, I don’t mind it being the cranberry sauce. For dessert, I didn’t make the traditional pumpkin pie this year. Instead I made Nigella Lawson’s quadruple chocolate loaf cake. It is quadruple because there are four different elements of chocolate in the cake in the forms of coco powder, dark chocolate chips, chocolate syrup that glazed the cake and chocolate shaving on top.

An evening with great food and great company, what more can you ask.

I never celebrated Thanksgiving the way it was intended to be, a symbol of co-operation and interaction between the English colonists and Native Americans. To be honest, I don’t know anybody who does today, even in America. For me, Thanksgiving Day is kind of like a declaration and opening ceremony that Season's Eatings starts here. It is now the time for indulgence, for sharing wonderful food with family and friends.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

food for thought

I constantly think about food and I cannot wait until my next meal.
It's Thursday evening and I cannot wait for Sunday's Thanksgiving dinner (I know Thanksgiving Day is today, but I didn't get off from work until 8 pm on Thursday; I'm still working on Friday; my friends can't make Saturday; so I'm gonna have it on Sunday instead). I cannot wait!

I cooked my first duck last week and oh I love duck... The duck was roasted for 2 hours until crispy and then shredded and made into gorgeous slow-cooked duck pasta. Man, it was so good.

For lunch today, I made roasted chicken breast with creamy butternut squash and chilli. It was delicious. I added a little parmesan cheese to the squash. It wasn't part of the recipe, but I couldn't helped it.

My friends asked me with all of these food, why aren't you fat? Well, I was once 'bigger' but I now believe in balance. I know that I love to eat and therefore I need to exercise. I go to the gym, two or three times a week and do my time. Plus, since I started this project few weeks ago, I have used four, 2L bottles of olive oil, and exercise is definitely needed for this project to continue. I know Jamie loves his olive oil and the occasional butter (and I do too) and he drizzles olive oil on everything; and I seem to picked up the habit. Olive oil, especially the extra virgin kind suppose to be the greatest exponent of monounsaturated fat with higher levels of antioxidants and vitamin E. In other words, it's good for us. But at the end of the day, oil = fat and fat = flavours = YUM! I am conscious about health but I'm not prepared to skimp on anything, because I want to enjoy my food.

I heard about this 'good' food and 'bad' food thing: are pasties good or bad? what about salt? is whole wheat better? is margarine better than butter? I'm not a nutritionist, but what I do know, every thing is good in moderation.

Anyway, I'm gonna stop here and go to bed. I don't wanna be late for breakfast.

day 87, recipe 38

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Weekend feast

Today I made ultimate rib of beef with rosemary and garlic roast potatoes. I love it. love it. love it. This is my kind of meal: meat and potatoes. The meat was marinated with lemon zest, rosemary, garlic and olive oil and then cooked to medium-rare which is my favourite and it was beautiful. To accompany the meal, I also made the best whole baked carrots. At first I wasn't sure about this whole baked carrots thing because I normally like my carrots crunchy, but you've got to try it and it is now officially my favourite way to eat carrots.

For desserts, I made the best shortbread in the world. I was feeling a little adventurous and I added some orange zest to the dough. It was fairly easy to make and I love the crumbly and buttery textures of the shortbread. When a recipe calls for a whole block of butter, you just know that it's got to be good.

Today is day 68, recipe 29 and... I'm feeling good.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


I made my first potato gnocchi today and it was fun! I can't believe I made gnocchi. It's normally something that I get in a packet from the supermarket. The biggest challenge of making the gnocchi was probably looking for the right ingredients. Jamie's recipe for the lightest potato gnocchi calls for tipo 00 and semolina flour. I looked through all the major supermarkets in the area but couldn't find them. I searched online and finally found the necessary flour from an Italian deli in Cambridge. Yay!

I served the gnocchi with simple sausage ragu and fennel seeds. Yum! The gnocchi was light but a little too soft; extra flour is definitely needed next time.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Good eats

Yesterday's real quick mussels spaghetti in a white wine and basil oil broth was just amazing, especially the broth. Pasta with mussels is something that I like to order when eating out but never attempted to make at home. I can't believe it's so easy to make, not at all expensive and so much better than the restaurant version I had. It was very light, and again, the broth, oh... you've got to try it.

for dinner tonight I made whole baked cauliflower with tomato and olive sauce, accompanied with a simple roast lamb shoulder. Throughout the cooking process, my flat smelled like summer in the Mediterranean. I couldn't find good black olives this morning, and I used green olives instead (sorry Jamie, I hope it's ok. It's still very good).

It's day 55, recipe number 22 and the project continues...

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Molly and Me

Just watched 'Marley & Me' (again) and I cried my eyes out (again). What a great film, and an even better book, because it reminds me of Molly, my own puppy. Molly is my first pet. Well, my family had a dog before but I was too little to remember.

Molly was a present from my dad's friend about six years ago. When Molly first came to our house, I wasn't thrilled. She was loud and very demanding. We have to feed her (obviously), take her for walks, clean her mess and watch her every move. The first few months, the most popular sayings were 'Stop that!', 'that's enough!' or just 'MOLLY!!!'.

But over the time, she became a big part of our family. She likes to accompany my mom in the garden; eavesdrop to our conversation and she was the star at my sister's 'show and tell' at school. She is funny and she love papaya. Everybody in our neighbourhood knows Molly, hopefully for good reasons. I haven't seen Molly for the past couple of years and I missed her. My sister sends me updates every now and then, funny stories about her or when she was in trouble.

I love this quotes from 'Marley & Me' and it is certainly true: A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he'll give you his.

Anyway, yesterday I finally tackle the first recipe from the fish section of the book. I made pan-roasted salmon with purple sprouting broccoli and anchovy-rosemary Sauce which was delicious. The only thing that different was the sauce. Jamie's instruction to make the sauce is to use pestle and mortar, but I don't have one so I used food processor instead. It's finer than how it should be but still really good. Pestle and Mortar is definitely in my things-that-I-want list (this is a big hint hint for Christmas, my dear friends).

I spent this morning hunting for fresh live mussels to make real quick mussels spaghetti in a white wine and basil oil broth for tonight. After a quick journey to a neighbouring city, I finally got them. Yay! It's gonna be good. Plus tonight is also X-Factor night which makes it even better.

I'll tell you all about it later. And this is the very first picture of Molly. Did I mention that she also loves the camera?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

22 today

When I was seven, my teacher asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And I said, "I want to be an astronaut. I want to go to the moon". I'm not very good at science.

When I was nine, my uncle asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And I said, "I want to be a comedian. I want to make people laugh". I can't tell a joke.

When I was fourteen, I wanted to be a news reporter, because I want to look smart and travel all over the world. I went to University, studied media and communication, got a degree and I'm not a news reporter.

Everyone, including me wants success. I set goals and positive thinking and attitude to make my way to the top. In my life, all I want to do is to reach the day when I could shout to my mom, dad, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends, "Hey! Look at me! I did it!"

I heard somewhere that success is a continuous learning of strategy. When you do something long enough, you become very good at it. This process is accelerated when you follow someone who can guide you past common mistakes.

Since I started this "My Guide to Making You a Better Cook" project, Jamie has taught me how to cook the creamiest risotto; how to choose the riht cuts of meat; and the secret to make the most delicious pork chops.

I'm 22 today and still want to learn many things. I want to be able to make fresh pasta and learn how to prepare a live lobster. I want to be a better cook.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

and another chops

Yesterday I had dinner with some friends and I made old school pork chops again...
I loved it the first time and I just felt it's very selfish of me not to share the oh-so-good-pork chops with others :) My friends loved it as well.

This evening is the first live show of the X-Factor and how exciting!!!
My friends are coming over later and in the menu tonight: Japanese Beef Curry and home made Tiramisu for dessert. I cannot wait.

I found myself in the local paper two days ago, giving my opinions about the X-Factor. I was interviewed by two strangers at the beginning of the week and I thought it was just for students' work. I guess any publicity is good publicity, right? Anyway, my top three is Olly, Joe and Lucy.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Saturday evening pasta

Nothing to me says Italian food like pasta. Unlike other infamous Italian foods like pizza and tomato sauce, which have a fairly recent history, pasta may indeed have a much older pedigree going back hundreds if not thousands of years.

I was once told that the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo brought back pasta from his journeys in China in 1295. So I did a little research and found out there are evidences of Italian recipe books from earlier years containing references to pasta dishes. Since China is an ancient civilization, with a complex culture dating back thousands of years, it's likely that pasta existed in China very early.

Right, so we now know pasta did not arrive in Italy courtesy of Marco Polo. And let's just stop here. I am not a food historian and instead I want to focus more on pasta as a staple ingredient in my kitchen and in my family.

I have been eating pasta for as long as I can remember. Pasta is one of the ingredients in my mom's chicken soup recipe. My sisters and I loved this soup. With so many different kinds of shape and flavours of pasta available these days, it isn't difficult to be creative when deciding upon a dish. So if you think pasta as only spaghetti or macaroni, I'm telling you, you are missing out!

Pasta is just a great neutral starch on which to combine flavours and ingredients. It can be warming and comforting when the days are cool, and light and fresh tasting when the temperatures rise. It's a perfect accompaniment for fresh seasonal vegetables, and an inexpensive way to stretch a little bit of costly ingredients such as sea food or exotic mushrooms to feed a group. Many pasta dishes are all-in-one meal that is simple to make. Many of my pasta recipes can be assembled in the time it takes to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta. Some pasta recipes can also be made ahead of time and reheated or served at room temperature.

I have always considered pasta as one of the great pleasures of the table. For casual get-together, I know there's nothing more satisfying (and economical) to set on the table than a big bowl piled high with pasta. Everyone can serve themselves as much as they want, and it can either be a side dish or as a main course.

So, yesterday I made Jool's favourite Saturday afternoon pasta for an army of friends, coming over to watch the X-Factor. I have some favourites now. I hope they'll make it to the top 24 tonight.

Yes, I've made pasta with tuna and tomato sauce before, but Jamie's addition of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon made all the difference. The cinnamon did not over power any of the flavours, but just a little extra something at the background. We all loved it and Jool's favourite Saturday afternoon pasta is now officially my favourite for Saturday evening.

For dessert, I made A rather pleasing carrot cake with lime mascarpone icing which was very pleasing. Moist carrot cake + citrus = Yum!

Going back to pasta, I must say whatever its true origins and history, one thing is sure. Pasta is here to stay.

Day 27, Recipe 17

Friday, 25 September 2009

Old-school pork chops with apples and sage

Day 25, recipe 15

what a week it's been... aaarrrrrgggghhhhhh!!!!! (that's me screaming)...and I'm GLAD to be cooking again. It's been a long day at work and the only thing that kept me going was the thought of what I'm gonna have for dinner: old school pork chops with apples and sage, served with savoy cabbage with Worcestershire sauce, baked potato and wine; and oh-my-God... it was so gooodd.

Jamie's instruction to make deep cuts all along the fatty side of the chops is fantastic. How come nobody tells me about this before?!? It helps to render the fat and makes the skin crispier.
I invited a friend to come over for dinner but he cancelled at the last minute. If I have to be honest, I was kinda glad he couldn't make it, because I finished everything.

Cabbage isn't my favourite vegetables, but cooked with worcestershire sauce and butter, YUM! So simple, but yet so delicious. I'm pretty sure it's the butter.

Pork chops, apples and cabbage; this is definitely one of the recipes I'll make over and over again. :)

Sunday, 6 September 2009

a little lesson about meat

Day 6, Recipe 7

Some friends demanded a steak dinner and of course, I agreed. I picked up my ‘ My Guide to Making You a Better Cook’ book and Pan-fried sirloin steak with simple Chianti butter sauce and olive oil mash sounds just perfect for Sunday evening with friends.

I love meat. Some of my favourite animals are definitely steak and pork chops. But up until last week, I was one of those people who have never thought or wanted to know or ever questioned where their meat comes from, how it’s fed, looked after, slaughtered or butchered. ‘Why would I want to know in the first place anyway?’

What I enjoy the most about this ‘project’ is it’s like learning to shop, cook and eat all over again. In the book, Jamie begins each chapter with a little lesson on how to choose the ingredients, how to prepare and cook them, and then the many selections of recipes.

In the Meat chapter, Jamie starts with: It's amazing how specific the public are about what they want in return for their hard-earned cash... As a nation, we've forgotten that it's completely normal and healthy to be picky about what meat we buy. You wouldn't be happy with any old beer in the pub, your kids wouldn't be happy with any old trainers, so why should you settle for any old meat that you're going to put in your and your family's mouth?

I used to think that meats from the supermarket are all just the same; and I never really care if they are organic, free-range, etc. All I care was if they’re reasonably priced. Meat is just meat, right? But I was wrong. These extra qualities make all the difference to the quality of your meal. When I started the project I bought my first organic, once-had-a-good-life chicken, to make roasted chicken breast with cherry tomatoes and asparagus; and honestly, I didn’t think it would be as delicious and as moist if I were to have made it with supermarket ‘standard’ chicken.

I have tasted top-quality meat and I really don’t want to go back to the ‘standard’ quality meat. Yes, these organic and free-range meats are not cheap; everything comes with a price, but when you understand what goes into producing meat you soon realise that organic meat isn’t overpriced. I must be honest, I also have rent and bills to pay; and I can’t afford to eat top-quality meat every day. I guess the strategy is to have them in moderation.

Back to tonight's dinner. I agree with Jamie; this simple way of cooking and serving steak is so rewarding (of course, the top-quality meat makes all the difference). All you need is a little sauce on top of the meat and mash. Chianti butter sauce isn't complicated at all to make. Once you cooked the steaks to your liking (I like my steak medium-rare), turn the heat down and add a knob of butter. Fry some shallots or red onions with thyme for four minutes, then add a glass of Chianti wine and reduce by half. Pour in the resting juices from the meat, and add a little more butter and take the pan off the heat. Season to taste and drizzle over the steak and mash. Yum!

I had a great night. However, I need to stop eating so late. I normally don't eat after 7pm, but tonight, we didn't finish eating until around 9. I cannot wait for the University gym to be opened again.

One last thing, Happy 20th Birthday Sis. I love you. x

Good night.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

So it began...

- Monday, 31 August 2009

I applied for a chef apprentice programme not a long time ago and I was accepted. After being unsuccessful in several different occasions, I thought this was going to be my time: to live in London and working for one of the country's top chef. But there was a problem with the working permit. And after two very long weeks of investigation, I finally received the email. It said: "...Michael, I understand that you will be disappointed with my response... I wish you well for the future and thank you for your interest..."

I was very disappointed. But I always believe that everything happens for a reason. It's just not my time yet.

Just before I went to bed last night, I asked myself, "so what am I gonna do now?" I'm definitely gonna keep on looking for different opportunity. I'm not giving up. I can't give up. I won't give up. I've got to do something.

I am very grateful to have parents who only want to give the best education for their children. My goal to pursue a career in the field of culinary has been a part of my plans since my early teen years. Unfortunately, culinary school was way over my college fund.

And something occurred into my mind. If I can't enrol myself into a culinary school, I'm gonna train myself. I've heard stories about chefs who have never been to a culinary school but still made it. They taught themselves how to cook. But how? What did they do? Just cook every day? I don't know...

I turned into my bookshelf and I was looking through some recipe books for inspiration what to have for tomorrow's dinner. Rachael Ray's Buffalo Turkey Burgers with Blue Cheese Dressing? Or Giada De Laurentiis' Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetable?

And then I saw 'Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook.' YES! That's exactly what I want to do. I want to be better.

I've always been a fan of Jamie Oliver. He seems like a cool, down-to-earth-kind-of guy. If we were friends, I think we'll get along really well. I didn't make it to his 'fifteen foundation' (I thought was application was pretty good). But now I can; with the help of this book. And Jamie is my personal mentor. There, I have decided: I'm not gonna waste my time whilst waiting. I'm gonna train my self and sharpen my skill and be prepared for the future. For the next 365 days, I'll be cooking through all of the recipes in the book. I don't know how many of them because I haven't counted them yet (there are 448 pages in the book). I know this is a big commitment. But I also believe you never know what you can do until you try.

So, tomorrow's dinner, my very first recipe, I'm gonna start with Roasted Chicken Breast with Cherry Tomatoes and Asparagus. YUM!

- Today

Day 1, Recipe 1

Work was busy. It definetly felt like September. Many students are back to University. But I like it better when it's busy. And I also received the invite for staff christmas party (yes, christmas party).

During lunchtime, I went shopping for the ingredients; asparagus, cherry tomatoes, rosemary and I also bought the organic, free range chicken breasts (which was not cheap, but I'm sure Jamie would approve).

It's finally six o'clock and it's home time. When I got home, I put on my apron, opened the book to page 187 and preheated the oven to 200 c. Jamie says, 'Make these recipes for one in a snug-fitting baking dish or, to save on washing-up, a little tinfoil tray.' And that's what I did. I made myself a litle tinfoil tray and I started assembling the dish which was easy.

In a bowl, put one chicken breast, trimmed sticks of asparagus, halved cherry tomatoes and rosemary. Toss everything together with sea salt, black pepper and olive oil. Put the veg into the foil tray and place the chicken and rosemary sprig on top. Add some white wine and cook in the middle oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

It was delish! The veg was tender and the chicken was so moist. I can't believe I haven't made this before.

I cannot wait for tomorrow's dinner.

Friday, 28 August 2009

How it started...

My name is Michael Toa; I am twenty-one and I want to publicly say, "I blame everything on my parents!"

My parents love to cook and every time we eat, food is more than just a meal; it is a way to express togetherness and joyfulness. Food means celebration. Before the many gatherings my parents host; like Christmas, New Year or simply, birthday parties, they would go over the menus and spend the day shopping for ingredients, and my sisters and I would help with the preparations to get all of the food to the table. I loved it!

I was born in Indonesia and I grew up in many kitchens. My mom used to be a chef and a private caterer; and one of my fondest childhood memories is following her from one kitchen to another. I enjoyed watching the excitement of assembling forty 'mini black-forest gateaux with blueberry filling topped with chocolate ganache and candied cherries' all at the same time. I sat quietly, observing every move and the 'excitement', or chaos as my mom would say, whilst waiting if there's any extra food... and there's always extra food.

The good times that came from cooking as a family got me psyched about food in general, and I wanted more than anything to be a great cook. When I started cooking as a kid, I tried to recreate what I watched on TV or what I saw in books. One of my favourite books as a kid was strangely, an old French cooking book. To be honest, it wasn't the best way to start, if you know how complicated French cuisine can be. I spent hours to make 'cream of broccoli soup', that involved white chocolate as one of the ingredients. At nine years old, I had to give myself some credit.

I then began with many simple things, like making egg fried rice or easy pasta dishes, and I couldn't stop. Cooking was my first love and I fell hard, really hard. I found cooking to be incredibly enjoyable and relaxing. I can truly express how I feel and what I want other people to feel through food. It's a way of saying 'thank you', or 'I'm sorry', or 'let's celebrate!!'.

My fascination with food and cooking was bigger than ever when I went to high school in America. One day I flicked through the TV channels and I found the 'Food Network'. Ever since then, it was pretty much the TV I watched. I remembered sprinting home after school, so that I wouldn't miss 30 Minute-Meals, Everyday Italian, Barefoot Contessa, Semi-Homemade and Easy Entertaining. For me it was like attending my private cooking class with personal mentors. I learned many cooking terminologies and techniques by watching these programmes and I owe these chefs for the inspirations they've given me.

I went to University in the UK and I lived with a group of new friends. I remembered making them my 'Spaghetti with Chicken Ragu' on the second night and the next thing I knew soon my meals became a custom. I cooked for almost every day and many of my recipes have become personal favourites of my friends. However, I won't hide the fact that many times the recipe turned out to be disastrous. But we all just laughed about it. I think those kinds of good times and memories are what cooking is all about.

Sadly, but, yes, I keep a journal of what I have cooked and during my spare time I like to write recipe ideas. When someone asks, 'What is your specialty?', I'm not quite sure what is the answer, though looking at the ingredients I regularly used, many of them are Italians in origin, but then it's still arguable. The thing is I'm not afraid to try new things and to explore what is out there and what can be made from an ingredient.

I like to travel and I use food as reminders of the good times I've had, just like a vacation scrapbook I guess. My coconut ice-cream always brings me back to the beautiful days in Barcelona or the wonderful date I had with my girlfriend. Whenever I make my grilled chicken wrap, it reminds me of the New York City trip I took when I was in high school. My friends and I had this sandwich from one of the corner stands not far from Rockefeller Centre and it was cheap and delish! However I also often make things from places I've never been, but am inspired with, wishing that one day I'll be able to visit them.

I gained so much confident over the past few years with my cooking and I'm always honoured when people ask me to cook for their parties. I love to entertain and I find food to be the best way to gather people around and to have a good time.

Now, I'm pretty much your average next door guy. Last year, I graduated from media, cultures and communication studies. I am now working for the University, liaising with various student queries. I live on my own and like going out with friends whenever I can. However, I have found that some of the best times my friend and I usually have happen when I cook up some good food and have bunch of people over to my place. I like easy and simple family style food that is all about sharing; nothing so fancy and complicated that people are afraid to eat it.

But then again, just like everything else, cooking has it's time and place. Many of my friends think that I always eat gourmet food for every meal. After a long tiring day at work, my kind of meal would be 'beans on toast' or 'oven chips with gravy', or if I have the patience to wait, I'd order a good Indian take-out. Add a bottle or two of cider, glass full of ice, sit in front of the TV, and I'm in heaven.

But whenever I can, I believe that home-cooked meals are the best excuse for a good time and the easiest way to make any good time better. That's why I started this blog. I wanted to share my stories and the food that brought people together. I also hope people would share their stories with me.

When I started writing about food, I wanted to make clear that the goal is not just the end product. It's always good to know that the food looks appealing and most importantly, tasty... but I believe that the process and the story behind it, makes the food even more exciting.

Last but not least, I also want to publicly say, "Mom and Dad, Thank You..."