Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas, Me - Unplugged and a Happy New Year

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas day with friends and family. I had a great one, surrounded all day with friends and plenty of food and drinks. Cooking for 21 for Christmas Eve's dinner turned out to be rather fun and I am glad everyone enjoyed the meals. There was hardly any leftovers which I always believe is a good sign. I didn't even have a chance to take pictures of the food. I cooked slowly-roasted shoulder of pork with cranberry glaze, potato gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic, honey and pomegranate (which you can find here, minus the walnuts) and Christmas rocky road complete with all the trimmings; the plastic trees, reindeer and robin which I bought on-line. The expression 'as camp as Christmas' comes to mind, doesn't it? Well, it is the season after all to super indulge.

On Christmas day, I spent the day with smaller group of friends and we opened our presents, watched Christmas TV (including the Queen's speech) and ate loads. No surprise there I'm sure. For our main, I cooked slow-roasted pork belly which I knew everyone love. This is I think the one dish my friends request the most. The pork rind is flavoured with fennel seeds and after three hours of cooking, it became the crunchiest crackling. Heavenly!

To go alongside the fatty pork belly, I think it's always nice to have something acidic or vinegary to balance the richness of the meat. My favourite is Jamie Oliver's must-try red cabbage braised with apple, bacon and balsamic vinegar (find the recipe, here). I just love this dish. I can actually eat it by itself and if you're lucky enough to have some leftovers, this is I must say, also delicious cold from the fridge.

This holiday season I also managed to convert a couple of friends to like Brussels sprouts. I personally think they're delicious as long as they are properly cooked. Not mushy or watery. Not nice. My favourite is Nigella's Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pancetta and parsley (find the recipe, here). You've got to try it.

And what is Christmas without some goose fat roast potatoes? They're just out of this world. The secret is, the goose fat must be scorching hot before you roast the potatoes in the oven. Just the thought of these potatoes, makes me salivate.

Of course, I could not let my friends leave without something sweet. And the something sweet we had was Nigella's gleaming maple cheesecake (Nigella Christmas book, p. 74). My friends asked for a second serving of the cheesecake, so this must be pretty good.

Before I set of to Scotland to spend the New Year, recently I was tagged by Victoria at 21st Century Urban Housewife and Little Macaron for a game of Food Bloggers Unplugged... the persona behind the blog... - and I have truly enjoyed reading and knowing more about you. Mainly because I am nosy. Now it's my turn and you can learn a bit more about me :)

1. What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?
To cut a long story, short, I started the blog a couple of years ago in desperation to learn to become a better cook. I can't afford going to culinary school, so I decided to train myself. One evening I was looking through my bookshelf, searching for inspiration and I saw Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook. The next day, I cooked my first recipe from that book, blogged about it then eventually all the recipes. Looking back, it was an incredible experience. I loved every minute of it.

2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
Jamie Oliver. The man is a genius. Also, Nigella Lawson. I worship her.

3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is? 
I keep all my cookbooks really clean. I don't or let anyone touch them with greasy hands. But the one book that's pretty worn-out and the only one with scribbles is Jamie Oliver's My Guide to Making You A Better Cook. During my project year, I read the book everyday, whether deciding on my next meal or making notes next to the recipe instructions or highlighting the index of recipes that I've done.

4. Tell us about the best thing you have eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
When I was in Tokyo, I had this noodles with fragrant, dark (perhaps dashi based) broth and topped with the tenderest and tastiest pork belly and nori. It was simply out of this world. I have had some 'dreams' about this meal.

5. Another food blogger's table you'd like to eat at?
My friend Jenn at Jenn's Food Journey or Elisabeth at Food and Thrift Finds. They're both awesome and I'd love to eat with them. However, they both live across the Atlantic... For someone local, I pick Dom at Belleau Kitchen. I'd eat all of his creations, and we both love pork belly. I am still anxiously waiting for an invite though.

6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
This is easy. Kitchen Aid free-standing mixer. I've been begging for this for a while now - but yet again this year, I didn't get it. Boo! Maybe it's time I get it myself.

7. Who taught you how to cook?
My mother. She was a baking and pastry chef and also a private caterer. My childhood was spent following her from one kitchen to another and I loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting in the corner, watching her assemble all the dishes, whilst waiting for extra food... and there's always extra food. And Jamie Oliver.

8. I'm coming to you for dinner, what is your signature dish?
Rib of beef that's been marinated in lemon, rosemary and garlic then grilled to medium-rare (or however you like it, as long as it's not well-done), served with baked carrots and garlicky roast potatoes. Then we finish the meal with a pavlova or baked chocolate mousse.

9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
I don't feel guilty about eating anything. I only feel guilty if I don't go to the gym and burn off the calories.

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I'm sure I've mentioned this before but it was quite an achievement, so I'll mention it again. When I was a teenager, I lost a lot of weight, about 30 kg (66 pounds) by avoiding carbohydrates and regular exercise.  

I'm sure you're all tired of reading this post now, so that's it. I need to get packing for Scotland. I wish you all a fantastic New Year! See you in 2012!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas everyone...

I am so excited for Christmas and I hope you are too. Earlier today I was finally done with my Christmas shopping. I am absolutely terrible at buying presents. I wish my friends would just tell me what they want... within reason, obviously... Oh well, it's too late now. They have no choice but to like what they're getting!

It is now exactly 4.15 PM and I am scheduled for a tea break. I am in the middle of cooking for our annual Christmas Eve's dinner and I must say, I do love this tradition. However, every year the number seems to get bigger and bigger with a record breaking 21 people this year. I've done most of the preparations ahead of time and so lucky to have my friend, Dewi helping with all the last minute peeling and chopping. Whilst I am blogging, she's currently doing all the washing up. Have I mentioned she's a great friend? I'll let her have a break soon. You do know my nick name is slave-driver, right? lol.

Anyway, clock is ticking and I still have some last minute assembling job to do before everyone gets here. So, what I really am trying to say is: have a very Happy Christmas! May your day be filled with joy and laughters with plenty to eat and drink!

Monday, 12 December 2011

The last of the apples...

Well, at least for now... The apples are all gone and Janet has also gone on maternity leave. So, no more free home-grown apples for a while I guess. I can tell you that not a single apple is wasted. You've seen all the cakes, and now I'm gonna share what I've done with the rest of the apples.

First, apple blondies. They are Amazing! (I hope you notice the capital A in Amazing!). When I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it. The recipe comes via Lucy at The KitchenMaid. I encourage you to make it too. I promise, you won't regret it. The white chocolate I used is infused with vanilla seeds, hence the little black spots on the blondies.

Like Lucy, I threw in the optional dried cranberries as well. And for me it's not just because they are seasonally appropriate, but also I think white chocolate can feel too sickly sweet and the tartness from the dried cranberries create the perfect balance of deliciousness. I must also tell you, the blondies are particularly delicious fridge cold, but Lucy reckons they taste AMAZING (capital A-M-A-Z-I-N-G) frozen. Well, I need to prove it and you know the only way how...

Apple Blondies
Recipe by The Kitchen Maid
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

The past few days I have been making my edible gifts (details to come later I'm sure) for Christmas and when my friend Angela at The Good Soup found out that I have loads of apples to use, she suggested I made this apple butter. And so I did. I trust Angela. She's incredible.

Yes, the apple butter takes around 3.5 hours to make, but it's easy. There's nothing much to do but stirring the pot every now and then. During the process, I think you'll also appreciate the wonderful smell of cooking apples with spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice berries and orange rind. Yum. Thanks Angela.

I managed to make several jars of the apple butter and I know they're supposed to be presents, but I make no such promises.

Apple Butter
Recipe by Kim Boyce
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

A couple of weeks ago when I was in London, I went window shopping, for food... obviously. I was admiring the beautiful display of cakes and tarts from a small French patisserie and then I saw tarte Normande pommes-poires (French apple and pear tart). It looked and sounded glorious; and I thought, I wonder if I could make this at home. Since I have loads of apples I really hate going to waste.

So, when I got home I put my thinking cap on and I imagined how I'm going to recreate the tart. I never actually taste the tart from the display window, so this is solely my interpretation of the tart. I used store-bought shortcrust pastry for ease, but obviously by any means, make your own. I poached the apples and pears in sugar syrup; and the filling is sort of like an almond custard and also I added little chunks of white chocolate. In the word of Ina Garten, "how bad can that be?". Then it was topped generously with toasted flaked almonds and heavy dusting of icing sugar. I was very happy with the result because it's utterly delicious.

Apple, Pear, Almonds and White Chocolate Tart
Recipe by Me

With the last couple of apples, they are turned into these apple and cinnamon muffins. Well, why not?!

Apple and Cinnamon Muffins
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Makes 12

2 eating apples
250 grams spelt flour (or use plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
125 grams light brown sugar, plus 4 teaspoons for sprinkling
125 ml honey
60 ml runny natural yoghurt
125 ml flavourless vegetable oil
2 eggs
75 grams natural (unblanched) almonds

1 x 12 bun muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 200 C and line your muffin tin with papers. Peel and core the apples, then chop into small dice (about 1 cm, but please don't measure) and put them to once side.

Measure the flour, baking powder and 1 teaspoon of the ground cinnamon into a bowl. Whisk together the 125 grams brown sugar, the honey, yoghurt, vegetable oil and eggs in another bowl or jug.

Chop the almonds roughly and add half of them to the flour mixture, and put the other half into a small bowl with the second teaspoon of ground cinnamon and the 4 extra teaspoons brown sugar. This will make the topping for the muffins.

Now fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Add the chopped apple, and stir to combine but don't over mix. To remind you: a lumpy batter makes for a lighter muffin.

Spoon this bumpy batter into the muffin papers, then sprinkle the rubbly topping mixture over them. Pop the tin into the preheated oven, and bake for about 20 minutes, by which time they will have risen and become golden.

Take the tin out of the oven and let it stand for about 5 minutes before gingerly taking out the muffins and placing them on a wire cooling rack.  

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Taste of Christmas, Jamie O, Hugh W-F and I am a pig

It's a ritual for me that started about 3 years ago that I must visit the Taste of Christmas or as I call it 'Pork Fest 2011' (you'll see why soon) event in London. This time especially is a must visit because my food hero, Jamie Oliver is making an appearance.

I arrived on time but the queue to the theatre where Jamie is going to do his cooking demonstration was already a mile long. I thought no chance I'm getting in now. Arrgh!! Then I suddenly realised that I have a VIP ticket and so I asked one of the staff and it's true, with the VIP ticket I was given priority to the theatre which actually was already packed. I was happy nonetheless.

Opening speech and thank yous to the sponsors of the event by the host and then it's time for Jamie. He cooked goose with Asian spices (think of roast Peking duck) which smelled incredibly delicious. He showed us what to do with the leftovers as well, a wonderful warm goose salad. He was funny and charming. Too bad there was no Q+A session with him or book signing.

After Jamie's cooking demonstration, I waited around for a bit to see of I can catch him but there must be a special hidden passage for him and the security was everywhere. I sadly had to abort plan B and C.

Oh well, by this time I was starving and ready to get me some food. If you've never heard about this event before, it's basically a gathering of restaurants and food producers serving and selling seasonal menus and  ingredients. I especially love all the free samples. There are sections for cheeses, chocolates, chutneys, nuts, wines and liqueurs, etc, I'm sure you get the idea.

First on my stop was Jamie Oliver's Fabulous Feast and I had the beautiful Royal Berkshire estate pork shoulder rubbed with roasted fennel and sea salt and smashed apple sauce. Yum! This was so good, the pork was tender and the apple sauce was sweet and tangy. I was only a bit worried about the bread. I find often with sandwiches or burgers, the filling/patty is delicious, but the bread is sometimes disappointing. The bread was pretty good too, so I was well happy.

After this quick bite, I returned to the theatre and guess who's next? It was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall! I almost didn't recognise him because of his new hair. He was absolutely brilliant! So glad I made it again to this event this year.

After the delicious cooking demonstration which I can only smell but not taste, I need more food, like slow roast free range pork belly with Bramley apple sauce, root vegetable mash and port reduction from Roast, one of my favourite food stalls at Borough Market. Cracking crackling I must say.

With the food, I needed some drinks now, so I went to the drinks section and had samples of wines, bubblies and liqueurs. Every year I seemed to discover something new. A couple years ago I was introduced to Todka, that is toffee flavoured vodka. Delicious just with ice or in espresso martini for Christmas morning or frankly any time. This year, I found Amarula, a creamy caramelly liqueur made from marula fruit. I had to get a bottle. I was definitely in my Christmas spirit.

Whilst walking around, this guy suddenly came up to me with a tray and asked, "would you like to try Pussy?" (yes, you read that right). I was like "eh, what?!" Am I still at the same event? or have I moved to London's Sexpo? (a real event by the way which I've never been). I saw the stall and it's true, it's Pussy natural energy drink. The name no doubt grabs everyone's attention. I had a taste and it's actually quite nice. It's made with grape juice, limes, lychees and also infused with six botanical herbs including ginseng and ginkgo biloba.

Few minutes passed and I was hungry again. I do wonder sometime how and where do I store all these foods. This honey-rhum glazed pot roast of pork from Asia de Cuba restaurant was another excellent dish. It was served with sauteed Shanghai bok choy, fried plantains and enoki mushrooms.

With all these savoury dishes, I think I could just about squeeze one dessert and I had been eyeing the lemon cream by Francesco Mazzei of L'Anima. It's layers of sponge cake soaked in limoncello and lemon cream. It was good, but not tart enough for me. Completely a personal thing, I like my lemon dessert really tangy.

I had a wonderful day and was so full. Until next year I guess. Though I am already in the look for the summer event.