Thursday, 26 July 2012

For all the memories and to new beginnings

Now that all the packing is all done, it has finally hit me to the fact that I am leaving; and when I thought I am not the emotional type, I was clearly in denial... I am missing this place already... a place now I called, home.

I came to Sunderland seven years ago to start university. I was just seventeen and freshly graduated from high school in the States. I guess I wanted an adventure and oh... I got a great one! The past seven years have been truly amazing. I still remember my first days here. I used to live in a student accommodation which was quite far from the town centre, and not knowing the area and with no internet access at the time, I thought the little shops around the accommodation were the only places in Sunderland. There was a small supermarket, a fruit grocer, a couple of pizza joints, a Chinese take-away place, a pasty shop and a tanning saloon. I immediately thought that I made a very bad decision and I didn't know how I would cope living here for the next three years. And out of the seven rooms in my accommodation block, I was the first one to arrive, so I also didn't have anyone to talk to. Like a stereotypical student, I spent my first couple of days eating tinned baked beans and pot-noodles.... 

Soon enough, I began exploring outside this little street and I found the town centre where there's life and civilisation. Hooray! I went to the university for orientation and I made new friends. Not so many. There were only nine of us in the course and by the time of graduation, there was only three of us who made it to the ceremony. Through sport clubs, societies, local choir and church, I made plenty more friends; and soon enough my then American accent was influenced by the local 'mackem' accent. 

I also experienced many life 'first' moments here. Like, tasting your first long island iced tea. You know that a mixture of vodka, gin, tequila, rum and coke would not end up well, but you drink it anyway. I'm not gonna go into the gruesome details of what happened when I woke up the following morning. Believe me it's not nice and I am disgusted just thinking about it. And to this day, I still don't know the full details of the things that happened that evening. Perhaps, it's better for me (and you) not knowing the details.

When I graduated four years ago, I started working for the university and I moved to my current flat. This was the second flat that I viewed and because I loved it so much, with no hesitation I signed the contract and I started to make the empty flat my new home...

And tonight, looking at the flat empty once more, I began to reminisce all the memories. The lovely dinners, the surprise parties, the day my friend Adam tasted chicken for the first time in his life, the break-ups, the hook-ups, the night I decided to start a blog and all the good times my friends and I spent here. Oh my, who am I kidding... I am sentimental. Sorry.

During all this time, I am very fortunate to have all the support from my friends... I will miss all of you. And if I don't say it enough, I want to say to say the deepest Thank You from the bottom of my heart. And to all of you with your kind comments and emails. I also Thank You

But I think this is the right time for me to leave and it's time for a change... a new adventure. In a few hours time, I will be heading to London and will be spending a couple of days there. I look forward to watch the Olympics opening ceremony with the crowds. It will be incredible. I am already buzzing with excitements. Then on Saturday, I will be flying back to Indonesia to spend time with family. I don't know where life will take me from there... well, I do have plans (one of the plans is to attend culinary school), but we all know what happen to plans... So, I am keeping an open mind to possibilities that will come. And just in case if I get homesick, with me I take a jar of marmite, golden syrup and English mustard :)

Earlier I cracked open a bottle of champagne that I've been saving... and I made a toast, "for all the memories and to new beginnings"... 

I'll be back again soon... x.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Gwyneth Paltrow's Duck Ragu... well, sort of...

I have been wanting to try this recipe for a while and I am so glad to have finally done it this weekend. With a total of five hours preparation and cooking time, yes, this recipe is time consuming. But, there's hardly anything to do while the duck is roasting in the oven or when the ragu is simmering gently. And it's perfect for me at the moment, since I am in the middle of moving, cleaning and packing. I can do all the housework and every now and then, I just need to stop by the stove to stir the ragu.

When testing a recipe for the very first time, I normally stick to the ingredients and instructions. And from there, if anything needs changing, I'll then adjust it to my liking. However, Gwyneth's recipe for this duck ragu calls for duck bacon which I could not find here in Sunderland. I could perhaps order it online, but they do not come cheap. So, instead, I used pancetta which is more accessible and affordable.

The recipe also calls of Italian red wine, perhaps something like Chianti which I often use when cooking beef ragu. But what I had was Cotes du Rhone which I like to drink; or use when cooking boeuf bourguignon and then drink with the stew later. 

The process of making the ragu is pretty simple. You begin by roasting the duck in the oven for a couple of hours. The cooked and cooled duck is then shredded and added to a slowly cooked tomato sauce which includes the pancetta (or duck bacon, if you're fortunate enough), finely chopped onions, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary and the red wine. Tomato paste is also added at the last stage of the cooking.  

You can find the amount of ingredients by clicking the link below. This makes quite a lot of ragu and if you have some leftovers, it gets better the next day. Serve the duck ragu with tagliatelle pasta.

Have a great weekend!

Gwyneth Paltrow's Duck Ragu
Serves 4 - 6
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Graduation Day and Hazelnut Prune Cake

It was my graduation day a couple of days ago and I had a fantastic day. Well, why wouldn't I? I was surrounded by family and friends I love dearly. This is my second graduation and I personally think the second time round was better. Like many things in life, the first time was good, but I was nervous... Now that I know the drill, I can just get on with it and enjoy...

Although, it was still nerve-racking when I was told that I was going to be the first one up on the stage to start the ceremony. Yeah, no pressure at all! Thankfully I did not trip or embarrassed myself in anyway like I would normally do. When my name was called by the Dean, I walked on stage, I shook hands with the Vice-Chancellor, the Chancellor (Steve Cram, BBC Chief Athletics Commentator and World Champion), I thanked my lecturers and I waved to my friends and family and fellow graduates. It was only for ten seconds or so or perhaps less, but it was just a great feeling hearing all the cheers.

In case if you are wondering I graduated in Master of Arts in Media and Cultural Studies from University of Sunderland. My dissertation focuses on the exploration of identity via food choices and eating culture (it's about food... Shocking! I know). The graduation was held at Sunderland's football ground, the Stadium of Light. And here's a narcissistic picture of me on the day:

OK, enough about the graduation, now time for cake. Packing is going and I am very pleased that it's almost done. I was cleaning my cupboard the other day and I found a bag of prunes that needs using and I just hate wasting food. I can't do it and won't do it. So, thank you to Google and Dan Lepard that I found this great recipe. It is not a summer cake, I know. Very Christmassy in fact. 

The cake is moist from the prunes and not too sweet which I like. And after it bakes, the top is drenched with delicious brandy. Enjoy with your morning coffee whilst blogging like what I'm doing now; or in the afternoon with a glass of chilled sweet wine, Dan suggests. 

Hazelnut Prune Cake
Recipe by Dan Lepard
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Random Recipes #18 - something a little different...

Hi. My name is Michael Toa and I am a cookbook junkie.

For a couple of months, during my long holiday on the other side of the world, I have missed Random Recipe challenge. Now that I am back, although only for a short while before I head off again (I feel somewhat like a jet-setter, but clearly I am not), that simply needs to change. No more excuses.

The brilliant Dom has challenged us with something a little different. Instead of cooking a recipe from a random page of a cookbook, we have been asked to show each other our cookbooks collection. And I am very happy with the theme of this month's challenge. Not only because I am incredibly nosy - I love seeing what's inside other people's fridge for example - but also, I feel it's the appropriate time to showcase my cookbooks collection before they all go in a box and move to a new home... More on that later...

I don't have a bookshelf... well, I actually do, but I don't put my cookbooks there. The bookshelf is for my kitchen knick knacks. All of my cookbooks reside on the window shelf in my bedroom. I do find great pleasure in reading cookbooks, especially ones that are filled with personal stories; because I believe that the process and the story behind it, makes the food even more exciting.

I suppose there is no order as such in how I arrange my cookbooks, but I do like to group them together by the author. The section on the far right is the Food Network collections from my teen years which include Food Network all star cookbook, Rachael Ray, Dave Lieberman and Giada de Laurentiis. Giada's Everyday Italian is the first cookbook I owned. Moving on, is the Jamie Oliver section. I don't have all of his books but most of them I think. Jamie's Dinners is often my go to book when I am in need of inspirations. I do take a very good care of my cookbooks. I don't like creases and no greasy fingers, but the one book that's pretty worn out is Jamie Oliver's My Guide to Making You A Better Cook as you can probably tell from the fading cover. For one year, a couple of years ago, this was my bible and I am very proud that I have successfully cooked every single recipe in that book. Right after Giorgio Locatelli's Made in Sicily is the all important section: Nigella Lawson. I LOVE (notice the capital 'LOVE') all of her cookbooks.  

Continuing on to the rest of the cookbooks...

I am appalled to say that even though I have Nigel Slater's Toast and Eating for England (both are excellent reads) I have none of his cookbooks (friends reading this, yes, it's a hint). Every so often, some cookbooks are located next to my bedside table for easy access when I am on the bed. These are often new books or current reads. This week I've been sharing my bed with the following books.

I am anxiously waiting for the postman to deliver a couple of new books: The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo and Giles Coren's How To Eat Out which I know I will very much enjoy reading. 

In my living room, under the coffee table, that's where I keep my magazines, cuttings and supplements from Sunday papers. I subscribe to GQ because obviously I am man about town and I like to look at nice things I can't afford; and also Jamie Magazine which is the source of many of my cooking inspirations.

Well, that's all friends. Tomorrow, all the books and magazines will be living temporarily in a box until they move to their new home somewhere in London...

Thank you Dom for this month's brilliant theme. Have a great day everyone... and now back to never-ending packing... *sigh...