Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cool Off Sorbet!

The temperature's been climbing in sunny Singapore as we move from the 'warm' season to the 'warmer aka hot' season. While seeking relief from the heat and humidity with air-conditioning, lethargic appetites need awakening as well which brings me to this posting on sorbets.

When I was a kid, I remember buying little round ice-balls ("eis bola" in Malay) as big as my fist that had been packed solid and then drizzled liberally with red and green syrup and liquid palm sugar ("gula melaka" in Malay). Sucking at the ice-balls brought on much delight, especially the licking of fingers and hands as the balls melted down.

Melon-Sorbet-in-Cup To me, sorbets (water ices) are an adult and more sophisticated version of my childhood ice-balls. A couple of week-nights ago, I decided to try my hand at making my very first sorbet using an ice-cream machine. My sorbet base was the honeydew melon, a lovely scented fruit, and to give the sorbet a little kick, I added some Choya Umeshu (a Japanese plum liqueur made from the Ume-fruit).

Choya-Umeshu2 The original recipe had called for melon liqueur but I do think that Choya with its lovely unique taste (sweet with well balanced acidity) is a perfect alternative without overpowering the honeydew. Choya is also well known for stimulating the appetite, which is perfect to awaken lethagic appetites in hot weather!

The sorbet can be served 'as is' and provides a refreshing taste, or with a combination of other fruits. I used diced mango and honeydew melon balls in the picture above. Mango with its lovely rich yellow color made a wonderful contrast to the sorbet but its cloying sweetness masked the subtlety of the honeydew sorbet and I wouldn't recommend the combination on hindsight. Next time, for color, I'll choose either watermelon or cantaloupe.

  • First, place 3/4 cup sugar into saucepan with 300ml water, and stir over moderate heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool completely.
  • Using one-half of a medium-sized honeydew melon, remove peel and cut into 1-inch dice. Puree in a blender together with the completely cooled sugar syrup and about 3 tablespoons of Choya or if unavailable, any melon liqueur.
  • Freeze the puree in the ice-cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • When puree is the consistency of soft ice-cream, pack into a plastic container, cover and freeze in freezer.

Friday, June 24, 2005

IMBB#16 - Frutti Frittata

Just found out that Viv from Seattle Bon Vivant is hosting this month's Is My Blog Burning? (IMBB) #16, and she has decided on EGGS as the theme, which is just great as I'm a cholesterol-imbibing eggie.

Eggs are a delight to eat and to play around with in the kitchen (and I don't mean juggling which is absolutely hazardous to the environs). Being of generous nature, eggs lend themselves easily to other ingredients to create truly wonderful dishes, and yet an egg when cooked perfectly (soft-boiled, poached, scrambled or sunny side-up) is more than capable of taking centre-stage. When this month's IMBB theme was announced, I scratched my little head on what would be a nice offering to Humpty Dumpty (sadly, the only acting role ever given to the humble egg). Reading Viv's post on the subject, she had indicated that frutti tutti had been one of her alternate choices, and so I present this humble offering of fruits (strawberries and blueberries) on eggs, in the form of a FRUTTI FRITTATA.
The recipe itself is simplicity personified (20 minutes maximum):
  • Preheat grill to medium-high.
  • Whisk 4 large or 5 medium sized eggs in a bowl.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of thick cream, 1 tablespoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional) to eggs and whisk until combined.
  • Melt about 1 teaspoon of butter in a non-stick frying pan, and pour egg mixture into pan.
  • Cook for about 2 minutes over medium heat until egg is just set.
  • Arrange the cut strawberries (about 200g) and blueberries (about 120g) on top of the frittata.
  • Transfer the pan under the preheated grill and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes or until the frittata is puffed and golden.
  • Plate the frittata and sprinkle icing sugar.

Fruittee-Frittata-2 My only complaint = the punnet of strawberries I bought unfortunately were not all that ripe to begin with, so instead of being totally sweet, they were slightly tart, thus accounting for the heavy hand in the icing sugar topping! For the truly decadent, serve with dollop(s) of cream or ice-cream of choice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Cupcake Heaven

The baking bug has came around and of course, the only way to get over an itch is to scratch it. Cupcakes came to mind as they are absolutely simple to bake, and the 'itch' can thus be satisfied in less than half an hour from the weighing of ingredients, thru' the creaming process, and up to the baking time in the oven. Personally, I love cupcakes because they remind me of my childhood and sticky little fingers, and back then, little ole me could never resist the colourful cute little paper-cup cases. In fact, to this day, I still can't. Picking up a pack of white cupcake cases from the supermarket shelf is just a gesture to make me feel a little bit more grown-up especially when my basket contains one or more packs of colored cupcake cases.
I had actually wanted chocolate fudge on top of my cupcakes but unfortunately had run out of dark chocolate. So I settled instead for white chocolate fudge with chopped strawberries, which is what you see in the 'cupcake trio' picture. These were quite good 'as is' but somehow, cupcakes look so much more delicious and incredibly sinful with a whipped cream topping. Picture at the top of post is the 'ooh-ahh' cupcake with whipped cream topped with a swirl of strawberry white chocolate fudge - by the way, pic has been artistically edited with Photoshop to mimic a watercolor painting - just the right kind of effect for a glimpse of childhood days!

Friday, June 17, 2005

SHF#9 Tantalizing Titillating Tempting Tarts: Tropical Tarte Tatin

Life in flow is hosting this 9th edition of Sugar High Fridays, a totally sinful but oh, so tempting food blog event for the dessert lovers, with this edition's focus on tarts!

I'm not a baking enthusiast, as precise measurements and oven temperatures sometimes scare the hell out of me. But I did so much want to participate in this SHF, so I have decided to attempt something which looked pretty simple on paper but sounds so incredibly sophisticated - Tropical Tarte Tatin!
Tropical Pineapple Tarte Tatin
The whole process from start to finish does not take more than 40 minutes to an hour (including baking), and it's becoz' I cheated and used frozen puff pastry (from Pampas).
  • Place 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 3/4 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar and 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract into a pan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
  • Adjust heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for about 8 minutes until syrup begins to turn golden brown.
  • Add about 600g (or 1 can) of chopped pineapple to the pan. Bring heat up to high and then simmer for another 8 minutes or so (stirring occasionally) until pineapple caramelizes and syrup has thickened.
  • In the meantime - preheat oven to 200C. Lay out puff pastry sheet(s) and cut 6 round circles (about 2.5 inches in diameter) - large enough to fit the top of a 6-cup muffin pan
  • When pineapple mixture is ready, divide into the 6 muffin cups and top with the pastry circles, tucking the edges down.
  • Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until pastry is golden. Remove from oven.
  • Placing another cookie tray on top of the muffin pan, invert the tarts quickly.
Sinful Tropical Tart Just the smell of caramelized pineapple will give any sugar-addict a huge high. And to make it even more tropically sinful, I added a scoop of mango ice-cream. Wonderfully easy to make, and vary with an assortment of other fruits that can be added to or used in place of pineapples. Maybe one day, I'll try making my own puff pastry.

A snippet of irrelevant history: Tarte tatin - upside down French apple tart - was so named to commemorate the Tatin sisters who first popularized this tart at their restaurant. Wonder whether they discovered it by chance when they dropped an upright apple pie and had to do repair work in the oven - something I could definitely identify with!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Yoghurt Slow & Easy

Originally uploaded by eatzycath.

This is dinner tonight. Why?
  • Because I had just finished a line-dancing class this evening and I didn't want all that burnt energy to go to waste plus nutrition info on carton indicated 110 calories, LOW FAT, LOW CHOLESTEROL with MILK CALCIUM.
  • Because I have just started reading Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything and his introduction chapter dealt with his food phobias. That got me thinking about mine.
I'm partial to milk, I repeat 'partial' - a dash in the morning coffee, and maybe half a glass of really cold, cold milk on a really hot sweltering day (as I've discovered that one usually cannot 'taste' milk at very low temperatures). Not sure if it's an Asian thing but my Chinese family members are no fans either (other than my mum, who at the ripe age past 60 is still drinking the powdered version - good for her!).

Anyway, I have digressed. Milk I can take in small doses but YOGHURT is a different ballgame altogether. My first experience of yoghurt many years back was 'yucky' plain sour natural yoghurt. Big mistake... especially for a non-milk enthusiast. Two spoonfuls and the effects of lactose-intolerancy reared its threatening head. Later I discovered that this claim of intolerance was purely a mental state - cos' the fermentation process which turns milk into yoghurt converts most of the lactose in milk to lactic acid (without lactose, there is no intolerance!). Regardless, I never repeat bad experiences if I can help it.

Recently, I am a little concerned about the amount of calcium (or lack thereof) stored in my bones and not being a conscientious pill-popper, have decided to give this stuff another try. According to Steingarten, food phobias should be dealt with through constant exposure at moderate intervals. I have thus decided to start with a small 150g cup of yoghurt which will not be white in color nor entirely sour since it will be flavored with mixed strawberries and blueberries (any sourness encountered will be attributed to the berries).

I must now admit that this particular brand of yoghurt tasted quite good (a far cry from my initial experience). In fact, I'm now considering the 2nd cup in the fridge - banana-flavored, hmmmm! Recognizing that flavored yoghurt is not quite the same as the plain ones, I will attempt plain ole yoghurt again but probably when I have exhausted testing of all flavored yoghurt in the market (this exposure method should take a while).

By the way, Jeffrey Steingarten 'cracks' me up - truly a must read for the gourmet, gourmand, foodie, whatever. I must try to locate old copies of Vogue, to seek out his food the library we shall go this weekend.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Beanie Fish

This afternoon, hubby gave me an ultimatum, "clear your freezer or no more visits to the supermarket". Sheesh... you see, I kinda have a bad habit. I visit supermarkets and lose control somewhat akin to the manner in which women lose control in a shopping mall or a shoe boutique. All these beautiful produce, gleaming slabs of meat and fish, and beautifully organized packages, cartons, bottles and cans, are just screaming for my attention - "pick me! pick me!" - I can't resist. I see, I imagine (what it could become), I grab, and I cart home.

Time is unfortunately not always on my side, and when I can't cook during the week, my freezer acts like this huge safe deposit box (or garbage compacter, according to hubby). This is actually BAD, as cooking should always be done with the freshest of ingredients (which is also why whenever I next feel like cooking, I make a trip to the market again and kinda forget what's been deposited in the freezer - a vicious cycle!).

After hubby did his inventory check this afternoon, I had to fiqure out what to do with my freezer stuff. Found two greasy grouper (truly, that is the name of this fish) and decided to fry them. Searched fridge and found preserved bean paste (including spicy bean paste). Done - dinner tonight would be beanie fish (braised fish in bean paste).

  • After defrosting fishes, wash and season with some salt. Then coat with 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour (this gives the fish a wonderful crispiness when fried).
  • Deep-fry fishes in heated oil (in a wok) until fragrant and crispy. Remove and drain excess oil.
  • To make the sauce, heat up about 3 tablespoons of sesame oil in wok and add some shredded ginger and a big onion (quartered) and stir-fry. Then add about 1 tablespoon of brown salted soyabean paste ('taucheo') and half a tablespoon of hot/spicy bean sauce, stir-fry until fragrant.
  • Add to the sauce half a tablespoon of oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar, some pepper and about 1 cup of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the fried fishes and braise over low heat for about 3 minutes or so.
  • Garnish with chopped spring onions (good thing I still had some in the fridge).
The fish was simply delicious, crispy on the outside (tapioca flour does wonders) with firm sweet flesh (groupers are particularly good for frying), and the braised spicy bean sauce went very well with steamed jasmine rice. Dinner passed with flying colors - hubby has allowed me to go marketing again! Yippee!

Custard Apples

When I was young, I used to love custard apples. This lumpy green fruit, when truly ripe could so easily be pressed open with my little pudgy hands and lo and behold, creamy off-white flesh to be scooped up either with a spoon, or more often than not eaten straight out of my hands. The soft pulp, almost custard-like in texture (well, to me, more like a whipped egg custard) is sweet and flavorful (tasting like a cross between sweet pulpy banana and papaya) . The best part during those immature years, was spitting out the large inedible black seeds within the pulp.

Custard Apples

Having had a surfeit of imported fruits (apples, oranges, pears, grapes, etc.), I pounced on these custard apples when I last visited the supermarket. It was great rediscovering their taste, and guess what, becoz' I blog, I sat down in front of my laptop and 'googled'!

Some irrelevant facts:
  • Also known as 'cherimoya', sherbet fruit, bullock's heart (never fails to amaze me how creative mankind is when naming objects)
  • No cholesterol, contains protein, fibre, potassium and vitamin C
  • Can be served with cheese (found out too late after I had consumed all my apples - will need to try this out when I buy my next batch of apples - wonder which type of cheese will pair well?)
  • Found a whole bunch of recipes using this fruit in shakes, desserts and even for savoury meals - am definitely hitting the supermarket again!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sharkfins in Melon?

My family is Cantonese, and with that statement, I have declared to the world at large that we are soup fiends. Soup has always been the mainstay of our family dinners. My childhood memories are vivid with images of mum chasing me around the living room, dining room, garden etc. to spoonfeed me with the required amount of rice, protein and vegetables BUT the minute she produced that bowl of soup, I would rush to her side and gulp the whole thing down without protest. The easiest and tastiest thing to drink up and as far as mum was concerned, full of nutrients for easy digestion.

When I moved away from home during my university days and in my early years of work, I suffered horribly from 'soup-deprivation' and found little satisfaction in the weak watered-down versions that were served in the campus canteen and in the hawker centers. With mum being hundreds of miles away in another country, I was forced to begin my own journey into the realm of soup. And I've never looked back since then with each simmered soup being an adventure in taste.

Sharkfin MelonSharkfin Melon Recently while browsing in the local supermarket, I came across this melon which looks like a winter-melon but has distinctive white stripes extending from the base and a green-speckled skin not unlike a watermelon. It's called a 'sharkfin melon', as the cooked flesh of the melon breaks away into strands which appear like strands of shark's fins. I couldn't resist and hauled one home.

Here, I have to state that Chinese soups do not require much skill, just time and lots of patience. The soup base for my sharkfin melon was soft pork bone with lots of meat attached. First, place pork bones in half a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. The water is then discarded together with the scum, and this extra step helps to remove the excess oil in the soup. Refill pot with at least 5 cups of water (1 cup for each person with another 2 cups for boiling down), bring to the boil and add the soft pork bone, half of the sharkfin melon (remove rind and cut into large chunks), 2 carrots (also cut into large chunks) and a few slices of old ginger. Once the soup has reached a rolling boil (about 10 minutes or so), reduce heat to the slowest fire and simmer away for the next one and a half to two hours (depending on how hungry you get). The best part of making soup is the ability to walk away and do all kinds of other stuff at home, knowing that you just need to check in an hour or so later. The very last step to the soup is to add salt to taste just before serving.

Sharkfin Melon Soup The first sip of a steaming hot soup is the most important for it sets the stage for the senses to awaken as it warms the stomach. The sweetness of the carrots and the sharkfin melon together with the 'essence' of the tender pork bones come together beautifully in the soup, and now, if we can only convince the sharkfins' diners to migrate from the real thing to these tasty strands of melon!

[post-script - I have discovered another delicious way to serve shark fin's melon, take a peek at my latest post "Steamed Strands of Wonder" - 30 Dec 2005]

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Wontons - Swallowing Clouds

Recently, I picked up this book called "Swallowing Clouds - A Playful Journey through Chinese Culture, Language and Cuisine" by A.Zee. It is a delightful book, written in an engaging manner as Zee invites the reader to learn various written Chinese characters found in the names of Chinese dishes. There are highly interesting and humorous anecdotes on Chinese cooking and dishes which pepper the entire book.

I must admit that before I read the chapter on wontons, it had never crossed my mind to make my own wonton for after all wontons are one of the most common food items in Singapore. Even in Western countries, as long as there is a Chinese restaurant in the city, you can bet that wonton noodles or soup is on the menu. And yet I found myself in the kitchen this afternoon, testing my wontons-wrapping skills!

Wontons in the Rawwontons in the raw

But first, all wontons require a good clear broth to sup from. Using 4 chicken carcasses, I boil them in a stockpot together with about 10 slices of ginger (smashed, for the flavors to come through), sprigs of spring onions, and about half a cup of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine. After bringing to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for between 2 to 3 hours. According to Zee, traditional wonton stock should be "broth clear, taste thick" transliterated from the Chinese saying "tang 汤 qing 清, wei 味 hou 厚". Good clear tasty stock, with no additional MSG flavoring.

Wonton fillings are usually minced pork and prawns, but when at home, there are no rules, and my wonton fillings were made of 250g minced pork, 250g chopped prawns (I prefer not to mince them as I like to taste chunks of prawn in my wontons), 200g diced Chinese black mushrooms (dried mushrooms softened after soaking in water for 10 minutes or so), 100g peeled and diced water chestnuts (ready-peeled ones can be found in the supermarkets). Place all of the above ingredients in a big mixing bowl together with 2 tbsps of light soy sauce, 2 tbsps of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp black pepper and 2 tbsps cornflour. Mix to combine.

After that, the really fun part begins - place filling in the center of the wonton wrappers, moisten the edges of wrapper with water and fold into little gold pouches. Thought mine looked pretty good for a first-timer! To cook the wontons, bring a pot of water to the boil, add the wontons which should cook in about 5 to 6 minutes by which time, they will float to the surface. Remove and place in bowls. As I like to eat my wontons with some green vegetables, I cook the 'chye sim' (Chinese spinach) in the chicken stock (which I have now brought to a boil as well), and add the vegetables to the bowls. Then pour steaming hot stock into bowls and garnish with chopped spring onions.
swallowing clouds
Swallowing Clouds
Homemade wontons taste great. The wheat flour wrappers become translucent and slippery as they slide and slither down your throat, one bite into the filling and and you can't wait for the next bite - succulent, juicy and tender minced pork made sweet by the diced prawns, mushroom-and-wine flavored, and don't forget the chestnuts which give the filling bite.

As we sat and supped the steaming bowls of wonton, I'm thinking of clouds in the sky, and am convinced that the Chinese language is most beautiful and evocative when describing food. The name "won 云 ton 吞 " transliterated into "swallowing clouds", does give this simple dish a magical quality of its very own.