Thursday, September 28, 2006

it's a Bird, it's a Plane,'s super-PLUOT

No, I'm not introducing a new superhero from Marvel or DC Comics. I am however eager to show you my latest discovery at the supermarket.
A Single Pluot
"Tsk, tsk, tsk...", you may be shaking your head at me now and wondering what's so special about this red fruit that looks like a plum... errh, wait a minute, or is that an apricot?

Well, it's neither but it can trace its ancestry to both plums and apricots.
***drum roll*** presenting this evening the incredible PLUOT!
and then there was TWO!
The Pluot (plü-ot) is actually a complex cross hybrid of 75% plum and 25% apricot - what that basically means is that some smart-aleck (specifically, one fruit-breeding biologist named Floyd Zaiger) decided one day to cross-pollinate a plum with an apricot resulting in a Plumcot (50% plum and 50% apricot) and thereafter cross-pollinate a Plumcot with a plum (75% plum and 25% apricot) resulting in the Pluot. [And if you are another smart aleck just waiting to ask me what will happen if a Plumcot is cross-pollinated with an apricot instead, let me tell you that the answer is an Aprium! ..... and I didn't come up with these names which are all registered tradenames belonging to Zaiger's company]

This cross hybridization was done over many years to get to this final result --- hmm, does this not remind you of our inter-racial marriages in Singapore where the chances are usually high that the offsprings of those marriages somehow always look more exotic than their parents!

Verdict: in this case, the Pluot has smooth shiny skin like a plum (not furry like an apricot, but also not as tannic as the skin of a true plum if you've ever chewed on plum skin), and it tastes wonderfully sweet and delicious (having a higher sugar content than its parents).

wHY dOn'T I JuST FiLL UP the FRaMe?
Pluots are sometimes sold under the name of Dinosaur Egg (in case you spot this name in the supermarket), though it beats the hell out of me why anyone would call this beautiful red and yellow dappled fruit a dinosaur's egg, not to mention how misleading such a name is!

I bought a pack of 4 - and being so deliciously sweet, finished them with hubby at one go, and it looks like I will be hunting for them again at the supermarket this weekend... needless to say, I'm sure they will taste good cut into wedges and added to my morning yoghurt and muesli mix, and probably taste heavenly baked in a tart or a crostata!

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Stir-fry and A Salad

Hubby and I dine out at least three-quarters of the time, and frankly, eating greens is not always our top priority on such occasions, not to mention also that vegetable servings whether in hawker centres or cafes can sometimes be miserable whether in serving amount, presentation or taste. And so, into the kitchen I will troop in every once in awhile to rustle up some quick vegetable dishes to appease the inner guilt arising from too much unhealthy consumption of meat.

Stir-fried long beans is one of my favourite quick and easy vegetable stir-fries. When I went marketing last weekend, to my surprise, I found only one bunch of long beans left in the entire tray - either long beans are really popular or there is a dire shortage of these beans? Since a single bunch wasn't going to be enough for my stir-fry, I supplemented with sugar snap peas.
Surrounded by Greens

This particular stir-fry is all about crunch and more crunch - long beans and snap peas cooked just about right retaining some bite, and extra crunch coming from crushed roasted peanuts added to the stir-fry.
  • to ensure that I do not overcook the long beans and sugar snap peas, I cook them first in a pot of boiling salted water for a few minutes until just about tender - and then drain them in a colander and run cold tap water through them to stop the cooking process
  • heat a wok over high heat, and when the wok is ready, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil and swirl around the wok to coat it
  • add minced garlic (from 2 to 3 cloves) and stir-fry for about a few seconds until pale golden in color, immediately add thinly sliced shallots (from about 3 to 4 shallots) and crushed roasted peanuts (not powdery or too finely ground but crushed - the best tool for the job: a stone pestle and mortar) - stir-fry for a few more seconds
  • add the long beans and sugar snap peas together with some thinly sliced red bird's eye chilli (chilli padi) - stir-fry for a minute or so to heat through, and add some soy sauce and salt for seasoning
  • remove from heat and transfer to plate - drizzle with a bit of lime juice (from half a lime) and it's ready!
A simple dish that I will happily eat accompanied only by a bowl of steamed white rice.
Crunch Crunch

And on days when heaving a wok on the stove seems too gargantuan a task for the evening, then a simple bowl of salad will suffice. There are many versions out there of the famous Caesar Salad, believed to have been created by Caesar Cardini, the Italian owner of a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920s (click on the link provided for some interesting nuggets of information, including a shot of the Hotel Cesar, where it was supposedly created). This particular version which I found in Gourmet magazine, doesn't use bottled mayonnaise or cream salad but creates the emulsion dressing straight from scratch using a raw egg, olive oil, lemon juice and mashed anchovy fillets.
  • clean and drain the romaine leaves (from two romaine hearts - i.e. two bunches)
  • as I like a little bit of protein with my salad for substance, I will usually hard-boil an egg or two
  • croutons (which are an absolute carbohydrate requirement for a Caesar salad) are usually small cubes of baguette fried until golden in olive oil which has been infused with garlic (by stir-frying some slices of garlic earlier on)
  • to make the dressing: mash up 2 to 3 anchovy fillets (which can be found in most supermarkets under the canned sardines and tuna sections - using 2 to 3 fillets is not too overwhelming in flavor, but if you prefer a stronger flavor, by all means, use up to 4 fillets or so) in a bowl, whisk in 1 egg (please make sure this is a fresh egg) and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, then add a quarter cup of the garlic-infused olive oil (not hot but cooled to either warm or room temperature) in a slow stream while continuing to whisk to create an emulsion. Season with salt.
  • toss the dressing with the romaine leaves, add the croutons and toss again
  • add the wedges of hard-boiled egg and thinly shaved or grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, season with some ground black pepper
Healthy Fodder

Two healthy dishes - simple to prepare, appetizing on sight and tasty as well!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Struggling for Attention

Amidst the jewelled sapphire blue waters of the clear lakes in Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan, a beautiful pink plant struggles for attention... an ardous task almost akin to that of a contestant in a beauty contest!
Struggling for Attention
This was taken when I visited Jiuzhaigou Valley last year. A beautiful place and highly recommended for those in love with nature!

Valley of Wonders
The air is fresh and crisp up in the mountains... awed by nature's splendour, one can only stand in wonder (and snap!).

If you're interested to read more about my adventures there - you can look through my previous posts in the travels archive. And yeah, I know I'm cheating (by giving you something from my photo archives)... so I promise to post something more current in a day or so, but until then, enjoy the photos :-)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Coffee, Tea or Tomato Soup?

Work and family commitments have kept me really busy over the last few weeks, so much so that I haven't cooked in my kitchen for ages (and I certainly don't regard boiling water for instant noodles as a form of cooking). With the inspiration battery running low, it also seemed like a good excuse to take a short break from this blog...... so, my apologies to those who've been checking in every once in a while to find "naught anew"!

Anyway, enough with excuses... today, I want to tell you about a tomato soup that is more than just tomatoes.
Coffee, Tea or Tomato Soup?

Wanting something light and quick for dinner, I felt that a nice tangy tomato soup with toasted garlic bread would fit the bill, and decided to add a little extra zing to the usual tomato soup (based on something I remembered reading in a food magazine a couple of months back).
  • slice 3 tomatoes into wedges, and chop up a quarter to half of a big onion (amount depending on your preference, and I also generally prefer to use big onions as opposed to smaller shallots, for the simple reason that it is much easier to peel and chop)
  • saute the chopped onions in a deep saucepan with a bit of oil until softened
  • then add 2 tablespoons of curry powder (yes, I do mean curry powder - any kind will probably do, but since this was going into a tomato-based soup, I used the curry powder usually labelled for vegetable curries) to the pan and cook with the sauted onions for a few minutes
  • add the tomato wedges, half a can of pureed tomatoes, and a cup of chicken broth to the pan and simmer over medium-low heat for about 5 to 7 minutes
  • and finally, add 2 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter (again, I do mean peanut butter of the likes that come out from a Skippy bottle) to the mixture and some salt and ground black pepper for seasoning - stir for about 2 minutes or so and the soup is ready to be served!
Curry Peanut Tomato Soup

Your initial reaction when reading the above recipe is probably of horror but don't discount it altogether because of the unusual pairing of ingredients - the curry powder adds a certain zing of spiciness (though not overpowering) to an otherwise normal tangy tomato soup, and the peanut butter provides an interesting element of surprise and counterfoil to that spiciness. Dunk some garlic buttered toast into the whole concoction and the flavours develop even further. In fact, don't even tell your dining companions the two secret ingredients and see if they can guess the same!