Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Poppin' Edamames

In keeping with my healthy 'meatout' pledge made more than 10 days ago, I've been trying to eat light and green. And when work has been hectic, added with extra hours spent moving into new premises at work, fuss-free cooking is the only bearable option if we choose to dine at home in the evenings.

Poppin' Edamame
To say I'm fond of edamame [eh-dah-MAH-meh] (fresh green soybeans) is an understatement, especially when popping cooked edamame beans right into my mouth ranks as one of my top addictive activities over the kitchen sink. When the edamame is sweet with just that right amount of vege-crispness and a slight nutty flavor, adding them to a pasta dish with a chopped tomato sauce takes that addiction to another level!

Edamame is the young green soybean which is harvested just before it matures, and in our local supermarkets can usually be found in the frozen vegetables section. Sold in their furry pods, the edamame is usually boiled in salted water for 5 to 8 minutes to cook them. After draining and rinsing in cold running water to maintain its bright attractive green color, just lightly squeeze the pods and the green beans start popping out of their pods. Rich in vegetable protein, high in fiber content and abundant with vitamins, it's a healthy snack, and in fact goes quite well with a chilled light beer.
Edamame Pods
This edamame-tomato pasta is one of those quick fixes that apart from being absolutely easy to make, tastes good and is really healthy.

  • cook the frozen edamame as aforesaid (a packet of frozen edamame should yield enough for 2 to 3 persons for this pasta dish, even after taking into account the few shelled edamame beans that may end up directly in the gullet-trap immediately upon shelling)
  • chop up 2 big tomatoes, which have been blanched and skinned
  • cook the farfallini (mini bow-tie shaped or butterfly-shaped pasta) according to packet's instructions (you can replace the farfallini with penne)
  • heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil together with a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over a low fire and add some chopped garlic
  • add the chopped tomatoes together with 4 to 6 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • add half a cup of water to the mixture and let sauce reduce
  • after 5 minutes or so, add the shelled edamame to the mixture and stir for a few minutes to mix thoroughly and to heat through
  • add the cooked farfallini to the edamame-tomato sauce and season with salt and ground black pepper
Simple Goodness
Hopefully, this last picture will compel you to hunt down that packet of frozen edamame in the supermarket and indulge in a bout of nutritious addiction!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Green Serving

In case you missed it, this week's ST(Straits Times) Mind Your Body section featured the upcoming Singapore Meatout Week 2006, starting from 22 to 30 July, a campaign to encourage more people to eat less meat and more plant foods. There are various noble and worthy reasons to 'meatout' which relate to the saving of animals, the environment and mankind in general, but my primary reason for even contemplating a 'meatout' is a selfish one - hubby and I are way too much into meat, and ever since we started our slow crawl into middle-age, the expanding girth and creaking weighing machine in the mornings have become the 'in-your-face' signposts of the need for detoxification and some healthy time-out from meat every once in awhile.

And what a wonderful coincidence that I should decide to go totally GREEN a couple of days ago (before the ST article came out) by attempting my first green pea soup!
Green Pea Soup

I don't know about you but I've always thought green garden peas (petits pois) to be rather insipid as a vegetable, their only goal in life being to end up as a side dish to accompany the real dish (for example, a good thick slab of steak). I remember as a kid, hating to eat my peas and counting them one by one as I carefully stabbed my fork on each. I was definitely not enamoured by peas.

So it was with great pleasure when I discovered that a single spoonful of pureed green pea soup was a heady concentration of the fresh and sweet flavors of garden peas. Instead of swirling in a dollop of sour cream, I added a mushroom cream made from dried shiitake mushrooms, which imparted an intense earthy punch to the soup. A wonderful start for a 'meatout' campaign!

If you are interested to try this out:
  • To make the mushroom cream:
  1. soften 4 to 5 pieces of dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of hot water
  2. when softened, remove from soaking liquid, rinse and chop up the mushrooms (reserving 1 or 2 pieces to be sliced into lengths for garnishing the soup)
  3. heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, add the chopped mushrooms and some thinly sliced shallots and cook on medium heat until shallots are slightly browned
  4. add a tablespoon or so of white wine (or if you prefer, Chinese cooking wine), and a few minutes later, followed by a 1/3 cup of chicken broth and some of the mushroom-soaking liquid
  5. boil until the mixture is reduced by half, bring the fire down to low and add 1/3 cup of double cream and simmer for about 5 minutes or so until the mixture thickens slightly, season with salt and pepper
  6. place the mushroom cream in a blender and puree until smooth, return to pan and keep warm
  • To make pea soup:
  1. heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, add some sliced shallots and cook until softened
  2. add 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to boil before adding about 3 cups of defrosted green peas (about 1 and a half bags) - remember to reserve a handful of the peas for the soup garnish
  3. add about a tablespoon of chopped mint for flavor, and simmer the pea mixture for about 3 to 4 minutes until the peas are tender
  4. puree the pea mixture in batches in a blender, and now comes the hardest part - sieving the pureed soup through a coarse sieve into a pot and pressing down on the solids with the back of a huge wooden spoon (a lot of muscle work here - how I wished there was a simpler way to get all that mushy goodness out of the pureed soup!)
  5. reheat the soup in the pot and season with salt and pepper
  • To make garnish:
  1. heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan and add the sliced mushrooms and reserved peas
  2. season with salt and cook over medium heat for a minute or two until just softened
  3. TO SERVE SOUP: ladle soup into bowls, swirl in the mushroom cream (or if you're like me and a stickler for design, use an icing bag or conical bag), garnish with the cooked mushroom slices and peas and a few sprigs of mint.....
Psst... don't be put off by the many steps to the final ladle, it really isn't all that difficult (other than the sieving) and the resulting goodness in one spoonful is worth it!
A Green Serving

And if you think you can 'meatout' for a day or two, drop by and do an online pledge, where you can:
Option 1: pledge to go without meat for a day or more.
Option 2: pledge to go meatless for the entire week or more.
Option 3: if you are already vegetarian, pledge to take a non-vegetarian for a vegetarian meal during Singapore Meatout Week

As for me... I always start with small steps and Option 1 shouldn't be too harmful for me!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Red Jewels

A punnet of raspberries in a Singapore supermarket costs approximately S$8 to S$9, with a small little punnet yielding no more than 30 small red berries... almost like tiny red jewels! So, it's no wonder that they'll be set to use as 'photography models' before embarking on their culinary end!

Red Jewels
The raspberry is composed of many connecting drupelets (individual sections of fruit) surrounding a central core, with the drupelets separating from the central core when picked thus leaving behind the hollow that we find in the center of each raspberry. Looking closely at the surface texture of raspberries, one discovers that they are slightly furry with teeny yellow whiskers.... which can be murder when you are trying for a macro shot using auto-focus! Above shot was only after numerous attempts 'click once, click twice, click many many many times' (try the large view)

Wonderfully tart and sweet at the same time, they are perfect as an accompaniment to a sweet creamy dessert. And the easiest would be a custard in the form of a crème caramel [krehm kehr-ah-MEHL] (don't you just love to say this phrase, especially with a slight accent on the 'krehm')!
  • melt 1 cup of caster sugar in a saucepan over low heat - once the sugar starts melting, it will begin to change color - when it becomes a deep golden color, remove from heat and whilst still hot, pour caramel into a couple of ramekins (about 6) and leave to cool
  • add 1/2 cup caster sugar (I've actually reduced the amount of sugar as compared to the original recipe which requested for a 3/4 cup), 1 cup milk, 1 cup double cream and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract into a separate saucepan and warm it until the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly
  • remove saucepan from heat and leave to cool for about 5 minutes or so
  • in the meantime, whisk together 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks, and add slowly to the cooled milk and cream mixture, whilst stirring to combine
  • strain the egg, milk and cream mixture (this is actually quite important, as the strainer will catch any part of the egg mixture which may have been cooked by the warmed milk), before pouring the mixture into the ramekins (this will fill about 6 ramekins)
  • place ramekins in a bain-marie (in this case, use a roasting tin lined with a folded tea-towel and half-filled with water) and put the roasting tin into a preheated oven at 140C
  • bake for about 50 to 60 minutes (until the custard is just about set with the center of the custard slightly wobbly)
  • leave to cool before chilling in the refrigerator for a couple of hours
  • AND this is the best part of making crème caramel - the unmolding of the custard - run a thin knife around the custard to loosen it from the ramekin - place the serving plate over the ramekin and invert the custard onto the plate with the wonderful caramel dribbling down the sides of the custard - serve on its own or with fruits which are slightly acidic and tart.. raspberries and strawberries are great choices!
Creme Caramel Disaster
This custard is an absolutely rich indulgence, with the amount of sugar, cream and eggs added into the mixture but quite irresistible when placed in front of you. Before I attempted my first home-made crème caramel, I always had this preconceived notion (from goodness knows where) that this was a dessert best reserved to be ordered and indulged in a good restaurant.... must be something to do with the way the waiter pronounces it with that slight frenchy accent. After several attempts and finding it just so bloody easy to make at home, I now cannot bear to plonk my hard-earned money at any restaurant by ordering this dessert unless it is unusually flavored and fragranced and only if there is no tiramisu on the menu!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Recommendations = Caution x10

Are you by any chance curious about this particular post's title?

Well, let me tell you a story that started 2 weeks ago when Slurp, a blog pal recommended on his blog a nice pleasant walk along the Bukit Gombak Trail, and posted lovely pictures of beautiful fungi, birds and insects, and really unusual botany. With interest already piqued, I also happened to attend the 3rd get-together of Singapore Flickr members held over the weekend at Gone Fishing Cafe at Chu Lin Road (right in the heart of Hillview area, off Upper Bukit Timah Road), at the end of which is the start of the Bukit Gombak Trail.

Now, Slurp mentioned something about "easy walking up a well paved path" and "people of all ages can now enjoy our natural surroundings with little difficulty", and Kenny, the owner of Gone Fishing Cafe said that the walk from his cafe to the start of the Trail was only 5 minutes away whilst the 700m walk along the trail (ending near to Bukit Gombak MRT station at Little Guilin) should take no more than 15 to 20 minutes. With such recommendations, I persuaded a couple of the Flickr members to join me on this short hike in search of photo-worthy subjects.

Halfway along the 5-min walk in the late afternoon heat, a Flickr co-hort mentioned, "maybe, we should drive our car right up to the steps of the Bukit Gombak Trail?"... duhhh... it's less than 50m ahead. Then, we saw this long flight of steps up the Trail into the woods (can't really call it a jungle), which wound out of sight, and we couldn't quite figure out how high the flight of steps were. Hmm... we looked at each other but didn't want to appear like wimps, so with our camera backpacks and tripods, we started the climb. Halfway up, poor ShutterbugL who was carrying a 2kg tripod on top of his camera bag asked whose great idea this hike was, and I studiously remained silent!

Suffice to say... we reached certain rest-stops with viewing vantage points overlooking Little Guilin and the Bukit Gombak MRT station, took a couple of breaks, saw a couple of interesting specimens of nature but were just a little put off by the heat and unexpected 45-degree gradient climb ("easy walking" for some) to put our thumbs up!

The hike was not entirely wasted though, here are a couple of the specimens of nature which I happened to catch while resting against a tree hoping to catch my breath...
White Pita Bread?
Looked like pita bread to you... it did to me then (probably the result of hallucination due to lack of oxygen to the brain from all that physical exertion), but actually part of some really white wild mushrooms growing on a tree trunk.

White Fans

This is the full picture of these mushrooms on the tree trunk. So innocent-looking, but may be deadly.

Poison has never looked that Good

Another shot of some beautiful brown fungi, very lingzhi in form and shape but unlike lingzhi mushrooms, I don't think these are the health-benefitting type of fungi.

A White River Runs Thru'
As you can see, even a tree with sap was considered photo-worthy when you're too tired to explore the rest of the environs.. most of us think this is a rubber-tree but what do we know? We just assumed it is becos' of the white gooey sap and the way the rings have been carved around the tree for the sap to flow (just like how we think a rubber-tapper would do it).
On its way Out
One of my favourite shots from this hike.. a pale wrinkly and wonderfully textured leaf just at the end of its fresh green life and embarking on its journey towards the end.
shutterbugL - the determined photographer
wee_lywee is LOST
Two of my co-horts up the hiking trail, top = ShutterbugL, the determined photographer who lugged a 2kg tripod along (kudos to him); and bottom = wee_ly, a man who was once lost in Bangkok (see t-shirt) and was last seen somewhere along the Bukit Gombak Trail.

To Slurp and Kenny, thanks for the recommendations (but the next time, I just need to remember to add a 'x10 caution' factor to the equation, after taking into account the most unfit physical specimen of all, yours truly)!