Saturday, 21 September 2013

Savoury bread pudding

I am tongue tied and have writers block today. Actually, I've had writer's block for days. I've been meaning to write this blog post for days, but haven't had time to edit the photos. But here it is now!

Well, what's happened these past few days? My dad's left for Malaysia, back to tend to his business and visit my grandmother, relatives and friends. Mid-semester break's over. It passed so quickly and slowly at the same time. It was mooncake/mid-autumn festival on Thursday! I have an abundance of mooncake at home and am thinking of learning how to make them for next year's festival. I realised that we're pretty lucky here. Mooncakes are pretty expensive, but the cheapest you can get is about $20 per box of four. But in Malaysia, mooncakes can cost up to RM20 for one! Which is around NZ$10. And apparently in China, you can get a mooncake that's even more astoundingly priced... thousands of dollars for one! WHAT?! Is it made out of diamonds and gold? And who the heck would buy that? 

Now that i've told you what's happened, I can tell you what will happen! (Not that it'll affect you in anyway, but I'm super excited about it!) My family is going back to malaysia next January for Chinese New Year! Yay! It's been 2 years since I last went back, and even longer since I last celebrated Chinese New Year back home. Can't wait to see the row after row of New Year snacks packed in red containers, the red and gold lanterns adorning the malls and streets, to get sick of hearing Chinese New Year songs, to eat all the food that I didn't savior during my childhood, and of course, the best part of all, to see my grandmothers, aunties, uncles and cousins! And we might be going to China too! It's gonna be a great holiday. Now... time to find a way to earn some money. 

Anyway, I'm sorry that today's post is fairly unexciting for you. My writer's block still lingers on. Hopefully the photos and recipe idea entertained you! And I've got to get back to preparing for a seminar on Monday about carotenoids in carrots! Interesting and important little pigments these are. I'll share more later on on it! 

But now, I will share a recipe for savoury bread pudding. Follow on from the savoury theme, this recipe is a twist from the traditional and conventional sweet bread and butter pudding. It's healthy, it's tasty and you don't feel guilty eating it! Admittedly, the idea came from somewhere else - Spoon Fork Bacon (these guys are awesome), though I did not follow their recipe. I made this for lunch one day when I was home alone. I actually made another version of it again for Peter and I put some leftover herby tomato sauce that my dad made and Peter called it 'Pizza in a bowl' haha. Interesting. It looked and smelled delicious but i didn't take a photo of it :( 

[Savoury Bread Pudding]
Serves 1 
You can easily multiply the ingredients to make a big pudding, and substitute any of these ingredients with whatever you have on hand.

1 ramekin
Olive oil
1 thick slice of good bread
1 medium size button mushroom, thickly sliced
about 1 tablespoon of green peas
1 square of firm tofu (about 4cm x 4cm), cubed
Some carrots, about 1 tbsp in total, cut into the tiniest cubes (these give amazing little crunches as you bite into the pudding)
1 egg
splash of milk (soy milk or other milk works too)
1 teaspoon chilli paste (omit it if you want, but a bit of spice kicks this up a notch! I used a chilli paste with black beans in it and wow the black beans go really well with cheese!) 
Tasty cheese, about 1 tbsp, grated

1. Preheat your oven to 200C.
2. Oil the sides of the ramekin.
3. Roughly rip your bread up into little pieces and toss them in olive oil. Set aside. 
4. In a little pan with olive oil, lightly cook the mushrooms until coloured. Set aside.
5. Mix the bread, mushroom, tofu and veg together and drop them into the ramekin. 
6. Whisk together the egg, milk, salt, pepper and chilli together. You don't have to whisk the egg too thoroughly. I quite like how you get bits of egg whites laced through bits of egg yolks. 
7. Pour the egg mixture into the ramekin, over the filling, carefully. 
8. Top with grated cheese.
9. Bake for about 10-15 minutes.
10. Serve! 

This recipe takes no time to make at all and you can enjoy your lunch in under half an hour! Do the cleaning and washing up and make yourself a good cup of tea while you wait for the pudding to bake. Enjoy!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Buckwheat/soba noodles with flat mushrooms and seaweed

Cooking isn't my forte. I'd take baking over cooking any day. BUT. My family's been trying to cut down on eating sweet food lately and mum's complaining that she gained a belly and lots of weight from eating my baked goods! Ah the joys of living with a baker. So, I thought I should venture more into these foreign waters. Start by gingerly dipping my toes in, adjust to the temperature, then slowly wade my way through to the deeper ends. 

I found that cooking is just like swimming. Not that I swim much. In fact, I haven't swum in... 5 years? 7 years? A rare case seeing that I live literally 5 minutes drive from the beach and NZ is so much of a water loving country. I've only learnt to swim when my family moved to NZ, which was about 10 years ago. And ever since those swimming lessons at the YMCA pools in Year 8, I haven't really had the inkling to dip myself in a pool of water. Anyway, like swimming, cooking is about relaxing yourself and following your instincts. I used to be afraid of cooking (can you believe?), preferring whisks and oven over frying pan and stove. But I think I'm gradually acclimatizing to the cooking scene. And I think noodles and pasta are a good place to start. 

My dad is a renowned cook amongst friends and family. His skills and passion for cooking were inherited from my grandma, who is also a renowned cook amongst her friends and family. Since migrating to this faraway land, we haven't had much opportunity to enjoy grandma's cooking. But my dad sort of makes up for it. It was through my dad's knack for cooking and his years of experimenting and skill-honing in vegetarian cuisine that I think, my family were so easily acclimatized (this word again, yes!) to eating vegetarian food. Of course throughout these years we still occasionally cook meat, though in a much smaller portion. But around three months ago, my dad turned full vegetarian. I of course eat whatever was on the table so vegetarian it is. And even when I eat out I order vegetarian food as I'm not used to eating meat. Although if I'm in a circumstance where I'm presented with meat, such as going to a friend's house and they cooked meat, I will eat it but try to eat less of it since it would be really troublesome for them to prepare something special or different for me. 

So, noodles! Everybody loves noodles don't they? I admit, I'm more of a rice gal though I won't say no to the occasional noodle. My dad, my sister and my boyfriend Peter love noodles. I swear they can live solely on noodles. My sister always has these random noodle cravings. Especially the Korean ones. Spicy and hot, with an egg cracked into it, slurp slurp slurp yum! And to be honest, noodles are so quick and easy to prepare (compared to a lot of other dishes). Today, we'll start with buckwheat or soba noodles. 

These noodles are really great as they already have a sweet, almost nutty flavour from the buckwheat flour. When you buy them from the supermarket it pays to check the ingredients as some of them have a high percentage in wheat flour rather than buckwheat. I prefer ones made just with buckwheat flour and water and do not contain other sorts of flavouring or additives. They're better for you! 

I cooked these soba noodles the non-traditional way and these are served hot rather than cold. For the vegetable pairings I used things I found in my fridge. The mushroom and chinese cabbage really adds that more complex, umami flavouring which goes well with the salty, weathered ocean taste from seaweed (I used a mixture of kombu and wakame). The carrots and celery lends sweetness and with a touch of sesame oil, the whole dish comes together in a nutty coating. Enjoy! I didn't use any animal products, so this dish is unintentionally vegan! And gluten free too for you celiacs out there!

[Buckwheat noodles with flat mushroom and seaweed]
Serves 5

A handful of buckwheat noodles. (The noodles came divided into portions tied with little ribbons. Use 3 portions. They will swell up a lot!)

1/2 inch ginger, finely chopped
5 medium to big sized flat mushrooms, cut into thick strips 
2 button mushrooms, cut into strips
4 leaves of chinese cabbage, cut into thick strips
half a carrot, julienned
1 stalk of celery, julienned
1 bowl (chinese rice bowl) of kombu and wakame, broken into small pieces
Sprig of parsley

Olive oil
Soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of raw sugar (trust me, it helps)
Sesame oil

1. Fill up half a pot of water. Turn on the element for the water to boil.
2. Mean while, in another deep pan, drizzle in olive oil and wait for it to become hot. Add in the ginger and fry until lightly golden. Add the carrots and celery and stir for about a minute. Add in mushrooms and stir until it starts to brown (make sure to have enough oil in the pan or the mushrooms will stick). Add in the chinese cabbage and about a cup of water. Season with soy sauce (about 3 or 4 tablespoons - adjust it to your liking but remember the seaweed is slightly salty too). Cover to simmer. 
3. Once the chinese cabbage has softened (you want it nice and soft for the sweetness to shine), add in the kombu and wakame. Simmer until softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the sugar. Turn off the heat and drizzle in about a tablespoon of sesame oil (you do this with the heat off as heat causes sesame oil to lose its flavour). 
4. Place the buckwheat noodles in the other pot of boiling water. It will take only a few minutes for it to cook. (Do not cover the pot with a lid, it will bubble out! Yea.. found that out the hard way lol). Once the buckwheat noodles are cooked, transfer them onto another pot or container with cold water. 
5. Place buckwheat noodles onto a serving dish. Pour the vegetables on top of the buckwheat noodles. Garnish with a sprig of parsley. Serve! 

There you go, easy. I think the key is to have your mise en place ready. Once you have everything chopped up, ready to go, it's easier to relax and enjoy the cooking process. I am by no means a good cook, in fact, I'm still a beginner! So if I can do it, you can too. Happy cooking!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Visual Diary: Grace

September 11th. Can you believe it's already 12 years since the 9/11 attacks? Twelve years since I was a kid, staring at the television in my living room back in Malaysia at the scene of the plane crashing into those twin towers played on repeat. How horrifying it must've been. Horrifying isn't even sufficient enough of a word to describe what it must've been like for those people. It was a day that changed everything forever. Even as an eleven year old kid, I remember thinking, how odd it was to have seen explosions and crashes and disasters in movies, but to actually see it on the same screen, but knowing it is real, man, it was... it was unreal. But of course, to a lot of people, it was very real. Still is, I'm sure. How many people had friends, relatives, loved ones torn from them... my heart and prayers go out to you all. And may you always pray and remember your loved ones, and pray that they are in a better world than the one we are in right now. 

September 11th also has another significance, albeit of course a much much smaller one. Exactly two months today, I will be going through my last day of university. Most likely doing last minute cramming for the exam that I will be sitting in the afternoon. Minutes prior to the exam I will probably munch on some chocolate to calm my nerves and to fuel my brain. Then the two (or is it three?) hours of suspense and intense writing will probably pass way too quickly and before we know it, the examiner will call out, 'Time's up! Pens down!'. Then, my classmates and I will grin at each other. That kinda grin that says it all. We're free! It's over! One year of endless assignments, of learning to decipher our little Algerian lecturer's accent, of ripping our hairs out trying to figure out how to do those mass and energy balance calculations. One long year. Over. And then, now what? 

It's a question that's been on my mind for many many months now. Even before I enrolled in this postgraduate course. Even after enrolling, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. But I did, because I didn't know what else to do. And i'm sure, a lot of young people feel the same way as I do, we're unsure of what to do, so we study. Actually, I know what I should do. I should further my studies and do Masters. After all, that was the reason why I did this course in the first place right? To pave a way for my Master's degree. But then, that's two extra years of my life. Is it really worth it? Like most bakers out there, I crave to have my own establishment, to make a career out of food. And the thought of spending another two years behind my laptop, with my mind wrapped up in essays and thesis and what not, seems so confining. Yea, I know, it should be the opposite. It should open up doors for my future. But... maybe it's just lazy me talking haha. Anyway, I'm sure I'll figure out something. This course hasn't exactly been what I expected, some good, some bad, but hey, that's life! I'm sure whatever I do over the next few years will be good for my future. Sacrifices must be made huh? 

Anyway, sorry but no recipes today! I have tonnes of photos just sitting idle in my hard-drive, so I thought I should start a new series, my Visual Diary, featuring these random shots I took of this beautiful city I live in. In the wake of war and disasters around the world, these sceneries remind me of just how lucky I am to live in this evergreen country.  

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Lemon Tarts

In my second year of university, a good friend and I took on the roles of co-presidents for the University of Auckland Dessert Club. We were off to a shaky start as we were appointed these roles by the ex-president, rather than by vote of the members and committee. Initially were were reluctant to step into these heavy shoes as we had close to no experience of running events, let alone running a waning club with 500 members. But after knowing all but one of the members from the previous committee planned to stay on, with merely a few short weeks to get ourselves sorted, we decided to accept our roles. 

So off we went to recruit people from amongst our friends who we thought had potential and would assist us in building up the club. We borrowed money from my dad, worked day and night in getting membership cards designed and printed, hunted down the Auckland University Student Association people day after day to get the logistics and accounts sorted, we held many meetings to plan out events that we wanted to hold throughout the year and finally, we debut as a revived club during Orientation Week. O' week was a chance for us to regain the club's reputation. Everyday, rain or shine (and back then we didn't have enough funds to get a gazebo yet), we were one of the first clubs to set up and one of the last to pack up. We talked to almost every single person that walked past the stall, selling to them the plans we had for the club, listing them the sponsors we have and bribing them with chocolate frogs and Chupa Chups (unlike other clubs who only gave out yucky cheap artificially coloured lollies!)to get people to sign up. At the end of the two weeks, we managed to recruit a record number of members - about 600 people! You can imagine how exhilarated we were, and how dry our mouths must've been, talking to so many people. 

We ran many events that year. We started off with the Dessert Club orientation, pulling strings from friends to get us cheap Dunkin Donuts. Then there was Gelato night which was a success. Who doesn't love cheap gelato? And the new sponsor that we got, then known as Paradiso, now known as iStorm were incredibly generous, giving us half priced gelato and free hiring of their store space! Easter hunt got members running around campus solving clues and puzzles. But then there was movie day, which flopped like a hot air balloon punched with holes. We over estimated the numbers that were coming and ordered about 500 custard puffs and swiss rolls. We even hired a cotton candy machine. About 10 people turned up to that event. We gave away as many custard puffs and swiss rolls as we could, which were of course received with big smiles. We even bribed the security guard because apparently it is against the rules to eat in lecture theaters (which we hired out for movie screening). But we were still left with 400 puffs and rolls. In the end we resolved to selling them cheap around campus. We made a huge loss that day but thank goodness for kind-hearted people! Because we only used up a meager handful of candy, the cotton candy guy told us we didn't need to pay for it. But after that event, we learned something new - always have sign ups and sell tickets to confirm the numbers coming and always check the calendar when planning events. That weekend was bad timing as most people had tests! 

It was always difficult getting sign ups to events. Once we had to postpone our soiree because we didn't have enough sign ups. But then at the end of the year, we managed to tick off a whole list of cool events we did, such as pie eating competition, amazing race, chocolate give away, etc. And we finished off with a successful end of year party - the food was amazing, the venue was great (free pool! As in like billiards pool, not swimming pool, although that would've been awesome too) and people had loads of fun. 

I decided to stay on Dessert Club for the following two years, gaining more members and experience each year. The last year of being in the club, I stepped down into the role of web manager. It was the most successful year for Dessert Club. We had great events like Maid Cafe, Kapiti Quiz Night, Easter amazing race, the annual Gelato Night, annual eating competition, cupcake fundraising, cupcake decoration class, etc. We built our relationship with other clubs like Photosoc, the Cosplay Club and Auckland University Snow Club by having collaboration events and supplying desserts. We were even asked by the University of Auckland to feature as one of the clubs showcasing extra-curricular life on Courses and Careers Day. It was great. But these three years on Dessert Club, I've gained much more than just experience. Many friendships were forged. And it was these years that really cemented my passion for baking, food and catering. Boy all those days and nights baking and preparing food for events, they were incredibly difficult at times, having to juggle both studies and club responsibilities, but I loved every minute of it. There were moments when we were thinking why did we take on such a huge task, for example when we were sitting outside at our stall trying to sell tickets to events, with the cold brittle wind blasting on our backs and the IC people refused to let us set up inside. Or when committee members pulled out and we were left with 3 people to run the whole club. There were really stressful nights when I had very little sleep, with my mind like a roll of film running through everything that still needed to be done. But even in those moments, the thought of regret or quitting never crossed my mind. In fact, if you asked me what was the single best thing that happened to me in university, I would've told you, Dessert Club. 

After three years of running the club, I decided to move on. I felt as though I was ripping my baby from myself. A baby that I nurtured, cared, built. But it was time to venture on other journeys. This past year without Dessert Club, I felt both liberated and lost. It felt so weird having free time! Though I was thankful I could use that time to develop other skills. Occasionally though, I missed the planning and brainstorming of events, and our ritual of debriefing at Momotea after events. I suppose that's one of the reasons I started this blog - to fill that void, to have something to look forward to and to develop my skills. But several weeks ago, the committee this year asked if Peter and I would help them cater for their soiree. Without even a second's hesitation, we agreed. So, off we went again to plan the menu. We spent a day buying and sourcing ingredients, utensils, cutlery and plates. Then we spent another two days baking and cooking. It was so nostalgic! Peter and I laboured away, making five types of dessert - tiramisu, apple crumble pie, lemon tarts, chocolate mousse and salted caramel drizzled cronuts, and Peter prepped all the dishes for the mains. Everything was made from scratch, except for the Savoiardi. We were exhausted! But it was so satisfying for me. It felt great, making food for people, seeing their reactions when they saw how amazing the dessert platters looked and hearing great feedback. My only regret was that I didn't have time to snap some photos of the finished products, but here are a few snapshots of the dessert that I managed to take.

Mini lemon tarts with cream cheese icing (scroll down for recipe)

Cinnamony apple crumble tart

Cronuts, proofing!

As promised, here is the lemon tart recipe! 

[Lemon Tart]
Recipe makes 12 tarts

Same as the one I used to make the apple, rhubarb and strawberry galette

Zest from 3 lemons
1/2 cup of lemon juice 
1/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup raw sugar, blended 
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 eggs
Pinch of salt
Splash of milk

Icing (optional)
200g cream cheese, softened, room temperature 
50ml cream
3 tbsp raw sugar, blended
1 tsp vanilla essence
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
  1. Prepare pastry as instructed. 
  2. Line 12 tart cases with pastry. Prick bottom of pastry with fork. Blind bake at 180C for about 8-10 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine lemon, flour and sugar together and whisk until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Whisk together eggs, vanilla and salt. 
  5. Combine the egg mixture, lemon mixture and splash of milk. 
  6. Pour into the baked tart cases and bake at 150C for about 10 minutes. 
  7. Remove tart from oven and cool.
  8. For the icing, beat together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add cream and beat on slow initially, then increase speed and beat until well combined and light. Add the lemon and beat until combined. Pipe onto the cooled lemon tarts. Chill.
  9. Serve cold. 

Filling recipe adapted from Butter Baking.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Apple, rhubarb and strawberry galette

These past few days we've been fortunate enough to be graced by the sun's glorious rays. It's as if the sun is teasing us, like an ice cream man handing out free samples of the delicious treat that won't be out until a few months later. But all the kids are happy and all the adults feel like kids again. Nobody's complaining (except about the seemingly eternal wait) and we're all making the most of it. But I'm afraid I've been feeling to indulgent, almost tricking myself to believe that it is the summer holidays again. I even picked up a book that's been on my bedside since March, neglected due to other more pressing matters. I realised, leisure reading is such a luxury. But I should do more of it. Take a breath in between the articles over articles that my head's been swimming in. I should make it a point to read every night before bed, even if it is just one page. 

I took a stroll at the park two days ago. The sun glaring down in between the scattered curtain of clouds traveling by. Only then did I realise spring has truly arrived at our doorstep. The flowers are so beautiful, red and yellow and white and blue and all the colours in between, shamelessly exhibiting themselves in this breathtaking gallery, fishing for compliments and praises. All these efflorescence that I know not the name of. They're here to shine and I gladly give them my attention. 

There's truly something in the air in spring. Something promising. Something exciting. Something sweet. Something that makes me want to spring up from my chair, hop out from the cave that's been my home for the wintering months. It's like fireflies that have been hibernating awaking one by one, and all flying in a circle around me, then guiding me towards the door, towards the warmth. Haha I don't even know if fireflies hibernate, or if they fly towards the light. It seems more possible that they fly in the opposite direction of light. But you know what I mean I'm sure, these magic dusts in the air, playfully pulling me. 

These first four days of mid-semester break, I've allowed myself to be pulled. How wonderful it was, to spend the half a day plonked on a park bench feeding myself the most tart lemon tarts ever (recipe coming soon!). How wonderful it was to be plonked a park bench without freezing to death! How soul nurturing it was to spend the day stirring the pot of pumpkin soup; to be caressed by the rice flour in my palms as I transferred it into a second pot that is filled with grated turnips; to sing along my sister the songs of Little Mermaid and be transported instantly ten, fifteen years back; and to fold the sides of a pastry origami containing ruby jewels of juicy sweet fruits. 

I suppose I should share this pastry plate of red gem with you! It was the first time I baked with rhubarb and what made it more special was that these stunning stalks were from my own garden! Ok, I admit, I didn't plant it, I wasn't the one that nurtured it, and I only knew about it when my mum told me to make something from it, but still! But oh, it's got such a lovely tang. It is true. You food people know it. It does go beautifully with strawberries and apple. And of course I added a squeeze plus more of lemon juice to it! (I seem to be adding lemon juice and zest to everything these days!) I devoured this glorious galette with some Greek yoghurt and it was delicious. Here's the recipe :)

[Apple, rhubarb and strawberry galette]

80g butter
45g raw sugar, blended
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla essence
zest of 1 lemon
165g unbleached all purpose flour
pinch of salt 
1 to 1 1/2 tbsp cold water 

8 little stalks of rhubarb, chopped 
2 medium apples, diced
a handful of strawberries 
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp raw sugar
1 tsp golden syrup 
1 tbsp cornstarch 

1. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. 
2. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until well mixed. 
3. Add the lemon zest and mix well. 
4. Add the flour and salt and beat on lowest speed until it begins to come together. 
5. Add in the water and continue beating gently until the dough comes together. Jude Blereau said the dough should be 'firm but not hard, soft but not moist'. 
6. Form into a ball and flatten. 
7. Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. 

8. Preheat oven to 200C. Line a baking tray.
9. Roll out dough into a disc about 3mm thick. Place on a baking tray.
10. Combine all ingredients for the filling. 
11. Pile filling onto the middle of the disc. Fold the sides of the pastry up. Take care not to fold the pastry over itself as this will make the pastry too thick and it will not cook properly. 
12. Sprinkle the pastry with raw sugar.
13. Bake for about 15 minutes. Then turn down the temperature to 180C and bake for a further 30 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on it and if the pastry is browning too quickly, reduce the temperature of your oven. 
14. Serve, with a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt. 

Recipe adapted from Wholefood Baking by Jude Blereau (So in love with this book!!)