Archive for the ‘Savouries’ Category

Homemade Goodness

March 11, 2009

I think I have thoroughly spoilt CH.

I made a tray of focaccia on Sunday evening for a dinner with J and her brood of boys. CH took a bite of the flat bread and announced that while the taste was right, the bread could do longer in the oven, as “it is a little too moist” and the bottom was not dark enough.

Gee, thanks! Now, I am taking culinary advice from someone whose sole duty in the kitchen is opening bottles of wine to go with the meal.

Back to the focaccia.

While I agree that the bread could do with 10 more minutes in the oven (you win, darling!), I must say that warm focaccia is a sure crowd-pleaser anytime and everytime. Homemade focaccia is always greeted with a “wow” and the fact that it is so simple to make, is a huge, huge bonus. What’s more, I feel better feeding my loved ones with bread that is made of just organic flour, water, olive oil and salt, with none of the preservatives and chemicals commercial bread has.

I made my focaccia, using a recipe adopted from Tessa Kiros, which requires only two tablespoons of olive oil, plus a little more to oil the baking tray. The result is light but flavourful.

Adopted from Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam

435ml warm water
1.5 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp honey or sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
650g flour
1.5 tsp salt

1) In a mixer bowl, or a big bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, along with the honey/sugar, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 3 fistfuls of flour. Stir to mix well. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes for the yeast to bloom.

2) Mix the remainder of the flour into the yeast mixture, together with the salt. The dough will be sticky. I use my Kitchen-Aid to knead it for 7 minutes until the surface looks smooth and satiny. If not, do like what Tessa Kiros suggests, slap it around the bowl with oiled hands until the dough looks smooth.

3) Let the dough rest for 1.5 to 2 hours, until it doubles in size.

4) Pre-heat oven at 200 degrees Celsius. Grease a baking tray generously with olive oil. I use a 40cm square tray.

5) Knock down the dough with oiled hands to flatten it.

6) Spread the dough on the tray. Rest it for 30 minutes. In the meantime, mix the following: 100ml hot water, 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil.

7) Dimple the slightly puffed dough with fingers and drizzle the salt water mixture evenly on top. This will give the bread a nice crust as it bakes.

8) Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is golden brown.

This recipe is so versatile and easy. It is the most requested-for bread from CH. It seems, for now, none of the breads I’ve baked have managed to top this.

I have made versions of it with finely chopped rosemary thrown in at the kneading stage and roughly chopped olives when I am knocking it down. I simply love the rosemary and olives version as the herb gives it an incredible aroma and little bites of olives provide addictive burst of saltiness! I have added chopped sun-dried tomatoes also in another version and it was also yummy!

 

Tokyo – A (Too) Short Rendezvous (Part 1)

July 18, 2008

4 days and 3 nights. Or rather 3 days and 3 nights. The shortest trip CH and I have ever taken but it was certainly no less enjoyable than the others. Mainly because we, or rather I, love love love Tokyo – the city, the incredible vibe, the efficient, user-friendly transportation system, the blinding bright lights when night falls, the politeness of the people, the availability of top quality products and the excellent, marvellous, fantastic food!

For the accommodation of this trip, we stayed at CH’s ex-colleague OJ’s place in Hikarigaoka which was about two hours away from Narita by train. It was a big place by Japanese standard with three bedrooms, living and dining areas. OJ, his lovely wife Wei, and their two adorable toddlers Min and Sheng made us feel very welcomed, at home and comfortable.

Thank you so MUCH, OJ and Wei!   🙂

 

And, these are what we were up to in our four days in Japan:

Day 1

Day flight, all of 7 hours to Narita Airport

Day 2

Morning – I fulfilled the glutton in me with a visit to Hidemi Sugino’s fabulous patisserie. Everything there was perfect! More on that in a later post.

After indulging at the patisserie, we took a short 30-minute walk to Ginza to visit Mariage Freres. I just love the look and feel of the little store with its weathered wooden panelling. It was an absolute pleasure to the senses, to be greeted by the aroma of tea, and rows and rows of black and yellow tea canisters once we entered the charming store. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside.  

Never a shopper nor an avid  tea-drinker (a light sleeper, he is ultra sensitive to the effects of caffeine), CH nevertheless patiently waited as I indulged, sniffing and marvelling at the aromas and the pure artistry of the teas brought to me by the knowledgable store help. 

By the end of the session, after sniffing countless teas, I bought Sweet Shanghai (a beautiful green tea infused with lychee and flowers), Bolero (the MF book says, “A refreshing blend with the aroma of Mediterranean fruits. Velvety taste” and I say, “Mango and passionfruit scented tea – MUST have it!”),  The Au Sahara (a blend of Rooibos, mint and rose), Bouddha Bleu (beautiful tea – green tea with royal blue cornflowers) for OJ, our wonderful host, and Marco Polo, a favourite of mine, for J. 

We met up with OJ later and had a short tour at the Sony Building, taking in all the fascinating new electronic inventions the Japanese are so good in producing. We saw a futuristic looking glass tube speaker that would be a conversation starter in any home. The sound it produced was beautiful and according to the salesperson, because of its design, the volume heard from anywhere in the confines of the living room would be the same (quite true). I am sorry but I so don’t get the Rolly – it’s really cute but do people actually buy that??

Lunch – Our first proper meal in Tokyo, discounting the sugar fest at Hidemi Sugino. OJ took us to a famous ramen place in Harajuku. My noodle connoisseur CH LOVED the ramen. The noodles itself was faultless – springy without being too chewy and most importantly, there was not a strong taste of alkaline. The soup base, in my humble opinion, was the star of the show! I had my noodles in a soup base made from boiling pork bones for hours – a favourite among the celebrities in Japan, I was told by OJ, as the soup was ultra-rich in wrinkle-preventing collagen. Lusciously thick, sweet and deftly seasoned, the soup was absolutely delicious! I couldn’t finish the generous amount of noodles but sipped every drop of that wrinkle-busting soup. Hey, I could feel my crow feet tightening up already!    😉

Afternoon – We took a trip down to the Shinto shrine, Meiji Jingu. There we took a walk down the tranquil path to reach the shrine where devotees and tourists alike bowed their heads to pray for what their hearts desire.

We walked all the way to Shibuya after that. OJ and CH were wonderful and nice to the glutton in me, as they scrutinised my scribbled address and maps to take me to… Pierre Herme’s main store in Tokyo! Not wanting to over-indulge (can’t abuse metabolism too much after the big THREE ZERO!), I bought just a Plaisir Sucre.  

It was beautiful – so aptly named as the different layers and contrast in texture of chocolate (hazelnut dacquoise, praline, ganache, chocolate whipped cream and chocolate sheets) brought about a glorious sensation in the mouth! One day when I am feeling adventurous and when there are people to share the calories, I will attempt this gorgeous edible piece of art that comes with a six-page recipe in PH’s Chocolate Desserts!

Evening – We accompanied OJ to Roppongi as he made a short trip back to his office to do some work (yes, on a Sunday! And you wonder why bankers are being paid so much!  ;P )

The main event for the evening was a trip to another famous ramen place in Shinjuku, just opposite the city’s red-light district.

I would just say these about the ramen – it was GOOD! Everything about it – the flavourful soup, the fatty pork that melts in the mouth, the springy noodles. Humble and comforting at the end of a long day but no less impressive. Good food does not have to be fanciful. 

What a fantastically gluttony way to end a fantastic day!

Comfort… in Food

April 26, 2008

You can take a boy out of Sarawak but you can never take Sarawak out of the boy. Having been in Singapore for the past decade or more of his life, CH is still very much a Malaysian boy at heart.

While comfort food for me comes in the form of a slice of rich chocolate cake, a scoop of vanilla ice cream or my dad’s luscious, unbeatable butter cake, CH would go for a steaming plate of noodles. Not just any noodles, mind you. He frowns upon the noodles served here – either the yellow noodles tastes too strongly of alkaline, or the noodles are over/under cooked, or too drenched in chilli oil and lard which conceal the taste of the badly cooked, or simply bad, noodles.

What he craves for is the noodles – gan pan mian, found only in his hometown. I first tasted this noodles three years ago when I went back to Sarawak with him. Being brought up on Singaporean style minced pork noodles, I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of gan pan mian, which literally means dry noodles.

What defines gan pan mian is the noodles –  it takes centrestage. I had never tasted noodles like this. The noodles tasted… well, like noodles, without the strong taste of alkaline. The colour of the noodles is pale and the taste is clean. The texture is wonderful, with the right amount of chewiness. Best of all, gan pan mian is dressed with just fried shallot oil and a dash of soy sauce, so you can really taste the noodles.

The closest we have in Singapore that resembles gan pan mian is Kuching Kolo Mee, but most of the versions sold here have been dressed up to suit the Singaporean taste.  So when my mother-in-law is coming to Singapore, CH would usually request for her to bring a kilogram of dried, uncooked gan pan mian noodles here.

My mum-in-law’s version of gan pan mian is a slight variation of what is found on the streets of their hometown. She would would toss the noodles with lots of fried shallot oil, fried shallots and a pinch of salt. The noodles is then garnished simply with fried ikan bilis and topped with a sunny-side up. And that, to my dear Malaysian boy, is a plate of heaven.

You would be surprised how fast we would exhaust our supply of a kilogram of noodles. Fortunately, CH found a brand of Taiwan-made dried noodles which resembles the taste and bite of his hometown noodles. I could still remember the gleam in his eyes when he found that it tasted a little like home!  🙂

We had cooked the noodles several times at home and for lunch today, I made a version of his mum’s gan pan mian. It is the easiest thing in the world, simply tossed noodles garnished with some leftover rocket leaves for that addictive peppery zing.

Simple but no less satisfying. THIS is what comfort food is all about.