Petit Four Sec: Madeleines and Financiers

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As my friends would know, I love my coffee. I’ve often said that my kind of dessert is actually a really good cup of coffee. However, there are days that I wished there was a just a bite of cake on the side. I craved for an honest cake without cream, glaze or anything that wouldn’t harbour a sugary icing. I realised the answer was simple. A financier or a madeleine would be perfect. Little cakes with delicate flavours enough to intrigue and yet compliment my coffee.

On my last trip to Tokyo a few months ago, I stepped into a little bakery, Libertable which was around the corner from my hotel. Then they had 2 special seasonal madeleines, Madeleine aux truffes noir (Black Truffle Madeleine) and Madeleine aux truffes noir et fromage (Black Truffle and Cheese Madeleine). I decided to buy them to have it for my breakfast the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect because Libertable was known for desserts that were salty yet sweet like their Zenith cake which was a combination of caramelised apples and foie gras. Without much expectation, I took a bite of the black truffle madeleine, I was gobsmacked. The delicate flavours exploded in my mouth. There was that umami flavour of the truffle with the butteriness of the cake and that unexpected hit of salt. I wanted to go home and recreate it. After a bit of tweaking and experimenting, I’ve come up with this delicious version of black truffle madeleines.

I’ve also included a Financier Érable (Maple Syrup Financier) recipe which goes well with both coffee and tea. This recipe was developed to compliment the black truffle madeleines when served together. Subtle in its maple syrup and a hint of whiskey, this financier is understated yet delicious. While you are at it, try this matcha financier recipe from TWG as well to add to the variety.


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Black Truffle Madeleines

A few things to take note of:
If you want the madeleines to develop the nice bump, You first have to understand that the bumps happen because of the sudden heat change. I usually would put the cold batter into a pre-chilled madeleine tray before putting it in a hot oven.
I’m using a mini madeleine tray from Williams Sonoma. In this pan, I bake them at 200 degC, till the edges of the madeleine turns brown. For the normal sized ones, bake at 180degC, till the edges turn brown and if you press them in the middle, it should spring back.
Also the batter last for up to a week in the fridge, I would recommend that you bake just when you are about to serve.
You can also store it in an air tight container after it has cooled.
Ingredients:

2 eggs (60g each)

100g unsalted butter, melted

100g cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

60g white caster sugar

1 pinch of salt (use 3 fingers to pinch)

3 Tbsp truffle honey

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp black truffle paste.

Method:
– Beat the eggs with a mixer and gradually add the caster sugar in thirds till all are added and the egg mixture is light in colour.
– Add to the egg mixture, the truffle honey, vanilla and the truffle paste. Mix well.
– Sift the cake flour with the baking powder and then combine with salt.
– Add the flour mixture in 3 parts into the egg mixture, use a spatula to combine them.
– Put the mixture in a covered bowl or piping bag and refrigerate overnight.
– Grease the madeline tray and chill it.
– I use a mini madeleine tray, so I warm the fan-forced oven to 200degC, if you use a standard madeleine tray, warm the oven to 180degC.
– Pipe it or spoon it into the madeleine moulds and put it into the oven. Bake till the edges turn brown.
– Leave them to cool for a minute and then turn them out on a cooling rack till just warm to touch, serve warm.

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Financier Érable (Maple Syrup Financiers)

A few things to take note of:
To make the browned butter (beurre noisette), cut unsalted butter into smaller pieces and put into a saucepan over a low heat and boil it till the butter turns brown and it smells like toasted hazelnuts just as the name in french suggests. Then strain the liquid and leave it to cool.
If you wanted to make friands, use bigger oval moulds to resemble little cakes,  the financier moulds are shallower and like shallow rectangular moulds.
This batter can be chilled and kept in the fridge for a week till you decide to bake.
You can also store it in an air tight container after it has cooled.
Ingredients:
110g browned butter (beurre noisette)
100g caster sugar
60g maple syrup
65g ground almonds
4 egg whites
65g all purpose flour
2 tsp Jack Daniel’s whiskey
Method:
– Combine sugar and ground almonds together, then add the egg whites in 3 parts, mixing them together with a whisk.
– Add to the mixture, the Jack Daniel’s whiskey and maple syrup.
– Add the cooled browned butter in thirds till all combined.
– Sift the all purpose flour and add it to the mixture in 3 parts till it is all incorporated.
– Put the batter in a piping bag or covered bowl overnight or when you decide to use.
– Heat the fan-forced oven till 175degC, pipe or spoon the batter into the greased mould and bake till the edges of the financiers are browned.
– Cool for 1 minute and remove to cool further on a cooling rack till they are just warm to touch and serve.

 

 

 

 

Food Snobbery Causes Blindness.

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Truffle Hunting in Alba, Italy.

Dropping restaurant names during a conversation, posting images of that meal at a well sought after restaurant or publishing your thoughts about that aka uni (red sea urchin) from Kyushu that you’ve tasted, yet making all that sound common and frivolous seems normal. After all it is the “enviable life” that everyone wants to portray on social media right? You want others to wish that they had your life, they had you as their lunch buddy or be invited a meal that you cooked. I am guilty as charged. I have done all that in the name of being a foodie.

Before I dwell on this subject on food snobbery, I should put it out there the different “levels” of being a gourmand.

Glutton: Just plain old greedy, you just want to stuff all the food you like into you without any discrimination.

Foodie: Food is your hobby. You have an ardent interest in anything food related. You don’t eat just for sustenance but to enjoy. You seek out new restaurants, food trends and will travel to eat.

Gourmet: Food is a form of enjoyment to you, you live to eat fine food (fine food does not always mean high brow expensive food). You place emphasis on quality, and in a rather obsessive manner. Food being just good doesn’t impress you anymore.

Food Snob: Picky eaters who need to know that their meat comes from a certain farm, or must be wagyu, butter must be freshly churned by the restaurant this morning with cream from a small specialised farm in Devon or Brittany or at least an imported French AOC butter. They won’t eat a certain dish unless it came from a certain restaurant. They name drop, criticise and unlikely to have any professional training. They are in a nut shell, a self-declared know-it-all picky eater.

To set the record straight, I straddle between being a foodie and gourmet. However, I try not to publicly comment or criticise a restaurant because it’s so easy to say your two cents worth as a customer without any regard for the business or the people who devoted many hours to source their supplies, creating dishes in their kitchen, and the investments they’ve put in towards their restaurant. So I subscribe to the old saying of “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing.” I’ve eaten at some of the best restaurants and to taste their food can sometimes be a mind boggling experience. A lot of things go through my head like the different layers of textures, flavours and even the presentation. It says so much about the “artist’s” food philosophy, their inspirations, and background. I eat and travel to learn and to be inspired in the kitchen. Having said all that, the dishes that make me forget to analyse and cause me just enjoy them are the best.

Personally, food snobbery causes blindness. Being so fixated on the notion that only the best is good enough for you. You can’t even open your mind to what is good about everything else. Going along with the hype based on excitement of the masses, creates fool’s gold. I will be frank enough to say that I have dined at some restaurants that are raved by food critics, establishments (even earning Michelin stars) but I still walked away dissatisfied with my meal. I may have adored and subscribed to their food philosophy but the food just didn’t do its reputations justice. That’s just me. Food to me is like art, when you see the piece (or repertoire), best if your mind were deprived of the knowledge of how many Michelin stars the restaurant earned, how much eccolade the chef who cooked it was awarded, how many well known people have raved about it, how hard it was to get a table/ how long the waiting list was, and just be able to enjoy the food for what it is. See if all that agrees with you as an individual, independent of what someone else thinks. After all, who are they to tell you what you should think is good or bad?

You should recognise good and bad by your own experience, background, and sentiments towards food. Exercise the right to say that you like a dish even though it isn’t what someone else thinks of as good and at the same time, dislike a dish even though the world’s finest palettes exalted it to the highest of gastronomy. Don’t be an insufferable food snob, be yourself, enjoy being you, enjoy being you, the person who thirsts for a romance with food. Then, you’ll be able to break the shackles of conditioning created by food snobs and social media. Your eyes will be opened, you will see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Beans, Bad Beans?

fullsizeoutput_2dcdMy current stash in the fridge (new and old).

The truth be told, I am not the best at finishing my pack of coffee beans. I may be enthusiastic about buying them after having a taster of it at the roaster’s or a cafe, wild with thoughts of going home, settling into a morning routine of grinding my beans, blooming my grounds, and slowly in a hypnotic circular motion of the wrist, pouring water with my Hario kettle masterfully so that it will reach 350g on the scale at the precise moment of 2 and a half minutes. Who am I kidding? Mornings are a mad rush of bathroom activities, intensive grooming in front of the dressing table mirror, watering my plants and swallowing a variety of pills supposedly to help me be healthy. If I do have a sliver of time for coffee, I feel compelled to turn on the Nespresso machine and make that hurried cup of coffee expressed through a purple aluminium capsule.

Having said all that, I have a good variety of beans in my fridge and I am ashamed to say that some of them are old. They could be as old as almost 1.5 years old to something more current like 10 days old. This made me think of what I can do with the old beans? I think it is important to first figure out if they are still good for the purpose I intended other than making an espresso or filtered coffee. I asked myself what criteria should I base the beans on? I reckon that the beans should still be aromatic for starters. So I devised a method to test the beans.

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If you were to think of coffee beans as a spice, in Asian cooking, we always toast our spices. Many different families have their own methods of doing this. If I were to base this on pure logic and science, as the bean is rather big, it does not make sense to toast it on a hot pan, because the outside of the bean will get burnt and the inside might not have even warmed up. So the best way, is to put the cold beans on a cold pan, and set it over a small flame (small flames are always easier to control the heat). I put the pan on the burner for 10s, pick up the pan and toss the beans, then set it back on the burner. I repeat the process for 70s. By then, you’ll realise that the bean is warm to the touch. Pour the beans onto a plate and let them cool down. At this juncture, give the beans a good sniff. That’s the test. If it still smells fantastic like what the packaging describes, it’s still good for other usages. If you smell nothing, please discard or grind them up to make compost for your plants, or even a good coffee scrub for your skin.

The beans that pass this test, you can use them for a variety of things like cold brew coffee (with or without milk), chocolate covered coffee beans, or my favourite, as a spice. I will be sharing with you two different ways that I used my beans, in a spice mix and infusing them in milk.

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I am using my beans to make jar of whole bean infused milk, This one is rather straightforward. Warm the milk to 50degC (use a thermometer if possible, otherwise make sure it is warm to touch). Add the milk to 67g of toasted whole beans in a jar. Put in the fridge until you feel it is ready to use (always taste taste taste to find certainty). I personally feel that I liked it better after 3 days, then that is also dependent on the beans that you have. You can drink that infused milk neat or make that into a coffee milk pudding, part of an ice-cream, cake, even with your cereal if you please.

P1040700Top to Bottom: Smoked Sea Salt, Curry Powder, Dried Oregano, Paprika Powder, Coffee Powder, Celery Seeds and Brown Sugar.

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I have also used the coffee beans as a spice. I have grounded up the bean finely, the same way you would grind for an espresso machine or aeropress. This mix has brown sugar, paprika, curry powder, celery seeds, smoked salt, freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano and coffee powder. There is no hard and fast rules with these spice mixes and the proportion of each you should use. You need to mix them together and taste them, then tune/season accordingly to taste. I personally like this mix as it is versatile. I can use this as a spice rub for meat, to flavour my cooking, or add in a little juice of an orange together with some tomato paste to make it a barbecue sauce for ribs.

Most importantly, have fun experimenting with your old beans, think creatively and do share with me how you have utilised yours.

 

 

Pear Amaretto Cake

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In August of 2011, I bravely left a job in a company that I really loved. I went head in to setting up an online bakery. The philosophy of the business was simple. I wanted to sell high quality baked goods that I would be proud of. Not long after in 2012, there was a wave of people crazy for rainbow cakes, even then I would kindly turn down taking those orders, same for the fondant cake hype. I just couldn’t bring myself to take those orders and water down my business’ integrity. I held on to what I believed was important to me and the business continued to grow, until I was wooed back into the corporate scene and the bakery took a backseat.

Why is this story important to the cake? My speciality was to create cakes especially for the recipient, according to their palate. This cake was created with my husband (aka my official taste tester) in mind. Fortunately for me, this is his favourite cake that I bake. In honour of him, it was also added to the menu of my bakery.

Last week, when I decided to bake a cake to practise my food styling and photography, he quickly put in a request that I bake this cake because he had not eaten it for a long time. Watching him eat it was so satisfying, he had not one huge slice but 2 of it! So I hope that you will enjoy baking this cake, and sharing it with people you love (like maybe your mum for mothers’ day).

*** I recommend using this vanilla buttercream recipe from Serious Eats to pair with this cake. Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream

Pear Amaretto Cake 

Ingredients:

Pear preparation:
1 Packham Pear (coarsely grated)
3 Tbsp Amaretto
Cake:
315g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
360g caster sugar
4 Eggs
1 cup of milk (room temperature)
200g butter (soften)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Amaretto
Method:
  1. Soak grated pear in Amaretto. Leave aside.
  2. Preheat the oven at 150degC (for an 8” round tin)
  3. Beat soften butter in the mixer with the caster sugar till the mixture looks smoother and pale.
  4. Add in the eggs one a time, mix till incorporated.
  5. Add in the 1tsp vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp of Amaretto. Mix.
  6. Sieve flour with baking powder.
  7. Add one-thirds of flour into the  mixture, alternate with half of the milk, until everything has been added.
  8. Add in the prepared pear and mix well.
  9. Grease the cake tins, divide the batter among your tins and put it into the oven.
  10. When it’s ready, you’ll be able to press the middle lightly and it will spring back.
  11. Take it out of the oven and let it cool. Resist all temptation to take a bite out of it and burn your tongue.

The Journey

I am a relentless learner. I don’t believe in knowing it all and therefore the part of the journey of life for me is a continuous loop of learning, understanding and improving. When I started this blog, I knew that there would be skills that I would need to pick up like proper food styling and photography. After all, what’s a food blog without beautiful images.

So two months ago, I took an online class with Eva Kosmas Flores to learn how to do food styling and photography better. It was a 4 group classes conducted over the internet using a video conferencing tool and since then, I’ve been trying to practise every weekend a little, if possible. Learning over the internet gave me a gist of what I could do with my camera and also helped me with the thought process of staging a photo. 

I then started to think about what my look would be. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I have found or perfected my look but I know that I wanted it to include flowers, lots of natural light, beautiful cutlery, ceramics/china, linens and textures. So for this blog post, I thought I’d share with you my journey so far.

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26th February 2017: as part of my assignment, Singapore.
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8th March 2017 another assignment piece, Melbourne.
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8th March 2017: capturing steam, Melbourne.
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8th March 2017: Cooked Salmon dish, Melbourne.
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19th March 2017: Vietnamese pork chop, Singapore.
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25th March 2017: Sugee Cake, Singapore.
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25th March 2017: Close up of that Sugee Cake, Singapore.
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9th April 2017: Carrot Cake, Singapore
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16th April 2017: Sticky Hot Cross Bun, Singapore
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1st May 2017: Plum Cake 1st May 2017: Plum and Almond Cake, Singapore

Bringing produce Home: Tokyo Feb ’17

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I’m one of those folks that travel and on the last day of my trip, head to the market or supermarket to pack home fresh produce (think vegetables and fruits), ingredients (like celery salt, sake kasu, poppy seeds,etc) or food (like bread, Higashiya’s dried persimmon, or coffee beans from a small roastery).

There is always something that I find that inspires me during the trip, mostly seasonal produce, flavour pairings and technique. This time round, I brought back from Tokyo: organic carrots, purple potatoes, lotus root, broccoli, a wasabi root, sake kasu (lees left from the production of sake), a 4 year aged soy sauce, yuzu vinegar, strawberries and shichimi (usually made up of 7 spices, 七味, but Daio’s version is made up of 8 spices, the last being wasabi).

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So this post, I’m going to share with you the dinner that I cooked the same day I got home. By the way, I got home at 5am in the morning. The different dishes are: charred broccoli with yuzu salt, Japanese potato salad with goma (white sesame) sauce and fresh wasabi, stir fried renkon (lotus root) with julienne carrots, hijiki and mame, and braised beef karubi (I picked the thinly sliced one because this was cooked after work within an hour, I needed it to cook faster) with daikon (Japanese radish). These were served with Japanese rice, high quality ponzu sauce and a pack of Daio’s wasabi seaweed that we brought back.

Please note that seasoning as mentioned before should always be to taste. I encourage you to taste as you go along and open your senses to the colours, the ingredients that you buy, taste them as well and balance the amount and flavours as you go along. Food has to be a sensory experience.

These are the vegetables that I brought back and are using for this meal as well as the pack of sake kasu.

 

Charred Broccoli 

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This is my husband’s favourite way of eating broccoli. He would actually eat half a head or more on his own.

  1. Break down the broccoli into pieces, remove the outer layer of the stem and slice into thick slices.
  2. Boil a pot of salted water (I usually add around a teaspoon to a litre and a half). Add the broccoli to it and boil it for a min.
  3. Pour the contents of the pot into a strainer and put it into a bowl.
  4. Pour in olive oil, enough to douse the broccoli and sprinkle with yuzu salt to taste ( you can use sea salt and freshly cracked pepper). Then stir to coat the vegetables.
  5. Heat a pan till it becomes very very hot, as hot as you would use to grill a steak.
  6. Spread out the broccoli and grill till that side in contact with the pan becomes charred, then flip it to char another side.
  7. Remove from heat and serve.

 

Japanese Potato Salad

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  1. Wash the potatoes. Don’t be overzealous and damage the skin. The skin helps to keep the starch and flavour in.
  2. Boil a pot of water, salt the water.
  3. Add the potatoes in.
  4. Boil till you can pierce through the potato with little resistance (but not too soft).
  5. Remove the potatoes, put it under running water and cut into chunks.
  6. Drizzle goma dressing on top, give it a little stir and add the freshly grated wasabi on top. At this point, you may also add freshly toasted sesame seeds.
  7. Serve.

 

Braised Beef and Daikon

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This dish is inspired by one of my favourite restaurants in Tokyo, Maru. I asked the chef there how I can use sake kazu and he gave me some tips. This is used together with dashi. When you braise the meat in this, the sake kazu helps to tenderise the meat. These beef pieces were so tender and juicy, and had that light sake flavour. Delicious.

  1. Make a pot of around 2litres of dashi. For days that I need it fast, I would use these packs that look like tea bags of pre packed bonito, seaweed, etc. Again how strong it should be is to taste. You can get them from good reputed Japanese supermarkets.
  2. Keep a small amount of it (like a ladle’s worth) for stir frying the vegetables later.
  3. Add the stock into a small pressure cooker pot, add in sake kasu (to taste) stir till the same kasu breaks down and the stock becomes a little milky. Keep tasting till you get
  4. Then add the daikon that has been cut into big round pieces and the beef karubi (if you decide to use thick rumps or pieces, you’ll just need to adjust the cook time).
  5. Seal the pot with the pressure cooker lid and put it on high for 20mins.
  6. Remove from heat, remove the lid,
  7. Quarter the piece of daikon and place the beef pieces on top and add freshly grated wasabi.
  8. Serve.

 

Japanese Stir Fried Vegetables

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  1. Use a mandoline slicer to thinly slice the renkon (lotus root).
  2. Julienne the carrot, pour hot water over the dry hijiki, in a separate cup, and strain out the water.
  3. Pour hot water over frozen edamame or boil fresh edamame in slightly salted water. Remove the mame (beans) from the pods.
  4. Chop a clove of garlic. Grate half a teaspoon of ginger.
  5. Heat a pan, add in a tablespoon of sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Then add in renkon, carrots, hijiki, quarter a cup of dashi, and the last just before serving, the mame.
  6. Serve. Sometimes I’ll add freshly toasted sesame seeds as well.

Will Travel for Food.

Some people travel to shop, to be seen, to be part of that enviable life (especially so these days with social media and how it preys on the minds of the young and impressionable). I, on the other hand, travel because there is a whole world out there that I want to explore, lots of things to experience and food to eat and learn about.

I am one of those folks that will travel for food. In fact when I figure where to go, the next thing I do, is to bookmark places I want to go eat at. I have decided a long time ago that even though I’ve eaten well and at many different places, it doesn’t give me the right to openly critique (esp on social media) someone else’s (up to) months of hard work to create a dish just because I’ve taken 5-10 mins to eat it, I paid for it and I (not forgetting that it is a personal opinion) do not like it. Negativity never made anyone better people. Instead, I prefer to be inspired and write about what inspired me and how I can bring that experience home with me and reconstruct flavours or improve my cooking.

We were in Hakuba, Nagano, Japan and now we are in Tokyo. What I love about Japan is that they have some of the best homegrown produce. They take so much pride in what they do that it shows in the quality of the crops they grow, their chefs also respect their produce and they bring out the best in what they cook. So thought I’d share some of my favourite food/food related places to date (the last 5 days) from this trip. More to come.

Daio Wasabi Farm

The wasabi you eat probably isn’t wasabi. Watch this video!

Daio Wasabi Farm has been around since 1915. It is one of the biggest farms in Japan and the biggest wasabi farm. Wasabi has been dubbed as the hardest plant to farm because it needs clean spring water between 13 degC to 18degC, a certain amount of sunlight and it takes 18 months for it to be ready for harvest. That’s also why most of the wasabi you eat isn’t real. We got to visit the farm. It’s amazing how they are grown with spring water flowing through rows and rows of them. Earlier in the day, we made a stop at a small batch coffee roaster at Azumino. She told us that at Azumino, you can actually find wild wasabi by the river. Azumino is famous for their fresh air and water. That lady we met even gave us each a cup of water to taste it. It is crisp and clean tasting, and refreshing to drink. Sounds cliche i know but having drunk a fair bit of water from pretty much everywhere I go, this was pretty special. Special enough for them to brew an award winning beer with its water at their own micro-brewery.

In the above photo, one of them is their wasabi lemonade drink. They froze wasabi as an ice cube and added that to the lemonade. You can try that at home but you need to use fresh wasabi not the artificial one because the fresh one isn’t as sharp and has a “sweet” flavour. That’s a wasabi leaf oyaki. The buns are filled with stir fried wasabi leaves. To get close to that flavour if you haven’t access to it, is to use arugula leaves but it won’t have that same sweetness or texture.

Kawakami An at Karuizawa

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They had the biggest prawn tempura we have ever seen The prawn is longer than my hand. What I liked about it is that the batter is very crisp and the texture of their soba was still firm.

Tips:

When frying tempura, always use a thermometer to make sure that your oil is maintained at 170 degC to 180 degC. Use a cast iron pot to keep the oil in check. I also always make the batter with ice cold water. That tip was from my father who told me that makes the batter light. As for the noodles, follow the prescribed time to cook them and use a timer. To test, take a strand out and put it under running water then taste. If it is ok, then pour it out into a sieve and add in ice cubes and run it through running water. This stops it from cooking further and gives it the firm texture.

Yamawarau

For the folks that know me, it is no surprise that I absolutely love eating shabu shabu. The quality of the meat and vegetables matter here because of the simplicity of the dish. This establishment has done it right. Everyone has an individual hotpot. Their yonezawa buta (pork) is so tender and flavourful. Their beef is from a famous farm, Taketori Farm in Miyagi prefecture. We had their special sirloin and it lived up to its name.

Tips:

Always buy good and fresh quality meat. For beef, there is no need to buy one with a high fat content for shabu shabu. In my opinion, the grade of the meat matters more than the marbling.

So meat is graded from A to C, A being above standard, B is the standard and C is below standard. Then there is a number from 1-5 next to it 1 being the poorest and 5 the highest. The grade depends on the colour and brightness, the firmness and texture and lastly the colour, luster and quality of fat. So for example, you know that you’ve gotten a very good piece of meat if it is A5 (which is rare).

Then there is the BMS (Beef Marbling Standard) that ranges from 1-12. My preference is anything between a 5-9 which is already expensive enough and not too oily. However for shabu shabu a BMS of 5 or 6 is more than enough if you decide to splurge.

Vegetables wise, no hard and fast rules as long as they are fresh.

Test Kitchen: Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake.

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This is a cake recipe that is created by me. It was my excuse to try out a “cocktail” and also use the poppy seeds that I bought from Perth. However, this was an impulsive decision to bake at 2am. So I’m going to tell you how to bake on a whim.

Objective:

  • Use the poppy seeds.
  • To get a beautiful soft, moist crumb that wouldn’t fall apart when cutting.(softer than a pound cake but firmer than a full buttermilk based cake).
  • Light lemon flavoured cake without it being tart.
  • Develop a beautiful line on top of the loaf instead of a “ripped” look.

 

In order to bake on a whim, your eggs must be at room temperature. For the milk/butermilk you can warm it using a milk pan over a low flame till it’s just warm to touch. As for the butter, you can put it in a ziplock bag and hit it with a rolling pin till it becomes flatter and softer.

By the way, I really do enjoy test kitchen experiments. I learn so much more being creative, making mistakes, troubleshooting and pushing myself. I think you should take courage too, to obssess a little, be curious and try. Hope that you enjoy baking this cake recipe  as much as I enjoyed formulating it.

 

Lemon and Poppy seed Loaf Cake

2 Loaf Tins (8″ X 4″)

Oven Setting: 150degC, Fan Forced.

Ingredients:

200g Soften Unsalted Butter (plus extra for the butter line)

360g White Caster Sugar

310g All Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Buttermilk

1/4 cup Mascarpone Cheese

1/4 cup Full Cream

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 lemon

4 Eggs

2 Tbsp Poppy Seeds

 

Method:

  1. Whisk or Sift both flour and baking soda together.
  2. Beat soften butter together with the zest of 1 lemon and caster sugar till it is pale and light.
  3. Add in eggs one by one, beating in between and scraping the sides of the mixing bowl.
  4. Add in vanilla extract, juice of 1 lemon and beat till incorporated.
  5. Mix in a measuring cup, buttermilk, full cream and mascarpone.
  6. Alternately add 1/3 of the flour mixture, 1/2 cup of the mascarpone/full cream and buttermilk mixture, repeat till you have added all in.
  7. Fold in the poppy seeds.
  8. Put it into 2 greased and floured loaf tins.
  9. Add soften butter into a piping bag or ziplock bag and pipe a thin butter line on the batter’s centre.
  10. Bake.

 

From Garden to Table.

 

It’s been almost two years since I embarked on this journey of (what initially was) having my own herb garden so that I wouldn’t have to buy big packets of herbs to just use a few sprigs. The eventual goal was not to buy any more of the commonly used herbs. What really started me off was a little dill plant that my dear friend gave me. Before that, I killed a lot of plants. Those supermarket herbs in pots were supposed to be able to grow well when repotted. It didn’t seem to happen that way for me at all. However, that dill (weed) grew rather easily and fast. It gave me the confidence booster that I needed to try again.

Soon I was onto hydroponics (growing mint and basil. That grew very well and effortlessly until the mint became much bigger and then the styrofoam box couldn’t hold the weight of the tall growing plants. So I went off to Ikea to buy some terracotta pots. I repotted those and they grew very well. I gradually added plants from Far East Flora to my collection like curry leaf, lime, pandan (screw pine), peppermint, rosemary and sage.

During my trip to New York, I chanced upon a fantastic collection of seeds from Botanical Interests. Their lovely packaging enticed me to buying quite a few packs to try and grow them. Besides those seeds, I brought home organic lemons from Whole Foods. Those lemons were deseeded and planted. Out of these, I successfully grew broccoli, blue lake beans, golden zucchini, a basil mix and the lemon. I’ve harvested the broccoli leaves and stir fried them. They taste like kale or chinese broccoli (which are both from the same family from it).

I also took a small piece of Japanese sweet potato that had sprouted and grew that. To my surprise, it took only 4 months before I was able to enjoy Japanese sweet potatoes. Usually to be able to store sweet potatoes and develop their sweetness, they are cured. The process involves drying the sweet potatoes on the surface of the soil for a day, then transferring them into a box and letting them sit for 8 days to 2 weeks. What this does is it breaks down the starch in the sweet potato into simple sugar. In this case, we wanted to taste it fresh so in this picture, this sweet potato was steamed the next day. Uncured sweet potato tastes not as sweet and more starchy.

What is the most special to me in my garden has to be the plants that were cuttings or plants swapped from someone else’s garden. I have a roma tomato plant from my best friend, a fig tree from my dearest uncle and of course that dill. I’m looking forward to using the fig leaves to braise, smoke, steam or grill meat in.

Growing some of your own produce helps you to understand food better from an end to end perspective. I’ve learned just from my garden, how all the elements that we take for granted affects the flavour (and growth) of my produce, how watering also affects it. In my also strange sideward glance perspective, I feel more connected to the environment, and every time I eat something, I have so much reverence for the farmer. The arduous toil to force a living from the land. I feel compelled to eat everything and leave nothing to waste because I think that will be the best way to show my gratitude. I think also harder about the fresh produce I buy, I rather pay more for a smaller quantity because that’s what I really need and I rather buy better quality meat, fruits and vegetables.

Eating mass farmed produce, simply does not taste the same. It lacks flavour because most of them are harvested before they are allowed to ripen on the tree/vine. That’s why if you can get the fresh produce from farm to table as soon as you can (besides the exception of root vegetables like potatoes, onions or garlic that need to be cured to improve the flavour), they will taste the best. Tomatoes for example lose their flavour gradually after they have been off the vine even though they might still continue to turn red. My best memory of some of the best fruits I’ve eaten were when I was studying in Melbourne. Strawberries plucked fresh from the farm, or when a speciality fruit grocer had first picking of the harvest season fruits (I hear some of these are even auctioned off), these were the best tasting fruits. It was amazing, nothing came close. I remembered eating them and thinking how fortunate I was and how inspired I was to want to cook a good dish out of them.

 

Measuring Success.

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I’ve always wondered about measuring my ingredients especially when it comes to cooking savoury food. When you read many recipes, for example: it calls for a carrot, but they never ever tell you how big or small that carrot is. So the question is, does it matter?

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In my opinion, for savoury food, it’s open to your judgement of how much of the different ingredients you want to add in (provided you are not doing molecular gastronomy). The acceptable range is pretty wide. It really is to taste because like I mentioned in a previous post, what you taste may not be the same as what someone else tastes. However, when they tell you to add a dash of vinegar, is there a quantifiable amount? A dash is around 1/16 of a teaspoon, and a pinch is what you can pick up with the first 3 fingers. For savoury, I believe in practising restrain. Just because you may like a certain ingredient, doesn’t mean you should be heavy handed with it. Also the rule of the thumb is to taste taste taste. Try to season as you go, why? If you season only at the end, you get only the salt on top of the dish. What you want is the flavour to be infused in the entire dish.

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For sweets on the other hand, precision is very important. There is also that little problem of the weather. For pastry, bread and cookies/biscuits, you need to know what sort of texture you need to get to because most recipes are tried and tested in dry countries. Did you know that flour and sugar absorbs humidity? So if you were to measure flour in a cup, you will realise that on days that are more humid, for the same cup of flour, you’re actually getting less flour in terms of amount.  What I would recommend you to do is to always weigh out what the equivalent is. For example, one cup of flour is around 230g (for me) Go through the exercise of measuring out in weight 1 cup of all the different ingredients (plain flour, self-raising, white caster sugar, brown sugar, etc) in your environment. For eggs, the standard size I use is 55g. Importantly, look at your batter, bread or cookie dough’s texture, and adjust it if it is too wet/dry. You may not know what optimum should look like at the first try but after doing this often enough, you will know for sure what it should be. And if all else fails, google for a photo of what someone else’s looks like and compare.

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The last thing which is really important is temperature. When I get a new oven, I love baking cookies in it. I do that to figure out where the hot spots in my oven are. If you just want to go through this exercise without wasting your good cookie dough, buy the frozen one and follow the instructions very carefully because those are very vigorously tested and if you were to follow the instructions, you should get the same cookies every time. I also use an oven thermometer to understand my oven. Sometimes it doesn’t always read the same temperature inside as what you are trying to calibrate it to be. Also when deep drying, use a candy/deep frying thermometer to make sure that the oil temperature is between 170 degC and 180degC.

I know that these things are common sense to some and it also takes experience to tell if your measurements are good for the recipe, but enjoy the experience. Keep going, and keep tweaking as you go. It’s all part of the learning process.