Monday, October 29, 2007

Good old campagnard food.

ooh, the joys of living on a student budget.

it forces you to start getting creative and maximize the most out of what you've got. you start focusing on what you really need and cut out any excesses.

being frugal is not all bad however, and does come with a small handful of benefits. really! LOL

for example, i'm walking instead of taking the bus and appreciating the health benefits of it (as well as doing my part in reducing my carbon footprint). since you're slowed down quite a bit (as opposed to taking the bus), you start to appreciate distances and notice things in detail.

and of course, i've cooking more frequently at home, which means saving money on processed junk and incorporating fresher foods and nutrients into my diet. in the process of exploring different cuisines, you also undoubtedly get exposed to a whole new variety of fruits, veggies, spices and meats.

such as the artichoke (artichaut).

i feel almost ashamed to say that i've never tried eating fresh artichokes before. i've tried artichoke hearts preserved and seasoned in herbed vinegar, but never fresh ones. each time i pass by the bulbuous flower, the only thing that crosses my mind is "hmm, that might look pretty in a vase.", and without a second thought, move on to my usual legumes, leafies and capsicums.
have i been missing out! i feel like everyone has already been clued in to this tasty treat and i'm the only one who left in the dark. doh! *smacks head*

moving on with the whinging - i had so much fun with this!!! pulling it floret by floret, dunking it in a bit of vinegrette and using my teeth to scrape each fleshy little leaf clean - it added a whole new dimension to eating. and wait til you get to the heart of the artichoke - oh how do you say it - je ne sais quoi? all i can say is i've found a new love. like a BIG BIG love. :D

and to put my tastebuds in a state of total reverence, we had it with pan-fried boudin or black pudding, better described as a pork blood sausage. it's not very pretty (hence the monotone photo), but dont judge the poor sausage yet. trust me, i can eat this EVERY week and not get sick of it. this particular black pudding was seasoned with oatmeal and spices. if you haven't yet tried it, run, dont walk, to your butcher or specialty store; i got mine from david jones.
wheee! 500m race coming up this sunday. been training hard and i'm raring to go!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gingembre, mon amour :)

holy cow, i am officially an old woman.

i went to bed before 10 last night and woke up at - get this : 540 am in the morning. okay so i read somewhere that our bodies are programmed to wake up the moment light hits our eyes, but this early? and this is taking into consideration that i pop out of bed automatically at 7 every morning (yes even on the weekends)...simply cos i'm so used to it.

so what do u do when you wake up this early and your body simply refuses to sink back into sweet slumber? you think, hmm, let's whip up something nice for my little truffle before we head off for our own activities for the day.

erm. sounds really sweet, except this sounds like what my grandma would do. LOL. the lovely woman would wake up at ungodly hours-whose-numbers-we-shall-not-mention, go through her morning ritual of joss stick offerings, and we would be gently roused from our sleep, in the midst of fragrant sandalwood, by the occasional sound of pots clanging as she went about wordlesslly preparing a smogasbord of delectables for the day. talk about silent efficiency...have i got a thing or two to learn from her...

i was initially planning to make vanilla custard cream puffs as i was missing Beard Papa, but a sudden craving for ginger overtook me instead. and almost on cue, gingerbread sprang to mind instantaneously. oh yes, gingerbread. the first and only time i've ever made it was in high school during home economics, and the wretched thing sank right in the centre as it's so dense. back then i didnt appreciate the flavour of the peppery root as much, so i shrugged it off and never looked back at it again. of course over the years, my taste has pretty much evolved and it's learnt to love all things ginger, and i found myself thinking of the sticky, sweet cake as it danced circles in my head. coincidentally, i found out that Truffe loves gingerbread too, so i didnt have t think further.

so there i was, 540 am in the kitchen, a pipping hot black coffee as my sole accompaniment, pausing for a moment as i gathered a mental picture of what i needed to do. as i chopped and mixed, i found myself appreciating the benefits of working early. your mind is focused and free of distractions, you have the kitchen space all to yourself, and there are no nosey parkers looking over your shoulder and asking what you're doing. i seriously hate having to always explain what i'm doing. everything went rather smoothly, save the odd moment when his housemate's friend walked into the kitchen on his way to the loo and there i was, whisking vigorously as if my life depended on it. he looked at me, stumped, probably trying to register what was going on, mumbled "hi...", then scurried away. um, whatever.

for this recipe (taken from Epicurious), i decided to use freshly grated ginger in place of ginger powder to give it an extra oomph, and substituted boiling water for tea instead (don't gingernut biscuits complement tea so perfectly?). popped the cake into the oven and waited expectantly. but i had nothing to worry about, if the inviting, spicy scent permeating the air was anything to go by. the cake had cracked nicely at the top and taken on a robust caramel hue. it was incredibly moist, and the crystallized pieces of ginger added little bursts of flavour on your tongue. served with a dollop of thick natural yoghurt, it certainly went down very nicely...and a bit too quickly too. LOL. and the goodness doesnt end here. allow the gingerbread to cool for a couple of hours for an even yummier, stickier and chewier version. i enjoyed it immensely, as did Truffe. this is a definite winner and i'll gladly make it again :)

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 1/4 teaspoon five spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 cup boiling tea
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square metal baking pan. Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend well; whisk in crystallized ginger. Whisk oil, golden syrup, and brown sugar in large bowl to blend; whisk in egg and lemon peel. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients, then boiling water. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool completely; cover and store at room temperature. Serve warm or at room temperature with natural, thick yoghurt if desired.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nolita No Anorexia Ad

Eeks. Read more about this controversial ad by Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A healthy kickstart to summer!

Right. Now that summer's rolling around and race season's round the corner, it's probably a good time to start making the transition from my usual sugary treats to more healthy, waist & heart-friendly options. For someone with a serious sweet tooth such as myself, flipping through the numerous recipes in search of healthy baked goods was pure torture. Cherry tarts, crimson red and luscious, seductively dark chocolate gateaux and creamy lemony cheesecakes seemed to leap right out of the pages screaming "Pick me pick me!!!". I needed way more than a foodie-equivalent of a crucifix to fend off all these sinful sights that made me weak in the knees. Still, I wasn't about to be pushed around by these little desserts. Nah, not me. So I anchored myself in front of my laptop, salivating (but still very much in control) and sifted through recipe after recipe.

Just as I was about to throw in the towel and give in to making a deliciously looking guiness-chocolate cake, one last recipe caught my eye: Baked bran muffins from 101 cookbooks. Wholesome? Check. Like museli/bran? Love it! Check. (I have museli practically every weekday morning) Allows me to incorporate the Leatherwood honey I bought? Check. Parfait! :)

Happily, I penned the recipe and trotted my way down to the little supermarket down the road which stocks plenty of specialty foodstuffs. This is my first time cooking with organic ingredients such as whole wheat flour since they are usually quite expensive to fit into my student budget, so I was pretty excited to see how they'll turn out. They certainly didn't disappoint. The floral notes in the honey stood out brilliantly and I couldnt help congratulating myself silently for the excellent choice as the scents wafted up from the muffin batter. I folded in sunflower seeds as well for a little added crunch - I love having different textures in a bite.

There's only one problem - I kind of made too much, and these dont keep very well unless you have an airtight container (which incidentally, i dont). So the next thing to do was to experiment ways to finish these, and it's funny how inventive you can suddenly get. Ate them deliciously warm straight out of the oven, slathered with a bit of salted butter, paired with a little teaspoon of yoghurt, a teeny knob of honey... I even dunked them in milk this morning with a handful of sultanas and sunflower seeds thrown in and ate them as I would normally eat museli. Yum. Hope you'll like them!

Baby Bran Muffins (slightly adapted from 101 cookbooks)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups oat bran (or any kind of bran you like - personally I cant tell the difference)
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups natural yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey (i would add a bit more as i love my muffins a bit more moist)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup of add-ins of your choice - raisins, chopped dried fruit, nuts, etc (optional)

Preheat oven to 425F degrees, racks in the middle.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, bran, salt, baking soda and sugar.
Beat together the yogurt, egg, honey, and butter in a second larger bowl. Add the dry ingredients and fold in until everything comes together. Fold in any optional add-ins, raisins, nuts, and the like. Resist overmixing.
Either grease a mini-muffin tin with butter or line the tin with small muffin papers. Fill each 3/4 full. Bake 10 -15 minutes, until muffins are golden on top and cooked through. You can also make larger muffins in a standard size muffin pan with this batter, you just need to bake them about 5 minutes longer.
Makes about two dozen tiny bran muffins or one dozen larger ones.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Food Growers Market

The Food Growers Market is well, a market that opens on the first Saturday of every month. Been hearing so much about it, so when the opportunity came, I simply couldn't pass it up! The market is open only from 7-11am, and boy did it take a will of steel to say no to dinner and drinks with the girls to make sure that I get my 40 winks.

Met up with Ash, Chris, Tom and Tony at around 9ish. It was pretty crowded; a couple of stalls have actually finished and were packing up, though there were still plenty of stalls open, their arrays of local specialities beckoning ever so enticingly. We certainly wasted no time - we picked, dipped and doused our way systematically through cheeses, olive oils, name it. I particularly loved the olive oil stands with their selections of golden liquids, all subtly infused with some flavour or another. The cheese stands disappointed me somewhat, and I blame France for that, having spoilt me silly with their amazing range of fromages, especially the artisanal ones. Gosh how my toes tingle at the mere thought of the brebis I had in the Pyrenees market at Bagneres du Bigore. Parting is such sweet sorrow..sighs.

I ended up buying only a couple of things after having browsed the stores twice. One was a rather good-sized museli cookie - i've got a weakness for knobbly chewy cookies and simply couldnt walk past this one. It was filled with all sorts of dried fruits, oats and nuts and tasted as good as it looked. Passed Tom a quarter of the cookie, had a quarter myself and kept the rest for later (which i happily devoured for lunch). As the weather was so hot, some ice-cream was in order. Or better still, an ice-cream sandwich. I had a vanilla bean ice cream sandwiched between 2 crunchy almond sugar lace cookies (see how the biscuit looks like lace). The coldness of the ice cream was gratifying due to the heat, but the taste wasn't mind-blowing (this time I blame the Basque Country...the cones of frozen delights were cheap too!)

My last purchase at the market was this little jar of fragrant Leatherwood honey, which is a Tasmanian specialty. It tasted so good that I had to stop myself from buying three jars (there was an offer if you buy three). The honey tastes like it's been infused with nectar lovingly handpicked from the choicest flowers by the bees. Probably an exaggeration, but then again, probably not. You gotta taste it yourself to believe it. I got to find a recipe that'll do this honey justice...also can't wait to try it with my favourite cuppa warm frothy milk...or slathered on pancakes.. Mmmmm..

Gonna try my hand at curry puffs tonight. J'adore les weekends!! ;D

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

East meets West.

Back from the Labour Day long weekend. First thing that pops up in my mailbox was the much anticipated "Congratulations, you've just been accepted into the so-and-so conference." Woohoo!
Then the bomb was dropped.

"Session : 31st January 2:20-2:40pm". Merde.

My sis' wedding is slotted on the 2nd feb, and that leaves me exactly 2 days to fly my pantak back to sweet, sweet singapore. Looks like it might very well turn out to be an airplane-to-the-church scenario. rargh! Well, it's my baby sis' wedding and there's no way in hell i'm missing it! Even if that means jetlagging and falling asleep face first into my bowl of shark fin soup (OK my sis loves her animals so make that veggie soup or something) at the wedding dinner. Which suits me just fine - probably a great way to avoid the all too predictable questions like "When's your turn HAR? You not velly young oredi leh!!!". Or worse, the guilt trip. "Ah ma so old oredi, when your turn har? I want to see you 'deng deng deng dengg!"


Anyway, wait til I drop the bomb on them. I can already see the colour drain from their faces if i tell them i'm dating an ang moh. *chuckle* Or lagi best, my possible plans to make the move to froggy land if i have to. I feel so relieved to have met and made friends like Sei who was in my predicament at one stage. Speaking to her really put me at ease somewhat. Which reminds me, I want to package some products from Australie for them and for his precious little nieces too. Gosh I do miss everyone back in Bretagne and Paris. Also been corresponding with his grandma via email and trying my best to write in French...I do hope she knows what I'm getting on about..heehee. Well, you can't fault me for trying! ;)

Living overseas can be a trifle disconcerting sometimes. Sydney feels more like my home now than Singapore, and the prospect of possibly living in France actually does thrill me a bit. That's not to say that a part of me refuses to rule out the fact that I'll go home. When I do make my yearly trips back home, it's the simple things like sitting in my living room in that little wood-and-leather chair by the phone and listening to the sounds of the water trickling into the koi pond that instills a sense of calm like no other. I can't find that anywhere else and that's probably what makes me hang on so tightly and makes me feel a tad displaced when I'm overseas.

All these nostalgia put me in the mood for something simple and homely. Since there was a batch of lovely fatty pork at home, I decided some five-spice stewed pork would be the order of the day. Stopped by the supermarket to pick up some fresh corriander which was to serve as an accompaniment for the pork. Softened some leeks in boiling water as well which was generously drizzled in a bit of red-wine vinegrette that I whipped up. Since there was no mantou, we enjoyed the lipid-dy goodness rolled up in flour tortillas with sprigs of corriander. MMmm. There's nothing like the zesty crunch of corriander between your teeth to set your senses aflame. Talk about east meets west! Hee hee!

Gonna catch up on my reading now... tutoring tomorrow again. Sighs. Anyway no complaints - that's what's putting food in my mouth! LOL. And oh yes, it's GOOD FOOD MONTH! Can't wait to check out what's going on in all the restos. Ciaos!