Thom & Aimee

Two Hobbits. The Kitchen. The Garden. And trouble ensues.

Tag: banana

An Obsession for Toast

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As children, we woke up to fuss-free breakfasts – sandwiches or sugary cereal on school mornings and McDonald’s, char kway teow or prata for the weekends. When I mention sandwiches, I speak of the crappy white sliced varietal that we would slap with peanut butter, jams, tuna mayonnaise, or a slice of Kraft cheese. You could say breakfast was not really given much thought, it was just a meal to start the day. (Unless it involved dim sum, now that’s a breakfast we both can die for.)

There was never a time that we were not under the care of a house helper. If we were hungry, she would whip up a bowl of instant noodles or take a trip to the mama shop for some crisps. Basically, we grew up on a diet of processed junk food. But there were times our Dad would get a little creative and request for the helper to cook up something different. I remember it so clearly still, because when Dad liked a certain dish, we would have it for days.

Our crappy white bread slice was soaked into beaten egg and fried in sunflower oil. We didn’t go to McDonald’s that week but I’m sure my Dad’s attempt in a french toast made up for the same amount of calories. The end result was an heavily eggy toast served alongside sugar or butter. Sometimes, when I crave for a little nostalgia now, I get them at our local coffee houses with a generous heap of kaya (coconut jam).

The french toast of our childhood might not pass any taste tests but it was a little bit of innocence from a time when our only worry was missing Power Rangers on TV. There’s a special place for this fried eggy bread in our hearts.

With the onslaught of brunch-centric cafes that popped up on this island in the past years, the real McCoy made an entrance with flamboyance and pompadour. Le Pain Perdu with American brashness that gave birth to thick toast slices bathed in egg custard, topped with exotic fruits, designer ice cream, unique sauces, bacon and cream. (Although I must say that the Eggs Benedict has overshadowed it a little.) It might not be the familiar eggy bread that I know but oh, I welcome thee with open arms.

As I slowly ate my way through a myriad of french toasts offered, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from every dish I sampled from. The bread was too crumbly or too limp, the egg custard didn’t come through, the focus of the toast was dethroned by its toppings, etc. Well, I guess if nothing could satisfy, it’s back to the kitchen to whip up our own.

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A snowball started rolling, I began to soak up information as would a pain perdu. A french toast, in essence, is simply just bread soaked in egg custard and then fried. But it’s the simplest dishes that command the most attention for quality of ingredients and technique. Using what I’ve read across thousands of books and websites (I exaggerate), these are the eight commandments of making french toasts.

  • Use good quality but dry, stale brioche or challah
  • The bread must be sliced to the thickness of an inch
  • Ingredients should be at room temperature
  • The egg mixture would be a ratio of 1 egg to 150ml of whole milk
  • You can flavour the custard with vanilla, spices, zest, salt, sugar or even alcohol
  • Soak the bread for approximately a minute on each side until saturated
  • Use clarified butter or ghee to fry the bread
  • This is optional: use a cast iron pan so that heat is evenly distributed

One thing I love most about toasts in general is the freedom of creativity. You can throw any toppings on top of it; savoury, sweet, flavoured egg custards, stuffed. The sky’s the limit. In fact, I was so obsessed that I came up with a long list of flavour combinations. We decided to only do four versions before Ned kills me or I die from french toast overdose.

All four toasts are stuffed; two are savoury and the other of the sweet variety. We made tons of brioche loaves for this very purpose (what sort of idiots make batches of bread to make toasts and puddings? Us?). Then, just for the fun of it, we invited friends over for a Toast for Brunch party. Behold, the four toasts:

  • French Toast stuffed with Ricotta & Baby Portobello Mushrooms, and topped with Prosciutto Ham, Tomato Chutney and Poached Egg
  • French Toast stuffed with Avocado & Cream Cheese, and topped with Smoked Salmon, Hollandaise Sauce and Poached Egg
  • French Toast stuffed with Passion Fruit curd, and topped with Grilled Lemongrass-spiked Mango, Lime Caramel Sauce, Coconut Ice Cream and Chocolate Biscotti Crumbs
  • French Toast stuffed with Kalamansi Curd, and topped with Flambé Banana, Dark Chocolate Sauce, Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Speculoos Crumble

Just reading them is a mouthful. Haven’t we made things complicated? Shouldn’t brunch be a fuss-free affair? Trust us, these babies actually cured my cravings for French Toasts. It might be a lot of work but I did say it was a party. If Ned served it naked with a slosh of maple syrup and berries, I would have gladly devoured it too. But we are always looking for excuses to test flavour combinations. Plus, we had guinea pigs.

It might not be the toast we remembered eating, but damn, this was a new memory to keep for years now.

The Novice Cook: Apples, Pears and Bananas

At this rate, I’m supposed to be highly proficient around the kitchen and basic cooking methods should not faze me. But every single time, I surprise myself at my continued lack of skills and confidence. (In fact, I cooked myself dinner last night. And being alone, I decided on a poor man’s meal of eggs, soy sauce, leftover rice and beetroot. I managed to not cook the eggs properly.)

When Ned finds me rummaging through her sacred grounds, she would stand at the door and ask if I needed any supervision or guidance of sorts before she leaves the house. That’s how much of a dunce I am in the area of culinary arts. Each dish I have cooked was a battle fought – some with crushing defeat and some conquered with pride. Most times, I seek assistance from my parents who willingly help. They rather dirty their hands than me with the kitchen. And this time, Mom had to help me core the fruits because I’ve never done it before – using a knife felt a little daunting then.

Watching my mother skilfully remove the seeds from the fruits, it made me wonder why was there even fear in the first place. Was that what’s stopping people from entering the kitchen? As celebrity chefs show off their impressive chopping moves on television, we are slowly stepping away from actual cooking and relying on microwave meals. I do admit that watching my late mama whipping dinner up was awe-inspiring and yet, also intimidating. In my eyes, cooking was left for those who knew and understood it. With the lack of hands-on experience, cooking slowly became detached from my life. I don’t even know how to use a rice cooker.

That’s slowly changing though. Step by step, I’m learning the basics whether by watching others or plainly experimenting it on my own. I do prefer cooking alone – it pushes me to act on my feet using my own resources and not relying on others. Unfortunately, I had way too much help with this simple recipe from the cutting of the fruits to the toasting of the walnuts. Sure, I did them myself but they were executed under observation. It was like taking a Home Economics exam.

As I watched the fruits caramelise in the oven, peace and calmness settled in. The familiar therapeutic feeling I often get from cooking alone returned. Although my foray into cooking will be a never-ending challenge, but it was one I gladly took. After all, in return, I get to eat fantastic dishes such as this dessert (the baked bananas were sublime and the crunchy walnuts against the soft fruits was a great balance of textures). Nothing really beats cooking with your very own hands.

The recipe can be found here.

Hot Banana Soufflé

When I served ‘S’, our little sister, one of the soufflés (there’s four of us at home by the way – N, S, me and our eldest brother), she just exclaimed, “Soufflé Girl!” Yes, I would do anything to add a Doctor Who reference into one of our posts. While N could be impersonating a soufflé-making Dalek, these magical puffs were nothing like those that turned out in the sci-fi show (they were burnt, in case you didn’t know).

Soufflés are odd desserts. They are like cakes, but are too soft to be actually feel like you’re eating one. It’s almost like eating clouds; they are just so light and fluffy. Watching them rise up from their little cups was giggles-inducing. S would not believe me when I told her that they were not created with modern technology. In fact, it goes all the way back to the 18th century in France. She would then reply in question, “But… how…” Well, I could not answer her after that. If only The Doctor could bring us back to investigate. Maybe it was even The Doctor himself who invented it. He made the Yorkshire Pudding after all.

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Black Banana Cake

When we were kids, there was a collection of Sesame Street Big Books filled with wonderful stories that still hold a place in our hearts now. But there was one story that always got us salivating – Big Bird making his special Banana Cake. I vividly remember the illustrations of Big Bird whipping up that beautiful yellow batter. Against his equally yellow feathers, I could only imagine what a banana cake tastes like.

Making this banana cake was a hark back to our childhood that was always filled with sunshine and fun times. It was like flipping back those pages and reading about how Cookie Monster was trying to bake the largest cookie he could eat. Now that’s another story to inspire us in the future.

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Issue 04: Banana

I don’t have fond memories of bananas and the reasons are plenty.

My nightmares about the yellow fruit came about mostly because I was fed medicine ‘enhanced’ with its flavour as a child. I was born into intensive care because my Mom’s cravings for bananas during pregnancy caused excessive phlegm in my tiny throat. She (who seems to be the perpetrator for my banana hate) would always push a soft banana into my gummy little hands for a snack, and peeling it to find the occasional black mushy spot puts me off.

Plus, many ghost stories at school always involve a banana tree some way or another. Even the name BA-NA-NA sounds ridiculous. But the worst would be my five-year-old self dreaming about the infamous Bananas in Pyjamas chasing me down the stairs with the intent of murder. Simply put, I hated them to the very stalks of their heads.

The strange thing is I still eat bananas regularly, perhaps with the unconscious possibility of taking revenge. There’s always a bunch of them sitting on the kitchen table, and now Dad takes over the giving-away-of-bananas job. Every morning, a strange oblong thing sits beside my homemade sandwich and it will do its duty by stinking up my bag on the journey to work. Rarely but surely, I do crave for banana cake for tea at times.

It must be odd to devote a month to one’s most detestable foods. But its difficult to run away from them, they are inexpensive and are in abundance in the tropics. Bananas might not be prevalent in Chinese cuisine, but it is often found in Malay and Indian cooking (for this I’m glad I live in Singapore). The humble goreng pisang – fried banana fritters is a very good example of banana cooked. However, we usually eat them raw most of the times so we were intrigued by the thought of incorporating it into desserts.

There is a wide variety of bananas available in the market. The most common one would be the Cavendish, often referred to as the official dessert bananas, are longish and medium in size. They are usually sold green, but almost-ripe pale yellow ones are also available. Keep them in room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight. When the ugly brown spots appear, that is when the bananas are getting very ripe. The pigmentations will slowly close in together to form into a perfectly brown overripe banana. Usually I would throw them away when this happens, but to avoid wastage, overripe bananas can be used in cakes and ice cream. To prevent sliced bananas from browning, use fresh lemon juice or acidulated water.

The fruit is versatile; it can be used in mousses, fools, pies, muffins and breads. Pair it with rum, coconut milk, orange, cardamom, toffee, vanilla or chocolate to bring the dish different layers of textures. Our crêpes dish featured caramelised bananas and a good scattering of orange zest, it was a delight on the palate. Even a banana daiquiri can bring you to the beautiful beaches of Bali or the Caribbean. As The Doctor said, bananas are a good source of potassium and that they should always be brought to a party.

French Crêpes with Caramelised Bananas

The Chinese New Year holidays has messed up the time for me. Saturday felt like a dreaded Sunday, and today feels like a late Friday hangover. Its not alcohol that’s affecting my thoughts, instead the usually harmless caffeine has finally decided to work its wondrous magic last night. I barely slept a wink.

Last week, N made some scrumptious crêpes for breakfast. Waking up to a plate of freshly made crêpes on a weekend is the best feeling in the world. These French pancakes are very versatile. One can serve it alongside any fruits that are in season, and eat them with caster sugar and lemon (which we love) or a dollop of creme fraiche. Alternatively, make it a dessert and drizzle chocolate or caramel all over, or even turn the dish into the famous Crêpe Suzette. They are terribly simple to make and can be served for breakfast, afternoon tea or a indulgent supper.

Serve it with fresh milk, black coffee or dessert wine befitting the meal.

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