Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: breakfast

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.

Buckwheat Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Sour Cream, Dill and Caviar

We are back, guys. Not that we were missed (if you did, let us hug you), but we are finally back in the kitchen and hopefully, staying for longer. There was about a year of hiatus and nothing really stirred in our kitchen. I guess life just got really hectic. In the past year, Ned’s switched bakeries, we travelled, and well, both our schedules just didn’t fit despite living in the same house. Sometimes, we barely even have time to sit down to catch up on each other’s lives.

At times, it just takes a little ingredient to start the ball rolling. In our case, our brother came home with tiny tubs of opulent black pearls – caviar. How obnoxiously decadent. Well, he managed to get them for free. So it’s not like we get such freebies frequently. It was left in the fridge for quite awhile until mom egged us to get rid of it.

Well, those pearls started an avalanche then. I forwarded Ned a link about blinis one odd day with these words: let’s do them this Sunday.

She texted a reply almost immediately, “Yeah sure.”.

I guess there was always a silent urge to return to where we found comfort and solace: in that tiny kitchen that used to overflow with too much food. We started bouncing menu ideas off each other, conversations hovered around the current culinary landscape in Singapore, food trends around the world, food politics, our favourite food writers and of course, recipes of our favourite dishes. I’m sure Ned shares the same sentiment: I really love and miss talking about our number one love and passion.

Back to the caviar. We didn’t want to fuss about creating a complicated dish, especially on a lazy Sunday morning. Brunch was invented for the late wakers with bad hangovers, and stylish creative types with 10k Instagram followers. We love them too… waking up to it, that is. Not making them because that would mean you actually have to wake up really early in the morning to prepare food for lazy asses. To make our Sunday less of a chore, simple buckwheat Russian pancakes are probably the best solution.

(Although Ned did point out that the inclusion of yeast in the batter only meant more work for her, as compared to a typical American pancake. There was a two-hour waiting time, which also meant a quick shut-eye. Well, blame it on the caviar.)

The best thing was that we only needed to make the blinis. Slap the pancakes with some sour cream, smoked salmon, dill and caviar – and there’s breakfast ready. Or get creative and top the blinis with other ingredients: avocado, beetroot, goat’s cheese, pesto, roast beef…. the list is endless really. In fact, we made too many of them and had them with roasted pork belly for lunch after.

If that Sunday morning was any indication for things to come, well, I can safely say that we definitely are back and staying for good. And that we, or rather I, have a slight obsession with comfort brunch food.

Recipe was adapted from here.

Brioche

Some changes have taken place in this household recently. To be exact, a turning point has happened in Ned’s life and it’s nothing but excitement. After years of baking in the comfort of our tiny kitchen at home, she would finally spend most of her days in an actual kitchen doing what she loves best. Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to a properly real (I’m stealing Moffat’s lines) Junior Pastry Chef.

As Ned embarks in this new chapter in life with anticipation and slight trepidation, we can’t help but look back at how much we have grown from when we started. Well, I should give most of the credit to Ned, who actually did 90% of the baking and cooking (I only did the eating). It’s always scary to foray into something foreign. Although she might have been baking for some time, going into the industry is a whole different level altogether. The speed, precision and consistency required is beyond the comforts of one’s home kitchen. But we are anal freaks already, so compromising on quality is a big no-no.

I don’t exactly remember when this sister of mine started baking. We were never really allowed in the kitchen so any real cooking was done during home economics in school. There were the few peanut cookies during the holidays when all four of us kids would sit on the floor rolling the dough. (Things were fun-ner when done on the ground.) Then, I made my first Victoria Sponge cake (which failed miserably – my late grandmother lovingly ate it anyway). My memory’s a little fuzzy now, but perhaps Ned did make a couple rounds of cornflake cookies, cupcakes and the odd jelly.

The only thing I oddly remember of Ned baking was her first tray of macarons. This was before macarons were fashionable and so readily available in this island. Go ahead, roll your eyes – instead of sticking to the idiot-proof cupcakes and biscuits, she went straight to the technically-challenging macarons. Well, she had plenty of beginner’s luck and it probably kickstarted her passion into the life of a baker.

After which, activity in the kitchen risen. No longer was it the domain of our grandmother, Ned was making her imprint felt. Slowly but surely, you’ll find the cupboards filled with baking trays and mixing bowls, boxes filled with different types of flour and sugars, and a fridge filled with goodies. Suddenly, it was a norm to see her in the kitchen every weekend. And yet, it never occurred to any of us (Ned included, I suspect) that one day she would actually turn this into a career. It took a lot of time to convince not only the parents, but ourselves that it was the route Ned was prepared to plunge into.

The brioche was one of the very first breads Ned baked. I think I’ve said this before, pastry was Ned’s first love and wife but bread will forever be her mistress. Bread-making can be very seductive (and so happens the brioche look like part of the female anatomy). Though, we can consider the brioche to be part-pastry with its addition of eggs, butter and sugar. Usually served for breakfast or as a dessert, it has a very rich and crumbly texture. I’d love to dip them into sweet chilli crab sauce for a snack.

How apt then, that Ned starts her new job with a fresh loaf of brioche. So, a toast (literally) to new beginnings and crazy futures! It’s going to be a wild ride.

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The Novice Cook: Tomatoes, Eggs, Bread and Mozzarella

They say cooking for your family and friends is a form of love and appreciation. For me, cooking is almost like therapy, but it truly becomes enjoyment when I am alone in the kitchen. Why? When one has parents like mine, there is a limit on how much one can take on senseless questions: “are you sure you can handle it”, “do you need help”, or “should I call Ned to come over”.

Yes, the Novice Cook is looking terribly vulnerable, and holding a knife can be awfully dangerous when pissed. Taking on my promise that I would return to the kitchen, I decided breakfast would be the best time to truly immerse myself into the experience. Waking up at 7am on a weekend morning meant that everyone else was still in bed, and all I can hear were the birds and the droning sounds of tomatoes being chopped up.

I decided to roast a simple dish of lightly seasoned tomatoes, eggs, mozzarella and bread in the oven. Hardly rocket science. The recipe might not be complicated but it requires plenty of waiting. If I had known, I would have grilled some sausages on the side. All I did was stare at the oven and wishing that I was back in bed.

The tricky part was the eggs. I must have mentioned it before but I’ve never ever fried an egg my entire life. Poached, yes. Baking them was an easy way out. I did manage to break a few yolks because of sleep depravation. However, the end result were wobbly eggs set against pure whites. I did increase the time because they didn’t cook enough as specified. Watching the oven has its good points.

By the time the dish was ready, no one was awake. So lucky me, I had first dips. It actually reminded me of the Shakshuka that Ned made some time back. The tangy sweetness of the tomatoes, the crisp crust of the bread, stringy buttery mozzarella and freshness of the eggs. With minimal seasoning, it’s a wonder how this dish managed to bring so much to the plate.

We had second breakfast afterwards though. I should really have cooked those sausages.

The recipe is from Hugh’s Three Good Things.

An Ode to England

The past two months have been quite hectic, from our trip to England, a short visit to Penang, some birthdays and a wedding (and plenty of deadlines from the real world). I’ve been meaning to sit down to write but it seems that thingies just pop out of nowhere. Those, and a little procrastination.

Flying to Europe was a first for the both of us, and going to England was almost surreal. To us, it was almost alien as any Doctor Who episode. England was a place we read about, saw on TV and heard on our favourite tunes. When one is a BBC junkie, London almost becomes a huge movie set. (Yes, we were hoping to miraculously bump into a Doctor, Loki, Sherlock, Merlin, Thorin or even Robb Stark.)

The biggest pull was the culinary scene and the farm-to-table movement. To us, the English countryside was what the Shire was to the hobbits: living off the ground you lovingly tiled and worked on. Plenty of restaurants in England have embraced seasonal cooking and local produce, which was what we wanted to experience firsthand.

London was very much a city of the current world with a blend of heritage and modernity. The concrete skyline, the bustling streets, the swarms of faceless people, the noise, the endless cookie-cutter boutiques and cafes – not very unlike Singapore or any other urban city. Of course, if you dig deeper, you’d uncover curious finds that shed a different light.

It was however the cities outside of London that captured our hearts. The vast skies, open fields, little rivers, lush woodlands, pretty towns and flocks of free-ranging animals. Train rides were never dull. (Typical city girls ooh-ing and ahh-ing at every cow we passed by. Imagine how silly we sounded.)

To be honest, I was a little intimidated to write this piece (hence the very very long delay). Travel stories can become slightly self-absorbed and sound like a review out of Condé Nast Traveler. But if I could describe the whole journey in a nutshell: it was not love at first sight, but a familiar friend. It was about being comfortable, like an old married couple. England felt like home away from home!

Alas, eleven days felt too short a time to fully experience the spectrum of cuisines England had to offer. And to that we say “So much food, so little space (in our tummies)”. There were so many restaurants, cafes and bakeries we have yet to try. Hopefully, one day we can come back to savour those lost opportunities. And maybe use the local ingredients to whip up a few dishes of our own.

Our first dish after coming back was the English breakfast sans black pudding. Our interpretation includes runny scrambled eggs topped with chives; pork sausages and bacon cooked in their own fat; mélange of mushrooms sautéed with garlic; baked beans; roasted tomatoes with rosemary and freshly baked bread.

I will slowly but surely post our adventures in England as time goes by, so do look out for our Two Hobbits Travel tag. Yes, I will try not to be lazy.

The Novice Cook: Asparagus, Ham and Poached Egg on Toast

Last of our asparagus goodness was to celebrate Mother’s Day. Being women ourselves, it isn’t difficult to imagine what motherhood will be like in the future. We may not be mothers ourselves now but to see our own Mom work tirelessly for close to 30 years of her life is admirable and worthy of respect. It may be the simple things that we take for granted like putting dinner on the table everyday, doing the laundry or even just being there to listen to our whining. Sometimes, we rebel and say things we wished we hadn’t said. But deep down inside, Mom knows that she is always our best friend and cuddly bear for hugs.

We are never one to celebrate this overly commercialised festivity, but to save Mom from any cooking, what better way to say thank you with a breakfast full of goodness. And it was a great opportunity to finish up all the asparagus we bought over the weekend. Although this was part of my Novice Cook project, I had a little help from Ned with the poached eggs. You see, I have yet to fry an egg, much less a poached one.

Hugh’s recipe originally had Parma ham, which was available but really just too expensive. Plus, we weren’t keen on vacuum packed ham from the supermarkets.  One can use raw, cured Proscuitto ham by wrapping the soft meat around each asparagus spear while the vegetable is still hot. This allows the fat in the meat to soften and release its aroma. We wanted to minimise cooking, so the Parma ham was replaced with regular apple-flavoured gammon ham.

Eggs and asparagus are natural partners, especially when there is yolk present to dip the spears in. Hugh’s recipe did not require malt vinegar and I insisted on following it. But we figured the addition of malt vinegar did help with the consistency of the poached eggs, which you can refer to our previous eggy recipe here. The key to perfectly done poached eggs are to use very very fresh eggs, preferably free-range. And a little confidence. If you’d like to ‘glam’ this dish up a little, you can add in some homemade hollandaise sauce (which you can find here).

This was just a small token in appreciation to mom, but as all moms do, it’s their kids’ happiness that matter to them. That’s why moms are just made of awesome.

This recipe is from Hugh’s Three Good Things.

Shakshuka

There are some food that sits pretty on their own, and there are some that screams at you. The colours of the shakshuka are so vivid that it oozes passion and character. The bright red, loud yellow and vibrant saffron orange conjure a portrait worthy of placement in any museum.

This is the sort of dish that inspires one to make, well, N had this recipe on the must-make list for a long time now. The first time she laid her eyes on it, it never left her lips. Just reading through the list of ingredients causes one to salivate – lovely poached eggs cooked in tangy tomato sauce, alongside sweet peppers, onions and saffron. When the fragrance of the peppers started to waft through the house, waiting for the dish to be ready was awfully excruciating. I think I screamed ‘hungry’ like five times this morning.

We don’t usually have such flavourful breakfasts; we usually start our day with porridge and steamed dumplings. With the different exotic textures bursting in one’s mouth, it was almost like being somewhere else. I loved it so much that I had two servings. N, this is definitely a keeper.

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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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Nigel Slater’s Apple Crumble


Every family needs their very own go-to crumble recipe. This is a classic dish that even a noob like me can make. (Not that I made this particular crumble, but if I did, I could. Naysayers stand aside.)

The best thing about a crumble was that it was not bound by a season; in fact, it celebrated what the seasons had to offer. In Spring, there would be strawberries and rhubarb, and followed by blueberries and raspberries for summer. Autumn called for blackberries and apple, and pear and cranberries for the harshest of winters.

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Eggs Arlington

Eggs. Eggs. Eggs. I love eggs. E. G. G. S. I can have them for all three meals and still want more eggs. This recipe is a keeper. We’ll be making this every weekend now. And won’t get bored because eggs. Eggs.

To attain perfect (runny, awesome, oh-my-god-it’s-heaven) poached eggs, practice is essential. N did it many times before she could roll out lovely soft poached eggs at one go. She’s glorified as Egg Queen in the family now. Maybe I should give her eggs for Christmas.

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