Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: british

Vanilla Brioche and Butter Pudding

(This was supposed to be posted slightly over a week after our brioche recipe. By posting it now, I just made it look like we kept our brioche loaf for a month. That, my friends, is not humanly possible.)

There is something about bread and butter puddings that invoke an image of cuddly warm hugs and being wrapped in layers of soft quilts. Its probably just the buttery goodness in every mouthful – so much calories but too good to not sin. Best eaten after a hearty meal… don’t ask me why, I just love adding more guilt. Plus, it only proves that there’s always space for dessert. Every time Ned and I start talking about bread and butter puddings, we get a little too crazy like flustered cockroaches upside down (okay, that was not a very good reference but you get the picture).

We shall be very honest and confess that we made too much brioche for one reason: to make a huge serving of brioche and butter pudding. Yes, like a pair of cunning witches, we actually set aside a loaf of brioche and waited for it to become prey to eggy heaven. The best part was smelling butter in the air as it bakes in the oven. Nothing beats the fragrance of melting butter. Is it disgusting for us to love butter so much? We especially love hard cold butter stuffed into warm crusty bread.

Strangely, our brioche and butter pudding became a tad too dry when it came out of the oven. The bowl that was used was a little too wide, causing the custardy mixture to dry up and the top layer of bread to overcook. Despite the oversight in serveware, the flavours came out perfectly fine. The bottom layer of brioche had soaked up the rum and the essences of vanilla. In fact, it was a rather interesting pudding with a crusty top and a firm but custardy bottom (no, not soggy). Serve it with cream or homemade custard for added calories.

At the end, my only real complaint was that we should have added more butter. Well, I’ll just wait for Ned to make a Croissant and Butter pudding then.

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Fig and Marsala Trifle with Toasted Meringue

I must be watching too much Great British Bake Off or simply being too much of an anglophile. Every time a celebration or an occasion is mentioned in British context, there seems to be a glorious towering glass of trifle being brought out onto the dining table with all eyes fixed on the distinct multiple layers of cake, fruit, cream, custard and jelly (or not). Just reading about it just makes me salivate, I don’t even have a look at an image.

The French or the Italians may scoff at it, but digging my spoon into layers and layers of trifle-goodness is a personal dream of mine. Who in the sanest mind would refused a deep dish of overindulgence of possibly many desserts put into one? I wouldn’t. Sure, it could be a massive fool (the other dessert) in disguise but one would be an actual fool to not like it.

The challenge of trifle was the layers. Sadly, we did not have a trifle bowl so we had to make do with wineglasses. So, goodbye layers, we’ll be doing trifle free-style. The recipe called for rather unconventional ingredients so it didn’t matter how sticky we had to be with tradition. For example, we used a madeira sponge cake instead of the typical finger boudoir biscuits. We did however made sure the custard was as original as it was, without any added support from flour or corn starch.

After the cake was laid at the bottom, figs and pomegranate seeds were placed as neatly as they could. Custard was then poured into the glass, and thus filling up all the gaps the fruits and cake made. Topped with lightly toasted meringue, the dessert was like a gooey mixture of creamy goodness. The joy about trifle is not about looking good when eating it (it never be – just too sloppy), it’s about indulging the kid in you. Although we didn’t grow up eating trifle, at least we know how it feels like now.

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Two Hobbits Travel: Brighton, England

I figured I should do our first day-trip out of London first.

Despite the streams of Londoners making their way down to Brighton for a weekend staycation, it was still a refreshing change from the cosmopolitan life of London. To be able to sit at the beach and watch time go by as you listen to the waves and seagulls was almost like a luxury. Or walking down the beach to enjoy the sun (finally) and sea breeze.

Obvious sightseeing in Brighton included the pier and the Royal Pavilion Palace, but it held a hidden gem that probably became The Highlight of the trip. (Even our Dad hasn’t stop talking about it up till now.) It was lunch at The Gingerman that cemented our love of simple good food even more.

After getting ourselves lost for about 30 minutes, we managed to find it almost camouflaged in one of the rows of houses. We were utterly lucky to get a table despite having no reservations at this cosy restaurant. It probably sits about 20 persons, so you can imagine how tiny the place was. They serve set lunches with serving options of either two or three courses.

The amuse bouche was an espresso cup of comforting broccoli soup, and that itself set the bar for the rest of the meal pretty high. Most soups often taste processed, but here, you could pick up the earthiness of the florets from the cream easily. Freshly baked bread sprinkled with sea salt was served after. Nothing beats cutting into steaming hot crust.

Ned had the starter: pea risotto with poached egg and parmesan – the grains had a slight chew, but when infused with the egg yolk, every bite was light but full of luscious flavours. We followed up with a succulent salmon, mashed potato and greens topped with crème fraiche; and a beautiful melt-in-your-mouth beef shank with cauliflower tempura and spinach mash. Coupled with a glass of rosé, our sore feet and aching backs no longer mattered. In fact, it made listening to Dad and his famous stories much more enjoyable.

If the meal was a Lord of the Rings trilogy, dessert was definitely a finale worthy of remembrance. The Lemon Posset was possibly the best thing that ever happened to us. How can a simple dish of just lemon juice, cream and sugar create such mind-blowing textures? Paired with tangy blueberry jam and cream, we thought we’ve gone to heaven and back. Yes, we sound almost crazy but we thought we were insane too. It. Was. Really. That. Good.

Food wasn’t the only showstopper; service was a delight as well. There were only two servers and both were amazingly helpful and kind. The whole dining experience was worth every second we spent trying to find our way there. If anything, this is more than enough to pull us back to Brighton for another visit.

When in Hong Kong, we had dim sum every morning. When in England, we had tea almost every afternoon. Plus, I love scones. After pushing ourselves past the festive crowds and meandering down little lanes, we made a tea-stop at The Mock Turtle Tea Shop. What greeted us was this assault of blues and rows of oriental-inspired porcelain plates filling any space on the walls and shelves. And of course, the stacks of tea cakes on the table.

Still satisfied from lunch, afternoon tea was a simple affair with a cream tea set and a lemon sponge cake. The scones were much more crumbly in texture, and tasted almost wheat-like. If you ignore the misshapen forms, it’s quite a refreshing take on the biscuits. Pile on the clotted cream and jam, and any scone can be as pleasurable.

We spent most of time getting lost down little streets and soaking in the festivities. There was joy sitting at the pier as well, listening to the seagulls and watching the waves hit the shores. For a moment, time almost stopped and we could forget words like ‘deadlines’, ‘projects’ and ‘bosses’. Feeling the cold sea breeze across your face and sniffing the waft of food from the roadside stalls, yes, life felt really good that day.

Lemon Posset

As I type this down, Ned and I have had a proper discussion about what to do next after these hectic few months. Not that we would be less busy in the coming weeks (quite the contrary), but we realised T&A needed some TLC after the long hiatus. Sitting down with recipe books splayed out and our handy journals, I had the slight tingles. It’s not that we haven’t been cooking, it’s just that we haven’t spoken about food for a long time. And that got us pretty excited.

In our conversations, The Gingerman would always be at the tip of our tongues: “wouldn’t be nice to be back there again”, “remember the broccoli soup” or simply “let’s go back to Brighton”. (I will do a proper post of that particular day… soon.) Their lemon posset was one of the reasons why the strawberries were dumped. Strange isn’t it? It was after all just cream, sugar and lemons. Just three basic ingredients and we were sent to candy heaven. (Ned loved the posset so much, she had another in Bath.)

The Gingerman’s posset was topped with cream and blueberry jam, and the custard was quite sturdy – almost like a jelly. It was difficult to achieve that sort of consistency; unless we stuffed the possets into a freezer. Ours turned out to be creamier and a lot sharper in taste. With the absence of the cream and jam, the dish felt slightly naked. Was it like the Gingerman? Not so much, but a little taste of England was good enough for us.

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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.

Braised Venison and Carrots

It’s probably too late to wish ‘Happy New Year’, seeing how it has been more than three weeks into 2013. I thought we could be more consistent in posting but my days have been spent lying in bed with my laptop propped on my lap and watching Stephen Fry on QI. There goes a New Year resolution out of the window.

Lately, my conversations with N have been about meat. The simple pleasure of enjoying fresh meat on your table comes down to where it came from, how the animal was taken care of, how ethically it was prepared, etc. I’ve been reading a lot about the provenance of meat and fell in love with the passions that independent farmers have for their animals and butchers who respect their products. Pity that our little island does not have the land for little farms of handsome cows and cute pigs.

But we thought we would try something different this time – venison.

Venison comprises of deer, elk, moose and caribou, but the most widely consumed would be the deer. The main three breeds that one can find would be the red deer (the majestic Scottish variant), fallow deer or the roe deer (considered the best by most chefs). Most websites would recommend wild venison, which are tougher but full of flavour over farmed venison. However, we found out that all venison imported into Singapore are from Australia and New Zealand, where deer are mostly farmed. By law, all game must be frozen and farmed due to the risk of diseases.

To get the most out of your venison, speak to the your local butcher and they should be more than happy to help you out. (If they don’t, maybe it’s time to break up with him.) The cuts of venison is almost similar to that of a lamb. The shoulder, neck and flank are best for braising and stews; but only the leg was available at our butchers so we decided to make do with it.

I could go on and on about venison but I should stop. Or else a proper essay will probably emerge out of it.

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Pan-seared Scallops with Hazelnuts, Pea Sprouts and Red Oak Lettuce Salad

If you are looking to make good first impressions, you cannot go wrong with seafood. (Unless you have guests allergic to them.) Scallops are delicate and if possible, get them fresh. The difference between a fresh catch and frozen ones are worlds apart; the meat is sweeter and none of the fishiness lingers.

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Cream of Pumpkin and Sage Soup

This was the very first item that was included into the menu. We just had to do something about all the pumpkins that were in abundance. If we don’t have orange forests outside our door, let’s bring in this autumnal colour onto our table then. The sage added a complexity to a simple soup. Make this, and your guests will be asking for more. We can attest to that.

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Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan and Truffle Oil

When one mentions truffles, fine-dining restaurants often comes into mind. The elusive ingredient seems out of reach most of the times. Truffle oil might not be anywhere close to the actual product, but this risotto seems to step into a whole new dimension when doused with it. Mushrooms very much find their way into our menus often. We love the earthy textures and they are just perfect for an autumn menu, non?

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Roulade of Pork Belly, Braised Red Cabbage and Apple Compote

It was quite a dilemma when deciding on a main course. Many conditions came into play, whether it was enough to fill stomachs, whether the flavours complement the rest of the menu, whether it could hold the mantle of the “Leading Actor”, and the most crucial – whether we could execute it well against pressure. At the very end,  it came down to two contenders: the pig or the duck. Well, the pig got the part for obvious reasons.

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