Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: cooking

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.

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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.

The Novice Cook: Beetroot, Anchovies and Eggs

In Singapore, land is scarce. Despite being known as a Garden City (every road you go down is lined with trees), access to a plot of land to grow your own food can be difficult. Most of us live in high-rise buildings and any form of gardening is confined to the limited space the common corridor permits. Of course, urban gardening might be gaining momentum in many cities of the world, but in Singapore, it’s not unusual to grab a few chillies or tomatoes from just outside your door. Yes, we might be living away from the ground, but it doesn’t mean we can’t grow our own food.

The tiny ‘garden’ we have, our Dad’s pride of joy, is becoming a little ecosystem on its own. Okay, my Dad is weird. If ferns and unwanted plants make our garden their home, he would allow them the right to live. Yes, we have weeds and all, my Dad is surprisingly very zen with life and death. Bees, bugs and butterflies often visit to feed on nectar. A couple of hummingbirds have made a nest recently. (We have had plenty of animals visiting our home – monkeys, owls, bats, random birds, the list goes on. And we live on the third floor. Once we had frogs on the loose, but that’s a story for another day.)

We have to admit that we can’t grow any fruit trees, and definitely cannot raise livestock. How we wish to have a brood of chickens! Imagine this: fresh eggs in the morning and free-range organic chickens! (Oh, Dad used to keep chickens as pets when he was a kid. But eventually, he did eat them though.) Most of our meat are imported – an example, our pork is from Down Under, or our poultry from the neighbouring Malaysia. But we will never know how these animals were treated before they end up in clean little plastic-wrapped packages in the markets.

Just ask a person on the street, they would paint you a picture of an idyllic farm land with lush green fields where the cows happily graze. That is still quite possible but a rarity in this day and age. In fact, most of our food come from huge industrialised farms and the animals are seen as part of a business model. This means welfare of these animals is not of top priority. Money first, how these animals feel can be on the agenda if there is a complaint. So ask yourself, are you okay eating that piece of steak on your plate tonight if I told you that the cow suffered when alive?

Ever since I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Out and read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I’ve become more conscious about eating meat. I’m going to make my stand clear: I’m not turning vegetarian and it’s not about being a earth-loving plant-chewing hippie. I grew up eating meat and have always felt amiss if meat is not present during a meal. But as much as I love eating beef, lamb, pork or chicken, I cannot allow myself to consume an animal who has suffered. Yes, in a way, death is a form of suffering. But at least, if it has lived a contented life doing what it is born to do and slaughtered with respect, that would be okay by me. Many might say I am contradicting myself. However, this is where I stand.

And where does this lead me to? It means I would have to know how these animals have lived prior their visit to the abattoir. In Singapore, we do not have these sort of information. There is no way I can drive down to the farm and watch how the farmer tends to his or her animals. Well, I simply cut meat from my meals unless I know its source. Since last December, I’ve lived on a diet of vegetables, beancurd, eggs and rice. (Diary products are another problem, but EGGS. Let me slowly take another step to rid diary off my diet.) I do eat the occasional meat when dining out with my friends. Otherwise, I’ll order a seafood dish (overfishing is also a troubling matter, sigh).

Going meatless is not difficult when you have recipes that have punchy strong flavours. In this dish, the earthy sweetness of the beetroot just melds with the sharp musky anchovies. I’ve tried both types of anchovies – one pickled in olive oil and the other pickled in vinegar. The latter had a lighter sourness that didn’t assault your tastebuds. Topped with a spicy mustard sauce and freshly picked chives, just eating this dish was like a kick right in the mouth – a combustion of sweet, sour and spice. Try not to boil the eggs fully, so that they will retain a runny yolk – just be careful when peeling the shells off. Another good thing out of this was being able to use the leftovers (I’m a small eater) for lunch the next day. With rice, of course.

I might be one person against a conglomerate of corporate giants. Some may not agree, and some may think it’s a useless battle. Well, at least, I’m doing my part. And I don’t have to worry about that piece of meat in my next meal.

The recipe can be found here.

Warm Puff Pastry Tart with Fig, Olive, Capers and Goat’s Cheese

To showcase the versatility of the fig, we decided to do a savoury dish instead of the usual sweet suspects. It was either this, or another puff pastry fig tart with crème pâtissière and homemade cinnamon ice cream (it sounds really good at the moment). The savoury one won in the end, and we do not regret it one bit. In fact, we actually applaud ourselves for making this decision.

In our short history of tart making, this is by far and honestly the best dish I’ve ever eaten. So much so I wished we had made more so that I could have the whole tart myself. I mean, just look at it! It just draws you in with the bright contrast of colours: crispy golden brown pastry, lush flame-red baked figs, soft milky white goat’s cheese and dark shiny olives.

And with one bite, you’ll be lost in a combust of flavours – the sweet caramelised onions at the bast, the fragrance of the thyme and toasted pine nuts, the sharpness of the olives and capers, the tang of the cheese that amazingly brought out all the star quality of the figs. It was practically orgasmic.

Of course, puff pastry is always a roadblock but if you’re not keen on rolling out your own dough, there are some good quality ready-made puff pastry sheets available in the market. It saves up plenty of time and still tastes good. Yes, we are lazy sometimes. Making puff pastry from scratch can be satisfying but there are those days you just want to lie down under the sun with a glass of white wine and a scrumptious slice of tart. Lazy afternoons are our guilty pleasure.

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Prawns, Clams with Tomatoes and Feta

Seafood is very much uncharted territory in our kitchen as we do not have much opportunities to work with them. Despite being on an island surrounded by nothing but water, seafood here is strangely expensive. I might have mentioned before that it can get awfully intimidating to shop for seafood in our local wet markets with our limited vocabulary of Hokkien and lack of knowledge. Getting sustainable seafood becomes an even higher hurdle for us.

Yet, one must still venture into the wild to understand the lands better. In our case, we are going deep into the ocean by attempting a seafood dish. It did seem odd that we decided to refer to Yotam’s Jerusalem when seafood is not part of a common diet in Middle Eastern cuisine. However, we were intrigued by the presence of the tangy feta cheese in the recipe so we just had to give it a try.

The result was a robust stew-y dish that screamed with vibrance and colour. We loved the sweet aroma of the prawns and clams that mingled with the slight fragrance of the spices and wine. It’s captivating how the feta cheese added a mildly sour tang against the sweet and savoury of the prawns and clams. Soak up the juices with toasted crusty bread and there you have it, a lovely lunch to start the weekend. And for once, having some seafood at home was a refreshing change.

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Prawn Noodles with Pork Prime Ribs Soup

Breakfast during the weekends are almost usually at a hawker centre. There are so many reasons why the locals frequent hawker centres: convenience, variety, low cost and the lack of fuss. It’s something so intrinsic to our culture and engrained into the Singaporean DNA; most of us grew up on hawker food and still visit the humble centres often for our favourite chicken rice, mee goreng or rojak. It’s not uncommon to slip on your most comfortable t-shirt and shorts and dig into a hearty meal in the humid heat.

There was debate on whether hawker food would die when the current generation of hawker uncles and aunties lay down their ladles. The youth are not interested in slogging over a stove to sell bowls of noodles at $3.50 each when they can sit in an air-conditioned office with their cushy jobs. What am I talking about? Even I have a job in the corporate world. Not many would exchange a high-paying career for a life in cooking hawker food.

But seeing the overwhelming reception of the contest between Gordon Ramsay and our hawkers, I think Singaporeans still hold local cuisine close to their hearts. Plus, we are seeing a wave of young hawker entrepreneurs in recent years (albeit with hipster names and stylised designs) and some who have taken over their parents’ aprons. In fact, hawker food is so much in our blood, ask any Singaporean living abroad what they miss most and they would say the three F’s: Family, friends and food.

For us, hawker centres are a constant reminder of how great-tasting food is just right at our doorstep. Yes, we do not cook a lot of local cuisine (why should we? It’s available at almost every corner of this island!) but it serves as a plateau of inspiration of flavours, ingredients and techniques. One should not belittle the amount of work that goes into every plate despite it’s low cost. In fact, I’m amazed how we can still pay so little for so much. Especially for those hawkers who prepare everything by hand on a daily basis.

Still, it was one of those special days that Ned wanted to get her hands cracking on our most beloved hawker dishes – Prawn Noodles Soup. It’s been some time since we last ate a really good bowl of prawn noodles with a thick flavourful soup broth. We’ve been hawker centre-hopping but could never seem to find one stall that could satisfy our cravings. (Any recommendations?) So it was down to making it on our own by using a recipe lovingly provided by another blogger.

The key to a good broth is the time given for it to simmer. The longer it is left over low heat, the thicker and heavier the flavours of the soup will be. With our Dad being the resident soup expert (we Cantonese love our soups), we had the soup simmering on until he was satisfied. Using pork prime ribs as the main base, spices such as star anise and cloves, and dried anchovies and prawn heads were also added on to create a very thick umami broth.

Cooking of the noodles was a no-brainer, it is almost like preparing pasta. The other ingredients can be boiled together with the noodles. If you read it on paper, it is almost fuss-free. The only downside is the time taken to prepare the broth which is the main deciding factor on whether the dish makes it or not. Lucky for us, we finally had our prawn noodle cravings satisfied. Oh, word of advice? Add tons of fried shallots to serve for the ultimate bowl of goodness.

Recipe can be found here.

Prawn and Basil Risotto

I’m surprised how long ago my previous post was. Every time I got down to writing, I never went past clicking ‘Create a new post’ and would be distracted by really unimportant things like watching videos on YouTube. It’s not that we haven’t been cooking, I’m just guilty of backlogging all our posts!! I need the discipline to really get down and finish up all the work. (Yes, writing can be a bitch sometimes!)

Going back to Project Italia, we decided to recreate a risotto we fell in love with in London. Our first lunch in our beloved England was at Polpo – a cosy casual restaurant that serves humble Venetian dishes that are full of flavour and wholesome ingredients. It was already part of our itinerary in the early stages of planning as we read only favourable reviews. We were lucky to get a table despite not having any reservations, and it was the perfect spot to fill our tummies and rid us of the unwanted jet lag.

Since our return, the dish continued to be on our minds and we managed to get a copy of the Polpo cookbook. To our joy, it featured a similar recipe to that we had in London (they replaced the asparagus with monk’s beard, a type of chicory common in Tuscany). Our take involved the humble basil, a versatile and aromatic herb, that lifts the natural umami flavours of the prawns. And any dish that requires the help of our lovely Mr. Frodo (we christened all our herbs with names from *cough* Lord of the Rings) is always a big welcome.

The star of the recipe is undoubtedly the tiny crustacean. While some might label the prawns as cockroaches of the sea world, they look and taste far more superior than those unwanted pests. Our Dad used to buy live prawns and leave them to fall into a icy cold slumber in the freezer before cooking. It might sound almost cruel but nothing beats eating really fresh prawns. But chilled prawns will do the job equally well. Just make sure that those lovely shellfishes are from a sustainable source and that the variety is not in danger of overfishing.

I can still remember the piquant fragrance of the fish stock Ned was preparing the day before. It set the tasting notes of the risotto with a refreshing sweetness. The final plated dish brought back many good memories;  the smooth rice grains, crunchy succulent prawns and  basil hit the right notes of a lazy Sunday afternoon. It was like being transported back to the intimate confines of Polpo. We suggest some Parmesan cheese to serve, giving it another punch of savoury tang.

Ah, writing this makes me want to go back to London…

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Homemade Egg Tagliatelle and Salsa di Pomodoro (Tomato Sauce)

Starting from scratch seemed almost like madness in this current age when almost everything could be bought over the shelf. It is not abnormal to eat out of a box when processed food and TV dinners have found their way as a staple in many homes. Making anything at home becomes a luxury; it was only for those who have time and money. We would like to take that statement and throw it into the bin. Nothing beats making your own food with wholesome fresh ingredients.

When we started Thom & Aimee, one of the very first things we did was to eliminate processed food from our diets and kitchen. It was about going back to basics. Of course, it was not easy when all of us hold full-time jobs but we took it step by step. From introducing edible plants into the garden to making sure fundamental staples such as flour, butter, olive oil and lemons are always in the pantry, simple homemade dishes could easily be whipped up in minutes. We started educating the rest of our family on the values and importance of having fresh and natural food.

The other argument was that it could be awfully daunting. Trust us when we say that no matter how difficult it looks, digging into something you made lovingly with your own hands tastes tons better than those cardboard-flavoured ‘food’ in the supermarket. We had the same reservations when embarking on Project Italia: ‘it might be too difficult’, ‘we don’t have a pasta machine’ or ‘the consistency might come out wrong’. But after doing it, there was really no need to worry in the first place. In fact, it only emphasized our love and belief of simple home-cooking.

Italian cuisine is very accessible in Singapore from neighbourhood cafes to high-end fine dining restaurants. There are different varieties of sauces and pasta available in the markets. Many can easily prepare a pasta dish at home for a quick meal (the ultimate comfort food). I don’t know any other European cuisine that shares the same popularity and familiarity here in this country. The knowledge on Italian fare has grown beyond the typical spaghettis and pizzas and have slowly included regional dishes and less common recipes.

There are over 310 varieties of pasta, mostly made of wheat or semolina flour, and eggs. They are usually categorised into groups based on their shapes: long (fusilli, capellini, vermicelli); ribbon-cut (fettuccine, linguine, pappardelle); short-cut extruded (cannelloni, penne, tortiglioni); decorative (conchiglie, farfalle, rotini); minute (couscous, pastina); stuffed (ravioli, cappelletti, tortellini) and irregular (gnocchi). They can even be flavoured and come in different colours.

To understand pasta is to know the geography, culture and history of Italy. We are no experts but to learn about how one region consumes and cooks pasta differs from another is compelling. It all comes down to the climate, the availability of other ingredients, the type of flour used, even how currant affairs shaped the way Italians eat their pasta. We opened a can of worms when we forayed into the art of pasta-making. It only made this familiar staple more riveting than it already is.

There was no particular reason why we decided to try our hand on Italian food. It all stemmed down to the glorious tomato. Despite its availability all year round, the recent (super) hot weather got us dreaming up of a lush Mediterranean summer. The crisp flavours of the sea, the earthiness of the basil and the juicy sweetness of a bright red tomato. There is something seductive of the fruit. As Nigel Slater says, ‘Red is the colour of richness, ripeness and sensuality… It is the colour of that probably has the greatest effect on our emotions. No wonder we expect so much of the tomato.’

Tomatoes are synonymous to Italian cooking, so it was odd to learn that they were only introduced to Italy in the 1500s. Native to South America, they were first considered poison until the 18th century. Tomatoes were first given centre stage when featured in Vincenzo Corrado’s Il Cuoco Galante with thirteen recipes in 1773. Then, the versatile fruits were used for sauces, salads, eaten raw, baked, filled or made into soups. And as they say, the rest is history.

There are many different types of tomatoes available in the markets from all over the world, coming in all shapes, colours and sizes. They can be bought fresh or canned. Their qualities varies from sweet to tangy to fruity. Some varieties have thicker skins than others. Like pasta, it’s a crazy tomato universe out there. Plus they are very versatile and set themselves perfectly with many other ingredients such as bacon, anchovy, aubergine, bell pepper, caper, onion, etc.

We made the tagliatelle which originated from Emilia-Romagna and Marche. Usually made fresh, these long, flat ribbons have a rough, porous texture. It was surprisingly quick and fuss-free when Ned started to knead the dough. A bit of muscle will be needed to bring the flour and eggs together. She felt like an Italian nonna in her little cottage in the mountains. With the absence of a pasta machine, we made do with the traditional rolling pin to get the dough as even and thin as possible and cut into the standard 5mm.

The general way to serve pasta is al dente. It should feel a little elastic and a little resistance in the centre of the pasta should be felt when biting down. (So drain straight away.) Fresh pasta contains more moisture and hence, requires a shorter cooking time. A lot of practice will be needed to finally get the art of cooking al dente pasta. It’s not diffiult though.

Apparently, there is a rule of the world of pasta and its sauces. We don’t want to go into details but if you’re curious, you can check this guide. If it’s up to us, we would just cook it because we preferred it that way. With the tagliatelle’s rough texture, thick meat sauces such as the bolognese are perfect. But a simple sauce of tomato and basil pairs with the pasta equally well.

We never had fresh pasta before, so this would be difficult to really judge ours. But we can say this safely: homemade pasta is a whole different world of goodness. The natural eggy flavours of the pasta held its own against the sweet, tangy tomato sauce alongside the aromatic spice of basil. We added some mozzarella cheese on the top and it was like eating Italy in one bite. Oh, just a thought, it would be wonderful if we could make our own mozzarella cheese as well!

This doesn’t mean that we are swearing off dried pasta from the markets altogether. It will undeniably still be part of our pantry for those lazy afternoons and sudden midnight suppers. But we’re definitely be making our own pasta each time we can. For that moment, Italy seems almost close by.  Read the rest of this entry »

Potage Aux Concombres (Cream of Cucumber Soup)

Setting aside our tongs and skewers from the summer barbecue, there were plenty of leftovers in the fridge. Uncooked beef patties became breakfast-on-the-go during work days, corn were used in sumptuous Chinese soups, and whatever unused became part our dinners for the next few days.

A couple of cucumbers were lying around in the kitchen and to stop our Mom from harping on food wastage, we decided to turn up the heat with a reliable Julia Child’s potage aux concombres. Personally, I’m not a big fan of cucumbers, especially raw as they do tend to be slightly bitter to taste. Despite so, they are brilliant additions to salads and sandwiches with their distinctive refreshing cleanness. To kick the bitterness back, pair cucumbers with sour ingredients like goat cheese, yoghurt, vinegar or dill.

We found that the telegraphic cucumbers are not as bitter as the common ones, but cucumbers really do taste all the same anyway! The soup was very light on the palate, but had the right balance of flavours with the sour cream and the slight punch of the dill. Perfect as a starter for a weekend lunch!

Also, Bilbo the Dill is our latest member to join our garden and we were more than happy to make use of what he can offer. He’s doing very well sitting by Frodo the Basil. Speaking of which, Pippin the Thyme passed on recently. We couldn’t save him despite our efforts; apparently our Dad (the resident gardener) moved his soil. Time to visit the nursery then.

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A Summer South American Barbecue

To be honest, every meal that we have hosted thus far was never planned in advance. I mean, there is planning for the feast, but the actual thought of “ah, let’s have a party” was always picked up randomly from the clouds. Don’t ask me how we decided to hold a South American inspired barbecue, was it the hot weather, or the desire to drink margaritas and chew on smoked ribs?

South America is one huge continent, and to generalise South American food is the same as saying the French and Russians eat croissants for breakfast. What we did was borrow different dishes from different countries from Colombia to Chile (and a little Mexican). But we need to understand that even within a country, different regional cuisines exist so we really did just generalise Latino food. (I’M SORRY!)

I grew up reading Gourmet magazine until their very last publication in November 2009 (I still have the last copy). One of the editorial spreads that was seared into my memory was Maricel Presilla’s Latino barbecue: the smoke, the char-grilled meat, the dark sticky sauces, the vivid colours of the partygoers’ clothes. The atmosphere portrayed was exotic and almost intoxicating. It became our point of reference as we slowly did our research. There were so many things that came into play, like “can we get these ingredients”, “can they be cooked over barbecue”, and “would our guests like the flavours”.

The menu showcased probably the most familiar South American dishes, including the typical tortillas and a variety of salsas. We managed to get our hands on specific ingredients (sourced from a local specialist Mexican grocer) such as lovely dried pasilla peppers, habanero peppers, and black beans.

Looking at the menu on paper, it didn’t look like it would fill the stomachs of ten persons. But when you have these ten said individuals under the scorching hot sun by the pool, you would realise that the drinks would be gone before the food was gone. And that people would be floating in the water than be by the grill.

Handcrafted Mexican papel picado bunting in pastel colours were hung up to enhance the mood. (We are very superficial and yes, we know that the paper craft is usually used for religious events, not barbecues.) What we loved about this was the ease of feast, every one could personalise their tortilla wraps, do up their own burgers, sauce up their grilled corns and mix their alcoholic concoctions. Plus, it was a joy to buzz around the table and just lapping food onto the plate.

Despite the simplicity of the actual feast, plenty of preparation actually happened behind the curtains. Ned and I busied ourselves in making the condiments, marinations and meat patties a few days before. (We did think of making our own tortilla wraps, but the work load would be too much to bear.) The stinging sensation of the chillies and peppers was intense, I probably died a few times when Ned excitedly pushed the cup of blended spices into my face.

Most of them were homemade (because we are anal) and really, the end results were pleasantly good. Without further ado, behold the menu of our South American feast:

Chilled Gazpacho

Leafy Salad with Pomegranate and Feta

Quinoa Salad with Mint and Mango

Chile-Smothered Shrimp Skewers with Lime

Mushroom Quesadillas

Refried Black Beans

Guacamole

Fresh Tomato Salsa

Homemade Mexican Crema

Salvadoran Grilled Corn (Elote Loco)

Babyback Pork Ribs Adobo

Dominican Chimichurri Burgers

Dulce le Leche Ice Cream with Pecans

Cucumber Cooler (Agua Fresca de Pepino)

Margaritas and Tequilas

(Okay it does look like a lot of food now.)

Like the previous Hobbit Day breakfast we held a year ago, there was no greater joy to bring all your friends together to appreciate good company, food and a little bit of crazy in the kitchen a few nights before. If we brought back anything from this little barbecue party, it was that it’s alright if the beef was overcooked or that the mushrooms ran out faster than the wraps, because at the end of the day, it was too freaking hot to care. Yes, our next feast will probably be during sunset.

(All recipes are below the break.)

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