Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: egg

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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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 »

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.

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.

Mango and Yoghurt Macarons (Mango Lassi Macarons)

Last of the Indian musketeers (this reminds me of the excellent Bollywood film ‘3 Idiots’) is the Mango Lassi macaron. It’s probably the most familiar item for anyone not of Indian ethnicity. It was also the very first item I tried at the restaurant. So this brings back many delicious memories.

Mango is featured plenty in Indian cuisine. One other mango item that I love would be in the form of a festive confectionery called the mitthai. In which, the chefs in the restaurant can make really outstanding mango-flavoured mitthais that prove to be one of the most popular item among the guests. Or the mango kulfi, a traditional Indian ice-cream moulded predominantly made with evaporated milk and moulded in small cylindrical metal cans. And of course, who can forget the King of all mangoes – the Alphonso?

We did think of using the famous Alphonso mangoes since it was conveniently in season, but the fruit can command a rather exuberant price tag. Thai mangoes can do the job equally, if not brilliantly well. To emphasize the presence of the yoghurt, a dollop of the dairy product sits naked alongside the mango ganache that is spiced with a hint of cardamom. The idea was to give different layers as one bites into the macaron. To create another dimension, you could try placing a small piece of cooked mango on the yoghurt. It’s the ice cold yoghurt-y drink at one go.

The project brought us a balanced amount of creativity and discipline. This being the first collection of macarons in which we created the flavours from scratch, only gave us even more satisfaction and determination. There is still room to improve, but this only cements our love of playing with contrasting ingredients. And with this Indian-inspired macaron collection, I bid my last farewell to three wonderful year of yummies, friendship and growth.

And hello, new challenges. Now, that’s another journey to take.

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Spiced Darjeeling Tea and Milk Chocolate Macarons (Masala Chai Macarons)

Ah, masala chai. I have a dangerous addiction to this creamy tea concoction. Whenever I visit the restaurant, a knowing smile will appear on my colleagues’ faces and out comes a cup of this hot luscious stuff. There is something comforting about this drink. It makes you want to sit by a window and read a good novel. Or pen out a short story. Because it sends you away to somewhere far filled with eclectic colours and heavy aromatic smells. Tea on its own is a beautiful thing, but when it takes the form of masala chai, now that’s a whole different story.

My friends who have visited India will always mention masala chai and its allure. The tea beverage vary in different regions of India with each using their own mixture of spices. Traditionally, ginger and cardamom are the foundation with other ingredients added on such as cinnamon, clove, star anise or fennel. The spices are infused together with tea, milk and sugar, resulting in a warm sweetened drink.

Our masala chai macarons are kept minimal with ginger and cardamom dominating the palate. The floral Darjeeling tea was probably a tad too subtle against the full-bodied chocolate. As you bite into it, the spices gives a powerful hit, followed by a soft velvety milk chocolate and last but not least, a fragrant tea aftertaste. Was it like the drink itself? Well, close enough – it was like having afternoon tea in a resplendent Rajasthani palace with gourmet chocolates and of course, a china-bone tea cup of heavenly masala chai.

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Saffron, Cardamom and White Chocolate Macarons (Rasmalai Macarons)

We don’t really divulge a lot about our personal lives since food really is the focus on this blog. But life and food are so intertwined that sometimes they form part of our memories. Like the vivid pink strawberry cream cake I had on my fourth birthday, the fried breaded prawn balls Mama used to make for reunion dinners, or the fresh crunchy prawns we had for our first supper in China. This time, I celebrated a transition in my career with a few culinary additions.

I will only say that I worked in a fine-dining Indian restaurant for the past three years. (There aren’t many in Singapore, so make a guess.) It was in this place that I was given plenty of opportunities and met amazing people whom I can keep as friends. This was also where I learnt so much about Indian cuisine and fell in love with it. (And was so spoilt after, no other restaurant can do Indian better.) So what better way to show my appreciation and respect than to present Indian-inspired macarons to the very people who made work a bliss?

N and I went to the storyboard to recreate three of my favourite Indian desserts (or drinks). One of them was Rasmalai, a cottage cheese dumpling steeped in cream flavoured in saffron and cardmom, and then sprinkled with pistachio. The beauty about the snow white dessert is that the pure simplicity of it; the ingredients came together to create a complex and rich aroma and texture. The cottage cheese is like a sponge, soaking up the spiced milk – bursting and crumbling in your mouth.

To capture the essence of Rasmalai, we decided to put the milky soup as the forefront of the macaron. Saffron and cardamom are the two main spices used, and they were infused into white chocolate which acts as a great substitute to the clotted cream. The paneer (cottage cheese) was a little tricky. With two powerful spices alongside the cloying buttery white chocolate, there might be a battle of flavours with the cheese. Perhaps one day, we might try this macaron again, but with cheese. Like the Rasmalai, the macaron was kept white and showered with chopped pistachio nuts. It tasted so much like the actual dessert so success!! In fact, this was probably my favourite out of the three.

Fun fact: N loved sprinkling the pistachio so much, she accidentally had the nuts on all the shells. Well, they were still pretty though.

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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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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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