Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: herbs

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.

Porcini Mushrooms and Chocolate Risotto

There might be an overdose of chocolate on this blog, but this is the last one, we promise. Unless the cravings strike again. We can never get enough of the delicious stuff, chocolate is simply our-go-to candy. But this time, it appears in a more savoury fashion with porcini mushrooms and delicate risotto rice.

When Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory was showing on cable, N and I used to catch it quite regularly. If anything, other than being intrigued by the works of chocolate business, the show made us strangely depressed. It was like watching Wallander – the grey palette, the slow-paced direction, the slight melancholy in the music, and the too-calm voice droning over the programme. Though the problems William faced that got us feeling slightly underwhelmed at times, we were always tempted to try one of his cocoa products.

This issue just gave us an excuse to ship some of his luscious chocolate over, and receiving the beautifully packaged cylinders felt almost like Charlie getting his golden ticket. It’s interesting to know that the concept of terroir comes in here as well. (Yes, I’m still in my cheese fairy land.) Where the cocoa beans were grown affects how the end product would taste; like coffee, wine, cheese, tea and even milk. Both the Madagascan Black (Sambirano Cacao) and Venezuelan Black (Rio Caribe Cacao) that we bought had different notes, resulting in varying degrees of cocoa-ness, if I could put it that way.

Porcini mushrooms have a very strong nutty flavour, and this risotto dish features the woodiness really well. In fact, the mushrooms were a little too overpowering and the chocolate was almost negligent. To give it more balance, we added more of Willie’s Venezuelan Black cacao, resulting in a stickier consistency and deep earthy colouring. The chocolate finally came through subtly, dancing with the richness of the porcini. With a medley of flavours punching through, this is a dish best eaten as an entrée and in small portions.

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The Novice Cook: Roasted Peppers with Sourdough and Goat’s Cheese

One major reason why I decided to make goat’s cheese was because I stared at this recipe for so long. I love recipes that inspire, whether to start cooking or to eat better. For me, it was taking chances and learning new things. Although I haven’t got the confidence to make my own sourdough bread, homemade goat’s cheese was definitely a big start.

Being blissfully alone at home over the weekend, I stepped into the kitchen, turned on some slow jazz and pretended I was hosting my very own cook show. My only audience were my dad’s pet fishes and frogs, so there was no way they could laugh at me for not knowing how to peel the peppers.

Cooking has made me appreciate the beauty of simple tasks. The mere crushing of the rosemary and garlic, and roasting of the peppers releases such wonderful smells – conjuring an intoxicating image of a rustic Italian kitchen. The joy of sniping away fresh herbs from your garden, and watching pieces of bread turn golden brown with luscious peppery olive oil. Ah, the sweet life of a domesticated goddess!

I had my few share of misadventures (as usual): having no idea how to grill the peppers, I threw them into the microwave instead. As a result, the fruit lost a lot of the juice goodness. It was probably why i found it a chore to peel the skins off. I had no clue how long peppers took to cook, so each time spent in the microwave and later in the pan was probably inaccurate. Despite so, the dish was pretty awesome.

Although preparing a meal for oneself can sometimes be a little too much work, but the moment I sat down to gobble down my very own lunch, it was worth all the dirty utensils in the sink. Freshly picked herbs, succulent peppers, homemade goat’s cheese and organic sourdough bread, it was the right combination to make a perfect Sunday.

Recipe can be found in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things (my handsome man).

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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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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Le Noël Blanc

Christmas came and went like a ghost from a Charles Dickens novel. We have been planning for our first dessert table for more than a month now. Different state of emotions ran through us: excitement, fear, calmness, confidence then the usual freaking out. The funny thing about Christmas was that there was always not enough time whether you were feeding six or 50 people. Something was probably missing or not done. (That was always solved with a glass of pinot noir and a small amount of charm.)

Dessert tables can be daunting. Just google it and you can find plenty of different inspirations and examples. The beauty of a dessert table at its most basic and importance is that it must be an aesthetic masterpiece. Some might disagree but we have a reason of saying so. A lot of colour coordination comes into play, alongside complementary props. Many use icing and fondant to achieve that level of thematic consistency, which is something we as bakers are not keen on. To all cupcake and fondant lovers, sorry, we are just not that into them.

But as all dessert tables, yes, there was still a theme to abide to.

Working with an upcoming events boutique The Magpies, we were given a small brief: White, Rustic and French. The France that everyone knew well were the chic streets of Paris with their high-fashion houses and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. To achieve rustic charms, we decided to drop ourselves into a region famous for its rolling lavender fields and charming bastides (country houses): the south eastern part of France, Provence.

When one speaks of a Provençal Christmas, the famous 13 desserts come to mind. Here was the difficult part. As fascinating and mouth-watering 13 desserts could be, churning out so many types of sweets could become literally a Nightmare before Christmas. There were a number of other factors that came into play: the need of balance between the savoury and sweet, dietary specifications, a tight baking schedule and availability of ingredients and recipes.

So, many recipes were tried and tested. Those you see on the table above are the successful bakes after weeks of homework. We tried to keep the Provençal spirit alive with or without the 13 desserts. It may not be the best representation, but it was still as delicious. We hope to execute the real Provençal Christmas desserts one day. Someone, please let us know where we can find a good Calissons recipe in English!!

Here was the menu that was served:

Two types of hassle-free tea sandwiches, one with eggs and chives, and the other was roasted chicken with cranberry sauce. Lovely roasted potatoes served with mustard mayonnaise. And a personal favourite – mini Caramelised Onion and Gruyère tarts.

The sweets were fronted by a magnificent chocolate Gugelhupf cake (I’d call this the show-stopper), toffee nut macarons, dainty orange blossom crème caramel cups with meringue, and a dark chocolate fondue served with marshmallows and bananas.

To quench one’s thirst, we had Lemonade and Pastis de Marseille. (Yes, it’s a summer drink but pastis is such a fixture of the Provençal culture that we had to serve it.) We also gave Ginger nut Biscuits as a little gift to the guests.

At a glance, the menu does not seem extensive or difficult. To be honest, we did not meet with any major mishaps other than some burnt caramel. This was our first dessert table after all, we could aim for the stars but it was better to get it right for a start. As with many beginnings, it can only get better the next time.

Pictures are from our friends at The Magpies. (Thank you girls!) For the recipes, just scroll down to the end of the entry!!

By the way, The Hobbit came out 2 weeks ago and we were very very happy and satisfied fans. If you have yet to watch it, go catch it (especially in HFR 3D, it’s eyegasm galore)!!!! WE INSIST.

Now that Christmas is over, there is only 3 more days to the New Year…. we feel old already… *sobs*

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Tomato & Thyme Foccacia

So here I am, seated in my little corner with the laptop propped on my lap – how do I even begin this entry? (You see, D has been bugging me to post this entry and I’ve procrastinated for a week)

I do suppose this project began when D and I took a trip down to Tekka Market, for a hope to chance upon some fruit or vegetable we could instill in a dish. The moment we laid our eyes on these fresh vibrant tomatoes – we were sold. Plus, it costs much cheaper in Tekka than in the supermarkets in Singapore.

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