Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: lemon

The Novice Cook: Squid, Potato and Chilli

I just had a couple of my wisdom teeth removed a few days back, which only meant a diet of gooey porridge and soup. The only joy I could partake in was the fact that I had five days off from work. This gave me the perfect opportunity to foray into the kitchen while everyone else was out of the house (except my Dad, he’s always home). The great thing about having the whole day free from work obligations meant I could have (A) a long relaxing brunch, (B) a leisurely grocery shopping trip and (C) short coffee break thereafter. And it’s always a joy to shop in a relatively empty market.

Although I was nursing a wounded mouth, it was in the midst of healing and I could slowly consume soft foods. I decided to be slightly more adventurous though – I figured squid should be tender enough. Or that all sense of wisdom was left at the dentist chair (we have a local saying that squids are ‘blur’, meaning dim and clueless. So, if someone calls you sotong, it’s an insult).

Why squid then? They just seemed odd, don’t they? A little like aliens of the sea world, with their stringy tentacles and bulging bug-eyed faces. They look slimy and slightly creepy as though they can murder you by wrapping multiple legs around you. Death By Sotong, that’s terrible. But that’s what intrigued me, because despite their unfortunate looks, they were a delight to taste.

My only problem was that I had no idea how to prepare squid. I knew I had to get rid of the transparent bone and make sure that none of the black ink is introduced into my dish. Thankfully I had help from my equally clueless father to cut the creature for me. I stood beside him as he explained the steps in a very convincing manner – dads are endearing this way. Well, luckily for both of us, he succeeded in cleaning the squid and I had something to cook with.

The recipe called for the squid to be covered with flour, which gave a very odd texture to the seafood when done. I’m not sure if it was supposed to create a crispy layer since it was baked and not fried. There wasn’t much a batter per se, so what resulted was a mushy-type texture I wasn’t crazy about. Paired with chilli (which Dad cut, because he was worried that I’d get them in my eyes) and potatoes, the dish had a piquant spicy kick and a refreshing citrusy taste from the lemon juice. I wouldn’t mind cooking this dish again, but without the flour and the potatoes. Maybe with a generous helping of blended chilli sauce and lime…. like sambal sotong

When he saw the final dish, Dad laughed and shook his head. At that moment, I transformed into a four-year-old girl playing chef in her toy kitchen.

The recipe can be found here.

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Lemon-Pistachio Polenta Cake with Lemon Icing

To be honest, there is a long list of entries lining up to be written. It doesn’t help that all I want to do these days is snug into bed and watch anime (damn you, Gintama and Shingeki no Kyogin) or tumblr stupid gifs. The procrastination bug has hit me real bad this time.

Back to business: the lemon-pistachio lemon cake is another homage to our trip to Great Britain, and one of our favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi. I remembered how knackered we were from all the walking and from the cold, that we decided to do a quick takeaway from one of Ottolenghi’s cafes. Being not unusually greedy, we bought more than our little tummies could handle.

One of the many dishes we brought away was a lemon polenta cake topped with icing and pistachio bits. At first bite, yotam’s cake was slightly stodgy and the icing was dry. We kept half of it for the next morning and strangely it tasted better. The flavour intensified and had more moisture than before. Nevertheless, the cake was gone at the end of the day.

Polenta is one ingredient we’ve not dealt with so far. The Italian cornmeal is usually used as a gluten-free substitute in cakes, which will result in bakes that are moist and dense with a grainy texture. I’m not trying to be biased here, but Ned’s polenta cake turned out better than Yotam’s (blasphemy!!). It had the right amount of tanginess of the fruit and sugary sweetness of the lemon icing. Unlike what we had in London, the cake had good consistency in moisture and texture. It’s a dessert Gin-san would approve. (Good job, Shinpachi.)

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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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Tarte au citron (Lemon Tart)

It’s amazing how many tarts we have done the past year. If we continue at this rate, we can open a tart shop. Plus, Ned’s confidence in tart-making has grown and the consistency of the crusts are getting better each time. If you place a tart made now with one made before, the difference would be obvious.

Where’s the challenge then? Well, every bake can turn into a bad one without practice and a little luck. But really, I specifically requested for a tarte au citron because the image of Mary Berry slicing a knife through that perfectly baked lemon tart has been engrained in my mind since GBBO season one. And what a perfect excuse but to get Ned to make one for me. *evil cackle*

This is a quintessentially French dessert and a mainstay in many patisseries. How do we know if the patisserie has good pastries? We sample the lemon tart. (We do the same for dim sum restaurants, except it’s the har gao.) Whether it comes with meringue or not, if it’s custard or curd, when done properly, the sublime zingy flavours of the lemon will come through with bursts of sweet and sour.

Michael Roux made the famous tarte au citron in which a custard filling is used, and Pierre Hermé’s version had it in a curd-based form. Both were equally delicious but with varying textures. We have plenty of tarte au citron, and found that the tartness of the citrus had a stronger presence in a curd as compared to custard.

So voila, we did a custard version with our favourite Chef Blanc. (Sadly, we couldn’t find Roux’s recipe in his book.)

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Issue 08: Lemons

Strawberries were supposed to make their appearance as part of our Berries series. But in some weeks after London, the refreshing vivid flavours of lemons began to show up in our kitchen. Our favourite desserts in the UK just so happen to showcase the same zesty yellow fruit – a lemon posset in Gingerman and a lemon polenta cake in Ottolenghi. To satisfy our cravings and to evoke those wonderful memories we had there, we decided to give our berries a rest and bring out the proper taste of summer.

Lemons are one of those ingredients that will always have its presence felt in every kitchen all over the world. There are plenty of reasons why: it is a great companion to meat and seafood, gives a wonderful spritz of freshness to salads and is very well-loved in many sweets and desserts. Extremely versatile and full of vitamins, both the juice and its zest can be used to add a full-bodied perfume to a dish. (Just watch any episode of Raymond Blanc and you’ll see him asking of leh-mon almost every single time.)

The Eureka lemon is typically sold in supermarkets, but in recent years, the Meyer lemon has made its way into our shores. We have not had the chance to use Meyers but would love to one day. Another dream is to gather citrons (lemons, blood oranges, bitter oranges, clementines, etc) when in season in Italy, and then make jars and jars of marmalade and jam. Imagine that!

Picking lemons are simple – they should be firm and unblemished. Feel the weight, heavy fruits will contain more juice. If using the lemons for the zest, choose larger fruits with thicker skin. Make sure they are unwaxed.

We were spoiled for choice when deciding what to do. Cakes, ice creams, biscuits, fools, tarts, candies, jellies, even drinks. The list was endless. Thank goodness for London, we knew we just wanted to recreate our favourite desserts. Plus there is always a lemon at home, so the sweets would never stop.

The Novice Cook: Asparagus, Potatoes and Halloumi Cheese

While Ned stirred away her asparagus soup, I was adding to the kitchen chaos by preparing my own take on the asparagus. Having two chefs in one tiny kitchen can get a little crazy, especially when there was only one stove to use. Luckily, all I needed was our trusty oven to stir up this simple dish.

What’s so interesting is how these three different ingredients can come together so perfectly well. Both the asparagus and the potato share an earthy, nutty flavour; it was no wonder why they make fantastic partners. The recipe called for new potatoes, but I didn’t have those so I had to make do with regular ones. Most pair asparagus with hard cheeses like Parmesan, but Halloumi cheese was used here. I’ve never eaten Halloumi cheese before – it is a semi-hard cheese originating from Cyprus and can cook very well in high heat. The mild saltiness of the halloumi brought a lovely contrast and enhanced the sweet, sulfurous flavour of the asparagus.

I was pretty much out of Ned’s hair after 10 to 15 minutes into preparation as there was only cutting, baking and tossing involved. The only ‘special’ ingredient I had to get was the halloumi, which could probably be easily replaced with Parmesan. It can make for a wonderful tea time snack. Just pop the items in the oven, make yourself a cup of tea and when it’s ready, settle yourself in a comfy couch and a good read. I didn’t make a lot of this, but I hope I had… it was gobbled up almost too quickly. Now I need more halloumi.

Recipe can be found here.

Tarte à la Rhubarbe et Citron (Rhubarb and Lemon Tart)

Not tarts again?! Well, why not a tart? There is always something welcoming and cosy about tarts and pies. At the back of my mind from my childhood, there is an image of a young Edwardian lady who baked a tart and left it by the windowsill to cool. She came back only to find half the pastry was gone and the story ends with her finding out which child steal the tart with some wit and charm. It stayed with me till now because it brought romance and beauty from a lost time. If I could time travel, I would love to go back into the past and see how people lived then. (WHERE ARE YOU, DOCTOR?)

Anyway, I digress. The tart is a simple way to let rhubarb shine and do its natural job of pushing its flavours through. By pairing the tart-y rhubarb beside the citrus sourness of lemon, it already did not sound like a dessert without squeezing one’s face in distaste. But really, both ingredients melded very well together and instead of having a gastronomic battle in the mouth, one is treated to a surprisingly slightly sharp nectar-like tang. Maybe it was because N reduced the amount of sugar than specified as there are parents who don’t partake to sugar overdoses very well.

Can we just make it official that rhubarb is the prettiest vegetable to cook? The moment the stems are heated up with sugar, a deep vivacious fuchsia blossoms and bubbles. The rhubarb pieces dazzle like precious jewels from inside the lemon custard. Just seeing the colours just bring a smile to one’s face. If this doesn’t scream the herald of spring with so much ecstasy, I don’t know what else can do the same. With this being our first experience with rhubarb, there will be plenty of fond memories and more to come in the future.

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The Novice Cook: Homemade Chèvre Cheese (Goat’s Milk Cheese)

As with anyone who cooks, it is a natural progression to go back to the provenance of the dish. It becomes much more important to want to find out where the ingredient came from and how it reached the table. After all, the food ends up in our stomach and we all want to know what we are really putting into our bodies. (Horsemeat, anyone?)

I think it’s quite apparent on this blog that we are very concerned about the source of our ingredients. N and I always fantasize about having our own little farm and living off what we grow and rear. Imagine this: waking up to freshly-laid free range eggs from your chickens, drinking the first cup of milk from your goats, eating juicy bacon streaks from the pig you lovingly took care of, and biting into warm crusty bread made with flour from the local mill, or even wheat you grew on your own. Basically, we want to live in the Shire.

It is quite impossible to have such a life in tiny urban Singapore. We are all confined to small high-rise apartments and cramped corridors. But if you traipse down to Lim Chu Kang, you may be pleasantly surprised. A few farms dot the reserve area, one will find crabs, quail, vegetables, mushrooms, frogs, and maybe crocodiles (yes, you read it right).

I had the itch to try my hand on cheese-making, so we decided to make a trip down to the local goat farm to get some milk. What greeted us first was a slight goat-y smell in the air and a symphony of bleats. The goats were systematically led to their milking stations from their pens via a fenced corridor. Its fascinating to watch these wonderful animals go around doing their chores in a coordinated manner; like a cohort of school children walking to school in lines.

Goats tend to seek familiarity; they do not welcome surprises very much. But they are also highly curious creatures. Our presence piqued their interest and their bright yellow eyes would follow us as we watch them. Honestly, I was rather upset with the environment the animals were kept in. While they might be kept well within AVA standards, there were certain elements that needed more attention. This is not a criticism but a personal observation from my visit.

While I may not know much about goats and farming, I think one can still have basic knowledge when it comes to taking care of animals. I didn’t understand why water was being fed via a pipe (resulting in one goat ‘hogging’ the water supply or thirsty goats gnawing other parts of the pipe, causing facility damage); why there was no roughage; why so many goats are confined to a pen. Although I’ve been reading up a lot on goat farming (Goat Song being a personal favourite), perhaps my image of farming is too idealized.

I must apologise for the long post about cute goats, and get on about cheese instead. Most of the cheese we have in Singapore are imported from all over the world, many of the supermarkets have a dedicated corner for cheese products. It might not be present in Chinese cooking, but my family grew up being huge cheese eaters.

How the idea of cheese-making came about was quite random though. It was really just waking up to the thought of churning out your own cheese. I guess that’s how dreams came into reality, just plunging into it without any foreknowledge. Do it first, and think later. I’ve never really drank goat’s milk before, much less eaten goat’s cheese, so it really was just finding my way through the dark. (Apparently, goat’s milk is much healthier than cow’s milk. Well, I’m not really sure but both taste good anyways.)

It was mentioned that cheese is somewhat like wine – taking on the flavours of the land, also known as terroir, a term familiar in the world of wine. If the goat foraged for wild berries, there would be a hint of fruit in the milk, resulting in a different cheese that of a goat that eats hay. There are many other factors that come into play, but I’ll leave that to the experts. Some of my reading list included Goat Song, Artisan Cheese Making at Home and Mastering Cheese.

Argument holds that only raw milk can make real cheese. There was only pasteurised milk available (and I didn’t have my own goats) so I had to make do. Raw milk is not allowed for sale in Singapore. This is rather odd since cheese made from unpasteurised milk is sold everywhere on this island.

At first, cheese-making sounded so daunting; but it was surprisingly easy to make. The cheese we made was very much like the goat’s milk, it was mild and slightly grassy (could be the result of Alfafa Hay diet), and somewhat goat-y. Our’s is a rather soft cheese since we didn’t hang it for long – almost feta-like. Seeing it becoming closer and closer to what actual cheese looks like was so satisfying. In fact, this whole experiment only cements our passion for owning our own animals one day. And going to Loire Valley to learn the art of chèvre cheese making.

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The Novice Cook: Baked Fish and Capers on Toast

As part of The Novice Cook series, I have decided earlier this year that I would cook every recipe out of Hugh’s Three Good Things. It’s been a long time since my last venture in the kitchen. I could tell that I was a little rusty from the lack of practice as I had to keep asking N to check on the readiness of my fish. And how to use the oven. In a nutshell, I’m not making any sort of progress at all.

Honestly, I’m not a fish person. It’s not that I do not like the taste. Over the years, I just stopped eating fish as frequently as I should. My late Grandma always dominated the kitchen. But when she had dementia and started becoming forgetful, she would put in tons of conflicting ingredients into the fish. We still ate it, of course, out of respect. Sometimes it would turn out delicious, sometimes not so appetising.

The only reason why I chose this recipe was because it didn’t threaten me and it could use up the capers I had left. This dish surprised me. Sometimes, one can forget that such simple ingredients can come together to create layers of textures. Biting into it, there would be the sweetness of the fish, zingy-ness of the capers, fragrance of the thyme, and aroma of the buttered garlic toast. We added a spritz of lemon juice to add a little spring into the dish. S, the resident fish lover at home, dug into it with so much gusto that my heart exploded with joy.

(With N’s advice, I will not post the recipe since I’m doing so much out from an individual book. You may get your own copy here.)

On the matter of fish, I’m trying to get our family into the routine of buying sustainable fish and meat from ethical sources. Reading about the horse meat scandal in the UK only emphasizes how much we don’t know what we put on our plates anymore. Sometimes I wonder if people even know what the piece of meat even looked like before it was cut and packed into little plastic boxes everyone is so familiar with. And there’s the confounded theory that ethical food is, most of the time, two to three times more expensive than an unhealthy overfed animal. Something is terribly wrong with our society.

On the same note, since this is Hugh’s recipe and it’s about fish, join him in his fight to protect the oceans and defend the seabed and fish stocks from the most damaging forms of fishing. Although it concentrates mostly around Britain, I think its a start to big things. I’m not sure how fishing is done in Singapore or Southeast Asia. If possible, I would love to visit our local fisheries and fish farms to learn more. Then, maybe with better understanding, there would be better futures.

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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