Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: milk

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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Issue 05: Chocolate

Everybody loves chocolate, whether dark, milk or white. Throughout its long history, cocoa beans were highly prized and used as god offerings by the Aztecs or as money by the Mayans. It was later brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century, where only the royalty and aristocratic could indulge in this pure decadence. Now, it has become a product of globalisation and mass production; one could just reach out his hand to grab a bar of chocolate.

Chocolate has the ability to command passion and (healthy) addiction. There are wine, coffee, cheese, tea or even olive oil connoisseurs; and chocolate is right there among the elite. It’s about knowing the beans, the soil, the people who harvest them, the process, the ingredients, and the techniques. In the world of pastry, chocolate on its own demands plenty of attention and a different set of skills. That is probably why there is a World Championship dedicated to this magical brown stuff.

(I was quietly surprised that a Chocolate Directive exists in the EU government. But knowing how much Europeans love their food, perhaps its only normal to see why such strict rules exist for this commodity.)

As children, our encounters with chocolate were endless. Books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Chocolate Touch tempt our little greedy minds. We would press our noses on windows of gourmet chocolate shops. If we were nice that day, our father would reward us to a nibble of those beautiful chocolate creations. As we grew older, an appreciation for proper chocolate grew. (I’m slightly proud to say I’ve never eaten a Mars Bar or Hershey’s Kisses, and stopped consuming Cadbury’s for a decade now.) Then, there were luxurious chocolate buffets and high-end chocolate stores to visit. Us and chocolate, the marriage was still going strong.

Naturally, our path to chocolate would be a progression from a taster to a maker. Honestly, it’s the most delicious issue we have had so far. The aromas lingering in the air when N bakes were intoxicating. It was never easy keeping one’s hands away from the fresh pastries as it seduces you to just taste it. Even dish-washing was fun – lick the chocolate off the spoons before dumping them into the sink.

However, chocolate requires plenty of expertise and precision. And a very dry and cold atmosphere – which proved to be a challenge when our kitchen is on tropical mode almost every other day. Pair this up with the ingredient’s temperament (yes, it’s difficult to understand chocolate at times), this mouthwatering issue also proved to be quite a challenge.

But we can safely say that all bakes were ready for Easter, and that I do not mind the next issue to feature this lovely food again.

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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Potato Dauphinoise

The French are renowned for their culinary excellence and gastronomic standards (as well as being the capital of fashion and all things je ne sais quoi). Many other cuisines around the world have incorporated classic French techniques into their dishes, and aspiring cooks can often at least name one French chef they wish to emulate.

France used to be my plateau of dreams; it still is actually, even though I’ve given up on my fashion dreams. Who wouldn’t want to stroll down the river Seine, people-watch while you sip on coffee by the side walk, or just have a little Parisian romance under the lights of the Eiffel Tower? The country is no longer my priority and that’s two years of French classes gone to waste. It is now N’s little oyster of sparkles and exploding rainbows.

To be honest, our encounters with French food are too few to mention. The cuisine is relatively expensive in Singapore and I don’t think Délifrance is the best representation of what the French can offer. Some time back, our brother brought the whole family down to a casual French bistro nearby. La Petit Cuisine, it was called. Even though I found it odd that rice was served (to accommodate with local tastes, I suppose), the experience of having the French chef hovering around and barking at you to finish up your food was truly an eye opener. (I must state that the chef was just being cheeky and he really is a lovely jolly fellow.)

Even though we do not have much experience have an informed evaluation, the food was found to be enjoyable and the flavours sublime. In fact, N loved the potato dauphinoise  so much, she decided to recreate it in our own kitchen.

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French Crêpes with Caramelised Bananas

The Chinese New Year holidays has messed up the time for me. Saturday felt like a dreaded Sunday, and today feels like a late Friday hangover. Its not alcohol that’s affecting my thoughts, instead the usually harmless caffeine has finally decided to work its wondrous magic last night. I barely slept a wink.

Last week, N made some scrumptious crêpes for breakfast. Waking up to a plate of freshly made crêpes on a weekend is the best feeling in the world. These French pancakes are very versatile. One can serve it alongside any fruits that are in season, and eat them with caster sugar and lemon (which we love) or a dollop of creme fraiche. Alternatively, make it a dessert and drizzle chocolate or caramel all over, or even turn the dish into the famous Crêpe Suzette. They are terribly simple to make and can be served for breakfast, afternoon tea or a indulgent supper.

Serve it with fresh milk, black coffee or dessert wine befitting the meal.

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Coconut Panna Cotta with Caramelised Mango

Panna cotta is a classic Italian pudding made with cream, milk and sugar. It is a fairly easy-to-make dessert that complements many types of fruits perfectly. The subtle flavours of coconut comes through brilliantly, and the mango makes a great partner-in-crime.

There is something that speaks Thai about this dessert, despite its European heritage. If blindfolded, it will be no different from biting into Thai Coconut Pudding. With the mango slice, one would be forgiven if blue seas and white sands of Phuket comes to mind.

If you are planning a dinner, this would be a lifesaver. It can be made the day before, thus saving you more time to fret over the main course instead.

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Issue 03: Coconut

Coconut is ever so present in Asian cooking. It is an essential ingredient used in our curries, nasi lemak (coconut rice), chendol, kaya (coconut jam), etc. In fact, there is not one time coconut milk is not in our house.

When we were younger, Mom would bring us to the wet market to get fresh desiccated coconut from the Indian auntie. I remembered being fascinated by the myriad of smells: pungent fragrances from the hung flower garlands, the scent of coconut shavings and distant aroma of ikan bilis (preserved anchovies) from the dry store next door. For us, it only meant there would be chicken curry brewing in a big pot for dinner that night.

The wonders of this fruit are endless; there are so many ways to make use of what it can offer. The white coconut meat can be eaten raw, grated or made into coconut milk and cream. It reminds me of milk and how it can be turned into yoghurt, butter and cheese. Another would be the water that can be made into coconut vinegar or even Arrack, an alcoholic drink. The uses of the coconut or even the tree itself are endless.

What we have done here is to incorporate this familiar ingredient into desserts that are not Asian in nature. Being overconfident, we did try making William Curley’s Coconut Chocolate Bars. Alas, our humid weather did not give us the results we wanted. (Hence we are not going to post our failed batch.)

To be honest, as much as it sounded as a good idea at the beginning, we still love our coconut in desserts we are accustomed to. Like the Khanom Tako Sai (Thai Coconut Pudding), it is a dual jewel of coconut and corn wrapped in a banana leaf. Or the Kueh Salat (Glutinous Rice Cake topped with Coconut Jam Pudding). Perhaps another time, when we are much more adventurous…

(Being Asian, Asian cooking is strangely one of the most difficult cuisines to master. Anyone kind enough to direct us to cookbooks or websites that do amazing Asian desserts?)

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