Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: nuts

Roasted Almond Affogato

With the unearthly timings the World Cup matches are broadcasting locally, a single cup of coffee is just not enough to last us through the night. Or should I say early morning. In any case, we are surviving on an average of two to three hours of sleep these days. And no matter how many cups of coffee you down, the caffeine seems to stop its magical effects after awhile. (I tried drinking a total of 8 shots once. Please do not try it unless you wish to have an accelerating heart rate.)

Sometimes, we do get a little hungry in the middle of the night. Swearing at the television and watching 22 men kick a ball can take up a lot of energy. Especially if your team is not playing up to expectations, hunger plus anger, on top of fatigue, makes a rabid fangirl. To combat potential crazy breakdowns, we figured a simple dessert would calm even the most frantic. (No, really, I actually lost sleep because Germany drew an equaliser with Ghana. A sleep-deprived person who can’t fall asleep. The world could have combusted.) A word of caution though: the sugar and caffeine rush might work differently on different people. And this is not for those worried about their waistlines.

Let’s turn back the clock a little. One of our very first meals in London was at Polpo and to beat the jet lag, we decided to have an affogato after our very satisfying meal. A dessert in a cup of coffee, nothing beats the simple combination of pure vanilla ice cream melting in your cup of rich espresso. I don’t know if it was the excitement of being on a holiday or that we were hungry and cold, but it was one of the most luscious cups of heaven we have had. Ever since then, we knew we had to recreate it when we go back home.

Back to the present, we came across the cookbook ‘One’ by Florence Knight, who is the head chef of Polpo. And to our delight, within it lies a recipe of an affogato. Traditionally made with vanilla ice cream and a cup of espresso, this version is a much richer concoction with its inclusion of roasted almonds. And boy, when we both tasted the dessert, it was like we were transported back to London and into the cosy corner of the bar at Polpo.

The combination of the caramelised almond ice cream lifted the bitterness of the coffee. We used a deeper roast of beans as we favoured the contrast of bittersweet. You can add pralines to the dessert for an extra indulgence but for convenience’s sake (half time is only 20 minutes), we are satisfied with just almond ice cream and coffee. In fact, almost too satisfied because we just downed two cups each. Well, stomachs come first, guilt can come later.

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Poached Mandarin Oranges with Vanilla Ice Cream

(I’m on fire here! Three posts in a row!! But that’s only because *cough* Ned sent me a threatening note this morning *cough*. I had to finish up all the old drafts left sitting on the shelf by today or *cough* certain misfortune might befall me.)

At times, we forget why we wanted to do this or our mantra for local seasonal produce. If you haven’t noticed, we barely focus on any fresh fruits or vegetables this year. With the lack of time to do anything in the kitchen, we wanted to avoid wastage of any sort. Fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood are too perishable to keep up with our schedules. We just finished up our next row of desserts and it features another dry ingredient (it’s coffee, if you need to know). If possible, we would love to return to the good old days where fruits play a major part.

The last time we handled fruit of any sort was after Chinese New Year. (Okay, that was four months ago. Please do not glare at me for being four months late in posting this.) Leftover mandarin oranges was common at most Chinese households after the festive season. These citruses are great on their own but we decided to finish the last batch of oranges with a little touch of Middle Eastern spice.

Unlike the typical oranges, mandarins are a lot more tender with its plump juicy pulp held together with thick with white pith. Some do not like the bitterness of the pith, but we tend to eat them anyway since the mandarins are sweet enough. The lovely thing about mandarins is that you can peel them open with just your hands. Just look at how pretty each segment looks! Like tiny gold Chinese ingots (currency of imperial china)! An interesting cultural fact: mandarin oranges and gold have the same pronunciation in Cantonese. And that’s why we exchange mandarins (or gold) during the New Year.

With that much leftover oranges and our (then) freshly made vanilla ice cream, we turned them into a simple dessert that give the usual citrus a little spicy kick. You can poach the mandarins in their tiny ingots or slice them in a cross-section to create beautiful floral shapes. What we really love is how a few added spice could bring the fruit a waft of fresh air. Instead of the usual saccharine taste of orange, the flavour of the fruit deepened with the vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. To top it all off, add a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and dust some chopped pistachios for added crunch – a Chinese tradition with an exotic Middle Eastern twist.

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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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Raspberry and Pistachio Tarts

Ned has been pretty obsessed with tart tins recently, resulting in a much unnecessary amount of tins in our kitchen. They come in all shapes and sizes: big, not so big, small, super small, fluted, non-fluted, round, rectangular, removable base and the unremovable ones. I expect this collection to grow even more. It’s pretty odd for someone who used to run away from tart making. Now, all Ned loves doing are tarts. Not that I’m complaining, when there’s always something delicious at the end of the day.

It’s not uncommon to see a variety of immaculate mini tartlets sitting behind a clear glass of most patisseries. They usually are round and at about 8cm in diameter. (No idea why 8cm became the standard measurement for individual tart portions.) And Ned managed to get her hands on some of these particular tart tins after plenty of searching.

Most tarts that feature fruits usually do not incorporate them into the filling (not including my all-time favourite tarte au citron) which I find it rather odd. Be it apple, pear or apricots, the fruits are often made to do their most natural duties of adding a tartness to the dish and being wonderful decor pieces. The raspberry tarts we have made here are no different. But what is interesting here is that the crust contains pistachio, which is a great pair with the raspberries. Having just three raspberries on each tart really is not enough. We kept popping on more of the scarlet jewels into our mouth as we dug into the tarts.

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Rhubarb Semifreddo and Pistachio Cream with Honey Madeleines

Was there ever a time when you watched a Masterchef episode and thought to yourself: ‘that looked really pretty, I wished I could do that’. Some desserts are plated with such detail that it almost looks like a painted portrait. Every single item is delicately placed to create a piece of art; it becomes an all-sensory immersion of sight, smell, taste and texture.

In one single plate, there lies multiple desserts that combine to become the masterpiece. There would probably be a sponge cake sitting on a shortbread or a puff pastry, topped with a sorbet, poached fruits, jelly cubes, sauces, flowers, tiny tuile bits and maybe puree. Basically, it looks and is very complicated, and everything is, in all possibilities, hand made from scratch. Then it hits you why it costs so much just to eat sweets in a fine-dining restaurant. Even the bloody sorbet is lovingly concocted in the kitchen.

We could be a little too ambitious to try our hand on such artistic masterpieces. It gave N plenty of tasks to accomplish in a short frame of time, especially since when we weren’t making any shortcuts by purchasing some of the items over-the-shelf. Yes, you read that right, whatever was on the that plate were painstakingly laid out by N, right down to the very chopped pistachio nuts.

The star of the dish was obviously the rhubarb semifreddo, a mousse-y ice-cream-like cake, that captured the tartiness of the vegetable perfectly. The quenelle of homemade pistachio cream (that is made with pistachio paste from our kitchen) might be as aesthetically pleasing as we would want it to be, but the minty green of the cream matches so well with the pastel pinks of the semifreddo. The honey madeleines gave the dessert bite, with its warm sponge and subtle sweetness. Poached rhubarb ties the dish together and brings vibrancy into the plate. A pity we accidentally dumped the juice away, that would have made for a lovely touch and perhaps bring it to completion.

Another challenge was assembling the different components on the plate. Some chefs draw out their creations on paper, while some simply have the talent. Well, we really just did what fools do – we just do it with no actual thought process. The final portrait was probably not of a Blumenthal quality, but as a start, it wasn’t really that bad.s Plus it was fun to exclaim sabayon in Raymond Blanc’s french accent at every opportunity.

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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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