Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: pepper

A Summer South American Barbecue

To be honest, every meal that we have hosted thus far was never planned in advance. I mean, there is planning for the feast, but the actual thought of “ah, let’s have a party” was always picked up randomly from the clouds. Don’t ask me how we decided to hold a South American inspired barbecue, was it the hot weather, or the desire to drink margaritas and chew on smoked ribs?

South America is one huge continent, and to generalise South American food is the same as saying the French and Russians eat croissants for breakfast. What we did was borrow different dishes from different countries from Colombia to Chile (and a little Mexican). But we need to understand that even within a country, different regional cuisines exist so we really did just generalise Latino food. (I’M SORRY!)

I grew up reading Gourmet magazine until their very last publication in November 2009 (I still have the last copy). One of the editorial spreads that was seared into my memory was Maricel Presilla’s Latino barbecue: the smoke, the char-grilled meat, the dark sticky sauces, the vivid colours of the partygoers’ clothes. The atmosphere portrayed was exotic and almost intoxicating. It became our point of reference as we slowly did our research. There were so many things that came into play, like “can we get these ingredients”, “can they be cooked over barbecue”, and “would our guests like the flavours”.

The menu showcased probably the most familiar South American dishes, including the typical tortillas and a variety of salsas. We managed to get our hands on specific ingredients (sourced from a local specialist Mexican grocer) such as lovely dried pasilla peppers, habanero peppers, and black beans.

Looking at the menu on paper, it didn’t look like it would fill the stomachs of ten persons. But when you have these ten said individuals under the scorching hot sun by the pool, you would realise that the drinks would be gone before the food was gone. And that people would be floating in the water than be by the grill.

Handcrafted Mexican papel picado bunting in pastel colours were hung up to enhance the mood. (We are very superficial and yes, we know that the paper craft is usually used for religious events, not barbecues.) What we loved about this was the ease of feast, every one could personalise their tortilla wraps, do up their own burgers, sauce up their grilled corns and mix their alcoholic concoctions. Plus, it was a joy to buzz around the table and just lapping food onto the plate.

Despite the simplicity of the actual feast, plenty of preparation actually happened behind the curtains. Ned and I busied ourselves in making the condiments, marinations and meat patties a few days before. (We did think of making our own tortilla wraps, but the work load would be too much to bear.) The stinging sensation of the chillies and peppers was intense, I probably died a few times when Ned excitedly pushed the cup of blended spices into my face.

Most of them were homemade (because we are anal) and really, the end results were pleasantly good. Without further ado, behold the menu of our South American feast:

Chilled Gazpacho

Leafy Salad with Pomegranate and Feta

Quinoa Salad with Mint and Mango

Chile-Smothered Shrimp Skewers with Lime

Mushroom Quesadillas

Refried Black Beans

Guacamole

Fresh Tomato Salsa

Homemade Mexican Crema

Salvadoran Grilled Corn (Elote Loco)

Babyback Pork Ribs Adobo

Dominican Chimichurri Burgers

Dulce le Leche Ice Cream with Pecans

Cucumber Cooler (Agua Fresca de Pepino)

Margaritas and Tequilas

(Okay it does look like a lot of food now.)

Like the previous Hobbit Day breakfast we held a year ago, there was no greater joy to bring all your friends together to appreciate good company, food and a little bit of crazy in the kitchen a few nights before. If we brought back anything from this little barbecue party, it was that it’s alright if the beef was overcooked or that the mushrooms ran out faster than the wraps, because at the end of the day, it was too freaking hot to care. Yes, our next feast will probably be during sunset.

(All recipes are below the break.)

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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).

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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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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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.

Penne with Prawn, Olives and Feta Cheese (Greek Pasta Salad)

Penne with Prawn, Olives and Feta Cheese
Pasta is fast becoming our family’s food of convenience. That and Japanese soba noodles, so apologies on the overload of pasta recipes.

Why this Greek pasta salad? It was one of those slow work days when my colleagues and I decided to have a little Mediterranean pot luck lunch in the office. Pasta was the only thing that covered all grounds: easy to cook, portable, ability to serve it cold, and a sure crowd and tummy pleaser. Well, the other reason was because I was craving for my colleague’s homemade hummus, hence the Mediterranean theme.

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