Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: season

Pear and Frangipane Tarts (Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires)

You would think we would be bored of baking tarts by now. On the contrary, I think we’d never stop popping them into the oven. There is a quiet sense of satisfaction knowing that slowly but surely, improvement could be tasted after every bake. Kudos to Ned who persevered despite it all and once again, delivered a tray filled with petite tartlets of crisp golden brown pastry, luscious fruits and delightful almond filling.

Frangipane is a filling made from almonds and acts like a pastry cream. Back then when I was clueless about baking and culinary terms, I always thought frangipane was made from frangipani flowers. That is, you have to admit, really quite an interesting flavour should it be true. (Technically, you can actually consume frangipani or plumeria flowers in salads, teas and even candy. My brain is raging with ideas now.) Now that I have grown a little wiser, visits to the local pâtisserie won’t have me leaving red-faced with my silly questions.

The almond acts like a base and pushes the honeyed sweetness of the pears in every bite. What I love is the burst of juice from the fruit against the dense frangipane filling – a mouthful of pure indulgence! For which, I am not ashamed to say that I ate two in one sitting.

Off to the gym…

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Issue 11: Pears

Note to myself: Never make promises on deadlines. I am officially the best procrastinator on this island. At least, I’m good at submitting late posts, that’s something to probably ‘brag’ about.

Okay, I digress.

In this household, we consume apples almost on a daily basis (even our dog loved them). If you peep into our fridge, there is a probability of 99% that there will be an apple over a pear. Compared to the crisp apple, there was a lack of crunchiness to be found in pears, they tend to be grainy and break down into a pulpy mush the moment you bite into them. Or perhaps, we have just been eating overripe pears to fully experience the actual lushness of the fruit. For that very reason, we figured it’s time we gave these voluptuous pears the attention they deserve.

That saying, we shouldn’t have put the pear against the apple. They are both utterly different in terms of texture, fragrance and taste. While an apple delivers punchy fruity notes, the pear offers subdued honeyed and floral flavours. The pear is like the awkward introverted kid in a party beside the boisterous loud apple, but in an one-on-one setting, you’ll find that the pear has a quiet confidence that will mesmerise and inspire. (Wow, I just made myself connect to pears on an endearing level now.)

With a determination to showcase the pear in its full glory, we surfed through the internet hoping to get a local supplier of pears but it seems our weather probably doesn’t permit the growing of pear trees. So it was off to scouring the markets for them. It’s good (and a little sad) to know that out of more than 400 varieties of pears, there is only a handful available to the public. And maybe because it’s not grown locally, the list is a lot shorter as compared to pear-growing countries. Our grocery notebook spotted the common Asian pear that is available all year round, and the occasional Packham, Conference, Anjou and Forelle, and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Bosc and Williams.

Sadly, while we were shopping around for these sensual babies, the only varieties we could get our hands on were the Conference and Packham. The first is an elongated fruit with freckled skin and is a great cooking pear, while the latter is a succulent bottom-heavy variety best eaten raw. Our bakes used plenty of the Conference while we kept the Packhams for after-dinner refreshments.

We have paired pears with both savoury and sweet dishes before, and found the contrast of having pear present in a savoury dish most satisfying. Especially in salads with pungent blue cheeses and nuts. They go very well with spice like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; are lovely companions to pork and game; and definitely shine alongside chocolate. In fact, pears such a versatile fruit, I wonder why we haven’t actually cooked them more. Pies, cakes, jams, tarts and biscuits, or even poached – they are no stranger to a dessert table.

Now, our Dad keeps stealing our Conference pears. Looks like we found a convert.

Warm Puff Pastry Tart with Fig, Olive, Capers and Goat’s Cheese

To showcase the versatility of the fig, we decided to do a savoury dish instead of the usual sweet suspects. It was either this, or another puff pastry fig tart with crème pâtissière and homemade cinnamon ice cream (it sounds really good at the moment). The savoury one won in the end, and we do not regret it one bit. In fact, we actually applaud ourselves for making this decision.

In our short history of tart making, this is by far and honestly the best dish I’ve ever eaten. So much so I wished we had made more so that I could have the whole tart myself. I mean, just look at it! It just draws you in with the bright contrast of colours: crispy golden brown pastry, lush flame-red baked figs, soft milky white goat’s cheese and dark shiny olives.

And with one bite, you’ll be lost in a combust of flavours – the sweet caramelised onions at the bast, the fragrance of the thyme and toasted pine nuts, the sharpness of the olives and capers, the tang of the cheese that amazingly brought out all the star quality of the figs. It was practically orgasmic.

Of course, puff pastry is always a roadblock but if you’re not keen on rolling out your own dough, there are some good quality ready-made puff pastry sheets available in the market. It saves up plenty of time and still tastes good. Yes, we are lazy sometimes. Making puff pastry from scratch can be satisfying but there are those days you just want to lie down under the sun with a glass of white wine and a scrumptious slice of tart. Lazy afternoons are our guilty pleasure.

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Fig and Marsala Trifle with Toasted Meringue

I must be watching too much Great British Bake Off or simply being too much of an anglophile. Every time a celebration or an occasion is mentioned in British context, there seems to be a glorious towering glass of trifle being brought out onto the dining table with all eyes fixed on the distinct multiple layers of cake, fruit, cream, custard and jelly (or not). Just reading about it just makes me salivate, I don’t even have a look at an image.

The French or the Italians may scoff at it, but digging my spoon into layers and layers of trifle-goodness is a personal dream of mine. Who in the sanest mind would refused a deep dish of overindulgence of possibly many desserts put into one? I wouldn’t. Sure, it could be a massive fool (the other dessert) in disguise but one would be an actual fool to not like it.

The challenge of trifle was the layers. Sadly, we did not have a trifle bowl so we had to make do with wineglasses. So, goodbye layers, we’ll be doing trifle free-style. The recipe called for rather unconventional ingredients so it didn’t matter how sticky we had to be with tradition. For example, we used a madeira sponge cake instead of the typical finger boudoir biscuits. We did however made sure the custard was as original as it was, without any added support from flour or corn starch.

After the cake was laid at the bottom, figs and pomegranate seeds were placed as neatly as they could. Custard was then poured into the glass, and thus filling up all the gaps the fruits and cake made. Topped with lightly toasted meringue, the dessert was like a gooey mixture of creamy goodness. The joy about trifle is not about looking good when eating it (it never be – just too sloppy), it’s about indulging the kid in you. Although we didn’t grow up eating trifle, at least we know how it feels like now.

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Issue 10: Figs

As I write this now, Ned is in the kitchen preparing some items for this month’s issue (which will be pears). We thought we could get the momentum back on track but somehow, some events popped up and disrupted the schedule a little. A little promise to at least post the pear issue by the end of November. For now, it’s time for the poor little figs to shine.

Yet another uncommon fruit in our tropical climate, the fig is mostly associated with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and is one of the oldest plant in civilisation. Sometimes we feel like we are veering off our fundamental ethos of local produce, no excuse we know. But we couldn’t help ourselves from being seduced by these fragile dark-blue fruits (or should I say, flowers) with blood-ruby red flesh. Imagine the colours on the plate! I wouldn’t mind growing figs in the garden but (a) we live in an apartment, (b) the weather might not be suitable and, (c) I’m terribly terrified of insects with stings (figs are dependent on wasps for reproduction).

The thing with vegetables and fruits: they should be eaten straightaway once they were rooted or plucked for maximum enjoyment. That’s before the sugar turns into starch, and figs do not ripen after being picked. Which only means, the ones we get in the markets are usually quite bland (a tip, always look for ripe ones when buying – they should be plump and quite soft to touch). Why bother then, you ask. I think they still deserve a little chance, with a little cajoling, they can become a wonderful addition to any dish. And this was something we experienced first hand, or first taste.

Although we only do get one type of varietal in the market here, it’s good to know that there are other types available if you are able to get your hands on them (and if you do, you are obliged to share with us *evil cackle*). From purple and black fruits, to the hardier green, yellow or brown ones, and we’re not too sure how each differ from the other. If we could ever have the chance, we would definitely have a taste test of our own. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be happy licking the sticky red juices off our fingers (now we sound like perverse vampires).

One thing we found out is how versatile figs are: they go very well in both sweet and savoury dishes and can dance the tango with a great number of other ingredients. Such as honey, yoghurt, marsala or madeira, spice (cinnamon, five spice), herbs (rosemary, thyme), nuts, dried-aired meats (proscuitto, parma), fruits (orange, pomegranate) and amazingly, young goat’s cheese and those full-bodied blue cheeses (Stilton, Gorgonzola). If we had a basket of them, we’d be off making fig chutney and jams. A pity that we don’t get more of these babies on this island.

We can only say that we’ve fallen in love with this sensual fruit and will continue to lust for it until we meet again.

The Novice Cook: Plum Crumble with Ice Cream

Crumbles are the ultimate comfort food. Soft baked fruits tender in its honey juices with a crunchy topping, usually made with oats or granola. They are easy to prepare and relatively convenient to consume. However, unlike the typical crumble, this recipe uses an ‘independent’ crumble where its prepared separately from the fruit, but equally as scrumptious.

I found the whole process of getting one’s fingers dirty with cold butter and flour amazingly therapeutic. The more I cook, the more I find it fascinating. It’s odd how food break down with heat and becomes something else entirely. It’s quite like alchemy, in this case, the gold meant delicious food in your tummy later on. And using your hands only makes the event very personal, it’s putting your handprint (literally) into your food and saying, “this is my gift to you”. I say that to my tummy.

The crumble was baked separately from the fruits. The key was to keep the crumble as loose as possible, hence turning and tossing with a fork (in which case, hands were not allowed unless one was keen to be burnt) whenever possible. Because the crumble remained on its own while baking, this only meant more time was needed to prepare this dish than a typical crumble. But what I love about an ‘independent’ crumble was that you could decide on how much of the crunchy oats you’d like on your fruits after. It’s such an unfussy way of enjoying the dessert.

Due to the lack of time, I decided to stew the plums instead of baking them. By adding a tiny amount of water, some sugar and star anise (I had quite a bit which overpowered the fruits a little), a deep red-purple infused into the fruit stew to become glorious plum syrup. In about 20 minutes, the plums were soft but kept their structure. Plate them up, sprinkle the crumble generously and scoop a dollop of the best vanilla (or clotted cream) ice cream, and give your tummy a lovely present.

Recipe can be found in Hugh’s Three Good Things.

Baked Spiced Plums with Cream Chantilly

The simplest way to appreciate the natural taste notes of the ingredients is to step away from fussy cooking techniques and to avoid using too much of other contrasting flavours. By doing so, it sometimes brings out marvellous results. This recipe showcases the very best of plums in its most naked form, paired with the lightest chantilly cream. We especially love the intensity the cinnamon offered.

Because we couldn’t find passion fruit juice, we decided to make our own from the actual fruits. Strangely, it only brought home that nothing really beats stripping down to the beauty of fresh simple ingredients and homemade goodness.

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Issue 09: Plums

Now that November is upon us, it is a wonder how fast the last ten months went by. Take a pause and think, what have we done and how much have we grown… There’s a thing called life which tends to get us pretty busy and being creatures of habit, sometimes we fall into the same routines each and every single day. Despite holding full-time jobs (which means late nights and even work on weekends), squeezing out whatever time to cook and bake becomes very precious.

With 2014 looming very closely, Ned and I have sat down to make groundwork for the next year. Alas, yet all we did was hide in a bistro to watch the nearby horses and sip our peach bellinis. To finally have a free Saturday, our minds were geared towards the art of idling. It was one of those days that the bed looks awfully inviting, or that your throat longs for next glass of bubbly. But we’ll get down to proper discussion soon… for now, let’s focus on today’s luscious fruits.

We ventured into plum territory this September with little interaction with the plump stone fruits. (Plump plums! Now I’m inspired to come up with a tongue twister.) The only contact we had were dried prunes which were quite scrummy in actual fact. Mom loves popping them after dinner like a petit four, and now we understand why we had pretty healthy bowel systems growing up.

The interesting thing about plums is that they comprise of a vast array of species and varieties – damsons, greengages, mirabelles, satsumas and pluots (a hybrid). For this issue, we are concentrating purely on plums, as scientifically or biologically accurate as we can get. These luscious drupes vary in size, colour and sweetness. With a spectrum from an almost blueish black to the loveliest tinge of sunny orange, plums are a delight to lay one’s eyes upon. And this is why our fridge was filled with boxes of multi-coloured plums.

Of course we didn’t just bring home bags of plums purely on superficial reasons, the main reason was to have a little taste test. As mentioned, both of us have not the slightest clue how each plum variety differ from the other and this calls for a little experiment. If you could just see us sitting in front of stacked punnets filled with these waxy fruits, we look almost two ridiculous greedy hobbits who got into trouble unknowingly. I swear plums were off the menu for the rest of the year.

It is never easy to define the actual taste notes of each variety as they come almost too close to the other, whether by its sweetness, its tang or sometimes, almost blandness. We found darker skinned plums to be the sharpest yet fullest in flavour. Plums in shades of yellow-orange were honey sweet and a delight to taste. At this stage, we have not gained enough knowledge to fully decide which was a ‘dessert’ or ‘cooking’ plum – they were all too delicious to pass judgement.

Juicy and highly versatile, plums are perfect for jam-making, compotes, puddings, crumbles, pies, and even alongside dishes of a savoury nature. Given a boost of sugar, these fruits collapse into the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. They pair very well with spices such as cinnamon, star anise, clove and vanilla; and work brilliantly with cream and custard. In fact, it’s odd that they are given little exposure in the markets than deserved. We definitely having plums next time round… without the massive taste test.

Ah… what about this: Plump plumbers plummet into plumptious plums.

Prawn and Basil Risotto

I’m surprised how long ago my previous post was. Every time I got down to writing, I never went past clicking ‘Create a new post’ and would be distracted by really unimportant things like watching videos on YouTube. It’s not that we haven’t been cooking, I’m just guilty of backlogging all our posts!! I need the discipline to really get down and finish up all the work. (Yes, writing can be a bitch sometimes!)

Going back to Project Italia, we decided to recreate a risotto we fell in love with in London. Our first lunch in our beloved England was at Polpo – a cosy casual restaurant that serves humble Venetian dishes that are full of flavour and wholesome ingredients. It was already part of our itinerary in the early stages of planning as we read only favourable reviews. We were lucky to get a table despite not having any reservations, and it was the perfect spot to fill our tummies and rid us of the unwanted jet lag.

Since our return, the dish continued to be on our minds and we managed to get a copy of the Polpo cookbook. To our joy, it featured a similar recipe to that we had in London (they replaced the asparagus with monk’s beard, a type of chicory common in Tuscany). Our take involved the humble basil, a versatile and aromatic herb, that lifts the natural umami flavours of the prawns. And any dish that requires the help of our lovely Mr. Frodo (we christened all our herbs with names from *cough* Lord of the Rings) is always a big welcome.

The star of the recipe is undoubtedly the tiny crustacean. While some might label the prawns as cockroaches of the sea world, they look and taste far more superior than those unwanted pests. Our Dad used to buy live prawns and leave them to fall into a icy cold slumber in the freezer before cooking. It might sound almost cruel but nothing beats eating really fresh prawns. But chilled prawns will do the job equally well. Just make sure that those lovely shellfishes are from a sustainable source and that the variety is not in danger of overfishing.

I can still remember the piquant fragrance of the fish stock Ned was preparing the day before. It set the tasting notes of the risotto with a refreshing sweetness. The final plated dish brought back many good memories;  the smooth rice grains, crunchy succulent prawns and  basil hit the right notes of a lazy Sunday afternoon. It was like being transported back to the intimate confines of Polpo. We suggest some Parmesan cheese to serve, giving it another punch of savoury tang.

Ah, writing this makes me want to go back to London…

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Potage Aux Concombres (Cream of Cucumber Soup)

Setting aside our tongs and skewers from the summer barbecue, there were plenty of leftovers in the fridge. Uncooked beef patties became breakfast-on-the-go during work days, corn were used in sumptuous Chinese soups, and whatever unused became part our dinners for the next few days.

A couple of cucumbers were lying around in the kitchen and to stop our Mom from harping on food wastage, we decided to turn up the heat with a reliable Julia Child’s potage aux concombres. Personally, I’m not a big fan of cucumbers, especially raw as they do tend to be slightly bitter to taste. Despite so, they are brilliant additions to salads and sandwiches with their distinctive refreshing cleanness. To kick the bitterness back, pair cucumbers with sour ingredients like goat cheese, yoghurt, vinegar or dill.

We found that the telegraphic cucumbers are not as bitter as the common ones, but cucumbers really do taste all the same anyway! The soup was very light on the palate, but had the right balance of flavours with the sour cream and the slight punch of the dill. Perfect as a starter for a weekend lunch!

Also, Bilbo the Dill is our latest member to join our garden and we were more than happy to make use of what he can offer. He’s doing very well sitting by Frodo the Basil. Speaking of which, Pippin the Thyme passed on recently. We couldn’t save him despite our efforts; apparently our Dad (the resident gardener) moved his soil. Time to visit the nursery then.

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