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Archive for the ‘Appetizer, Light Snacks & Finger Food’ Category

As a Chinese, the only ways I eat chestnuts are either in Chinese rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves (zong zi or 粽子),meat stew, or eat as a snack (sugar fried with shells). You can also boil or steam them with the shell.

But I’ve always wanted to photograph them roasted with the shell cut and curled out, the western way. Chestnuts are extremely photogenic, from the photos I’ve seen online. So when I saw them today at the open-air market in Sri Petaling, I just couldn’t resist from buying them to shoot them!

To roast them, all you need to do is to cut a X on the flat surface of the shell into the skin with a sharp paring knife. Then roast them in a shallow baking pan in the oven (160 – 180 C) for about 20 – 30 minutes, until the skin crack open and the flesh is tender.

I find that chestnuts roasted this way taste drier than those boiled or sugar fried, but definitely much much more photogenic and rustic on camera!

Now feast your eyes on these little beauties! (Click on the thumbnails at the bottom on this post to turn on the gallery slideshow)

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I grew to like goat cheese when I was in Provence last year. Since I have allergic reactions to some cow cheeses, goat cheese seem to be a better choice for me. Just like goat’s milk, the cheese has a strong and pungent flavour, it is definitely an acquired taste for you to get to like it.

In Provence, I got to learn that goat cheese (known as chèvre in French) is found to be a lot more common than cow cheeses due to the climate factor, as the climate in Provence is too dry for cows to produce good quantity and quality milk. I was staying in a little town in Provence called L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, surrounded by many canals, and is sometimes known as Venice of Provence. You see goat cheese everywhere in Provence, in the supermarket, at the farmer’s market, on the restaurant’s menu, or in Provencal homes.

Various types of chèvre at the farmer’s market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

In Provence, I tasted various different types of chèvre, from fresh young, to aged cheeses. You can eat it just like that, in salad or with bread. My favourite way of eating chèvre is toasting it on baguette slices and drizzle with some miel (honey), then sprinkle with some chopped chives. You can get it at Provencal restaurants but it’s so easy to make at home. I made quite a bit of it while I was staying at my B&B in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Fresh chèvre and cow cheese (forgot the variety) with bread and Provencal grapes & olives. (Photographed in Provence)

Baguette slices toasted with chèvre, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped chives. Served with fennel & orange salad. (Photographed in Provence)

You can get chèvre at a very reasonable price in France, I remembered paying about 1 – 1.5 € for 100g at the supermarket. But when I got back home, my eye balls popped out when I was hoping to cure my cravings for goat cheese at the local supermarket here. The price is almost three fold! So many times I took the goat cheese off the rack but put them back from my shopping basket simply because the price was outrageous!

Finally yesterday when I had dinner at my favourite Spanish restaurant El Meson in Bangsar (opposite Bangsar Village, next to Madam Kwan’s), Kuala Lumpur, I saw they had some goat cheese from Spain for sale. They looked a little different than those I had in Provence. In Provence, chèvre generally comes in various sizes of thinner round pieces, but the Spanish version I bought from El Meson comes in a log. When I first put the cheese into my mouth at El Meson, the strong pungent taste immediately woke my tastebud and left a garlicky aftertaste in my mouth. A sip of wine or sherry would help to neutralize that. I decided the cheese would look really good when I photograph them, so I bought a couple of slices home and this morning, I photographed the cheese with the bread I bought together from El Meson with some toasted Brazil nuts, pecan, and Spanish olives.

The goat cheese does live up to the price (mind you, it’s not cheap, about 3 € per 100g), both in presentation and taste. Goes really well with the bread, Brazil nuts and olives! Enjoy the view and do try out the fabulous goat cheese at El Meson in Bangsar. They also carry two other types of sheep cheeses and a few types of cow cheeses from Spain. Plus, the food and ambience there is simply fantastic! (Sorry my Muslim friends, non-halal 😦 )

Goat cheese from El Meson served with bread, toasted Brazil nuts, pecan and Spanish olives.

Goat cheese from El Meson served with bread, toasted Brazil nuts, pecan and Spanish olives.

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Had the itch to shoot something yesterday evening, so went to the supermarket to get the ingredients while waiting to watch the movie “Up in the air”. So I made this for lunch today, but wasn’t really happy with the lighting, as it was done in a rush and I was too hungry!

Lighting: 2 tungsten lights with softboxes and multiple reflectors.

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I bought the moulds for making these lovely crispy appetizers for a food styling gig, but ended up not using it. Since it was Chinese New Year, I thought I might as well use the moulds to make the pai tees. I looked up for a few recipes on the internet to make the pai tee cases, and thought to myself “how hard can it be?” Boy, I was terribly wrong.

The first attempt was a complete failure, well almost. Basically you could use anything for the filling, and I made something similar to spring rolls/popiah, consisted of sengkuang (also known as jicama or yam bean) and carrot strips, and shredded french beans. That part was a piece of cake. But the killer was getting the cases right. I have phobia with deep frying. Firstly, I am really bad at getting it right. Whenever my food styling gig calls for deep fried foods, I always ask my assistant to do it. Secondly, deep fried foods are unhealthy…I can’t deny they are yummy and addictive, but they are definitely fattening and unhealthy. Thirdly, I despise the oil that splashes out onto the stove, which normally have me spending hours cleaning the entire stove, table top, and the tiles. And the list goes on…

Anyway, my first attempt on the fourth day of Chinese New Year was made using this recipe. I had a tough time dislodging the cases from the mould, and in the end, I finished eating the filling by wrapping it with lettuce leaves, and dumped the deformed cases into the trash bin. Only one word to describe the experience: disastrous. And I spent 2 hours cleaning up the kitchen! (oil splashes all over the stove, wall and table top)

The next morning, with the determination of not giving in, I made the second batch with the same recipe. This time, I managed to get about 30 + pieces of edible (but not well-formed) cases. The texture was a little too doughy, even though this time I managed to dislodge the cases easier from the mould. For photography purpose, I used some freshly cut sengkuang and carrot strips, and blanched French beans. The taste turned out not bad though, the sweetness of the sengkuang combined with the crispy texture of the pai tee case seemed fine, though no seasoning was used.

My perfectionism did not compromise with the results of the second attempt, so after a few days, I decided to make another batch. I would have made the them earlier, but my dad was admitted to the hospital on emergency due to brain haemorrhage (bleeding) and everything had to be put on hold. Thank goodness he’s discharged now after the surgery but he is still under close observation in case of a relapse.

So when dad got home and I had a little free time, I made them for the third time. I finally found a recipe for the batter that has been tried and tested. This time, it worked really well! The cases turned out to be a lot lighter, crispier and easier to dislodge from the mould. I made about 70 cases this time! Since there were so many, I have to find a way to finish them…and they ended up at my client’s office :). The recipe was adapted from here, with detailed step-by-step instructions (I reduced the quantity of the ingredients used by half). There is one problem though: the cases seem to turn stale and not so crispy within a very short time after I took them off the oil. Looks like there’s still room for improvement!

Cases from the third batch. First two photos show cases from the second batch. First batch was a complete failure.

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Lamb Kofta with Pita Bread-IMG_7036-5800 copy
This a tweaked version of the original lamb kofta I made at my cooking class last week. The lighting was bad in the kitchen, so I figured out it would be good to take another shot with improved styling and different presentation. It is a very beautiful dish to present, easy to prepare, and most of all, delicious! It is a very good finger food as well, and great for picnics too!

I couldn’t find minced lamb in Village Grocer in Bangsar Village and when I went to another butcher, they were closing and couldn’t mince the lamb for me. So I bought 2 lamb burger patties instead. I made the lamb burger patties into oval shape on skewers and grilled them in the oven, then served the yogurt and mint dressing separately. The rest of the procedure was essentially the same. For the recipe and original version of the lamb kofta I learned in class, go here.

Lamb Kofta with Pita Bread-IMG_7050-5700 copy2

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Today I attended the second lesson of my International Certification in Cuisine at Taylor’s University College Malaysia. I actually quite like the lessons, always packed with new things to learn and hands on practice. Today the menu was quite elaborate, with lamb kofta served with pita bread, coriander flavoured pumpkin soup, and glazed duck breast with semolina and jackfruit. We had so much to prepare and cook that there was basically no time in between for me to shoot the dishes I prepared. It was fun though, and the dishes were delicious!

Today the dishes involved quite a bit of dicing, one of the most important basic skills in Western cuisine. From onion to garlic to mint to red chili, from larger cubes to tiny pieces, we got to polish our dicing skills for sure!

dicing onion

Caption: Dicing onion…Chef Rex did it with such a breeze…the secret lies in not cutting away the root part of the onion totally…so that you can hold that with your other hand while the hand holding the knife will be slicing the onion away…sort of acts as an anchor.

dicing chili_parsley
Caption: Fine dicing chili and English parsley for the lamb kofta.

The first dish we prepared, lamb kofta with pita bread, was one of the best pita bread with lamb that I’ve tasted in a long long time! And it was my first time cooking lamb kofta too. The cooked lamb kofta was finished with a yogurt, mint and cumin dressing, so light and refreshing! It gave an Indian-Middle Eastern flavour that was indeed very appealing and appetizing! Plus it’s so easy to make that you can be done in under 20 minutes!

Procedure to cook lamb kofta with pita bread:
lamb kofta with pita bread Caption (From left to right, top to bottom): Frying the lamb kofta with olive oil, diced onion and chili; grill pita bread on a hot griddle after lightly brushed with olive oil; prepare dressing (3 tbsp yogurt, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 tsp cumin powder, finely diced mint, shallot, garlic and chili, seasoned with pinch of salt and pepper); mix dressing with cooked lamb kofta.

Final results (these were made by me):
IMG_6885-custom-cropped-contrast copyIMG_6889-custom copy

Next, we made coriander flavoured pumpkin soup. Before I went to class today, I had a glimpse of the menu, thinking to myself, “Pumpkin soup…how hard can it be???”

Well, I was quite wrong. First, we had to prepare chicken stock (this was done right at the start of the class today, as it took about 30 minutes to boil the stock). Then we had to sweat (means frying with fats on very low heat, trying not to damage the colour of the ingredients) the pumpkin, leek, onion and coriander before adding in the chicken stock and let it simmer until pumpkin soften. Followed by blending the soup in a jar blender before finishing off with cream and seasoning. It’s probably the most elaborate pumpkin soup I’ve ever made, but the result was absolutely amazing – rich and flavourful!

Procedure to make pumpkin soup:
chicken stock Firstly, prepare chicken stock. As you can see, the stock was prepared with chicken bones and vegetables (shallots, leek, celery, carrot, thyme). Again, cold water was used instead of hot water to give a clear stock.

pumpkin soup-sweating_stockCaption: Sweating the vegetables for the pumpkin soup (left), and boiling the soup after adding in the chicken stock.

pumpkin soup-finishingCaption: Finishing off the pumpkin soup. After blending the soup when the pumpkin cubes become soft, return soup to stove on low heat, cream was added, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The soup was finished with a light touch of whipped cream on top before serving.

My version (too much whipped cream on top!):
IMG_6961-custom copy

The last dish was the most elaborate and time consuming. There were 4 main steps involved in preparing the glazed duck breast dish.

First, marinate the duck breast with crushed green, red pepper (you can use fresh or canned ones) and Sichuan pepper, balsamic vinegar, honey and rock salt for around 30 minutes (Our duck breasts were imported from France!):
IMG_6823-s

Then, caramelize sugar before adding balsamic vinegar on very low heat. Add in the duck breast with the skin on the pan/skillet together with the marinade. Leave for a minute or so before finishing off the duck breast in the oven.
IMG_6902 copy

While duck breast is cooking in the oven, prepare semolina. Fry olive oil with finely diced garlic, dried chili, thinly sliced shallot and curry leaves. Add semolina flour, stir evenly. Then add chicken stock and cook for about 5 minutes while stirring constantly. Cooked semolina flour should have a thick and starchy texture.
IMG_6913 copy

Next, prepare jackfruit. Dice jackfruit into small cubes, and finely dice coriander leaves. Add balsamic vinegar and stir well.

To finish and serve the duck breast, remove from oven, slice thickly and serve on the semolina and with jackfruit with balsamic vinegar.

Chef Rex’s version (see how delicate his is compared to mine below haha):
IMG_6921-custom-cropped-contrast copy

And my version. (Overcooked!)
IMG_6946-custom-cropped-copy

After thoughts:
Again, the lighting wasn’t very good as I just shot with whatever lights available in the kitchen. I didn’t have much time to shoot the dishes that I made myself, we were running out of time, but I really enjoyed it as I learned a few new skills and to fine tune what I already know. I didn’t attach the full recipes here as I am not sure if Taylor’s College would let me publish them online!

For story on the first lesson of the cooking class, go here.

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Guacamole with tortilla chips-IMG_0595-shade-cropped-contrast copy2I’ve never been able to make guacamole correctly until I met Inge and Ralph from Rhode Island, USA in Ho Chi Minh City when I was on vacation during Chinese New Year this year. Inge and Ralph are a very sweet couple whom I shared table with at a fine dining restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, and ended up having coffee and drinks after the meal.

Inge originated from Mexico, and is a conference and court Spanish interpreter. I was so excited when she told me she was Mexican, and the words just poured out of my mouth: “How do you make good guacamole?????” (guacamole originated from Mexico)

“All you need is three basic ingredients,” Ralph said. “Avocado, cilantro (coriander), onion. No garlic, but add salt and pepper if you like.”

When I came back, I decided to improvise on the recipe. My first attempt was to add lemon juice, to prevent the guacamole from browning after being prepared. But something was not right, still not good enough.

The second time I made it, I tried lime juice, inspired by another friend who uses that in her guacamole. I liked it! And the third time I made it again, I added chopped tomato and served it with tortilla chips for my friends’ housewarming party. And guess what? The guests finished everything!

So here’s my version of guacamole, a very easy appetizer to make and definitely delicious!

Ingredients
1 ripe avocado
3 stalks cilantro (coriander leaves), roughly chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped into small squares
1/2 medium tomato, seeds removed and cut into small cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp lime juice
1 red chili, chopped finely (optional)

Steps:

  1. Cut avocado into half vertically, twist gently with two hands to separate the two halves. Remove stone by poking the end of a sharp knife into the bottom of the stone and holding the avocado firmly with another hand, gently tilt the stone with the knife to remove it. Be careful with this step to avoid cutting your fingers.
  2. Mash the avocado with a fork, add in the lime juice, onion, cilantro, and chopped chili, mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve with tortilla chips as a dip.

Note: Inge said that the lime juice will dilute the sweet taste of the avocado and may even make the guacamole bitter and sour, but I like it :). I guess I have a different taste bud compared to the Mexicans, who created guacamole, their world-renowned appetizer. Inge will be here visiting soon, in a week or so! I will make sure she gets to eat the best local food around, and if time permits, I may even cook something for her. And she will have to show me the real guacamole live!

Tip on choosing avocado: First, the colour. A ripe Hass avocado (this is what we normally get in Malaysia) should look purplish/blackish green. Some other varieties can be big and green and you will have to use your touch to judge. Hold the avocado with your entire palm, gently press the avocado with your thumb, it should give a little softness yet still firm. If it’s soft then it could be bruised or over ripe. One tip to ensure you don’t buy a bruised or over ripe avocado, is to buy one that is turning purplish yet still green, and still feels firm and not too soft. Leave it for one or two days and you will have the perfect ripeness when you cut it.

It’s past 1 am now and I better go to sleep! Enjoy the photos and the recipe!

Guacamole with tortilla chips-IMG_0601-shade copy

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