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I was supposed to make this for a lunch party during Chinese New Year but did not happen as my dad was admitted to the hospital. These few days I was a little free so I thought it would be a good time to clean up the fridge to get rid of the ingredients that have been sitting in the fridge for the past couple of weeks.

I’ve made Tiramisu a few times but did not bother to take photos as it is a messy dessert to style and photograph. The photo I have here is more to document the results of the recipe I experimented. The verdict? A little too much cream for my liking. Texture and sweetness is fine. The recipe that came with the packaging of Forno Bonomi sponge fingers uses whisked egg whites instead of whipped cream. But I am a little cautious about using raw egg (concern about Salmonella) so I used whipped cream instead.

As most of us know, Tiramisu is made with mascarpone cheese, an Italian triple-cream cheese made from crème fraîche, denatured with tartaric acid (source: Wikipedia). It is, however, sold at an outrageous price here in Kuala Lumpur as it is imported. So I decided to cheat (sorry Italians), and used cream cheese to substitute half of the mascarpone. The recipe I experimented was adapted from here.

Tiramisu is not difficult to make, but as I’m getting older, I tend to get lazier too! So I’m always on the lookout for recipes that are simple yet still produce the authentic flavours. Making it is relatively easy, but styling it is definitely difficult! As this attempt is more for eating than photography, I’ll just have to wait till next time to style it in a proper way to make it look more presentable on camera! (Note: In my hurry to shoot the photograph, I neglected the slanting angle of the tiramisu – should have straighten it! Oh well…)

Ingredients
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
250 g mascarpone cheese
250 g cream cheese
250 ml (1 cup) double/thickened cream
24 Savoiardi (Sponge Fingers) (I used the brand Forno Bonomi, which you can find in Village Grocer, Giant TMC or Cold Storage in Bangsar, it’s the cheapest brand available so far in KL)
Approx. 300 ml strong warm coffee (I used freshly brewed Lavazza espresso coffee), added with 2 tbsp rum (optional)
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Steps
1. Beat egg yolks and sugar in a large heat proof bowl until pale and well combined, put the bowl on a pot with boiling water on the stove (using double-boil method) and continue to beat until mixture appears thick and has the texture of custard. Remove the heat proof bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Whip double/thickened cream until stiff and fluffy. I used a hand whisk to whip manually. (Tip for whipping cream: Make sure all equipment used is cold, I put the stainless steel mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for 15 – 20 minutes before whisking)
3. In another bowl, beat cream cheese and mascarpone cheese until properly combined. Fold in egg and sugar mixture from (1), and whipped cream to create a light and fluffy mixture.
4. Assemble the sponge and cheese mixture layers. Dip sponge fingers in coffee one at a time and arrange in a rectangular deep glass tray to form a layer. Use a spatula to spread the cheese mixture from (3) evenly on the first layer of sponge fingers. Repeat with the second layer of sponge fingers and cheese mixture.
5. Sieve cocoa powder over the surface of the assembled tiramisu and chill in the fridge for about 3 – 4 hours. Best served chilled with coffee.

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Since I had a little time yesterday evening and today, I decided to carve some more. Looks like practice and patience does pay off! In conjunction with the Oscar’s today, I decided to present the carvings to resemble the forest on Pandora in Avatar, only that I can’t find any blue vegetables!

Enjoy the view! (Note: Click on the photos to see notes on my flickr album for the types of vegetables used)

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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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It has been a long long time since I last updated cookingheals. It has been a crazy time since I got back from Manila for the food photography workshop, and I ended the year of 2009 with dengue fever, bladder infection, and followed by a bad flu after I recovered from the dengue fever. It was a depressing period but I made it somehow, and hope that the new 2010 will bring brighter hopes, positive energies and fruitful harvests.

I’ve completed the Western cuisine course with Taylor’s College. Overall, it has been quite a worthwhile course to attend. I’m not going to attach the procedure and photos of every dish, but just a few photographs of my favourites. Most of the photos didn’t turn out well due to the poor light situation. You’ll have to find out more about the dishes yourself if you do get to attend haha…


Glazed spring chicken


Grilled beef tenderloin with Bearnaise sauce


Seared red snapper with lemon butter sauce, puree of pumpkin and pineapple kebab


Braised chicken leg in white wine sauce (one of my top favourite dishes from the entire course)

And finally, chicken lasagna. I’ve made it quite a number of times after the course and it came out absolutely delicious! Here’s a version that I made at home, with a slight tweak – chicken and mushroom lasagna:

Apart from the cuisine course, I’ve also been busy with a couple of food photography and food styling projects with food manufacturers…which explains why I have not been able to have time creating dishes or photographs for fun, the two projects really drained me out!

Lastly, as I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day’s evening, I hope that everyone gets to spend this special day with their special person or people. I’m still alone this year, but hopefully that special someone will appear soon haha…Today is also the first day of Chinese New Year, so I take this opportunity to wish all of you great health, lots of prosperity and fun in the new lunar year! May you all roar with success and joy!

Here’s a little card for both Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day, the chocolates and truffles have been crafted by yours truly :), made with Swiss bitter sweet and milk chocolate bars!

And a little cup of tea to relax…have a great time everyone!

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4047194398_e82abccaf3_bIt has been a while since I last blogged. Apart from being very busy with my simultaneous interpreting work, I’ve attended a food photography workshop in Manila and right after I came back from the workshop, proceeded with 3 lessons of the cuisine class at Taylor’s University College. But let me talk about the food photography workshop before I get swarmed by more work madness in these two weeks.

The food photography workshop was organized by the Philippine Center for Creative Imaging (PCCI) in Makati, not far away from Manila City. The instructor, Mark Floro, is one of the most sought-after food photographers in the Philippines and his client list includes Chow King, Jollibee, Manila Peninsula, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Purefoods, Robinson’s Convenience Stores, and San Miguel Corporation.

The workshop was very hands-on, we learned and practised various forms of natural and studio lighting, photographing food that has been meticulously prepared by a team of dedicated food stylists. The food stylists also shared with us some of the food styling tricks used in the industry.

It was a very inspiring workshop for me, I got to learn about new techniques, and also to improve or correct my existing techniques. What’s more important, is that as long as you know the right techniques, and understand how light works, you can produce wonderful food images even though you only have cheap lighting sources.

The workshop was very well organized, everything was prepared with much care and dedication. I would highly recommend this workshop to anyone who is interested to learn about the basics food photography, or even food photographers who would like to improve their skills.

I’m posting some of the photos I shot at the workshop, they are not that fantastic but with the knowledge and techniques I learned, I hope to be able to produce better photos in future.

Thanks Mark for your dedication, patience and the willingness to share with us your expertise and experience, you are wonderful!

Information on the food photography workshop can be found here.

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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.

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Okay, I openly confess that I am addicted to porn, lime porn that is haha…I just can’t seem to have enough of them lately, partly because of my newly formed company, Zesty Concepts, which got me started on a series of photographs related to different types of citrus and their zests. Lime green is the corporate colour of Zesty Concepts, and I absolutely adore lime now! They are so full of vibrancy and energy, and the colour of the fruit and leaves is absolutely refreshing and eye-pleasing.

Kaffir lime leaves is a key ingredient used to make the famous and spicy Thai tom yam soup, it has a distinct and unique citrus flavour and aroma, which is not replaceable with any other lime leaves. The leaves are also widely used in other Thai, Indochinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine.

Traditionally, the fruit of the kaffir lime has been used to improve skin and hair follicle growth. I’ve also heard Malaysians using it in the bath water for anti-bacterial function. Extracts and essential oil from the fruit are gaining popularity in aromatherapy.

So what did I do with the fruit after taking photos? I used it in my bath water and rubbed the rind on the skin…smelling fresh and feeling rejuvenated! 🙂

So feast your eyes on my kaffir lime series today….plucked fresh from the tree of my friend’s garden! Thanks Melanie!

All photos naturally lit, and shot using my signature Canon TS 90 mm f/2.8 lens. All photos have been slightly edited with Photoshop (only levels and contrast adjusted).
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Also showcased here is an old photo from my archives, tom yam soup cooked with kaffir lime leaves (from my backyard):
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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!

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With the pretty mini eggplants still sitting in the refrigerator, I had to figure out how to cook them. Also known as brinjal or aubergine, eggplant is a very versatile vegetable, you can create lots of dishes from it. But I am not familiar with this small variety and how they would taste like. I guess with curry, you will not go wrong. So I decided to try my fool proof fish & vegetable curry with these little beauties. stingray fish curry-diptych

You can find eggplant in almost any countries in the world, well at least those I’ve visited. It is one of the vegetables that you can find in almost every supermarket in Europe, aside from tomato, potato, onions and garlic. I cooked this dish a number of times when I was traveling in Italy and France, where they were found in abundance. It’s very simple to make, even someone who has never cooked will be able to do this right. What’s challenging to find is the curry powder, as you may not find curry powder in every supermarket in Europe.

Back home in Malaysia, I would use fish curry powder but when I was traveling in Europe, I just basically used any curry powder that was available in the supermarket. This is the best comfort Asian food for me when the weather is cold, and to share with many people. The spiciness is very mild, so most people would be able to tolerate it. It has a sweet and sour taste, coupled with the richness from the coconut milk or milk makes it a very appetizing meal!

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I cooked this dish twice in Italy, and once in France. When I cooked it for the second time in Italy, I plucked some of the vegetables fresh from the organic farm I was at, and it tasted really good, we had it with bread. It was cooked using a large 2-feet deep copper pot over wood fire. Boy, it was definitely an experience to remember! (photo here with Guenther and Matt from the farm helping me to cook the stew)

It is best to use fish with harder flesh (such as mackerel, stingray and grouper) and avoid fillet as the fish fillet tends to break up easily and you will not be able to taste the fish properly!

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 – 40 minutes
Serving: 4

Ingredients
500 g of stingray (or mackerel or grouper) , cut into small pieces of 2 cm thick, rubbed with 1/2 tsp salt and leave for 20 minutes
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 shallots (if you can’t find shallots when you travel in Europe, use small onions), sliced thinly
1 inch ginger (optional, if you can’t find at the supermarket), thinly julienned
1 medium long eggplant, cut into triangle wedges
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut each into 6 wedges
2 medium onion, cut each into 6 wedges
8 – 10 okra (ladies finger), halved (I couldn’t find okra in supermarkets in Italy and France, so I substituted with carrot or potato, cut into large chunks)
3 cabbage leaves (optional), torn into smaller pieces
2 tbsp fish curry powder (or any curry powder if you can’t find the fish one)
2 tbsp cooking oil (you can use olive oil also)
1 liter water
200 ml coconut milk (fresh or packet), substitute with milk if you can’t find coconut milk
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lime juice (or kalamansi lime (kasturi) or lemon)

Steps:

  1. Heat up oil in a large pot and fry garlic, shallot and ginger until tender.
  2. Add onion wedges, eggplant and cabbage (or carrot and potato if you are using), add water and stir evenly. Close lid and leave to simmer on low heat for around 10 minutes before adding okra and tomato and simmer for another 5 minutes before adding the fish. Close the lid of the pot and continue to simmer for another 10 – 15 minutes until fish is thoroughly cooked (when the flesh is firm and no longer translucent). If you use potato, poke with a fork to check if the chunks are cooked.
  3. Add in coconut milk and stir evenly. Season with sugar and salt (adjust according to your taste) and add in the lime juice, stir evenly before turning off the fire.
  4. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Note: The mini eggplant turned out a bit bitter, compared to the regular long eggplant…

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Saw them today at the market and just couldn’t resist to take them home to photograph, such beautiful purple! Haven’t thought of a way to cook them yet…never cooked them before haha….

All photos naturally lit and straight from the camera. Using my Canon Tilt Shift 90 mm f/2.8 lens.
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