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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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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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Sweet sour pork chop rice-IMG_6461-5800-contrast copyWhen I was traveling in Europe from early July till mid August this year, I missed Asian cuisine so much. I don’t normally cook Asian or Chinese dishes that much at home, but if I do, it is more for sustenance or if I have foreign friends in town which prefer to dine on Chinese or Asian cuisine.

When I was in Europe, I reached my saturation point for pizza and pasta in Italy; sandwiches, salad and bread in France (I couldn’t afford nice restaurant food everyday!) after a couple of weeks. I was yearning for Asian food every evening after an exhaustive day sight seeing and walking non-stop, it’s like a comfort food when you’re tired and worn out. I’ve never loved backpackers’ hostels that much until I went to Europe! Simply because they have cooking facilities which allow me to cook up a quick delicious meal that costs a lot lesser than what you would normally pay at a nice restaurant.

The first thing after I settle in at any backpackers’ hostel, is to ask where the supermarket is, then I will check out the kitchen and cooking facilities. I normally check the hostels if they have cooking facilities, before I book them online, or email them before I book. And after that I would go to the supermarket to do an inventory to see what they sell and plan what I can prepare during the length of my stay. I have basic cooking ingredients which I carry around, but many backpacker’s hostel with cooking facilities where I stayed in Italy and France do have the basic stuff such as salt, sugar, pepper, and if you are lucky, olive oil and even flour and dry herbs/spices.

Eiffel tower-IMG_4473-auto-contrast copyThis dish was created in my hostel in Paris, which was situated right next to a small supermarket, and another bigger supermarket with more complete range of ingredients 10 minutes walk away. I made this for myself and Gary, my dorm mate from Melbourne, Australia. Most smaller supermarkets in Paris are not very well stocked, it’s not easy to find Asian ingredients, but you can still find common ingredients that enable you to cook up a delicious Asian dish within a short period of time.

I recreated this today for lunch so that I could photograph the dish, and it’s so delicious that I almost licked the plate clean! It’s very easy to prepare, fool proof, and not expensive too! Gary and I paid about €4 each for the dish + a bottle of Rosé wine! (Eating similar dish like this at an Asian restaurant in France or Italy will easily cost a few more Euros!) You can easily get all these ingredients at most supermarkets in Paris or other parts of France if you are planning to travel there.

Kids will love this too, as the sweet and sourish taste of the gravy definitely appeals to them!

Paris-Louvre-CY&Gary-IMG_4448-shade-sGary and I at the Lourve…

Cooking time: 20 mins
Preparation: 15 mins
Serving: 2

Ingredients:
1 medium-sized pork chop or lean pork loin, sliced about 5 mm thick, marinated for 15 minutes with salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp corn flour (this can be omitted if you find it too troublesome to get when you’re traveling)
1 sweet bell pepper (capsicum), red or green, diced into small squares
2 large ripe tomato, cut into small chunks
5 button mushroom (champignon), quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped finely
3 tbsp cooking oil or olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp soy sauce (optional, if you can’t find them at the supermarket)
3 tbsp white/Rosé wine (optional, use this from the bottle that you’re going to drink later)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 cup long grain Asian rice
2 cups water

Steps:

1. Cook rice. If you are staying in a backpacker’s hostel with no rice cooker or a steamer, follow this step. Wash rice with water and drain away the water. (If you use pre-cooked rice, follow the instructions on the pack) Boil the 2 cups of water in a pot and add in the rice when the water reaches boiling point, stir evenly. Turn down heat, cover with lid and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes until water is almost fully dried, turn off heat and let the remaining moisture get absorbed into the rice. This should take another 10 – 15 minutes or so. If you have a rice cooker, just cook rice (1 part of rice to 2 parts of water) using the normal procedure or you can steam them.
2. Heat oil in a deep pan, fry the pork chop slices until light brown and fragrant. Dish out and put aside.
3. Fry chopped garlic and onion with the remaining oil until tender, add tomato chunks, water and soy sauce, cook until tomato chunks turn tender and mushy.
4. Add mushrooms, bell pepper and the fried pork chop slices, cook until tender and gravy thickens. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Serve hot with rice.

Note: You can substitute pork chop with beef steak, minced pork or beef and cook in the same manner.
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After a long period of building up my photography and food styling portfolio, I’m now ready for a new journey in life. I’ve been attending classes and workshops, busy setting up a new website for my portfolio, and this blog. Reason? I’ve finally decided to combine what I am passionate about and what I am good at: cooking and photography, into my next career. For the past 2 years or so, I’ve been testing the waters, working with some restaurants, an Italian gelato maker and one of the biggest multinational food manufacturer, helping them to do food styling, food photography, recipe development and assist in planning their food-related events and activities. Finally, I think I am ready to take the plunge, as a professional photographer (specializing in food, lifestyle and travel) and a food stylist.

I hope to able to update this blog as frequently as possible, with the recipes, photographs and food styling that have been inspired in my everyday life, or when I am traveling overseas.

Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I’m always intrigued by the local ingredients, culinary and dietary cultures, which inspires me to create new recipes or to try out food that I’ve never tasted before. It’s always a very evocative and fascinating experience, and like I say, the source of inspiration behind my culinary creations.

Unlike most people who will just go to restaurants to dine when they travel, or if they are on a tight budget, eat at fast food chains or merely surviving on self-made sandwiches throughout their travel journey, I would rather cook my own and eat well, than eating poorly within a tight budget.

I believe there are a lot of budget conscious travelers out there, who rather stinge on restaurant bills and spend the bulk of the budget on accommodation, transportation and entrance fees. However, I believe one can travel with a tight budget but still able to do all the sight seeing, yet have a good meal, if you stay at the right place where you can cook not just to survive, but also fully enjoy the wonderful flavours and aroma of the freshest local ingredients.

All you need is very basic cooking facility at the backpacker’s guest house or hostels, and you won’t have to burn a hole in your money bag (especially if you travel in places where everything is expensive after conversion of currency!), and still have a happy satisfied tummy 😉 .

To top it all up, share the food (and the cost ;)) you cook with the wonderful people you meet at the hostel/guest house! Simple delicious meal prepared within the shortest time possible! That’s the best way to go for a budget-conscious traveler!

Here on this blog, you’ll be able to see how simple it is to create a wonderful meal while you are traveling to expensive places…and fuss free too! So have fun reading and trying out the recipes! Do let me know the results if you do try out any of the recipes, it would be great to know!

provence-nectarine-diptychIn Provence, France, you don’t need to cook fancily, just fresh fruits of the season, some artisan baguette, olives, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine…and you’ll have a satisfying meal!

Isle sur la Sorgue-dinner-IMG_5997-shade-cropped-contrast-s-cropped copy Seen here is goat cheese toasted on baguette slices with honey and chives, and orange, fennel, and pine nuts salad, for dinner in Provence, France.

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Happy looking Dave waiting for us to start devouring dinner! I met Dave in Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia a couple of years ago when I was staying at a backpacker’s guest house and has been great friends since then. I was cooking dinner on most days and we shared the cost together. I still remember asking him if he wants to share dinner with me on our way from the airport to the hostel, and I barely knew him then haha! Anyway…obviously he missed my cooking a lot, and he offered me a tent at the camp site where he and his girlfriend and parents were camping in Lyon, France. So obviously, I had to return their good gesture by cooking up a storm for them!

I cooked fish curry, stir fry chicken with ginger, spring onion and mushroom, and poached broccoli with crispy fried garlic and soy sauce, served with rice. They were very happy and satisfied…and his mom has offered me a room in their house if I get to the UK next year, but I have to cook for them! No problem! That’s what I love to do best! (And what’s better than exchanging my cooking skills with free food and accommodation? :D)

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