30 March 2007

Mushroom Cuppa

When Justin Quek's Passion and Inspiration was launched at Kinokuniya (Takashimaya) a while back, I was fortunately working just a few floors away. During my hour-long break, I scampered up to see Justin Quek in person. When I entered Kinokuniya, I just had to follow a deep, earthy aroma of mushrooms to find the stocky chef busy whizzing and adjusting a batch of mushroom soup, and a pretty helper pouring it into tasting portions for bystanders to try.

It is humiliating, but not too long before that, my preference for mushroom soup lay in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. I grew up on that stuff, and abhorred thick, murky brown versions of Mushroom Soup. To me, the best mushroom soup was creamy, off-white, smooth, with tiny bits of mushrooms to chew on. I had tried many other types but swore by good ol' Campbell.

That day at Kinokuniya, however, that little tasting portion of mushroom soup was the start of something new. In fact, ever since then, I've not missed my Campbell Cream of Mushroom.

It's not surprising then, that I flagged the recipe Fresh Mushroom Cappuccino with Summer Truffles in his cookbook. Replacing the summer truffles with white truffle oil, it may not have been as good, but was still phenomenal. It helps that this was one of the easiest recipes in the book. My brother could have handled the entire recipe on his own, without any supervision on my part. But I'm still going to stick to keeping an eye on him because we almost had a major disaster with the blender.

Fresh Mushroom Cappuccino
Adapted From Justin Quek's Passion and Inspiration
Serves 4 Yuen Family Members and 6-8 average joes

500 gm button mushrooms
1.5 litres chicken stock
a pinch of salt
200 ml milk
100 ml fresh cream
50 gms unsalted butter
truffle oil

Clean mushrooms and cut into quarters.
Place in saucepan, covered with chicken stock, adding a pinch of salt.
Cover and cook over moderate heat for 1 hour.
Add milk, cream and butter, and bring the liquid to a boil.
Remove from heat and blend the drained mushrooms in a food processor or blender, adding a little of the reserved liquid at a time until the right consistency is achieved.
Just before serving, reheat and pour into a deep metal jug, frothing with a hand blender.
Pour into individual cups (scooping some of the foam onto the surface) and drizzle with a little truffle oil each.

27 March 2007

Happiness is...

... this.
And being incredibly contented. To me, contentment is ranked way up there, together with confidence as an attractive.... trait? Characteristic? Knowing my own greedy desires, I never thought there would come a day when I would actually be wholly contented with my life. There's usually always something I'm hankering after, or lusting for. There's usually always something I feel would make me a lot happier if I had or could achieve.
But I found that ever since I started work in Feb, I've been slowly engulfed by this warm feeling of joyousness... and contentment. There's nothing more I could ask for in life, nothing more I would need in order to be happy because I was already happy. Work is great (the dynamics in the office is fantastic and tremendously welcoming), my extra-curricular activities are thriving, my family is doing better than before. And very importantly, I felt like my friendships were all thriving. I may not have been able to stay as connected to every single friend I've made, but I have definitely been trying for the ones that matter a lot to me.
In case I get misconstrued, I must clarify that it is not in my intention to brag, but merely to share. I feel like happiness is bursting at my seams. Emanating from my pores. Once in a while, I would actually catch my colleagues' attention with a cheerful 'Sarah' or 'Parvee', and give them a huge grin just to let some of my happiness out and to spread the joy. Just like the children in the photo, I am loving my life and I hope that whoever you are, reading this, can always feel this way too (if not more).

My mum rightly said that my family will only get to enjoy my cooking when I get inspired. The weekend was a great time to get inspired, especially after flipping through the gorgeous food photography in Donna Hay's March issue, because I had plenty of time to act on it. While I may not have used any recipe from the magazine for the dinner I planned for my family, it did effectively lure me into the kitchen. I was happy, and wanted to make sure my family was too, by making sure they had happy bellies first. So I got my brother into the kitchen with me and set to work on the various interesting (or easy) recipes I picked out.

From Gordon Ramsey's Secrets, I found two dishes that I decided to combine - Herbed Cauliflower Puree and Caramelised Baby Onions. When I chose the recipes, I already pictured how it would be plated. And to add some crunch as well as colour to the dish, I threw in some french beans. They all went well together, the creamy and smooth cauliflower puree with the tender, sweet and slightly tangy pink baby onions, and the crunchy buttered beans.

The best sounds I heard that night were the murmurs of pleasure especially with the first mouthful of onion and cauliflower. Perhaps not a common pairing, but definitely one that works. And actually way too easy to put together than it might look!

Puree of Cauliflower Scented with Herbs

Taken from Gordon Ramsay's Secrets (serves 4)


1 medium cauliflower, 300 ml milk, 1 small bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme, sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Trim cauliflower, discarding leaves, and cut into florets.

Place in saucepan with milk, herbs and 1/2 tsp salt.

Bring to boil, cover and simmer gently for about 12-15 mins until cauliflower is very tender.

Drain the cauliflower, discard the herbs and reserve the milk.

Whiz florets in a blender until very smooth, adding enough of the reserved milk to give a very creamy consistency (you'll have to scrape down the sides a couple of times to get it moving).

You may need to blend the mixture for up to 5 minutes to achieve a really smooth, silky texture.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a little pepper if required. Serve piping hot!

Caramelised Pink Baby Onions

Adapted from Gordon Ramsay's Secrets (serves 4-6)


100 g butter, 250 g baby onions or small shallots (peeled), few sprigs of thyme, 1/2 tsp sugar,

3 tbspns of juice from bottled beetroot, 100 ml chicken stock, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat butter in large saute pan, adding baby onions/shallots with thyme and sugar when it starts to foam.

Cook for 5 mins until lightly caramelised (should turn translucent and slightly brown), seasoning with salt and pepper as they cook.

Add beetroot juice and stock, bring to boil then cook uncovered for a further 5 mins, stirring occasionally until onions are just tender but still retain a bite.

Transfer onions to a dish and bubble up the pan juices until reduced to a syrupy glaze.

Return onions to the pan to heat through and coat in glaze.

Discard thyme and serve.

18 March 2007

Lentil Soup

I have had a stock of lobster oil sitting pretty in my fridge for a while now. It was something I bought on a whim when I was browsing around Arcangel's in Great World City. At the time I bought it, I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I knew I had to get it. I was sure I would find a great nesting place for it, in a risotto or a soup.

Today, I decided it had enough rest in my increasingly overcrowded fridge, and took it out for some fun. As I browsed through some of my cookbooks, a particular Chickpea and Langoustine soup tempted me, while another's Sweet Garlic, Bread and Almond Soup looked amazing garnished with some chopped spring onions and drizzled with a few drops of oil. Anyone who knows me well, knows that it's not enough for me to make something that tastes good, it has to look good too. But one thing I would never do, is to compromise the quality of the dish to take a great photo.

In the end, I chose to make a Lentil Soup with small amounts of roasted sweet garlic and caramelised onions. Lobster oil and lumpfish caviar then finished off the bowl of soup. To make the soup, I used some seafood stock I had made many moons ago and kept in my freezer for a special day. I did everything within my means to make the soup as flavourful as it could be, without coming up with something that would be too strong to handle the lobster oil. Towards the end, I thought the salt would finally bring all the flavours together, as it usually does. But when it didn't, I was dumbfounded.

What else could I possibly have missed out? Good seafood stock - check. Yummy sweet, oozy roasted garlic - check. Freshly made onion relish - check. Salt and pepper - check. A splash of wine, a dash of vinegar - check, check. But no matter how much of the soup I tasted, something was missing. I couldn't believe I could fail in making something as simple as Lentil Soup.

Then I thought of what my grandmother would do. As a Cantonese, her dishes are rather extreme in tastes. Subtlety is not an existing word in her vocabulary. The flavours leap right at you rather than dance around on your tongue with every mouthful. To achieve that, she never stinges on salt, and sugar. So that's exactly what I did, I added sugar.

It's not uncommon for sugar to be added in savoury dishes. I've seen plenty of recipes, especially those featuring tomatoes, with a touch of sugar to tame tartness and enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes. I have no idea what forces combined in the lentil soup I was making, but the sugar did it. Just half a tablespoon of precious white crystals brought all the flavours together, giving me an extremely joyous feeling.

I did a little victory dance around the kitchen (it was very little, considering how little standing space there was available) then scooped out a little bowl for myself. It was velvety and hearty, yet sophisticated with a few drops of bright red lobster oil and the almost luminiscent pearls of caviar.

The only tool one would need to make a soup as simple as this, is a sturdy heavy duty blender, preferably made with glass that can take the high heat. I used to have a plastic one and would constantly fret that the plastic would crack or worse, that it would impart some incredibly off-putting plastic taste to the soup. So now that I have my glass one, there's no way I'm looking back!

Lentil Soup
Serves 6-8 as a starter

half a bulb of garlic
2 cups red lentils
5 cups homemade vegetable/seafood stock
1 tbspn olive oil
1 big white onion, sliced
2 tbspns good white wine
1 tbspn white wine vinegar
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
Lobster oil, caviar, or dried sakura ebi (optional)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
Place garlic in oven and roast for half an hour or until flesh is soft.
Boil lentils in stock until soft.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in pan at medium heat and add onions then turn down heat to low.
When onions turn translucent, add white wine and vinegar.
Continue cooking and stirring until onions are caramelised and brown
Remove flesh from garlic skin, and add to boiling lentil soup with the onions.
Puree in a blender until smooth, then strain if preferred (I chose not to) back into pot.
Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.
Spoon into bowls and drizzle lobster oil and garnish with caviar or dried sakura ebi if available.

13 March 2007

Digression: The bunny imposter

Baby Moka is really the pride of the family, although there probably isn't much to be proud of. You could wave a stalk of spinach right in front of him and he might just miss it. You could holler his name for five whole minutes but remain ignored. My family thinks he is a little deaf and a little blind. But we still talk about him fondly very often.

Just last night, Yixian and I were exchanging bunny stories. I thought my stock of leopard crawling antics (because his favourite hideout pictured above is a little short for him to hop into, he has to leopard crawl in) would take the cake, until I heard her bunny imposter story.

She had bought a snow-white, lop-eared bunny a while ago. Just a few weeks later, one ear started standing up more often than it should. And now, her lop-eared bunny has morphed into your average white, red-eyed bunny with two upright ears. I have NEVER ever heard of such a case before and couldn't help laughing as she ranted on about being cheated by the petshop.

This makes me wish I was a bunny too. Ah, the life.

11 March 2007


Chinese New Year is long over, but my CNY decorations are still up. I've had little time to do any proper cleaning up and tidying. The past week was tough to get through as I was down with a mean bug but still had to trudge to work. It wasn't even because I had downright evil bosses. On the contrary, they were extremely sympathetic. But I had a report to submit and a responsibility that I should not shirk from.

Thankfully though, I have a grandma who is merely a S$2.80 cab ride away from work, who would wrap me up in her many quilts and blankets, and have a bowl of warm unsweetened oats ready for me after my short nap. Ah, bliss. Bliss is also being able to rest through the entire weekend to rest and fully recuperate.

To celebrate my recovery, and break my weeklong diet of soft foods, I decided to pull out a precious stash of potstickers from the freezer. This was something that I made during one of the CNY dinners for a couple of my dad's longtime friends, alongside a couple of other Chinese dishes. As I had planned to make a ton of these, just making the potstickers alone took up a good couple of hours even using my pasta maker to trim some preparation time off.

You could say I've come very far when it comes to potstickers. The first time I tried making potstickers, I was in UK and sorely missing chinese food. I then made it again for 'Operation Stella', but with little (or no) improvement because when in UK, any kind of dumpling is better than none at all. Plus, I knew that my dear friends PJ, Fel and Stella weren't going to regurgitate the potstickers and denounce our friendship even if I had really made some really inedible ones.

But when back home, and when satiating a potsticker craving is as easy as taking a trip into Chinatown, it isn't enough to make them from scratch and have them look 'a little like' potstickers and taste 'something like' potstickers. They damn well better please the eye and the palate as the real thing. And who else to seek advice from than from one of the masters of perfection herself, J. She doesn't always post up recipes, but when she does, one can rest assured that every single step is accounted for. My experience when following her advice for making macarons is surely proof in itself.

While putting my absolute trust in her recipes and advice, I still had to put the first few potstickers I folded to the test. Most importantly, for my parents to give the go ahead. Thankfully I did so as the potstickers benefitted from a finer, more delicate skin as they would thicken slightly upon cooking.

And I just couldn't resist creating a variation of a potsticker using some crinkle cookie-cutters. Placing a mound of filling in the middle of the cut-out dough, I folded the skin into half, encasing the filling and pressed the edges together, making sure that the crinkles matched. I then pulled the two tips of the semi-circle together and pressed them together to make a dumpling that resembles a baby's bonnet. Cooking method and timing do not differ.