Thursday, 30 August 2007

Celebration cupcakes

I just returned from a whirlwind trip back to Asia. All in all I was away from London for less than 6 days but managed to visit both Singapore and Bali. As you can imagine, I'm extremely tired but not too tired to update my blog. I feel guilty for having been less regular with my blog this weekend so I thought tonight I'd make something to celebrate being back.

Actually, I've had my eye on this recipe since first reading about it months ago. Those of you who frequent food blogs will no doubt be familiar with Anita from Dessert First whose blog and photos literally have me salivating at times. Those of you who aren't, I highly recommend checking out her site. In any case, being a big fan of chocolate and hazelnuts, these cupcakes were just the thing to celebrate a homecoming.

As it turns out, perhaps making a 3 part cupcake at 7 pm in the evening was too ambitious given that I only landed at 7 am this morning and had to head straight to work. Part way through the recipe I started to feel the effects of jet lag so I made the decision to skip the hazelnut mousseline filling. I briefly contemplated substituting it with Nutella but decided that a chocolate cupcake with a coffee buttercream would be decadent enough, especially given the inordinate amount of eating that I did back home in Singapore. Since I left out the filling, I topped my cupcakes with some Valrhona chocolate pearls. The crunchiness of the chocolate provided a nice contrast against the velvety smoothness of the buttercream.

Next time, I'll endeavour to be true to the recipe and add in the hazelnut mousseline. For now, I'm off to catch some z's as there's more celebrating to be done tomorrow when yours truly turns another year older.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Cheesy bread puffs

About 4 months ago, I tasted for the first time ever, Pão de queijo, a traditional Brazilian snack. Its essentially a cheese puff, somewhat like a gougere, but different since instead of regular flour, the Brazilian version uses tapioca flour. From that first taste on, I was hooked.

I've been told that you can buy frozen versions of this treat and bake them up in your oven at home, but my philosophy is, why buy when you can make it yourself? That way, you know exactly what's going into your food. So, I scoured the internet to find a recipe and located one here.

The making of the dough itself was simple enough and while its not hard to roll out the little shapes, the dough is incredibly sticky! You'll need a generous amount of oil to rub on your hands as you're doing this. Once you get through that part though, you're rewarded with a great cheesy snack. These cheese puffs don't keep well and are best eaten hot but it does freeze well. So if you don't think you'll eat all of them at a go (and I can't possibly imagine why you wouldn't), just freeze the unbaked balls of dough and bake them up the next time you have guests over. They'll think you've been slaving away in the kitchen when in reality all you had to do was pop them on a tray and turn on the oven.

Pão de queijo
From this site

1 cup of water
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of oil
1 tsp of salt
450g tapioca starch
2 to 3 eggs
200g Parmesan cheese, grated
Bring the water, milk, oil and salt to boil in a large saucepan.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the tapioca starch. Mix well with a wooden spoon and leave to let cool.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Then, add in the eggs and knead well.

Add in the grated Parmesan and continue to knead until the dough is smooth.

To form the cheese puffs, take a tablespoon of dough and roll it between your hands to form a ball. As the dough is very sticky, it is best to grease your hands with oil before you start rolling. You may also have to wash your hands occasionally to get rid of excess dough during this step.

Place the cheese puffs on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350F for ~20 minutes, until golden brown.
Makes many

Sunday, 26 August 2007

A refreshing summer dessert

As I referenced in an earlier post, summer is almost over and we've got to make the most of it. At least for now though, succulent, juicy berries are still available in the stores. So, to kick off the start of the weekend, I made a light dessert for dinner last night.

Reminiscent of the ice cream floats that I'm sure we all loved from childhood, I made a sparkling lemonade float that was topped with strawberries and mascarpone ice cream. (Credit for this combination and the recipe go to Emily Luchetti, one of my favourite dessert cookbook authors.) The mascarpone ice cream, being perfumed with a vanilla pod, was essentially a creamier, more luxurious version of vanilla ice cream and provided the perfect contrast to the slightly tart and tangy taste of the lemonade. Refreshing, yet indulgent at the same time.

Mascarpone ice cream
From this book

4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 cups mik
1 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise with seeds scraped out
1 cup mascarpone cheese

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Cook the millk, cream, vanilla bean, and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost simmering. Slowly pour the liquid into the egg-and-sugar mixture, whisking as your pour. Return the cream-and-milk mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant plastic or wooden spatula, until the custard reaches 175F and lightly coats the spatula.

Strain the custard into a clean bowl, discarding the vanilla bean, and cool over an ice bath until room temperature. Whisk in the mascarpone. Refrigerate the custard for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. If necessary, whisk the ice cream base to combine. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Freeze until scoopable, about 4 hours, depending on your freezer.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Another easy mid-week dinner

As I referenced in a previous post, simplicity rules the day in my kitchen when it comes to cooking mid-week dinners. However, simple doesn't mean having to sacrifice on flavour. One of my go-to authors for quick, easy, yet absolutely delicious food is Aussie's number one celebrity chef, Bill Granger. I have yet to visit any of his restaurants, though its on my list of to-dos if I make it over to Australia. I have, however, tried a fair number of his recipes and they've all turned out great. My sister is a fan as well.

Last night's dinner was again one of the staples in our household -a caramelized salmon inspired by the flavours of Vietnam. It literally takes no more than 15 minutes to cook, but served with rice and a side of greens (I used kai lan), its a perfectly wholesome meal.

As an aside, it was M who bought me this cookbook for Christmas last year. I guess you could say that it was a stroke of genius on his part. Since this is one of his absolutely fave dishes, for M, it is the gift that keeps on giving. M, if you are reading, Christmas is coming up again, make your choice wisely!

Caramel Salmon
From this book

1 tbsp vegetable oil
800g salmon fillets, with skin
1 red onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
115g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp lime juice

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the salmon in two batches and cook each bath for a couple of minutes until lightly browned. Turn over and cook the other side for 1 minute, then remove from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium and add a little extra oil to the pan, if needed. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and fish sauce. Return the salmon to the pan and cook for 1 minute, or until the sauce is rich, dark and syrupy. Sprinkle liberally with black pepper and stir through the lime juice.

Serve with steamed rice, with a little sauce drizzled over the top and lime wedges.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Inexplicable cravings

Its been about 7 months since I left home and moved to the UK. Not so long considering the fact that when I first left to go to college, I ended up staying away from home for 10 years. So I find it very strange that this time, I'm developing cravings for foods that remind me of home so soon - even ones that I don't usually eat!

Just this weekend, I had baked pineapple tarts - my favourite sweet treats from back home. Yesterday, I had an inexplicable craving for char kway teow (fried rice noodles), one of the most popular hawker dishes in Singapore. What's inexplicable about this particular craving is the fact that in all my life, whether in Singapore or out, I have never ever ever ordered a plate of char kway teow. Its just not something I've ever really enjoyed. Part of it probably has to do with its reputation as one of the more unhealthy hawker foods you can eat (Not so hard to understand when you realize that the dish was traditionally cooked with lard). Despite all this, when planning what to cook for dinner last night, it was all I could think about. So, I gave in to my cravings and whipped up a batch and for a momentary 15 minutes, I felt like I was home.

Char Kway Teow
Adapted from Shiok!

4 tbsp vegetable oil
1½ tbsp crushed garlic
1 Chinese sausage, very thinly sliced
250g fresh prawns, peeled
350g kway teow (fresh rice noodles)
75g choy sum
3 eggs
3 tbsp ketjap manis or thick dark sweet soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
1-2 tbsp chili sauce
3 tbsp water

Heat oil in a wok over high heat and fry garlic for 1 minute, until golden and fragrant. Add Chinese sausage and prawns and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Create a well in the center of the wok and crack in the eggs. Stir well - they should set pretty quickly.

Add choy sum, kway teow, soy sauces, chili sauce and water and stir vigorously for 3 to 4 minutes until well mixed. Noodles should be moist and aromatic. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve hot.

Serves 4

Monday, 20 August 2007

TGRWT #5: Waiter, there's chocolate in my pasta!

Who would have thought? Pasta and chocolate go well together! I was a skeptic at first but given that the assignment for TGRWT #5 (They go really well together) was to find a chocolate and meat recipe, I decided to ignore my misgivings and try out a meat sauce recipe that i found in this book, one of my favourite books on one my favourite foods in the world - chocolate.

Besides the addition of chocolate, this pasta sauce was otherwise much like any other bolognese sauce, albeit a hearty one with the addition of pinenuts and raisins as well. It took a relatively short amount of time to cook and soon M and I were sitting down to dinner. Since I hadn't told M in advance that I was planning to try this recipe, I told him that I wanted him to taste the pasta and guess what special ingredient I had added to the sauce. Unfortunately, the cocoa nibs that I put in a small side dish for garnishing the pasta was a dead giveaway. He guessed chocolate. After asking him if he could actually taste it though, he confessed that if he hadn't seen the nibs, he wouldn't have thought there was chocolate in the pasta.

Tasting the pasta for myself, I had to agree with him. The first sensation of flavour that I got when I took my first bite was the lingering aroma of the red wine, and although the sauce was sweeter and slightly thicker than most bolognese sauces, I wouldn't have guessed there was chocolate in there either. Despite not being able to pick out the chocolate flavour, we both agreed that the chocolate added to the richness of the sauce. If you get a chance to make it, I'd highly recommend garnishing with cocoa nibs - they add an interesting texture to the dish.

Giuliano's sweet and savory meat sauce with chocolate
From bittersweet

1 medium red onion
3 celery stalks
2 medium carrots
1 medium garlic glove
10 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only
4oz pancetta
3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
11/4 dry red wine
1 cup drained canned Italian tomatoes, or 3/4 cup tomato puree
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsp pine nuts
3/4 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tbsp sugar
1 pound dried or fresh tagliatelle or other egg pasta
Cocoa nibs, crushed with a rolling pin or coarsely chopped (optional)

Finely chop the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and parsley. Dice the pancetta. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the chopped vegetables, parsley, and pancetta, and saute slowly over low heat for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and beginning to brown. Add the ground meat and stir it into the sauteed ingredients with a fork or wooden spoon. When the meat is no longer pink, add the wine and simmer to evaporate it, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, unless using puree, pass the tomatoes through a food mill.

When the wine has evaporated, add the tomato puree to the pan. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and simmer slowly for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the dolce-forte: Combine the wine vinegar, raisins, pine nuts, chocolate, and sugar in a small bowl; set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

When the sauce is ready, stir in the dolce-forte and simmer 5 minutes longer. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, and add additional vinegar or sugar if necessary.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Pour a little sauce into the bottom of a serving dish and top with the pasta and the remaining sauce. Toss the pasta and sauce together, moistening it with a little of the reserved pasta water if necessary. If you like, pass a bowl of cocoa nibs at the table to sprinkle over the pasta.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Green tea delight

M is a big ice cream fan and truth be told, so am I. As such, our ice cream maker is probably one of the best investments I ever made. Besides, ice cream is one of those desserts that really doesn't take that much work to make but that never fails to impress guests. Maximum reward for minimum effort, what more could you want?

One of my favourite flavours which I have never been able to get quite right is green tea ice cream. Until today, that is, thanks to a recipe that I first saw on Kuiadore, a food blog written by the enormously talented Joycelyn. I think the addition of white chocolate in this recipe adds depth and richness to the green tea, making this an incredibly luxurious way to finish off any dinner.

For us, it was a perfect way to end a perfect weekend.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Dreaming of Chinese New Year

One of my favourite celebrations of the year, besides Christmas, is Chinese New Year. For me, growing up, Chinese New Year was always a time when family got together to celebrate the start of what was hoped to be a prosperous new year. On top of that, my memories of CNY are also filled with food. It is customary when visiting friends and relatives to bring along mandarin oranges as the word for them in cantonese sounds like gold. In return, you also receive oranges and are usually treated to an array of sweets and cookies.

You're probably wondering why I'm talking about Chinese New Year in August. Well, the reason is simple, its the theme for my entry into SHF #34. When I read that the theme was local or regional specialities, I knew immediately that I had to make pineapple tarts. Although you can get pineapple tarts year round in Singapore now, they are particularly associated with Chinese New Year where there are often served to guests when they come a visiting. Having spent so many years away from home, they are one of the foods that I miss the most. I have never been able to find them outside of Singapore and often have my parents bring me a few boxes whenever they come to visit.

For those who have never had a pineapple tart, they are really more like a cookie than a tart and they are filled with a pineapple jam that has been spiced with cinnamon, star anise and cloves. The pastry itself has a tender, flaky crumb that marries perfectly with the sweetness of the jam. Pineapple tarts are just one of those things that I find impossible to stop at just one. Can you?

Pineapple Tarts
From Shiok!

Pineapple jam:
4 cans (about 500g each) pineapple chunks in natural juice
1 whole star anise, broken into petals
3 cinnamon sticks
7 cloves
450g caster sugar, plus more as necessary

For the pastry:
400g plain flour, sifted
2 tbsp caster sugar
⅔ tsp salt
250g cold unsalted butter, cubed
3 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
50 ml iced water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water

To make the pineapple jam, drain pineapple, reserving juice, and chop it very finely in a food processor. Combine with juice, spices, and sugar in a large, wide pot. Stir well over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Taste, then add more sugar as necessry for good tart-sweet balance.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring very frequently, until the mixture is reduced to a thick, amber-colored jam, 1½ to 2½ hours. Watch it carefully towards the end of cooking, stirring constantly to prevent it from burning. Let cool completely. Store in a clean airtight jar.

To make the pastry, whisk flour, sugar and salt together in a large mixing bowl until well blended. Add butter cubes and rub them in with your fingertips or a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk egg yolks, vanilla, and water together and drizzle evenly over flour mixture. Stir with a fork to bring dough together into a ball. Knead lightly for 5 seconds, then divide into three portions. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. Repeat this step to make another batch of pastry as you will need at least 2 batches of pastry to finish using up the jam. Alternatively, the jam will keep well in the fridge for use at a later time.

While dough is chilling, pinch off small teaspoonfuls of pineapple jam and shape them into little balls about 1-1.5cm in diameter. Warning: the jam is very sticky so it is a good idea to have a wet towel nearby.

To make open tarts (as in the opening picture), roll out pastry dough about 5-6 mm thick. Cut out tarts with open tart cutter. Place one ball of jam onto the centre of each shape and pat it down gently. Place tarts on baking sheet and gently brush the rims with eggwash if desired. Bake at 325°F/170°C for 15-18 minutes, until pastry is pale gold. Cool on a rack.

To make closed tarts (as in the picture below), take a walnut-sized ball of pastry and flatten it to a round about 4 mm thick with your fingers. Place a ball of jam on pastry and bring up edges to enclose. Pinch off excess pastry and pinch seams well to seal. Then, roll ball between palms to make it evenly round. Brush tart with eggwash and stick a clove into the top for decoration. Place tarts on baking sheet and bake at 325°F/170°C for 20-25 minutes, until pastry is pale gold. Cool on a rack.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Potato dumplings with pesto

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been looking forward to taking part in the various food blog events online. When I first saw that the theme of the latest HHDD is gnocchi, I was really excited. I have never made it before and though I'm not necessarily a big fan myself, M is. So what better excuse than to give it a go? Here then is my entry for Hay Hay, It's Donna Day #14 - Gnocchi di patate al pesto, which translates to potato dumplings with pesto.

For my recipe, I turned to this book, a trusted reference on Italian cooking from which I have enjoyed everything I've had the chance to make so far. I've been wanting to try his restaurant here in London but haven't had the chance yet. Hopefully that'll be a post on this blog sometime soon!

I have to confess that after having read through the recipe, I was concerned about the results given that I have never made fresh pasta before. As it turned out, the process was even slightly more involved than I expected. Rolling the dough into ropes and then shaping each individual nugget takes patience! Since I was battling against the clock to have something ready in time for dinner, I was probably less conscientious in making the gnocchi as uniform as it could be. Despite that, the results (while probably not the best looks-wise) were still yummy.

Would I make it again? Maybe, but I might skip the part requiring that each piece be shaped by hand. The pesto, however, is a keeper.

Potato dumplings with pesto
From Made in Italy by Giorgio Locatelli

1/2 recipe quantity of potato gnocchi dough (see recipe below)
handful of green beans
1 large potato, cut into about 1cm dice
knob of unsalted butter
6-7 tbsp pesto (see recipe below)
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

Make the potato gnocchi as described below.

Blanch the beans in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until just soft. Split then in half lengthways.

Put the diced potato in a small pan of cold water with the butter. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer until just beginning to soften. Take off the heat and leave in the cooking water to finish cooking and soften a little more.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it and put in the gnocchi. Keep stirring until they rise to the surface (a minute or so).

While the gnocchi are cooking, lift the potatoes out of their water with a slotted spoon and put into a sauté pan, together with the pesto and the beans, over the very lowest possible heat (if necessary, hold the pan above the hob, so that the pesto only slightly warms and keeps its flavour and colour).

Lift the gnocchi out of the cooking water carefully, using a slotted spoon or spider, and put them into the pesto.

Add the Parmesan and toss the gnocchi in the sauce very briefly to coat, adding a little of the cooking water if you think the sauce needs loosening - but don't leave the gnocchi on the heat for longer than a minute, or they will start to break up. Season if necessary and serve.
Serves 4

Potato gnocchi dough

1 kg very starchy potatoes
2 small eggs, lightly beaten
about 320g plain flour
pinch of salt

Leave the potatoes whole, still in their skins. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until soft (about 45 mins-1 hour depending on the size). Put the potatoes into a warm oven to dry.

While the potatoes are still hot, peel them and put them through a fine sieve. Put them in a bowl or on your work surface, make a well in the centre, then add the egg, a pinch of salt, and about 3/4 of the flour. Mix well and, as soon as the dough comes together, stop - only adding the rest of the flour if you really feel that you need it.

Dust your work surface lightly with flour, then take your dough and flatten it down with the palms of your hands into a rough square about 1.5cm thick.

With a knife, cut the dough into strips about 1.5cm wide. Dusting your hands with flour, roll each piece lightly until it is cylindrical.

Take 2 or 3 cylinders at a time, lay them next to each other, then cutting through them all at the same time, trim off the ends and cut the rest into pieces (1-1.5cm in width). Repeat with the rest of the cylinders, until you have lots of little nuggets of dough.

Lightly dusting with flour all the time, take a fork and push each piece of dough on to the prongs, so that it rolls itself up and is marked with lines. Try to make them all the same size so that they will all cook evenly. As you make each one, roll it on a tray dusted with flour.
Makes about 1kg


2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons pine kernels, toasted
250g fresh basil leaves, picked
2 tbsp pecorino or Parmesan, grated
300ml extra-virgin olive oil
tiny pinch of salt

Either in a food processor with a sharp blade or using a pestle and mortar, start with the garlic and salt. Smash the garlic, then add the nuts and crush them, but try not to overwork them.

Drop in the basil leaves a few at a time and work them in as quickly as you can.

Then add your cheese and finaly the oil, until you have a bright green paste.
Makes one small jar

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The fleeting days of summer

Summer is almost over. Or, if like me, you live in London, it never really came. In any case, there's not much time left to savour the sunshine, warmth and produce that summer usually brings. One of my favourites is berries - something I did not grow up eating in Singapore but which I have come to love. Just last weekend, I came across some blackberries and lingonberries growing in the wild while walking through a trail in Gothenburg and I must say they were the best, juiciest berries I've ever had.

In an attempt to recreate that sensation and to savour the fleeting days of summer, for dessert tonight I made rhubarb consommé with summer berries. While berries are perfectly great on their own, I find that a simple rhubarb soup dresses it up just enough to make it a dessert that you can serve when you have friends over. Yet the soup is still light enough to not overpower the dish leaving you with a fresh, light taste of fruit. Perfect for serving after a summer BBQ!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Presto Pasta Nights: Penne with tuna in tomato sauce

I apologize for having been delinquent in updating my blog. I've been thinking about posting for a few days now but events have transpired against me. The worst of which was that I actually broke my laptop last Wednesday night. It was stupid really - I tripped over the laptop power cord and my computer came crashing to the floor. Now every time I try to boot it up, I get the blue screen of death instead. I guess its a sign that I should get that new Mac that I've been wanting but in the meantime, I'm blogging from M's computer instead.

Since I started this blog, I've been thinking that I should take part in some of the many food blog events going on - Sugar High Fridays, HHDD, etc. Well, what better time to start than the present! So today I present my very first entry to 'Presto Pasta Nights' hosted by Ruth: Penne with tuna in tomato sauce. While I enjoy spending time in the kitchen whipping up fancy meals, sometimes, on a weeknight, that's the last thing I want to do. Hence, its always handy to have a few staples in the repertoire that can be done in a flash. This is one of mine and is adapted from a recipe from this book.Don't be fooled by its simplicity, its a winner everytime!

Penne with Tuna in Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cook with Jamie

Olive oil
1/2 red onion
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tin plum tomatoes (400g)
300g of yellow fin tuna in olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
250g penne (I use wholewheat)
Juice of one lemon
Grated parmesan cheese

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the onion and cinnamon until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Increase the heat and add the tomatoes, tuna and a pinch of salt.

3. Bring to the boil then let simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

4. At the same time, cook the penne until al dente.

5. Drain the pasta, then toss with the tuna and tomato sauce together with some lemon juice and grated parseman.

6. Mix and enjoy!

Serves 2

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Shanghai Blues: A place for dim sum in London

One of the things that I miss most about Singapore, besides my family, is the weekly dim sum brunch that I used to have at either Crystal Jade or Lei Garden. Over the last seven months, I have been searching high and low for a good dim sum place and have always been vaguely disappointed by the various places that I've been to. These places include a michelin-starred place, some places in Bayswater that seem popular with the Asian crowd and several others here and there. Don't get me wrong, some of these were actually quite good and I would absolutely go again but I guess I've been looking for a place that would match up to what I could get back home.

About a month ago, while looking through some restaurant guides for a weekend brunch, I chanced upon Shanghai Blues, a modern Chinese restaurant in Holburn that also served dim sum. Most of the the reviews I read were favorable so I booked us a table, hoping that this would be the place that I was searching for.

Although I found the restuarant location to be slightly out of the way, my first impresions were positive. The decor is decidedly modern and although a little on the dark side, evokes a feel similar to that of E&O and Yauatcha. I was a little worried when I noticed the place to be fairly empty despite it being 12:30pm but took comfort in the fact that many of the diners that were there were Asian.

After being shown to our table, I started perusing the menu. The menu is fairly extensive and offers a mix of traditional Chinese dishes such as xiao long bao and har gow (shrimp dumplings), as well as more inventive creations such as barbecued chilean sea bass rolls. Since M and I were both longing for the flavours we used to get back in Singapore, our order consisted of mostly traditional dim sum offerings including xiao long bao (shanghai soup dumplings), shanghai chilli dumplings, pan-fried turnip paste with XO sauce, cha siu bao, cheong fun (rice noodle rolls) and kai lan in oyster sauce.

The dishes arrived in fairly short order and soon we were tucking into the spread that lay before us. From the first bite, I was decidedly impressed. On the whole, the food was flavorful and tasted authentic. In particular, the xiao long bao was exquisite - probably the best I've had in London thus far. The skin was not too thick, which I've found that they often are here in London, and the soup inside was delicious and just the right temperature. The shanghai chilli dumplings, another favourite of ours in Singapore, were also yummy with the right amount of kick in its spice. I was further impressed when I had my first bite of the pan-fried turnip paste - it was even better than what I've had in the past in Singapore. While the turnip cake in Singapore tends to be of a fairly dense texture, the Shanghai Blues rendition had a crisp exterior with a meltingly soft interior. Not all was perfect, however. I was somewhat disappointed by the cheong fun - usually one of my favourite dim sum dishes - as I found the ratio of noodle to filling somewhat overpowering. All in all, though, Shanghai Blues definitely ranks as the best dim sum I've had to date in London.

I just returned for my second visit this past weekend (which is when I had the chance to take these pictures you see here) and had another good dining experience. This time I also got to try the aforementioned barbecued chilean sea bass rolls and the salted chicken and peanut congee. Again, both were delicious and I'll be having them again the next time I go. Is Shanghai Blues better than Crystal Jade back home? Probably not, but unless I find something better, Shanghai Blues is going to be my go-to dim sum place here in London!

Shanghai Blues
193-197 High Holborn
0207 404 1668/9

Monday, 6 August 2007

A grown up chicken pot pie

I always find it challenging to use all the ingredients in my fridge before they go bad, so whenever I'm planning what to cook, I always try to find recipes that will use as much of the stuff that I currently have and that requires minimal new purchases. Today was no different. The most important thing that I wanted to use was some chicken stock that I spent four and a half hours making on Saturday night. Several options came to mind immediately. I could make a mushroom risotto perhaps, or maybe a chicken noodle soup or maybe chicken pot pie, which I have to admit I really like.

With these options in mind, I started searching on Epicurious. Always a good option when I don't have access to my cookbooks. After surfing for a few minutes, I came across the perfect recipe: Chicken and vegetable pot pies with cream cheese crust. Now for those of you turning up your noses because you think of chicken pot pies as using frozen peas and carrots, this one is different. Instead of peas and carrots, it uses more sophisticated ingredients such as sundried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. I definitely wanted to see if this grown-up twist on a childhood favourite would live up to the original. Besides, I had a tub of cream cheese in my fridge that I needed to finish.

Prep for the dish was not all that involved seeing that I had already completed the hard part - the stock. All it required was chopping of some ingredients and using the food processor to whip the dough together. After sauteing the onions, peppers and shiitake mushrooms, I was ready to make the filling. That was also a breeze and soon I was assembling my pot pie and ready to put it in the oven.

The hardest part I find (as is always the case when I'm baking) is waiting for it to finish. I guess I like instant gratification. Thankfully, M came home at this time and chatting with him make the time fly by. Before I knew it, it was done!

So, was it worth it? Absolutely! M and I both loved it and it'll definitely be going into our dinner rotation.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

A healthier kind of baking

M, my fiancé of 2 weeks :), has been the lucky (or unlucky) recipient of much of my efforts in the kitchen - cookies, muffins, ice cream, etc. Since I bake at least once a week, our waistlines are starting to show the effects. M is always urging me to invent baked goodies that are yummy and have NO calories - he swears that will make us millionaires...

Since I have yet to come up with our golden ticket to a life of luxury, last week I decided to bake something that we could indulge in without guilt - bread! Having not had much experience with bread baking and having read so much about the phenomenon of no-knead bread, I decided that this was what I was going to begin my bread baking experiments with.

Although it requires some planning, since the recipe calls for a total of 20 hours of resting time, it couldn't have been simpler. Mind bogglingly simple in fact! To make it even healthier, I made it with whole wheat flour and it turned out great. I should know - M ate the whole loaf!

As for that zero calorie baked wonder, I'm working on it. I swear.

No-knead bread
Adapted from Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey
Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Then add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky, don't worry about this. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature (~70 degrees).

After 12-18 hours, check the dough. It is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for another 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. Put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Friday, 3 August 2007

I did it!

Start a food blog that is. I have debating whether to start blogging about my baking and cooking escapades for ages and have always fallen back on the age old excuse "I'm not going to have enough time." I'm still not sure how much time I will be able to devote to this but I'll take it one step at a time. I have gotten so much pleasure from reading other people's food blogs, Kuidaore, Chubby Hubby and Dessert First, to name just a new, that I finally decided to bite the bullet. I have no illusions that I'll garner as wide an audience as they have but the fun for me will come from having an excuse to bake / cook more often and the opportunity to share my escapades with friends, family and whomever else wants to read about them.

So you're probably wondering "Who is this girl anyway?" Well, I think the name of my blog says it all - I'm just a girl with an enormous passion for food! I am also a baking hobbyist, something I try to indulge in as often as I can. I did a basic patisserie certificate at Cordon Bleu in Paris but I'm still trying to improve my skills everyday! In between my adventures in baking, I dabble in cooking since you can't eat sweets everyday, or so I've been told. To top this all off, I love trying new restaurants and what better place to do that than in London, my home of about 6 months now!

Before I sign off, I thought I'd share with you a picture of a crepe cake (a la Lady M's cafe in NYC) that I made recently. I hope to be back soon with my first real post!