Foodiva's Kitchen: September 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poetry Thursday #5 and German Apple Cake

Poetry Thursday #5
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
The Song of Wandering Aengus by W.B Yeats

An apple a day, sends the voters my way keeps the doctor away.

Okay, first up, I am NOT a doctor. Which is probably why you're here. Or maybe you're here to vote for my entry to Project Food Blog's second challenge? (I did a Botswanan dish, in case you're curious). Well, whatever the reason, here you are, and because you're patient enough to read this far down, I'm going to share with you a stupendously easy - but mighty pretty - recipe for German Apple Cake. I'd learnt how to make this when I was working and living in Germany. Oh yes, those pioneer baking days when my oven-watching skills were nought. ;-) I still bake this cake to remind me of how far I've come since then.

If you wish to master the art of turning Snow White's poisoned gift into something that any repressed pastry chef would be proud of, listen carefully - or perhaps that should be, read carefully. On that day when we were overwhelmed with extra apples in the house, and I mean extra extra... an apple-invasion, if you can imagine it - I went ahead and did something to claim my territory back. I baked four apple cakes in a row. And gave them away to grateful neighbours. There, that ought to teach them frisky apples a lesson! Ah well, really it was my fault for not reminding my housemates that we hadn't yet finished our three bushels of apples and to please, not fill the house with any more.

Apple Cake Version 2.0

While you're still with me, voting for Project Food Blog ends on Thursday (Sept 30) and if you can look past this shameless plug and vote for me to advance to the next round, then I will be only too happy to share this so-easy-it's-truly-embarrassing recipe with you. I guarantee this apple cake is not only stunning-looking, it's also stomach-warmingly delicious. Enough to send any jealous stepmother to the nuthouse and the seven dwarfs to the unemployment line. Enjoy!

German Apple Cake
125g butter
125g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
pinch of salt
3 eggs
200g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 tablespoons milk

750g apples, peeled, cored and sliced
25g melted butter
40g sultanas/raisins (optional)
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 tablespoon water

1. Whisk sugar, butter, vanilla until light and fluffy, then mix in the lemon juice and salt.
2. Add eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed to incorporate eggs into the batter.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and bking powder and gradually add them and the milk to the batter above, mixing slowly until smooth. Use only as much milk as is necessary to give the mixture a slow-dropping consistency.
4. Pour into an 11-inch greased springform tin and level off surface with a spatula.
5. Quarter the peeled, cored apples (or cut them into 1/8ths if they are large). Make a few parallel cuts on the apples (skin-side) and arrange in a flower shape on top of the batter. (As you can probably see, I started doing the parallel cuts on two apple slices, then gave up. I had 4 cakes to do(!), and honestly, it didn't make any difference to the final taste of the cake). Press the apples into the batter very lightly. Arrange the sultanas in the same way.
6. Melt butter and brush the tops of the apples with it. Bake at 180C in a preheated oven for about 45 minutes.
7. For glazing, boil the jam with water and reduce heat, simmer until mixture becomes syrupy. Spread syrup onto the whole cake using a pastry brush as soon as it comes out of the oven. (Tip: The syrup seals the cake and minimizes the "pulling away" of the cake batter from the apples, which will leave unsightly gaps).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seswaa: A Taste Of Botswana In My Kitchen - PFB #2

My first experience of Botswana came in the form of a person. She was my lab partner at University and her name was Evelyn. Gentle, soft-spoken and shy, Evelyn was a genuine introvert, while I was anything but. We worked as a team conducting scientific experiments, thrown together out of necessity more than a natural desire to be with each other. Something inexplicable, however, happened along the way - we grew fond of each other and became protective of one another. Or rather, I protected her from the harsh realities of student life in a foreign land while she protected me from uhmm, myself.

We were just two girls from countries that began with the letter ‘B’, who hung out often but oddly never cooked together nor for each other. Well, maybe it wasn’t really that strange as we were students then and we hardly cooked for our nutritional sustenance, anyway. But now, how I wish we did. All those years ago, I’d missed the chance to experience authentic Botswanan food when I could’ve easily had it. Fast forward to now, I find myself wanting not just to eat it, but having to cook it as well!

When I enrolled in Project Food Blog, I’d already envisioned the type of cuisine I wanted to feature in my second challenge, that was, if I were to get through (which I did - thank you, oh thank you, voters and judges!). Having globetrotted a fair amount for both work and leisure, I consider myself lucky to have been able to sample a vast array of global dishes, at times Smörgåsbord-style. Yet, there are places I still haven’t been to and the region of South Africa is one of them. Thinking about this brought to mind memories of sweet Evelyn from Botswana, so I thought, why not attempt a traditional recipe from that culturally-rich, diamond-laden country?

Unfortunately, Botswanan cuisine is not easy to find in Southeast Asia, and I don’t really know if there are even restaurants serving dishes from Botswana on this side of the ocean. This was to be my first experience cooking up an classic dish from a faraway land, and something that’s not universally well-known at that. I wasn’t so much afraid of the cooking part as I was of trying to find all the right ingredients that will make the dish authentic, right here, in Brunei!

Not having the helpful opinion of Evelyn on tap (sadly, we’d lost touch after graduating), I did a bit of research and picked out a few classic African recipes I'd wanted to try from the sparse selection online. Stepping out of my comfort zone didn’t seem enough, I wanted to jump out. Botswana food recipes that called for mopane worms (aka caterpillars!) and locusts as their main ingredients really piqued my interest. Regrettably, our local stores didn’t stock these, and I wasn't about to scour my garden looking for live bugs (as totally out of my comfort zone as that would've been). And so I ended up making a far less creepy crawly dish called Seswaa. Also known as Chotlho, Seswaa is in essence boiled meat (beef or goat) which is pounded beyond recognition. Oh yes, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of enthusiastic pounding after a hard day? It’s the ultimate stress reliever!

      The best part of the process!

Seswaa is usually accompanied by a cornmeal or sorghum porridge called Bogobe and maybe some boiled leaf greens like spinach or cabbage. The essential starchy side-dish Bogobe got me worried because wherever I searched, I couldn’t find any cornmeal or sorghum flour on sale – quite simply, these are not our staples. As for looking in specialty food stores, this is Brunei, and seriously, we have none! But I did magically find this… Multigrain Corn Thins. It contained maize, millet, sorghum, brown rice and buckwheat - everything I'd wanted (plus some) to make Bogobe. I felt as if I’d struck gold, which is not as ridiculous as it sounds had you been as desperate as I was! My scheming mind planned to turn these crispy discs into multigrain meal, and then cook them with boiling water to make the thick porridge. Not thoroughly authentic, of course, but pretty darn close.

Traditional cooked cabbage and carrot would be the third component of this dish. Embellished with ginger, thyme, red chillies and tomato, this vegetable side-dish added extra color, flavor and crunchiness to the whole ensemble.

So here it is - it's my honor to present you with the exotic (for me, at least) classic dish for my second PFB challenge, Seswaa from Botswana! If you think my fervent meat pounding efforts merit me going forward onto the 3rd round of challenges, then go on, live a little dangerously and vote for me here. Voting begins on 27 September and ends 30th September, which coincidentally is Botswana's Independence Day!

Evelyn, if you’re reading this from wherever you are, I just wanted to say how much I miss those days when we used to fool around with pipettes and petri dishes full of colonius horribillis. Please do write and tell me that I didn’t somehow manage to botch up your national dish!

• 450g or 15oz beef
• 1 large onion, chopped coarsely
• salt to taste
• 1 tablespoon flour

1. Into a large pot, place the beef, onion and salt.
2. Cover the ingredients to a height of 2 inches above the meat with water.
3. Turn burner to medium and cook the dish for 2-2½ hours until the meat is soft. Add more water when it cooks down, to just cover the meat until the last 15-20 minutes and then let it cook further down.
4. Remove from fire and drain, save the liquid to use for gravy.
5. Put the meat into a sturdy and clean plastic bag (otherwise, you'll get meat bits all over your kitchen), place bag on a clean counter or wooden board.
6. Now the fun part! Pound the meat with a meat mallet or pestle until it is flattened and flaky. Remove the bones, if there are any.
7. Put it all back in the pot and simmer to reduce the liquid. Add about a tablespoon of flour, mix it in well, to thicken it. Season to taste.
8. Serve the dish with cooked vegetables and Bogobe (recipes below).

Traditional Cabbage and Carrot
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
½ onion, shredded as if it were coleslaw
1 carrot, shredded
1 teaspoon each of ginger, thyme, and dried chillies (crushed)
1 small head of cabbage, shredded
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Heat a frying pan and add frying oil, then heat the oil.
2. Fry the tomato and onion for 5 minutes.
3. Add the seasonings and stir.
4. Add carrot and stir, then add shredded cabbage and stir again to mix.
5. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for a few minutes, half covered, until cabbage is soft but not discolored.
6. Serve with Seswaa and Bogobe (recipe below).

750g or about 26oz of cornmeal or sorghum flour
1½ - 2 litres of water

This one you can vary depending on how much you want to make.
1. Basically, all you do is boil water, and add the corn or sorghum meal, and stir frequently.
2. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently until it reaches the desired stiffness, not too runny, but not too dry. Serve topped with Seswaa.

Eggs On a Cloud

International Incident Eggs Party

My second International Incident Party - the theme this month is *Eggs* and the party's co-hosted by Penny of  Jeroxie and and Trix of Tasty Trix. Wonderful, the culinary intepretation of this theme is greater than our outer galaxy (custards, souffles, cheesecake, French toast, creme brulee, bla, bla, etc), so how do I go about this? Thanks Penny, the egg theme has really made me think... hard.

Okay, so this is it. I decided to depict the humble egg in as narrow an intepretation as I could muster - it still looked very much like an egg. Have you ever tried the breakfast dish, Eggs On A Cloud? Not the French version of oeufs à la neige (snow eggs or floating islands on crème anglaise), no, that's way too hard/early for breakfast. Mine is an easy, breakfast eggs-on-toast version and it looks... interesting.  And more than a little pretty. I mean, can you just imagine cutting through a runny, half-baked egg yolk sitting amidst an airy, cloud of egg-white? Mmmmm.... I definitely can.

Eggs on a Cloud with Tomato-Pear Stack topped with Buttered Mashed Potatoes

I started with the bread, and reckoned that since the egg was going to be light, the base has got to be quite sturdy and filling. Multigrain wholemeal bread seemed to fit the bill, so I went ahead and baked a lovely loaf. What can I say? I had time to kill.

I lurrrve my bread fresh!

Tomatoes usually feature in this type of breakfast dish, so I sliced some, coated them in white rice crumbs (gluten-and-everything-free; it's my recent great find!) and toasted them under a grill. There was this pretty Forelle pear sitting forlornly in the fridge and so like a fairy Godmother-wannabe, I decided it should join the Eggs party. Skin on, cored and sliced, I stacked the pear up alternately with the tomatoes and topped it all with some (very runny) mashed potato. Not even an oil drop in sight, and if that's not a healthy breakfast, I don't know what is.

If you're wondering what Eggs on a Cloud tastes like, well, it tastes very much like egg. LOL, well what did you expect? Saying that, texturally the airy egg cloud feels much like cotton candy does in your mouth! That's the best description I can think of. Thanks again to Penny and Trix for being the perfect hosts of this eggstraordinary party. Now go and check out what the other participants did with their eggs (scroll right down to the bottom for the links).

Tomato slices encrusted with white rice crumbs

Tomato-Pear Stack

Before and after

Eggs On a Cloud
Serves: 4
4 slices bread
4 large eggs, separated
salt and pepper, to taste

4 tomatoes, sliced thickly
2 large pears, cored and sliced across
2 large potatoes, sliced, boiled and drained
2 tablespoons butter

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
2. Prepare the stack first. Dip the cut sides of the tomatoes in white rice crumbs and toast under a hot grill for about 10 minutes until the crumbs turn golden. Remove from the oven and stack the pears in between the crusted tomatoes.
3. Blend the hot, boiled potatoes with the butter and spoon on top of the stack. If it is still hot, it will be runny. Cool slightly if you want it to stay on top of the stack.
4. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a mixing bowl until fluffy and stiff peaks have formed. Spoon egg whites and shape into pretty "clouds" on each slice of bread, forming a dent in the center. Slide an egg yolk into the center of each egg white well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to season or if you want, some grated Parmesan or chilli powder for a bit of spiciness!
5. Place bread and egg slices on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes until the egg whites are lightly golden and egg yolks are just set. Remove tray from oven and using a large, sturdy spatula, plate Eggs on a Cloud immediately. Serve warm with the tomato-pear-potato stacks.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Poetry Thursday #4 and Spicy Thai Red-Brown Rice with Grilled Eggplant and Apples

Poetry Thursday #4:
It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger's orange paws.
Its stems thinner than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.
The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.

I don't want you just to sit down at the table.
I don't want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk out into the fields
where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with the mud, like a blessing.

Rice by Mary Oliver

It's time for Poetry Thursday again, except it's already Friday. Okay, so I had missed my deadline for posting this, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity of sharing this poem and recipe with you. Better late than never, as they say!

Mary Oliver's poem sums up my feelings about rice, what a blessing it is to be able to have it. Whenever I eat rice, it's normally the white or polished variety, because that's what I was brought up on and for a long time, that was the only kind of rice I thought existed. Well, that was all before I went off to study and live abroad. Then on, I discovered there are actually a mind-boggling variety and categories of rice such as wholegrain, black, brown, red, long/medium/short-grained and fragrant, with names such as Wehani, Forbidden, Basmati, Jasmine, even Risotto Rice. Rice is not just a cereal, it seems; it's also the powerful seed of civilization.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Exotic Nectarine, Pistachio and Grape Jelly

I spotted a rainbow in the sky today! Just as soon as the sky had cleared up from the rain and the sun was peeking its sleepy head through the clouds (I can just imagine it stretching its arms up high and saying, "Aaa..ah... is it already time for my watch again?" Been watching too much children's TV lately, you can tell). 

Yesterday I was sorting out some recipes torn long ago from old magazines, and a layered cake recipe caught my eye. It's so beautiful, so visually arresting, with layers consisting of natural flavors that I felt compelled to try making it. I held the intent all through yesterday, slept on it, then woke up this morning and thought, "Baking? Blaaah...". Yes, it sure is a rare day when baking doesn't make me go "yipeee-do!" in excitement. Whatever it was, I simply didn't feel like switching the oven on.

But hey, I still wanted to make something as pretty as that rainbow. When I popped over to the store this morning, I picked up a packet of agar jelly powder and the cutest ever koi fish jelly mold. The idea of a rainbow layered agar jelly started to form in my head, and boy, were the kiddies at home going to be surprised when the rainbow colors came in the shape of a koi fish! *smiles*

I decided the flavors would be nectarine (reminiscent of the flecks that are so pretty in a koi), coconut milk (to tie all the flavors together), pistachio (oh, for pure decadence!) and grape (cool purple, my favorite). I'm saving the rest of the rainbow colors - and flavors - for another project, another day.   

There's a voting frenzy going on right now at Project Food Blog to determine who will go into the next round. I've already casted my votes, and now, now I just want to sit back with my hot cuppa and enjoy my beautiful rainbow... Sigh. :-)

Exotic Nectarine, Pistachio and Grape Agar Jelly
13g (1 packet) Agar powder
500ml water
200g sugar
2 nectarines, sliced and blended to make 100ml juice
½ cup pistachio, peeled and blended with 150ml water
Bunch of seedless grapes, blended to make 150ml juice
100ml coconut milk

1. Place sugar and water in a pot and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Add agar powder into the pot and put stove on medium heat.
2. Stir frequently to avoid agar thickening at the bottom until everything has dissolved. Once mixture boils, the agar is ready to be added (separately) to the different flavors that will make up each layer.
3. Prepare one layer at a time and leave each layer to set until just firm before adding on the next layer. This ensures that the layers ‘stick’ together and do not separate when unmolded.
4. 1st layer: Blend the nectarines with a little water until smooth. Add 100ml of the hot agar mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour immediately into mold. Leave to set for a few minutes.
5. 2nd layer: Heat the coconut milk in the microwave for about 45 seconds and add 100ml of the hot agar mixture. Stir to combine and pour immediately on top of the nectarine layer. Let it set for a few minutes.
6. 3rd layer: Blend the pistachios with water until smooth. Strain through a large-holed strainer to catch the unblended nuts. Add 150ml of the hot agar mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour immediately on top of coconut milk layer.
7. 4th layer: Blend the grapes with a little water until smooth. Strain to separate the skin from the juice, discard skin. Add 150ml of the hot agar mixture to the grape juice and stir. Pour immediately on top of the pistachio layer. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then place in fridge for 30 minutes to set completely.

Note: To prevent the agar mixture from solidifying while preparing the layers, reheat briefly just before adding it to the different flavorings.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Food and Celebrations

Clockwise, from top left: Fruit cake, fried dried shrimp phyllo rolls, peanut biscuits and almond-prune cake.
What I love most about celebrations and festivities is that they bring people together. People who otherwise wouldn't see much of each other, if at all, throughout the rest of the year. In my country, there is a long-running tradition of opening up our houses to family, friends and yes, even strangers during the first few days of any festivity - be it Eid, Christmas or Chinese New Year. While this "Open House" practice may be  unthinkable in many other countries, especially in big cities (due to security reasons), for as long as I can remember, we have always welcomed people into our homes to sample a variety of celebratory fare that are freshly prepared for guests everyday.

For me, breaking bread over our table like this can unite and strengthen community bonds and helps to maintain not only a common identity amongst one group of people, but also share it with those from other cultures and backgrounds. It's a time to catch up, eat up and chill out during the few days of public holidays. I'm very much a child at heart and I think I'm probably the one who has the most fun of all when it's time to celebrate! At least the young ones in my family won't be afraid of being grown ups themselves someday because they know it's okay to belly-laugh, play with fireworks, dance-the-jiggy and generally have a blast even when they're as old as well, me ;-). 

Anyway this year, our open house saw plenty of fun happenings and held plenty of interesting conversations (oh, if only you knew). People visited us, and we returned the courtesy by visiting them back. Either way, there was a lot of eating and merrying to be had. I'd like to share with you some of the fun through my eyes - or rather, through my point-and-shoot.

First up, the adorable kids:


I think I deserve a medal for having these four friends sit still for all of 1/4th of a second in order to have these pictures taken. Oh yes, they were still alright, just not all at the same time!

Next up, the food:
Condiments to noodles, and spicy fried eggs with soft yolks (heavenly!)
Roasted chicken kebab, durian mousse cake ;-), grapes and strawberries

The guests:

The fun and relaxing times:

 Top to bottom:  Practising my levitation trick (in between visits), the kiddies on a wet slide-bouncer, forming imperfect heart shapes with fire-sparklers, enjoying the tranquility of the rock pool, a floating lotus.

The pet:
All the while, the Persian was watching warily from the staircase...

It's been a tiring week, but I don't think we'll ever tire from opening up our houses and sharing our fare for as long as it is feasible. The pictures say it all. This is the best way to celebrate not only our festivities, but to also to celebrate our commonalities and yes, life.
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