October 28, 2009

No-knead bread

I finally got onto the no-knead bread bandwagon and made my first decent loaf of bread! It smelled a bit too yeasty for my liking, but I think that's because I left the dough for 24 hours instead of 12-18 as stipulated by the Jim Lahey recipe reported by Mark Bittman @ New York Times. In essence, though, I followed the Jim Lahey recipe.

It was an amazing loaf of bread for the minimal effort, though. It had nice holes, a great nutty-golden-brown crust, and that home-baked, country style aroma and texture to it. I'm going to practice this recipe and refine it so it's slightly less dense (wet) and less yeasty.

No kneading! No worrying about the rising! This is such a simple recipe.

Basically, you mix together flour, yeast, water and salt in a bowl (I used plastic).

Cover with clingfilm and put it in a warm dark area to sit for a while. I made this on a Monday night and put it overnight in my pantry, then as I left for work the next day I put it in the fridge so the rising process would slow down a bit (since I wouldn't get home 'til late Tuesday night).

When I got home Tuesday night, I pulled it out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit (to speed things up, I boiled some water in a kettle and put the bowl of dough next to it).

Then I floured the work surface, poured the dough onto it, and slapped it around for a few minutes, before transferring to a greased plastic bowl* to sit while preheating the oven to 450F/230C with the Le Creuset enamel ware pot that Jon bought as a birthday gift (thanks honey!). The Bittman recipe says to leave it for 2 hours for the second rise, but I was impatient and only waited 1/2 hour. The bread turned out OK but I think I'll try to leave for longer next time.

* NOT the floured dish towel that Lahey/Bittman specifies -- other people seem to have had problems with the dough sticking to the towel so I decided not to risk it. Using a towel doesn't seem to be strictly necessary for the recipe to work.

Then take the preheated pot out of the oven, remove lid, jiggle the dough into the pot, replace lid and place back in oven. Bake for 30 minutes with lid on, then another 20-30 minutes with lid off.

Take bread out of oven and let cool (this is important -- time is needed for the carbon dioxide caused by the yeast to escape)! I found that the bread came out of the enamel pot easily, it didn't need greasing, corn meal or other cheats.

Most important step: Eat with good butter and jam.

October 26, 2009

New York Cheesecake

I've read many cheesecake recipes before and been intimidated by the idea of water baths, over-cooking, and various stories of woe, so it was only after much thought and trepidation, I finally made the leap and tried to make my very first cheesecake.

I followed Nigella Lawson's New York cheesecake recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess, combined with the Joy of Baking recipe. I whisked the egg whites as per Nigella's recipe, but the resulting cheesecake, while OK, was a bit too light and moussy for my liking (see above). I was looking for the wonderfully rich and dense texture of real New York cheesecake, so next time I think I'll try the Joy of Baking recipe which calls for whole eggs (i.e. without whisked whites).

The sides also stuck to the pan, and it was hard to get the cake out of the Springform tin. Nigella's recipe doesn't tell you to grease the pan, but I've seen others that do. I'm going to try greasing the pan next time.

October 7, 2009

My favourite places to eat in Hong Kong

Here are some of my favourite places to eat in Hong Kong. It's a short list for now but I plan to add more once I decide which other places are worthy of recommendation. Suggestions also very welcome. You can probably tell from this list below that I'm quite a cheap person when it comes to food, except for occasional splurges. Actually, it's just that I'm not big into the expensive food in Hong Kong (shark fin, bird's nest, abalone) but I am crazy for street food and cheap eats.

(No photos here, but please click on the link to visit the restaurant's page on Openrice.com, where there are reviews and photos.)

Updated November 7, 2010

For a Special Occasion:
  • The Peak Lookout (The Peak) - A wonderful colonial-style restaurant with outdoor garden terrace with a nice view of the south side of Hong Kong Island. They have an international menu, with great BBQ/grilled items, Asian food, oysters/seafood, wines, desserts, and even cigars. A full 3-course dinner with wine/cigars comes to approximately US$100 per person. Don't get suckered into going to the much larger, noisier and equally pricey Cafe Deco across the road. The Peak Lookout is worth it because it's wonderfully romantic, the food and service are superb, and you can create lifelong memories here. Great to come here with that special someone. My boyfriend's still talking about the oysters one month after we ate there!
  • Caprice (Four Seasons Hotel, Central) - See this post for a review of our dinner at this 3-Michelin starred French restaurant.
  • Runner up: The Verandah (Repulse Bay) - Colonial style dining with fine food overlooking the beach.

For a real taste of Hong Kong:
  • Australia Dairy Company (Jordan) - Don't say I didn't warn you. This place is always packed, the lines are long (but move fast), the waiters are brisk almost to the point of rudeness, food comes within 60 seconds of ordering... definitely not a place to linger. However, it has the absolute best scrambled eggs that you'll ever have. Seriously. They are super fluffy and tasty on the cafe's thick white bread. Breakfast, all-day and tea sets include various combinations of fried/scrambled egg with toast, ham/BBQ pork with macaroni/spaghetti in soup, and tea/coffee/Horlicks/Ovaltine. You'll be in and out in less than 15 minutes and for under US$5.
  • Fantastic Ladies Cafe (Tuen Mun) - Fusion Italian place run by a local charity as a social enterprise. The restaurant and kitchen are staffed by workers both young and old who have difficulty finding gainful employment. The restaurant provides training and income to workers in this industrial, slightly run-down part of Hong Kong. It's way out in the suburbs but if you are in the area, make sure to check this place out, if only for the cute decor. The food is quite good too and reasonably priced, and very Hong Kong in taste (pork chop with tomato sauce and pasta; spicy seafood chili pasta stir-fry and more). Meals are about US$5-10 for pastas, rice dishes, etc.
  • Kau Kee (Central) - Famous beef brisket noodle place. Local celebrities come here. It (in)famously closes for cleaning and staff dinner every day during prime dinner time (7:15-8:30pm). Try the curry brisket and tendon with e-fu noodles, or the brisket in plain stock with noodles. About US$4.50 for brisket noodles and a soft drink/iced tea.

Favourite summer restaurant:
  • The Stoep (Cheung Sha, Lantau) - right next to beautiful, uncrowded Lower Cheung Sha Beach, this restaurant supposedly serves South African cuisine but really it's just a mix of good home-baked bread (try the Farmhouse loaf) and dips (eggplant and feta/dill dips are recommended), some BBQ/grilled items and pasta. Nothing too exciting and the price is not that cheap. However, with a wonderful view like that, it makes the food much better. Go there after swimming in the sea or lying on the beach. About US$20-30 per person for a full meal depending on what you order.

Favourite after-work dinner spot:
  • Cenacolo (SoHo) - solid, reasonably priced Italian restaurant with friendly (real friendly, not fake-friendly) staff. Their pastas are very good. Book ahead, especially weekday lunch and all day weekends. They have a 2 course lunch set w/coffee or tea for less than US$15 (including service). They are open until 11pm, so feel free to go for dinner late. Great if you have to work late!
  • Four Seasons Claypot Rice (Yaumatei) - Claypot rice is essentially rice with various toppings cooked in a clay casserole dish over an open flame. It's a staple winter dish but this place offers it all year round. You can choose various versions such as chicken with mushroom, preserved sausage and salted meat, pork ribs, etc. which come on top of the rice. Fried oyster pancakes are also available. No drinks are served, not even water, so remember to head over to the corner store to buy soft drinks/beer, etc. before you eat. About US$4 for a claypot rice dish.
  • Jun Yakitori (Tsimshatsui) - Best grilled onigiri in Hong Kong. Seriously. Also serves great grilled skewer items and home-style Japanese food (e.g. stewed beef and potatoes). Good place to hang out, drink beer/sake, and eat good food in a casual setting with friends. Note that this place is really small and seats are wooden. The walls also have 20+ years of customer graffiti in Sharpie pen.
  • Ishiyama (Causeway Bay) - Hidden in a nondescript commercial building, this is one of my favourite places in Hong Kong, not just Japanese places. A bit pricey but it has good, solid Japanese fare. Sashimi, nabes (hotpots), yaki-soba, grilled items, etc. Their cold marinated tofu is really good.
  • Akira Kushiyaki (Causeway Bay). Hidden down a side street, this Japanese skewer place does the traditional skewers done up with a contemporary flair and a light, sure touch. I recommend the kurobuta and negi (Japanese black pork and leek), the grilled cod skewers, and basically everything on their menu. :)

Favourite lunch spots:
  • Yachiyo Ramen (Central) - best shoyu ramen in town. Remember to order an extra side of soy sauce-marinated soft-boiled eggs. Ramen is about US$8.
Snacks and nibbles (Hong Kong is all about street food, so here are a few favorites):
  • Hot dogs @ Wing Lok Yuen (Central) - not US hot dogs. These are those skinny Dutch sausages (try the double dog - two dogs, one bun), placed inside a toasted white bun and slathered with a gallon of mayo. I exaggerate about the mayo, but not much. Cost: about US$1 for a hot dog.
  • Cart noodles @ Sun Kee Spicy Cart Noodles (Causeway Bay) - cart noodles are part of Hong Kong's cultural heritage. Originally they were sold by vendors pushing carts around the city. It is a pick-and-mix operation: you choose the type of noodle and the toppings you want. At Sun Kee, if you like spicy food, go for the spicy broth base, otherwise stick with plain. I like the plain noodles, but there are rice noodles and flat noodles too. As for toppings, Sun Kee's spicy and soy-sauce items are famous. I love the spicy pig's blood, chives, soy sauce pig intestine, soy sauce chicken wing, and others. If you're less adventurous, there are plenty of safer options such as fishballs, sliced beef, etc. Just under US$4 for a bowl of noodles and 3 toppings. US$0.90 per topping/noodle. (So noodle + 3 toppings is US$3.60)
  • Best US-style pizza in town @ Paisano's. Unfortunately this secret is no longer a secret, with Time Out calling it the best pizza in Hong Kong, which now means you have to endure lines, an hourlong wait for a pizza and sometimes even a slice, and hassled/bad service. Still, worth a try on weekends or during off-peak hours. Otherwise, call ahead and be prepared to wait (this applies for takeout too).

September 28, 2009

Honey roasted chicken with tomato, potato and onion

I am sorry that I am continuing this photo-less streak but I was so hungry I ate a huge chunk of the chicken and Tupperwared the rest already by the time I remembered! Even with no photo, I wanted to record the recipe so I can file it away for future use. :)

During high school, there was a lot of absolutely scrumptious food in the school dining hall. It's funny to think that school food could be good, but my friends and I ate like elephants during those years in England. Bread and butter pudding, chicken and mushroom pie, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, chicken fricasée with rice, ratatouille with baked potato, smoked mackerel and salad – we ate it all. The dining hall cooks loved us, because we always went up for seconds.Now, over 10 years later, we just reminisce nostalgically about all the good food we used to eat back then.

I had a sudden urge to recreate a particular dish that I hadn't had in years, ever since I left Malvern. It was served back then as chicken legs roasted in a tray with a chunky tomato sauce that was chock-ful of tomatoes and onions. The chicken was always sweet and crispy with the taste of honey and butter, so when I recreated it last weekend, I used a healthy amount of honey to rub over the chicken and also mixed in the tomato sauce mix. It turned out amazing. I also added potatoes (not in the school version) and that was great too; however it is fine without potato and served with penne or rice.

The only thing you have to watch out for is for the chicken to blacken too soon due to the honey rub - but the crispy chicken skin (even when black) is pretty amazing stuff!

The great thing about this roast chicken is that it can serve 2 people nicely, or else you can reserve the chicken breasts and sauce to go with pasta the next day, and the leftovers (bones, neck, feet, any leftover tomatoes) will make a nice tomato chicken soup as well. It's pretty economical and efficient.

  • 1 whole chicken (or legs, drumsticks, wings, etc.)
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • A large handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (or else a couple of diced large tomatoes would work too)
  • 1 large onion
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (or more!)
  • 3-4 (or more) par-boiled new potatoes, baking potatoes or any potatoes you have left over
  • Herbs and spices that you want (I put 2 bay leaves, a bit of oregano, rosemary, cumin, black pepper, sea salt)
  • Real butter or olive oil
  • Honey (cheap honey such as for BBQ is fine)

  1. Preheat oven to about 220 Celcius (425 F).
  2. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub all over with sea salt. Place a couple pats of butter inside skin underneath the chicken breast (this is optional if you have a good organic/free range chicken). Drizzle a light coating of honey over the chicken, rub in to make sure it evenly coats the chicken. Place in a roasting pan (make sure there's room to put all the other stuff) and set aside.
  3. Chop up tomatoes, potatoes, onion, garlic (no need to peel garlic completely if you're lazy, the final silver layer of skin is fine to be kept on). In a large bowl, mix all these with the can of tomato paste (may need to add a bit of water), herbs, and at least 1/3 cup honey, if not more.
  4. Spoon the tomato sauce mixture into the roasting pan around the chicken (or underneath the chicken if there's not enough room). Feel free to add an additional bay leaf inside the cavity of the chicken. Also, put a couple dabs of butter (or generous squirt of olive oil) on top of the tomato sauce mixture if you want.
  5. Place the roasting pan into the oven, cook for about an hour, but check it every so often to see if it's done. Usually I find that the chicken is done in just over an hour depending on the size of the bird. (Use a meat thermometer or just poke it in the thigh to see if it's still red. I normally cook chicken for me and my boyfriend only, so presentation is not that important. I just cut open the chicken at the thigh joint to see if it's done there. If it is all white, then it's ready!)

September 17, 2009

RIP Keith Floyd, British TV chef and bon-vivant

The Guardian newspaper remembers Keith Floyd's best TV moments

Keith Floyd was the flamboyant, charming gentleman who traversed the world, cooking weird and wonderful dishes in improbable outdoor settings - on a yacht, in a field, on a mountain. And all with his impeccable dry wit and never without a (very) generous glass of red wine in his hand. They don't make 'em like that any more.

September 16, 2009

Grilled Pineapple with cinnamon and honey

A farewell to the summer of 2009. What a summer it's been, with junk (aka boat) trips, BBQs (indoor and outdoor), several beach trips, a road trip in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and last but most importantly, a lot of lovely warm sunny days spent outdoors.

On Monday there was a typhoon that swept through Hong Kong, shutting down offices and schools. I got off work early, and bought a pineapple at the supermarket below my house. It was the very first time that I had ever bought a whole pineapple in my life. I think it was a momentous occasion! :p

This is a very simple and popular recipe that was inspired by License to Grill with Robert Rainford on the Asian Food Channel.

Grilled Pineapples
  • Fresh whole pineapple (skin removed, cored and cut into large slices)
  • Honey (or you could use brown sugar or other sugar if you prefer)
  • Cinnamon (though I suppose you could also add other spices such as ginger, nutmeg, etc but I like to keep it simple)
  1. Set the oven to its highest setting (grill).
  2. Place pineapple chunks/slices onto a roasting tray (as if you were roasting potatoes: don't overlap the slices)
  3. Drizzle honey all over; turn to coat.
  4. Sprinkle cinnamon on top and use a wooden spoon or other utensil to flip the pineapple over so both sides have a good honey and cinnamon coating.
  5. Place in oven. Check occasionally, it should take about 20 minutes for the pineapple to go golden and bubbly. Don't worry if there are some black "burnt" bits on the edges where the sugar has caramelized -- it will be nicely sweet and crunchy!
  6. When the pineapple is golden brown, with a few dark edges, taken them out of the oven to cool slightly.
  7. Eat as is (don't burn your tongue!) or with vanilla ice cream.


July 15, 2009

Dinner for an invalid (Cream of leek & pancetta soup; mashed potatoes)

Jon was not feeling well today, so after work, I went over to make a comfort food/easy-to-digest dinner. I had some vague idea of making a vegetable consommé, but after a quick check of the supermarket shelves to see what was on sale, I decided to make something else (also, it was a long day at work, I didn't feel up to waiting for the chicken/pork bones to turn into stock).

Unfortunately, I was already out when the brilliant idea of cooking dinner occurred to me, so I didn't have any recipes to refer to, but both dishes are pretty basic and don't really need a recipe, just guidelines so you are on the right track. I remembered vaguely how to make mashed potatoes and also how to make a cream soup from watching others or Internet, so decided to have a whack at making my own.

The beauty of the two dishes is that they can cook side by side, and also use many of the same ingredients. The disadvantage is that there may be a bit of taste "overlap" between the two dishes, but since it is comfort food, I guess it is OK if it's not a proper 3-course meal!

What I bought:
  • 3 Japanese-style long leeks, sliced thinly at a slanted angle
  • 2 organic tomatoes (unused in the end)
  • 2 zucchini (unused in the end, will probably go into a pasta dish with the tomatoes in the near future)
  • 1 packet of diced raw pancetta (Italian dry cured pork belly - on sale, it was cheaper than the bacon I had originally planned to get)
  • 1 small carton of UHT cream
  • 1 nylon string bag of new potatoes

What I made:
  • Cream of leek, pancetta and potato soup
    • Heat the pancetta bits in a pot. When a bit of pork fat comes out, add in the sliced leeks. Sweat them until leeks are translucent (maybe 10 minutes). Add a bit of water if the leeks stick to the bottom of the pot.
    • Add in water (eyeball it, if not sure, better to add in less and then add in more at the end to get the consistency and taste you want) and simmer until leeks are falling apart or as preferred (about 10 minutes?).
    • Sprinkle in some herbs as desired, such as bay leaf or basil (optional)
    • Add in most of the cream (set some aside for the mashed potatoes) and stir quickly; then turn off stove right away and let soup sit for a few minutes before serving.
    • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Creamy mashed potatoes
    • While leeks are sweating (above), put new potatoes in a pot of water, bring to a boil.
    • Turn off stove, you can let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a bit if you are busy with making the soup.
    • Drain most of the water from the pot, leave a bit to keep potatoes moist.
    • Smash/Mash potatoes with a masher, add a bit of water if necessary to "unstick" potato bits from the masher (but be sparing, as the cream will be added later). I prefer slightly lumpy potatoes so I would never use a ricer, but be my guest.
    • Throw in some chopped bits of the tops of the Japanese leek from the soup (finely, finely chopped) into the potato mash and stir.
    • Add in cream until the mashed potato is as creamy as you like.
    • Season with salt (and pepper if you want) to taste, and serve piping hot.

Note: The soup goes very well either by itself, with bread, or poured over the mashed potatoes. I mixed the leftover mashed potatoes into the soup so that the soup leftovers would be a thicker, more chowder-like soup rather than the original light cream soup (this was mainly because I was lazy and did not want to use additional Tupperware containers). You can refrigerate leftovers for several days, but I guess you could also stick it into the freezer for up to a month (if not more).

June 15, 2009

Macarons au Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon

Jon was working late tonight, so I decided to treat myself to a picnic dinner from Le Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon, the café/boulangerie/pâtisserie (i.e. cheaper version) of l'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Robuchon is perhaps the most famous chef in the world, and the most Michelin-starred. I'm saving up and dreaming of a meal at l'Atelier*, but in the meantime, Le Salon de Thé will have to suffice. In truth, the prices at the Salon are very reasonable. HK$12 (US$1.5) for a croissant, HK$45 (US$5.75) for a ham and Emmental cheese baguette sandwich, HK$8 (US$1) per macaron.


Croissant was luxuriously buttery and flaky, but nothing special from other premium bakeries in town.

The sandwich could have benefitted from toasting, as the baguette was chewy rather than crusty, but the complex taste of the bread redeemed it. It might have been also because it was the end of the day, and the bread was not as fresh. I didn't mind too much, but I do wonder if Robuchon should be held to a higher standard due to his Michelin-starred reputation?

Macarons...oh, my, goodness. I fell in love with these at first bite. The outside shells are perfectly decent - full of almondy sweetness, but it is the filling where Robuchon excels. Instead of a heavy ganache, the macarons are filled with the lightest and most fragrant of buttercreams. The salted caramel macaron sent a shiver down my spine. It is so rare that food stops me in my tracks; it was like experiencing a religious revelation, - and I've had good macarons before, from many places, including Maison du Chocolat in Paris, and Pierre Hermé. This was something extraordinary. Amazing. My favourites were the passion fruit & chocolate, salted caramel, and rose flavoured ones. In my feeding frenzy, I only managed to take photos of the final two macarons (I ate 8 in one sitting. They're really bite-sized jewels.)

* Of the various celebrity chef restaurants in Hong Kong, Robuchon's is the only one which I am truly interested in (i.e. the only one I would save up to eat at; I wouldn't turn my nose up at invitations to the others, though!). Spoon by Alain Ducasse is a bit too avant-garde for me (I'm paying a premium for the chef's creativity and originality; I don't expect a pick-and-mix system) and Nobu, well, though I love Japanese cuisine, I'm not a big fan of fusion.

June 13, 2009

Sift dessert bar

Sift is a popular dessert bar in SoHo, Hong Kong. It only serves desserts and drinks; its specialties are chocolate desserts. Pictured above is the Sift chocolate cake. It has chocolate ganache, chocolate sponge, dark chocolate coating, and crushed French crispy crepes (crêpes dentelles de Bretagne). It was so decadent, but it was so smooth that you savored every lingering taste on your tongue.

This was my second visit to Sift. I first visited about a year ago and was very impressed by the desserts. In particular, the Sift chocolate cake, with its delicious crushed crispy crepes dentelles had me dreaming for days afterwards...

I went back this week with some friends. We sat at the bar this time, where we could see the food being prepared (recommended as it's a fascinating process), but last time we sat outside, which is nice when the weather is cooler. It reminds me of New York.

The only question I would have is why the menu seemed almost exactly the same one year later. It would be good to keep the signature desserts (chocolate cake), but it would be nice to have some other choices beside chocolate and strawberries -- perhaps green tea, chestnuts, lavender, apricot, dates, almonds, pistachios...some more adventurous choices would be appreciated. Chocolate and berries are nice, but to be truly innovative! Sift has not yet shown that much creativity. Good presentation does not equal creativity.

46 Graham Street, Central, Hong Kong

May 13, 2009

Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese glaze

When my family used to live in Vancouver, my father and brother adored Cinnabon. I also loved the warm, sweet delicious smells that came from the Cinnabon store whenever walking past it in the mall. The intimidating size - big as my two fists put together - and the sheer amount of frosting on each bun always overwhelmed me, and I never actually ate one. I was just content to sniff and inhale the warm, spicy-sweet smells of cinnamon and bread while the others would devour the giant buns.

In Hong Kong, there is no Cinnabon, and as far as I know, no real place to get cinnamon rolls. After my so-so success with the bread rolls, I suddenly had a craving for cinnamon rolls. I spent an obscene amount of time looking at cinnamon roll recipes online. I even begged for one from an old high school classmate, Nadia, who got her aunt's "super-secret" recipe. In the end, I used a combination of Nadia's aunt's recipe and one by Molly Wizenberg (aka Orangette) in Bon Appétit magazine.

Also, this time I used instant yeast instead of active dry yeast, which I'd been using for my previous bread experiments. The taste is much better, less pungenty-yeasty, and more delicate and bread-fragrant.

The buns were accompanied by a cream cheese frosting, which was slightly tangier and more sour than sugar frosting, but I think it gave a richer, deeper flavour.

One point: I wouldn't recommend following the instruction in Molly Wizenberg's recipe to invert the rolls after baking onto a rack. I tried it, and the insides collapsed, and bits of cinnamon sugar fell out of my rolls. So just keep it in the pan until cool. No need for a cooling rack.

Here are some bits that fell out when I inverted the pan. They were still delicious!

April 29, 2009

Bread rolls

I've recently finished a masters program (last week, to be exact), and one of the things on my "to do" list now that I've got more free time now was to get over my fear of baking things that involved yeast (i.e. bread). It sounds irrational, but the self-inflicted psychological pressure to make sure the bread rose seemed very challenging!

I took the plunge, and found out that actually the easiest thing about it is the rising - the yeast does the work for you! It's the kneading, the taste and inside crumb texture that are the harder things to tweak to one's satisfaction.

I have tried the French Bread Rolls to Die For recipe twice, with wildly different results each time.

The first time (also the very first time I'd ever cooked with yeast), the crumb was so dense, it was like eating a brick, or some very dry pumpernickel. I think I didn't knead it enough. :(

The second time, the results were much better, but the olive oil was still a bit overpowering and the sugar made the bread too sweet. I made sure to knead it for a full 10 minutes, so the crumb came out perfectly (I did it all by hand as I don't have a bread machine and I enjoy the feeling of kneading the dough, it's very therapeutic). However, the crust was still not crusty like proper French bread, even though I added a tray of water into the oven this time...maybe it's just the drawback of having a mini oven instead of a proper-sized one.

Anywhere, here are the results of my second attempt (I took photos of my first attempt, but can't seem to transfer files from my phone right now, so no joy):

Waiting for it to rise...

Rise, rise, little buns!

Turning a lovely golden brown~

Last bite.

It's got the lovely holes and lightness of texture that I'm looking for, but the taste was a bit off the mark. Still, not bad for my second-ever attempt at making bread. I think I am going on the hunt for a better recipe that makes less sweet and more crusty bread, though I'm not sure if I can achieve a French baguette with my small convection oven.

February 24, 2009

Trip to Hanoi, Vietnam

I can't believe I forgot to post these photos earlier...they've been up on my Facebook for a while, though.

My boyfriend and I went to Hanoi for 4 nights over the Lunar New Year holiday in January. Unfortunately, what we didn't realize until after we booked the trip was that Vietnam also celebrates this holiday (called Tet over there) and that many stores would be shut...it was also bloody freezing, like 10-15 Celcius everyday, windy and grey.

I think we were a bit unprepared for the crazy traffic and incessant honking, too. Ah, well. We ate a lot of good food and walked around a lot. Hanoi is an amazing and beautiful city in terms of history, architecture, vibrancy and food. Next winter, it's definitely a bit of R-and-R at a nice sunny beach for us! Still, I'd like to go back to Vietnam sometime, visit Halong Bay and see the country when it's not half-shut-down for the annual vacances.

I took quite a lot of photos, and we did eat at a lot of places, but here are a few snapshots that I think turned out well. We had a drink at the bar in the Metropole (I had the Somerset Maugham cocktail, Jon had the Charlie Chaplin cocktail, but not the Graham Greene cocktail) and we also visited the famous Fanny's glacerie for some exotic ice cream (green tea, coconut, young rice..). We didn't visit the Beaulieu restaurant in the Metropole (too expensive) or the Bobby Chinn restaurant (heard mixed reviews).

Our first night in Hanoi. We arrived after dark, dishevelled and hungry. We had dinner at a streetside pho stand run by a taciturn middle-aged woman. Neither of us spoke Vietnamese, so we resorted to gestures and pointing. Cost of dinner? 20,000 dong for a fresh, steaming bowl of pho. (The going exchange rate was 17,000 dong to US$1 when we went.)

Jon's a real coffee addict, so in the morning, we went to try the real Vietnamese coffee. A bit gritty with coffee grounds, a bit too sweet with condensed milk - but boy, was it smooth and rich.

We ate a lot at streetside stands, squatting on tiny plastic stools that looked more for stepping on than sitting on. This lunch was from a restaurant in an alleyway near the big statue of Vladimir Lenin, and near the Hanoi Hilton.

Bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls/crepes with pork, mushroom, spring onions) restaurant. It's like a variation of that staple Cantonese dim sum item, "cheung fun".

Close up of the Bánh cuốn. The one in the foreground had a whole steamed egg inside, silky and rich. It went well with the fish sauce, chili, lime and herbs. Yum.

We did try the infamous civet cat/weasel coffee. It was pretty strong and smooth, but cost about 40,000 dong (US$2.35) for a tiny cup of espresso, which is quite ridiculously expensive by Vietnamese standards (compared to 20,000 dong for a bowl of beef pho) - but in the US I heard it goes for US$30-60 a cup, a huge markup. To be honest, it tasted like a really smooth and rich espresso. Not poopy at all.

February 22, 2009

Using up leftovers for a weekday dinner

2/19/2009 dinner.
Mission: use up left over wine, basil, grana padano cheese, squash, onion and garlic from 2/14 dinner.

I already had some arborio rice in my kitchen cupboard, so the only new item that I bought were the mussels from the supermarket below my apartment.

Nigella's risotto recipe from "How to Eat" inspired me, but I only used the liquid-rice ratios from it. I don't like to stick rigidly to recipe instructions, especially for non-baked dishes -- a bit of creativity makes cooking more exciting.

Round 1: Roasted butternut squash with honey and balsamic glaze

Round 2: Vegetable risotto, mushrooms, sugar snap peas

Round 3: New Zealand mussels with white wine, red onion, garlic, and basil.

February 16, 2009

Bananas Foster

For Valentine's Day, my boyfriend cooked a 4-course dinner. :) We stayed at home this year, partly because we didn't want to deal with the crowds of people outside, and also because dinner at restaurants is always very expensive on Valentine's (and, in my opinion, a bit overpriced).

The menu:

  • Californian caponata (gorgonzola cheese eggplant dip)
  • Curried butternut squash soup
  • Mushroom eggplant lasagne
  • Bananas Foster
The other items didn't turn up too well on film, despite being yummy, so only I only uploaded the dessert photos. The bananas Foster were so simple, yet gorgeously rich and divine. Brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, banana liqueur, ripe bananas, paired with good vanilla ice cream. Delicious and simple. :)

Bananas Fosters recipe from Brennan's in New Orleans.

January 12, 2009

Roast chicken

I was home sick today with the flu, so I decided to cook a nice lunch to cheer myself up. This is the first time I've roasted a whole chicken, and it turned out very well. I'm quite proud of myself :). It's so simple, I don't know why I was so intimidated by it before...

Organic local chicken rubbed with olive oil, salt, black pepper, dried rosemary (didn't have fresh on hand), and stuffed with half a lemon and several garlic cloves. Roasted in the oven at 190 Celcius for 50-60 minutes.

Served with honey roast parsnips and sage & onion stuffing (instant Paxo stuffing from the UK, just like I remember from boarding school! Yum!) & Bisto chicken gravy. This is really a nostalgia-inducing dish for me, as it is quite British.

January 10, 2009

Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

I made these from a recipe I found online - they came out great! They're not too colorful in the photo (the pale lemon didn't really come out that well), but they're really delicious and addictive: very fragrant and moist, with a creamy lemon frosting. I'll definitely be making these again.

Lemon cupcake recipe
Lemon cream cheese frosting