How your falafels should NOT look

Have you ever heard people complain about how the news is always so negative? Or perhaps you yourself have lamented the depressing nature of the news? One of the things that I think all of my fellow post-grad journo students knew before being taught it in our course is that bad news sells. Death, destruction, despair, grief, loss. Stories with these elements create strong reactions in people; much stronger, I believe, than reading about someone else’s triumphs.

On Monday night us lucky magazine journalism students had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Kirsten Matthew, editor of Urbis magazine and blogger at Kiwi. Apple. Kiwi. In her talk she mentioned that going by her blog stats, she found that people liked hearing more about her disasters than successes. I found this highly unsurprising.

I’m still undecided about whether that would be the same case with my blog or not, even though I do see the entertainment value for my followers and readers in displaying my cooking failures. Everyone has flaws and I can imagine it getting a bit boring after a while just reading about the good stuff all the time.

But, I also think people follow food blogs because they want to learn from others and to, whether secretly or not, indulge in some food porn now and then. I have to admit that I don’t read every single post that I see from those blogs that I do follow and many times I “like” posts purely because of the photos. I also think that’s the case with many other bloggers.

As you would know if you read one of my previous posts I love falafels and will choose it over any meat dish if I know the place I’m at does them really well. So, I thought, why not make my own? I didn’t actually save the recipe I followed (oops)  but this one looks pretty good and close to the ingredients I used.

Everything went really well up until the frying part. For whatever the reason (oil too hot, fried for too long), the poor falafels turned out like, well, mini cow patties:

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

You can’t tell me that those aren’t some super hideous, smirk-inducing falafels.

The outsides were bordering on rock-hard but the insides were still slightly underdone. The taste was, however, very pleasant, although that wasn’t quite enough to detract from the fact that they looked ugly as hell.

Does the concept of bad news sells apply to food blogging too? We shall see after this!

A Colourful Affair

Great Thai food, for me, is synonymous with wonderously generous portions, close friends and family and colour. Lots and lots of colour, both literally – beautiful and brilliant reds, greens, oranges, yellows – and metaphorically, in terms of the taste – a perfect balance of sweet, salty, spicy and sour elements and different textures throughout the dishes.

About one month ago my friends and I organised one of our delightful dinners together (that’s not a typo by the way, we really do need to organise things like this very well in advance) and decided on Thai as a theme, which if I recall correctly was inspired by one of the girls’ recent trips to Thailand and Bali.

There was more than enough food, as there always is at these kinds of things, but everything was delicious (except for 1/2 of my dessert – more on that soon).

There was a refreshing and vibrant tofu salad with lemongrass, crispy noodles and cashews dressed in Thai chilli sauce:

Vibrant Asian salad. Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

The always-reliable and tasty Pad Thai:

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

For mains there was also a Thai red curry with chicken and mixed veges served with sticky white rice but unfortunately I failed to get a photo of it. It was very well-seasoned with Thai spices and red chillis, which gave it a really nice kick.

For dessert, coconut creme brulee with toasted dessicated coconut:

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

The reason I say 1/2 of my dessert wasn’t quite as good as everything else is because I tested two different recipes for creme brulee and all the desserts made from one recipe were undercooked and failed to set. I have to say the flavour was fine, it probably needed a good 15-20 minutes more in the oven. The recipe I followed can be found here.

I made the other creme brulees using the same recipe I follow for creme caramel and those turned out lovely. The reason I chose to follow this recipe, as opposed to a traditional/authentic creme brulee recipe was because I’ve made it twice before and it has always tasted amazingly delicate and fresh. I didn’t make it as a creme caramel for this dinner party because I didn’t want to stress about getting the custards out of the ramekins all perfect and in one piece! This recipe is a real winner and just boosts my love of My Kitchen Rules even more.

Because it was the host’s birthday the weekend before, our resident Baking Queen made a gorgeous yellow cake with buttercream frosting and it truly was something spectacular. The birthday girl loves beautiful things and so the cake reflected this:

IMG_0507

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Beautiful inside and out. Photo: Tao Lin

Coincidentally, the gift (beauty voucher) and birthday card were also presented in exactly the same colours. It was just meant to be!

We spent a good couple of hours after dinner chatting, gossiping, laughing, conversing and sometimes just sitting in brief silence sipping our tea. There’s something so heartwarming and special about these gatherings and I think a part of it is because we’ve all become so much busier now since we all left school.

When we do manage to get together, we eat too much, our conversation topics change ferociously and they’re always interjected with tremendous laughter and fits of giggles. But no matter what the conversation is about, whether it’s serious, lighthearted, trivial or meaningful, and how much effort it is to organise one of these gatherings, it is always a delightfully colourful affair.

Mon Cheri

“…put the bowl on the table and, with a large spoon and unchecked greed, crack through the sugary carapace and delve into the satin-velvet, vanilla-speckled cream beneath. No more talking: just eat.”

– Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites

While I may be guilty of gluttony in some cases, I most certainly do not associate myself with greed. Except, maybe where creme brulee is concerned. It’s full of fat and cream but it’s my favourite dessert – it’s simple but so delectable – and I agree with Nigella’s instructions: creme brulee is meant to be indulged in and desired with no restrictions.

The recipe I followed is by Nigella and involves no baking – just heat up the cream and vanilla (I used vanilla paste instead of a vanilla bean), whisk up some egg yolks and sugar, combine it together and pop everything back onto the heat to thicken. This, of course, is before you get to revel in some short minutes of feeling like a professional chef with your mini blowtorch when burning up the sugar for the crispy caramel top. You would not believe how excited I was when blue flame gracefully unfolded out of the blowtorch for the first time since I got it as a birthday gift two years ago.

You also wouldn’t believe how long it took me to figure out: a) that the can of butane gas doesn’t attach to the bottom of the blowtorch; and b) how to turn on the torch.

I need more practice burning the sugar but I think I did a fair enough job – each topping responded with a resounding ‘crack!’ when we got into them. It was a-ma-zing.

The texture of the creme was a bit strange to me and I’m not sure if it’s something I did or if it’s just how it is without having been baked. I’m planning on making a variation soon and I’ll bake that to see if there’s a difference.

Of all the desserts I’ve made so far, these creme brulees have set a record for being devoured the fastest and with the most variations of “Yum!” comments. It makes me so happy to be able to help people realise that creme brulee is actually the best dessert in the world, ever 🙂

Ingredients and tools for creme brulee. Photo: Tao Lin

Ingredients and tools for creme brulee. Photo: Tao Lin

Something easy for a lazy day

A couple of months ago I made lemon syrup cake following a recipe by Nigella Lawson: this blog presents this recipe in a really pretty, pictorial and easy-to-follow way. The cake turned out really good and I felt that it would taste just as good with some coconut in it. The flavour of the cake begged for coconut to be added and you didn’t have to try very hard to almost taste that coconut flavour.

Google gave me several recipes for coconut cake and lemon coconut cake. This coconut cake looks amazing but it requires way too much effort for me today. Being in the condition I am today – cold and sleepy – I didn’t really want to go out shopping for ingredients or have to make anything too complicated.  I will endeavour to try it another time when I’m feeling more energetic!

It didn’t take long for me to give up on finding a new recipe and I reverted back to my original plan, which was to add desiccated coconut to the recipe I followed for the lemon syrup cake. I also happened to have coconut milk so I added that to the mix as well. Here’s the ingredients list I ultimately came up with:

  • 50g unsalted butter (the only reason I didn’t use the original 125g was because I only had about 50g left and I didn’t want to go out and buy a new block. Lazy, I know)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • The juice of one lemon
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup of desiccated coconut

The method I followed was the same as the original recipe, I just sifted the coconut in with the flour and salt. The cake did crack on top but I’m not too bothered by this since the rest of the it cooked really nicely.

For the lemon syrup, I started heating the lemon juice up in a pan and I put about half a tablespoon of icing sugar in before I had a mini epiphany and said to myself, why not use honey instead? So, I ditched the rest of the sugar and melted in about 1.5 tablespoons of honey. I honestly don’t think you can taste the difference but it works all the same.

Ever have cravings for cake but you’re just having one of those days? This is the recipe for you!

I really sold that, didn’t I 😉

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Invoking some food envy

Thought I’d invoke a little food envy with pics from my dinner last night at Tatsumi. I have to admit it was really embarrassing being “that person” taking photos of my food with my DSLR, but doesn’t it all look so pretty?? 🙂

Grilled prawns, wasabi aioli, roasted pumpkin and chorizo entree. Photo: Tao Lin

Grilled prawns, wasabi aioli, roasted pumpkin and chorizo entree. Photo: Tao Lin

Beef tataki. Photo: Tao Lin

Beef tataki. Photo: Tao Lin

 

Assorted nigiri. Photo: Tao Lin

Assorted nigiri. Photo: Tao Lin

Green tea fondant. Photo: Tao Lin

Green tea fondant. Photo: Tao Lin

Let’s talk green tea and dessert

Last night I went out with Andrew and my parents to a relatively new Japanese restaurant, Tatsumi Modern Japanese Cuisine & Bar, to celebrate my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. My dad’s pockets were considerably lighter after the meal but the food, service and surroundings were really well worth it.

Everything we had was fantastic, from the beef tataki entree to the green tea fondant. Yes, green tea. Fondant.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Before booking at Tatsumi I read a lot of reviews about the restaurant and I remember one person writing that the green tea fondant was amazing, which got me all excited – so much so that I turned a blind eye to the black sesame creme brulee (if you don’t already know, creme brulee is my most favourite dessert of all time). By the way, for anyone living or visiting Auckland, Frasers has one of the best creme brulee (brulees?) I’ve had in New Zealand. And I’ve had creme brulee in Paris. Just sayin’ 😉

I digress, back to green tea. When I think about it, it is a bit strange that green tea isn’t meant to be drunk with milk but when you put it in something like ice cream, it’s pretty much just serving up cold green tea with milk and a lot of sugar.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of people cringe and exclaim, “EW!” when they hear about green tea being used in dessert. Each to their own but personally, I don’t understand what the disgust it all about. Maybe it’s the unappealing colour? The taste? I’m an avid green tea drinker though, so it might be the same the other way around when someone makes Earl Grey ice cream? Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad either…:)

The only dessert I’ve tried making with green tea is a green tea panna cotta, which failed a bit because I used too much setting agent but the flavour was pretty spot on. Other recipes using green tea:

For a full blog of recipes using green tea visit Cooking with Japanese Green Tea. Okay so I admit, matcha mashed potatoes does sound a little bit off but who knows, it might be surprisingly good??

Finally, I just came across matcha Kit Kat; apparently it’s only available in Japan during cherry blossom season. I was already dying to go to Japan during that time of year and now, the desire has been heightened too-many-fold.

In other, non-green tea related news, the staff at Tatsumi were very kind in presenting my parents with a special message for dessert (black sesame creme brulee):

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

A huge thanks to all the staff for making the night special. I ❤ Japanese!

Use all the sugar? Definitely not.

Fudge, brownies and various slices are things that I generally don’t choose to eat and my mind doesn’t give these items much more than a cursory acknowledgement of their existence whenever I come across them. I’m not 100 per cent sure of why that is but it might have something to do with the fact that I find them incredibly rich, sweet and not very filling. 

I did, however, have a fair bit of evaporate milk left over from when I made pumpkin pie and I wanted to use it up before I inevitably spill the can all over the inside of my fridge. A quick Google search gave me this recipe for chocolate marshmallow brown sugar fudge, which surprisingly tickled my fancy (I think it was the marshmallows ;)). 

The process, as I followed it, wasn’t complicated at all. The most time consuming part was chopping all that chocolate up. And by “all that chocolate”, I mean only half the amount of chocolate as required by the recipe (recipe asked for 300g of milk chocolate, I used just under 150g). I also used less than half the amount of brown sugar (130g as opposed to 300g) and much less than half the amount of marshmallows (two handfuls rather than 225g).

The fudge turned out lovely and creamy and very, very sweet. It makes me feel a bit sick to think how much sweeter it would have been if I had followed the recipe exactly. I have a massive sweet tooth but how does anyone stomach THAT much sugar? 

Fudge does have its merits though – apart from being a guilty pleasure, it also makes for an enticing little gift for friends who might be in need of a bit of comfort:

Flowers, chocolates and fudge (lower right-hand corner) for comfort! Photo: Jenny Lee

Flowers, chocolates and fudge (lower right-hand corner) for comfort! Photo: Jenny Lee

Despite not being the biggest fan of fudge, I enjoyed learning how to make it and actually learning what ingredients are in it, something which I had no idea of a day ago. 

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

As much as I really want to study shorthand…

There’s about a week and a half before semester two starts again and I have a lot of shorthand to study (read: have to, but would prefer not to). At the same time, I’m trying to use my time off to get more cooking in before everything starts getting hectic again and I had a peculiar inkling this morning to try out hollandaise sauce. Peculiar because I neither like nor have had good experiences with hollandaise.

The first time I had eggs benedict was two Christmases ago when I was in Perth with Andrew and his family. We had breakfast at one of the Dome cafes, which to be fair aren’t bad. The hollandaise sauce, though, made me feel like throwing up – it was really thick, had little flavour to it and it was everywhere. A couple of others got the same dish and said it was a bit heavy but was okay. From then on I have stubbornly refused to order anything with hollandaise sauce in it whenever I go out to have breakfast or brunch.

Andrew, though, is somewhat of an egg connoisseur and has had eggs benedict many times. Apparently this cafe in Auckland’s Mission Bay makes the best eggs benedict he’s had so far 😉

Knowing this, I wanted to start practising my hollandaise sauce making so that I can one day get it right and we can just make it ourselves. My trusty recipe book had instructions for hollandaise but I looked online and found this recipe, which I ended up following.

I rejigged the measurements because I didn’t need a whole cup of the sauce. I ended up using only one egg yolk, about 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of melted butter and pinches of salt, pepper and paprika.

The yolk didn’t scramble – woohoo! But it also didn’t really taste great, in fact I almost couldn’t taste it at all, which I’m almost 100% sure is because of how I adjusted the measurements of the other ingredients.

The poached egg, on the other hand, turned out perfect so I’m pretty satisfied with my breakfast this morning even if the sauce was a bit of a non-event. It’s not complicated so I’m keen to try it out again soon!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Baking blind: First attempt at pumpkin pie

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Last week my parents bought a pumpkin and said, “Tao, make something out of this.” I said, “Soup?” They said, “No…” I said, “Pie?” And they said, “Yes!” From my last experience making pie, I knew it was going to take forever, or at least the whole day, so I chose to attempt it at the beginning of my two-week break before uni starts again.

Unlike most of the other things I’ve made so far, I’ve never had pumpkin pie before. I don’t actually think I’ve ever had much pumpkin full stop. For this reason, I really felt like I was “baking blind” – all I could do was follow the recipe as best I could and trust that the result turns out as it’s meant to be. I suppose it’s a bit redundant worrying about how it should turn out because I don’t have anything to compare it with but there’s a greater sense of security, for me, that comes with knowing the taste and texture of whatever it is you’re cooking.

Funny, and not in a ‘ha ha’ kind of sense, that I had trouble finding a recipe that I was happy with. I ended up mostly following this one found at BBC Good Food and followed the instructions here to making pumpkin puree from scratch. In hindsight I don’t really know why I needed instructions to puree pumpkin, it’s commonsense, really! Also, because I don’t have a large pie or tart dish handy I just used my small tart dishes and I ended up making eight really full tarts.

When I was mashing the pumpkin I thought, “Why not make this harder for myself and push all of this through a sieve!” Half an hour later, I had stiff hands but very smooth pureed pumpkin. I guess it was worth the effort but I’m not sure I would have lost much sleep over it if it wasn’t completely smooth.

I also made my own pastry, although I’m not quite sure I achieved short crust pastry. No matter, it tasted good and made my kitchen smell mouth-wateringly delicious when I blind baked them. I would, however, like to be able to perfect my pastry-making skills eventually, even though that’s probably highly dangerous for my waistline.

The instructions I followed for the pastry can be found here.

Pastry shells after some blind baking. Photo: Tao Lin

Pastry shells after some blind baking. Photo: Tao Lin

Everything went pretty smoothly and the pies tasted pretty good. I’m not sure if I would go through the trouble of making it all again but I’m definitely glad I gave it a go.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin