A black sesame twist on two classics

When I was younger, about 11 or 12, I remember really wanting to buy other people gifts for their birthdays and for Christmas. I was old enough to understand the gratification of giving, rather than receiving, but I was too young to be able to buy anything really cool. I was never given an allowance or pocket money; I simply asked for money when I needed it (all within reason, of course). I remember buying friends lip glosses from the $2 shops, as well as books, pens, CDs, bath stuff and jewellery.

When it came to my parents, I ended up buying them things with their own money, which is kind of funny but really, really pointless in hindsight. I remember buying my mum a really cheap necklace of her star sign, Aquarius. For my dad, I remember one Christmas gifting him a ring binder and rewriteable CDs. I remember he held them up in a victory-like pose and thanked me with a great, wide smile on his face, even though he had more than enough ring binders and blank CDs to choose from already.

To this day, I still struggle with gifts for my dad. Last year I bought him new headphones, which very much disappeared in comparison to the gift I bought my mum – tickets to see Mary Poppins, the musical. Naturally, he didn’t say anything or show any sort of resentment. He is my dad, after all. For his birthday I got him a massage at one of the city’s most luxurious spas and he enjoyed it but I don’t think he wants to experience something like that again. What I really wanted was to buy him a holiday, even just to Sydney, because the last time he and my mum went overseas was 13 years ago when we all went on a family trip to Los Angeles. Unfortunately I don’t quite have the money for that (yet) but I’m hoping within the next year or two I’ll be able to make that happen.

Nowadays, I’ve been utilising my newfound love of cooking to make food for my parents that they may not ever eat or very rarely eat if I didn’t make it for them – special “treats” if you will. For Mother’s Day, I made lemon drizzle cake. For Father’s Day this year (last weekend for us Kiwis), I made two desserts: black sesame panna cotta and black sesame creme brulee.

My dad has a penchant for black sesame, if you hadn’t figured out already, and I’ve been saying ever since I first made creme brulee that I would make a black sesame variation just for him. Well, for some reason, I thought I’d try panna cotta first. I found what seemed like a really good recipe  and I thought it would be a bit healthier than creme brulee, so I went for it.

I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Following the measurements, ingredients and method in the recipe exactly, I created something that was really tough, hard and completely unpleasant to eat. It was like ingesting black sesame flavoured rubber. I personally think it’s the amount of agar agar the recipe called for. I didn’t have the common sense at the time to look back on my green tea panna cotta and see what I could do better from there, which probably would have helped quite a bit.

Anyway, what’s done is done, rubbery dessert and all. I would be keen to try this dessert again but would, hopefully, remember to use less setting agent.

Black sesame panna cotta. Excuse the shocking lack of presentation skills! Photo: Tao Lin

Black sesame panna cotta. Excuse the laughable lack of presentation skills. Photo: Tao Lin

With this failed experiment and the accompanying sense of disappointment that I wasn’t able to pull through for my dad, I turned to my dearest, most velvety smooth love, creme brulee. I followed the recipe and method by Nigella Lawson – perfect for those times when you really want to make creme brulee but just cannot be bothered turning on the oven (that can’t just be me, right?!) – and guesstimated how much black sesame I used. I think I used about 3 tablespoons for half the amount of ingredients in the Nigella recipe. By the way, you can buy black sesame powder from Asian supermarkets. I’m not sure if they have different “finenesses” of powder but I’d imagine a finer powder would work best.

It turned out fantastic and it made my dad really happy, which was the main point. The colour is really off-putting – grey doesn’t really flatter any sort of food – but other than that, there’s really nothing I would change about it.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I hope this makes up for all those redundant presents I got you in the past!

Photo: Tao Lin

A more successful black sesame creme brulee. Photo: Tao Lin

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:


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