Saturday, 28 December 2013

KThxBai 2013

No Christmas post - the reindeer has left the building.  No Birthday post - that should have been in early October.

It's not because I don't love writing.  It's not because I've stopped eating.  It's just... 2013 was a rollercoaster.  The kind that has you scrabbling in your seat, screaming in the wind and shaking afterwards, looking for a trashcan to heave your stomach contents into.
Some parts were amazingly great, others not so.  Some days were white Negronis, laughter and kind company.  Some days were espressos in succession, rounded out with a menthol cigarette and a raggedy soul.

From photoseries "Be A Woman" by Hanna Seweryn

But it's all learning though, isn't it?  And there was a lot of that.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Buffet Cart At Century's End

During the my placement for the final year of my journalism degree, I stole food - regularly.
It was the end of 1999 segueing into 2000 and my journalism placement was with a national news organisation in Malaysia.  My father knew the Managing Editor and nepotism opens a lot of doors.
It was also where the family home was and I was still a citizen at the time, even though we'd all held permanent residency in Australia since the late 80's.

Press events were often held at smart hotels (the Hyatt was the best) and there was always a buffet. Danishes, curry puffs, eclairs, croquembouches, miniature fruit tarts and tiny sandwiches were just... there. People just ATE.  Malaysia is food crazy, and there's no better way to entice the local press than with a generous spread.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The No-Brainer

You've got one.  I've got one.
In fact, between us we might just have a few.
If we sat down to chat about it (over a cup of tea and some fresh scones) we'd tally 'em up, realising that we've probably had more than just one or two.
That one in your old neighbourhood.
The other one near that place you used to work.
Another where you used to hang with the old crew from high school/college/illegal street-racing.

Food replicators - the key to digestive democracy? /image from 

It's the saving grace on a Friday night - the answer which benignly presents itself when we are blessed/cursed by dear friends as The Person Who Chooses The Restaurant.

Like Batman appearing when Gotham flicks on the Batsignal , the No-Brainer Dining Establishment is a proper superhero.  The gastronomic version of the Little Black Dress, it is versatile, interesting (but not too strange) and totally reliable.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Practical Applications Of Forensic Eating

Sunlight fills the restaurant.  It's one of those days that give hope for the potential spring to come; bright, crisp and sunny.  It is still necessary to don extra layers (we Melbournians are very fond of cardigans and blazers) yet cheerful enough feel the sun's warmth on your face, your nose, the tops of your ears.

Lunch is near it's end and today and I have dined solo.  It is not a heavy meal - a slice of pig's head terrine accompanied by good bread and a host of small pickled items - cornichons, walnuts, piccalilli and some type of onion relish.  

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Simple Cakes For Complex Times

Ch-ch-change.  Scary, no?  Economies churn, technology overruns, we change jobs and cars, we acquire new smartphones, pets and even the occasional child.  And don't even get me started on hair!
Mine went from auburn to pillar-box red and is now black/purple - ombre shades of Maleficent.

In the midst of madness, we find sanctuary in small things.  Now, I use the word 'small' with some hesitation - 'small' does not infer meaninglessness or unimportance.  Ever had your favourite tinned soup disappoint you with a "New, Improved Recipe!" or favourite nail polish discontinued?
Sure, it's technically a small matter... but it still feels big.  That kind of stuff stays with you.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Quick And Dirty Cake Post

There's been quite a bit of upheaval going on here at Casa De Panda (yes, Panda is my nickname, or Miss Panda if you're feelin' all curtsy-ish and formal).  The Supreme Overlord Of All He Surveys aka Manic The Cat got ill and died quite suddenly, and frankly I've been quite exhausted and unwell too.
All my food intolerance seem to have acted up and I am currently surviving on rice, natto, scrambled eggs and black tea.  I could kid myself and say I'm on a detox regime, but the truth is far more depressingly monastic.  Tea is wonderful, but what would be even more wonderful would be a creamy hot chocolate laced with Baileys and cream.

So this post is just mainly photos of cakes I baked last month.  While I've provided links for the recipe and icing for the tres leches cake, I absolutely promise I'll provide the recipe for the Alladin Sane-iced gâteau aux noisettes in my next post.  As for the black forest cake - it tasted delicious, but the recipe for it is quite temperamental and needs quite a bit of tweaking.
May I suggest we just enjoy it with our eyes?

Tres leches cake for Miss Izbit's 1st Birthday.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Goodbye, Old Friend

Warning - Sad and probably depressing post ahead.

I don't normally eat whole blocks of chocolate.
I am just not that sort of person.

Tuesday, 4th June 2013

There is a book out there called "Love, Loss and What I Wore" by Ilene Beckerman.  It was also turned into a play by Nora Ephron and her sister Delia Ephron.

I haven't read the book, or seen the play.

But now I'm thinking about it because I recently read Stacy London's book, "The Truth About Style," where she referenced it.  "The Truth About Style" is a recommended read - it's not nearly as fatuous as it sounds.  I'd even argue that it's not even really much about clothes at all.
It's memoir disguised as fashion flim-flammery.

Just like how this post isn't about... oh heck, I don't know even know what it is about.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Preserving One's Sanity - Some Essential Items

So, May was Cakegeddon.  It was cake-tastic, cake-splosive, cake-apocolyptic, even.

So. Many. Damn. Cakes.

I logged some serious hours in the kitchen.  My kitchen is small and not considered to be a "fun" place to hang out in.  Productive, yes, rewarding, yes, enjoyable in a soul-fulfilling and satisfying manner - yes!  But not "fun".  While my house is old and pretty (fancy folks call it 'vintage'), it means that it's not built on an open plan, so the kitchen is a completely separate space.  In modern kitchens, kids do their homework at the breakfast nook while Dad cooks bacon and watches football simultaneously.
My house ain't built like that.  At my house, if you're in the kitchen, you're cooking.

It can get a little crazy-making in there, especially if you're baking what feels like a thousand cakes (okay, four).  So here are a few things I use to make kitchen life a little more streamlined and (I hate to say it) "fun".

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Frozen Bread And Salty Yolks - The Cheapskates Guide To Groceries

Like most people, I go food shopping once a week.  That's when the big list gets made and when I know it's time to get more self-raising flour, eggs, bread or tomatoes.  Sometimes though, stuff just dies mid-week.  Got a bunch of spring onions?  Most of 'em floppy by Wednesday.  Ate half a baguette?  The other half goes stale, languishing in the bread bin.  NOOOooooo!

It took most of my adult life, but I finally became a Grocery Scrooge.  No more shall my onions wilt!  Yes, I shall freeze my perishable seafood!  Yeah, I'm making it sound like a bigger deal than it really is, but the truth is I hate wasting food because it's money down the drain... or in the bin.
Money that could be spent on shoes, illicit street drugs nail polish, or a can of Ortiz anchovies.

So here's what I do to get more food in my mouth, while saving some sweet sweet dirty cash.
  1. Italian Week = YES.  Italo-Mexi-Thai-Grecian-Chinese Week = Aww hell NO.
    I get that in the 21st century we home cooks are supposed to be as schmancy and cosmopolitan as James Bond's flight itinerary.  We've Got Skills and can wield both a wok and paella pan with equal dexterity.  Damn, has Marvel made a comicbook about us yet, because they should.  The ability to cook food stemming from different cultures and regions is a fabulous undertaking.
    However, I assure you there is no pressure to cook food from wildly different etymologies every night of the week.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Two Chicken Soups

The weather here in Melbourne has turned properly autumnal. Summer is a memory, and the with the turning of the seasons come the usual rituals - woolly jumpers resurrected from the back of the wardrobe, sales of hot water bottles and electric blankets start to rise as the temperature drops and alas, the inevitable cold besmirches your body.  Or it's the 'flu.  Or some random virus that's going around.

So here are suggestions for two types of chicken soup, both pretty low-effort.  Because no-one feels like cooking when they're sick (or at least, I don't) they're 'cheat' soups - so make sure you've got some powdered chicken stock or bouillon cubes in your pantry.
I was pretty ill last week and trust me, you don't feel like doing much other than wrapping yourself in blankets and groaning a lot.  Making soup from scratch is for healthy people.

Animated GIF from Nerdy World

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Science! The Little Cup That Could

In this special volume-centric post of 'Science!' we take a look at a small wonder - the Little Plastic Cup that comes with your rice cooker.

(L) Egg cup for comparison (R) The Little Plastic Rice Cup

Some of you have kept it - wise move.  Many folks toss it out along with the packaging, assuming it's a nondescript item which serves no purpose.  You know how much rice you want, right?
Plus, you've other measuring cups and can't possibly cram more stuff in the drawer of assorted gadgets, whotsits and geegaws that every kitchen has.

Yeah, sure thing buddy.

Friday, 26 April 2013

An Offall-y Big Adventure Part 1 - Kidneys

{This adventure is in two parts, documenting my experiences with types of offal I'd never cooked before.  We start with kidneys, then move onto brains.  Let's go!}

The blonde behind the counter is grumpy.  Kidneys were clearly an 'out-the-back' item, not in easy reach within the gleaming display cases of steaks, fillets and other more familiar, muscle-centric parts.
"How many do you want?" she asks curtly.
"Umm... 250 grams?" I reply.
"How many would that be?"
"I'm not sure... um... how big are they? They're lambs' kidneys, right?"
She nods, making a vague motion with her hands indicating they're sized anywhere between a 20-cent coin and a char siu bao*.
"I'll just, umm... just a good handful, thanks".

She yells something to a chap out the back, he yells something back.  I stand quietly, waiting for the kidneys, trying not to die of awkwardness.  Eventually, a large brown parcel is proffered to me, feeling a lot more like 500 grams than the asked-for 250 grams.  The price is $2.40.  I hand over the money and skulk away, feeling confused and a little foolish.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Watch Out, We Got A Badass Over Here

Sure, I might look like some small-time city gal, but ya know what?  Life's for livin' dangerously, and I know what it's like to live on the edge.

Why, just tonight The Boyfriend went out with his pals and I went crazeee, baby.
Got myself not one, but TWO lots of deep fried deliciousness - some veggie balls and a serve of confit duck spring rolls.  Got 'em from Ebi Fine Food down there on Essex Street.  Sure, they got the healthy stuff too, soba noodle salad, some real fresh fish, but tonight... I'm dangerous.
I even got the "strange but good jap icy pole" which I ain't seen before.  In this cold weather!
No clue about the contents - could be green tea and grape Jell-o for all I know.

Now, here's the kicker; I sat down in front of the teevee, then ate it all with my bare hands.  Like a savage.

Image from Sentient Machinery

That ain't the only thing I done.  The list of crimes is long and deep.  The kitchen police are gonna bust down my oven door and burn me in the crusts.

There's a place for me in Hell's Kitchen somewhere...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Greed, Inadequacy... And A Recipe For One Mad, Bad Chocolate Pavlova

A lone blueberry flops to the left of the pavlova, a criminal fleeing the scene.  The raspberries are studded unevenly across the surface.  Some are huddled together like hostages, while others lie solitary and stranded, lost and away from the herd. The strawberries are leaking their dark balsamic syrup, sullying the white skirts of cream with rusty drips.

As I poke another errant blueberry into the Sorry Heap it dawns on me that I possess the plating skills of a toddler drunk on laudanum.

Plating is like sex.  If you think about it too hard, too much, or generally obsess about it, it's probably going to be awful.  Or perhaps I've just conjured up this platitude to comfort myself;  the correct placement of fruit eludes me so thoroughly and I am very, very bad at it.  Either way the facts are unassailable - I cannot make food look pretty.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Aunt Adele's Hot Milk Toddy

Even in the 24th century, it seems a glass of warm milk is still the prescribed remedy for sleepless nights.
Not just any glass of milk, mind you, but Aunt Adele's hot milk toddy.
Made in a replicator.  
In space.  
In your funky space quarters (where the towels and pillows are made from an uncomfortable looking shiny material).  
As prescribed by your starship's doctor, Dr. Beverley Crusher.  
Who got the recipe from her good friend bald man whom she flirts with, the Enterprises' Captain Jean-Luc Picard - Adele was his aunt.

Aunt Adele's Hot Milk Toddy (Serves 1 insomnia-riddled Startfleet officer of any rank)*

  • 250ml milk
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon brandy (optional)**

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until hot, but not boiling.  Add the honey and stir.  Once the honey has been incorporated, add the brandy if using.   Bring it all up to a gentle simmer.  
Turn off the heat, add the nutmeg and stir.  Pour into a sturdy glass or mug.  Drink and try to avoid all distortions in the space-time continuum, as well as bodgy inter-dimensional aliens that kidnap you in your sleep.
Image by psiwaves

You know you watch too much of a certain show if you end up rifling through your pantry trying to figure out how they make the food.  
I'll pass on the gagh, however.

* Not suitable for androids.
** A 'toddy' is a traditional warm drink with an alcoholic element incorporated.  Nutmeg is mentioned as one of the toddy's ingredients on the show (Star Trek: The Next Generation) so it's in the recipe above.
Alas, from here things start to come undone.  Alcohol as we know it is not replicated on the Starship Enterprise NCC 1701-D (although some of the real stuff is in Guinan's secret stash).
'Synthehol' is a commonly used substitute on the ship, however it barely gets you drunk.  So I've added the brandy as a suggestion, as an ode to proper boozy toddies.  Unfortunately it would seem that a 24th century toddy is not a toddy at all!

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adrià by Ferran Adrià

Libraries are wonderful places.  It was at my local library that I stumbled across Ferran Adrià's cookbook 'The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià'.  Although there was no-one else in the stacks, I grabbed it quickly and furtively, hugging it to my chest and adding it to the already considerable number of books I'd chosen that day.

I'm ashamed to say I only opened it when I got home - the lure of Adrià's name was too great.  Whilst I devour books like whales swallow krill, perhaps I should have been more discerning?

After all, at first glance 'The Family Meal' appeared to be your typical large format coffee-table-cum-cookbook affair published by Phaidon.

I own another Phaidon book which I have never cooked from ('Breakfast, Lunch and Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery' by Rose Carrarini) and have never had any practical luck with a book of this size and cheffy reputation.  As I write, Tetsuya Wakada's 'Tetsuya' sits languishing on my bookshelf. 
I know I will not make his checkerboard tuna and hamachi with orange oil, or any of the other one hundred and fifty or so recipes that are within.

Thankfully, this book isn't the languishing type.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

I'm ashamed to admit this but... the great thing about a Quarter Pounder, some fries and a Coke is that all can be consumed one-handed while watching Doctor Who.

Because two-hearted, time-travelling aliens in blue boxes are more interesting than my dinner.

I'll walk myself to the gallows, thanks.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Science! Acids - Taming the Onion

Today I'm going to talk to you about the sour stuff.  Sugar, spice and everything nice is all well and good, but we need the tart stuff, the zingy stuff, the stuff with bite.  Take a mojito, for example.  It's the lime which gives it that satisfying sourness, a good square kick in a sea of sugar.  Sometimes, you need that in a drink.  Or a salad.  Or even a cake.  

Food acids are our friends, because they provides a pleasing balance in each mouthful.  Growing up in Malaysia, I recall rich, bombastically flavoured laksa always served with a side of green calamansi.  You'd squeeze it onto that bowl of hot raging deliciousness, much like you'd squeeze lemon onto battered fish.

If a mouthful of food were a discoball (stay with me here) the various flavours of the food - salty, sweet, pungent, earthy, umami, etcetera, would be the little mirrored tiles.  The sourness, the acidulant in that mouthful would be the flashing lights bringing all those flavours to life.

Red onion... only better.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Thank You For Being A Friend - The Naked Chef Appreciation Post

Travelled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say
Thank you for being a friend
[Theme song from 'The Golden Girls']

Image by cumberbuddy

Ladies and gents - that's how I feel about Jamie Oliver.  Or more specifically, that's how I feel about his first cookbook 'The Naked Chef', which I bought (wait a sec while I fire up the wayback machine) in 1999.
It's heart was true, it was indeed a pal and a confidant.  It taught me to make stock, use an oven for more than box-mix cakes and that fresh herbs had no substitute.

I firmly believe that the popularity of The Naked Chef (the show and the book) was the reason why fresh basil  and other herbs have become supermarket staples.  The start of the Noughties was grand - no Y2K, living out of home, regular shagging and no more trekking to the Asian grocer for good coriander.  And no, it's not bloody cilantro or Chinese parsley it's coriander, dammit.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Part of the reason I'm so happy that Khristianne Uy won 'The Taste' is because she and her partner remind me of Hazel and Foxglove from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series.  
Hazel (also a chef) was a slightly more minor character than Foxglove and the thought of her groovy flesh-and-blood doppleganger winning a cooking show on the teevee makes my dorky heart melt.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Ham and Cream Cheese Ramen

Oppan ramen time! Heyyy, sexxy lady... *horsey dance*

Welcome to Ramen Atrocities 101.  I'm your host and today we will be consuming -

Ham and Cream Cheese Ramen!

Broke?  Bits & pieces in your fridge which won't make a proper meal?  Folks, ramen (or ramyun, or rameyon) is your friend.  It is kind, forgiving and hides the dead bodies for you gets along well with even the most improbable accompaniments.  It's almost the Mother Teresa of noodles.
It's especially parent-friendly, being fast, cheap and you can hide a myriad of vegetable and proteins in it.  So bugger feeling bad for not feeding your teenagers organic quinoa-and-samphire salad sourced from you local farmers market... or something.

"But a dairy product in soup noodles?  Madness I say!"  Or... madness, I said... until I actually tried it.