Thursday, 6 January 2022

In My Kitchen: January 2022

2022 is here! I hope with all my heart that it is going to be a different year to the last... and whatever the pandemic brings, I hope that we will face it with love, openness and the ability to find joy in the little things of everyday. 

In my garden... 

The last of the carrots were pulled out of the ground... my dad visited me with his puppy and he was also super interested in the carrots! Of course he got one for being a very good boy... 

These last ones were for my dad's Christmas present 

The purple beans are coming along nicely. I love their vibrant colour, though they do turn green as soon as they are cooked. 

In the kitchen... 

I love carrot greens pesto! It's simply the tops, blanched quickly to wilt them a bit, then blitzed together with olive oil, cashews and sometimes a bit of parmesan. I can't get enough of this mixed through pasta or just on a piece of bread. 

I brought back so much chocolate from France and I've really enjoyed sharing them with family and friends. 

I love the presentation of our Christmas hotpot lunch - you see it is 3/4 vegetarian which I love. Some of my favourite things are baby king oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, rice cakes (top left), lots of Chinese veggies, and tofu skins, fresh tofu and black fungus (bottom right). 

This was our dinner the next day on Christmas day. Fresh pan fried pork & chive dumplings made with Barney my sourdough starter who has also been living at my dad's for the last 3 years or so. 

Some Christmas baking... 

This was the first star I made, stuffed with kaya (coconut jam) and coconut flakes. I took this to my Malaysian friends' Christmas dinner, we managed to get together just before the cases were really on the up in NSW. 

This was the second star stuffed with blueberry jam, which I shared at my high school friend's gathering

My good old sourdough, Christmas scoring

I tried to score a Christmas tree, but it looks like a popsicle! 

The curveball 

The curveball this month is this pastry brush I brought back from Paris, which has beautifully soft and fine bristles. This stray carrot had arms so I thought they had to have a little hug. Because we all need some love in these crazy times. 

Love to everyone in the world and especially the IMK community. Thanks also to Sherry for hosting the In My Kitchen series every month. It is really a wonderful way to revisit all the photos I take of food, and to have a visual memory of what is happening in my life.  

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

In My Kitchen: December 2021

I'm in Paris! The Australian government finally opened the international border on Nov 1 for NSW residents and I can't believe I really am in Paris, reunited with my partner after 2 years... 

First, a few things from Australia 

I made this vegan black forest cake for my friend B's birthday. She inspires a lot of vegan baking and this was a real fun project. I tried the whipping the cream from the top of a can of coconut cream method. It seemed to thicken initially but didn't stay a good texture for piping so I slathered it on.. nevertheless, it was delicious! 

These colourful carrots from my garden took so long to grow, maybe like 5 months? It was worth the wait though, they were utterly delicious, so full of carrot flavour, and the tops were great in a pesto! 

Paris.. all the baked goodies...

Now I have about a million and one pictures of all the goodies I've eaten in Paris, but I'll stick to a few of my absolute favourites... 

Of all the croissants I've eaten, I think this one is the best. La Maison d'Isabelle won the best croissant award a few years ago and what an excellent croissant it is, perfectly crispy and flaky with a strong butter flavour. I could smell the butter from the platform of the metro! 

My French teacher recommended Boulangerie Utopie to me - it was a treasure trove of goodies. This is made with a laminated croissant dough, coloured with charcoal and stuffed with black sesame. Words do not do justice to the flavour and texture. 

A boule of khorasan sourdough I got from Les Freres Blavette. Khorasan is an ancient grain originating from Persian and this gave the bread a lovely nutty flavour. 

What else to eat in Paris but baguettes? There have been so many baguettes, I eat them almost everyday! It's amazing that there are 5 boulangeries within a 5 minute walk of our place, I'm really spoilt for choice. 

An amazing pain aux raisins from Maison Lendemaine - look at all the layers in that dough!

S lives right next to one of the many branches of La Patisserie by Cyril Lignac. What a dangerous location since I could eat something delicious from there everyday! This lemon tart was just amazing, the construction like an artwork with a hazelnut biscuit base, cloudlike lemon cream, lemon gel between the dollops, topped with a white chocolate layer with little bubbles of vanilla. 

Another delectable treat from Cyril Lignac - a noisette, consisting of a biscuit base, hazelnut cream layer, sponge and coffee chantilly cream. The whole thing is covered with an impossibly thin layer of milk chocolate and studded with hazelnuts, then covered in this beautifully piped coffee cream.

Other discoveries...

So. Much. Cheese

I was super amused to find bouquet garni cubes in the supermarket. I bought it to go with French puy lentils, which are cheap and delicious here. 

Some random vegetable purchases from the supermarket. Endive I realised later is actually pretty popular in Australia, but I'd never had it before; black radish (only the skin is black and the inside is white); spaghetti squash (when roasted, the flesh becomes stringy) and topinambour (aka Jerusalem artichoke) 

The mushrooms... how amazing are the mushrooms in France! The normal varieties are very affordable, and these forest mushrooms are so special and full of flavour. I was stoked to find them even in the supermarket! These chanterelles we found at the market at Place Monge - they were so earthy and rich, naturally high on umami. 

Some coffee from our favourite cafe in Paris. 

The curveball.. 

I haven't written much about my personal life on the blog (it's pretty much turned into an IMK only space!) but for the curveball this month, I wanted to revisit how special this trip to Paris is. 

S and I have not seen each other for two years and we have been through a lot - the prolonged closure of the international border, the repeated travel exemption rejections, the turbulence and uncertainty about the future of the relationship - these have been the roughest times in our lives. Words cannot describe how glad I am to finally be here. On my first day we bought this hand poured soy candle adorned with flowers from a tiny florist nearby, and we have been enjoying it every night with our dinner. Life is short, and we can enjoy the little things that mean a lot to us. 

I'm sending this to Sherry who hosts the monthly In My Kitchen series - thanks Sherry! 

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

In My Kitchen: November 2021

October came and went past in a flash - honestly, I think it was the fastest month this year!  

In my garden...

I planted broad beans this year, and they flowered really early, but did not give me a single bean until the turnips flowered. Then the bees came for the turnips, and before I knew it there were broad beans everywhere. 

The last of the snow peas and sugar snaps were harvested and eaten - I had such a good run with them, I probably ate them every day for 2 months! Here was a quick stir fry I made with my own broad beans and sugar snaps.

The last of the radish greens, which I blanched and froze to throw into future stews.. 

These strawberries were incredible - tiny, juicy, sweet and incredibly flavoursome. 

I grew a pumpkin in the summer called Alfonso. I harvested my 4.2kg baby in March. I kept him for a long time thinking I would share it with S when he could come to Australia, but he never got a travel exemption to come to Australia. So I gave Alfonso to my dad before this lockdown in June. He kept it for another few months in a dark corner and finally, we ate it! Here he is stir fried with garlic, chilli and a few last stray sugar snaps 

On the bread front...

The Pains de France baking project continued with this Pain aux cereales, a delicious multi-grain loaf

A giant 1kg loaf that turned out really well - I took this one to a Freedom Party, it was strange to be in a room with lots of people again! 

I've been quite obsessed with the Asian style soft bakery breads, and here is an overnight sourdough Japanese-style milk bread (shokupan) I made. It was so cottony soft and fun to pull into threads!

Other things in the kitchen...

And one day I just felt like making a pear tarte tatin. These were made with corella pears that Ozharvest had rescued, and that we took home because they had soft spots.

I went away into the mountains for a few days on my own - it was wonderful to read, write, draw and take long walks. I stayed in a tiny house and the lovely hosts gave me some sweet juicy oranges from their orchard...

While away on retreat, I also enjoyed this little hamper that my friend sent me during the lockdown. It was such a treat to have a solo picinic! 

Finally, the food and music series...

After more than four months, my string quartet finally got together again. We celebrated with a loaf of my own sourdough, roast lamb and lots of veggies for dinner. And of course for our reunion we played the very first piece that we ever played together - Beethoven's Op 18 No 4. I played the viola for a change, since I am heading to Paris very soon and plan to play viola there. 

And the curveball this month is from another freedom party I went to - aren't dogs just the best? We also discovered that dogs love durian! 

I'm sending this to Sherry of Sherry's pickings, who hosts the monthly In My Kitchen series - thanks Sherry!

Friday, 8 October 2021

The Chicken Mountain

This year, I started volunteering for Ozharvest, an organisation focusing on food rescue, reducing food waste, and addressing the paradox of simultanenous food waste and food insecurity. 

An incredible amount of food is thrown away in Australia every year, and this is something that is hardly on people's minds, even those of us like me who think that they are environmentally friendly by recycling and reducing plastic waste etc. I was under the impression that food waste was "better" than other kinds of waste because it's biological right? so it would degrade faster. But when you examine the issue in detail, the environmental impact of food waste is huge - the resources it takes to produce the food, transport it to shops, the amount of energy consumed by storing the food, and finally the discarded food releasing greenhouse gas as it decomposes. 

Ozharvest does a great deal to rescue and re-direct food, and I have mostly been involved in the kitchen where we prepare meals from rescued food for charities to re-distribute to those who are in need. 

So this week I arrived for my shift, and we got to work. A group of up to five volunteers is led by a chef who plans out the meals and the steps involved. It is really quite efficient because we prepare 200-300 meals in a morning's work. 

First I chopped up about 50 packets of tempeh. These were the Macro organic brand stocked by Woolies, and probably it was introduced as a new product line but subsequently taken off shelves due to lack of popularity. Despite having use-by dates in December, they were destined for landfill. We made the tempeh into a veggie stir fry with a satay sauce. 

My next job was to chop up chicken marylands, a cut of meat where the thigh joins onto the leg. These were rescued from Costco - I suppose with the new LGA restrictions in Sydney, people perhaps haven't been able to get to Costco for their bulk shopping. I'm not sure how much chicken was actually rescued but we had 200 marylands earmarked for this day's meals. 

I'm not sure if anyone can imagine what 200 chicken marylands looks like - it is literally a mountain of chicken. 

I started to get this extremely vivid imagery of all the chickens that died in order to be there right in front of me. I imagined a mountain of chickens without legs, decomposing in landfill. While I was happy that we rescued this food and we were able to feed it to others who needed food, I was saddened so much by the waste of the chicken's lives. 

Why did these chickens exist in the first place? The Chicken Industry doesn't care that these "waste" chickens died in vain, never even to be consumed by humans, the sole reason for which they were bred. The market demands chicken, being the commonest meat consumed in Australia. A quick Google shows some incredible statistics - 600 million kilograms of chicken produced in Australia each year, that is 45kg of chicken per person, per year. These numbers seems crazy, but it must truly be Australia's "Favourite Meat". It led me to wonder how much chicken that is purchased ultimately goes to waste - why did these chickens have to die? 

The second thing that really disturbed me was what the legs were really like. There was something extraordinarily unnatural about them, like they had been artificially plumped up. The thighs looked like breast implants. Are these chickens fed growth hormone, steroids and other medications to make them more profitable? I wondered. Even though they were unnatural looking, there was still a striking individuality to the chicken legs. If you look closely, every single chicken leg is different - just like every single human leg is different. 

The last thing that disturbed me was the action of chopping the marylands in half. Because of different roasting times, the chef asked for the thighs and drumsticks to be separated. I didn't know how to do it because I have never prepared a chicken before, and I immediately found it hard to chop through the bone. He showed me how to find the joint, and slicing through the cartilage was a lot easier. Running my finger along the leg to find the "knee" joint of the chicken, I could identify easily where to cut. The other volunteers joked that I was quick at picking it up because of my anatomy knowledge. This was probably true, and I was reminded of procedures I do on humans using landmarks for guidance - how is this any different?

I started to feel really nauseous as I was getting through the chicken mountain. By the time I finished, I smelled like a dead chicken, a gooey bloody smell that clung to my skin. No amount of scrubbing my hands took away the smell, and I had to shower for a long time when I got home. We usually have staff lunch together from the food that we have prepared, but I felt sick looking at the chicken. No one else seemed to mind, but I thought it was probably time for me to give up eating meat again. 

I'm an on-again off-again vegetarian since age 20. I've had a couple of periods of complete vegetarianism in my life - 5 years one time, and 4 years another time. My usual state is about 90% vegetarian, and I almost never prepare meat at home but will eat it when I go out or if others prepare it for me. 

But the chicken mountain is still haunting me a couple of days later. It's time to let go, put my money where my principles lie and stop supporting the industry. 

Rest in peace little chickens who were force fed, medicated, killed and wasted. I'm thinking of you. 

Saturday, 2 October 2021

In My Kitchen: October 2021

September just about flew past! It's been a strange time - on one hand, I love the lockdown because I am a naturally introspective person, on the other hand I'm really missing the social contact with other human beings.  

In the garden... 

I have been eating turnips every day - the turnip patch has gotten out of control and overtaken the entire veggie patch. One day I took a photo of this one because I thought he looked like a man sitting on the chair. My favourite lunch now involves a turnip addition to whatever I'm eating - I saute the root part of the turnip in a little olive oil and wilt the greens. It's quite a nice way to introduce more veggies!  

My sugar snaps and snow peas have been excellent this year - I've been having them everyday practically and it's such a treat. My favourite way to eat them is in a stir fry with tofu and other veggies, here with also a smattering of my own coriander.  

I don't eat salad every day but my small patch of rocket and radicchio serves me well for when I feel like salad. I usually pick a whole lot, wash and spin them then store them in the fridge for a quick boost of salad. 

In the kitchen... 

Here are the white oyster mushrooms from the kit I got for my birthday - they grow super fast! I found them incredibly tender and more-ish, nothing like a simple stir fry with some sugar snaps from the garden, a little bit of ginger and some sesame oil. 

This was one of the Masterchef challenges - a black forest cake with a hazelnut praline mousse. It was SO complicated to make and took two of us three hours (the recipe card said 40 min prep and 1 hr cooking - what liars!) It was absolutely delicious though so huge we could only manage a tiny slice each. 

This was the end of the Apple Project. I celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my vegan friend and made her this vegan challah - it was from an excellent recipe featuring the Yudane method.

I stuffed it with apples sweetened with maple syrup. It was so soft and fluffy, excellent recipe indeed!

I made this quiche with some rainbow chard from my own garden - I blanched the rainbow chard and dunked it into ice water to preserve the colour. The little blobs are roast pumpkin,  it kind of looks like a rhubarb and apricot tart! 

And with the rest of the tart pastry I made these little tarts with a simple ricotta custard filling and fresh berries, yum!

The new baking project...
I'm doing a new project now where I am baking my way through a "Pains de France" tea towel that I bought last year - I'm baking a different bread every weekend. 

Boule de Campagne - "Countryside bread"

Baguette ├ępi - baguette cut into a wheat stalk shape 

Regular baguette

This was probably the fanciest thing I made this month, a Couronne Bourdelaise (crown bread), which worked really well as soft tear apart rolls. I have found the key is to read French recipes (or watch French youtube videos) - they really are excellent baguette recipes

Finally... the curveball

I'm fortunate to work in a hospital looking out onto bushland. Often on lunch breaks I go for long walks around the hospital campus and one day I saw this beautiful kookaburra. Gotta love his hairstyle! He was so calm, just checking everyone out. I'm sad to say that with the new hospital precinct development, they will lose their hospital home and probably be displaced onto adjacent bushland. 

I'm sending this to Sherry who hosts the monthly In My Kitchen series - Thanks Sherry!