Friday, February 26, 2010

The Week I Was Spoiled With Food (Part I)

Indulgence is definitely the theme for this week.

So it all started on Saturday with a cosy dinner for five. I've been having a recent odd craving for salmon, so I persuaded my friends to stay in on a Saturday evening to whip up a satisfying meal of our own.

On Our Stay-In Saturday Night Menu

~ Caprese Salad ~
Thyme-Infused Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Buffalo Mozzarella

- Whole Filet of Salmon -
Roasted Asparagus
Dill-Butter Sauce

~ Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables ~
Garlic & Rosemary Butter
Sweet Potatoes, Butternut Squash, Fingerling Potatoes

~ Cheese, Fruit & Nut Platter ~
Gruyere Cheese
Fresh Fruit
Ghirardelli Chocolate
Oh by the way, we ended it with some chocolate brownies too.
Talk about being stuffed. And this is just the beginning.

Sunday was sublime. We drove to Philadelphia to watch John Mayer live.
Definitely worth the 4-hour drive there and back (and arriving home only on Monday morning at 430am). Love his guitar skills, love his guitars, love him. I told my Dad about it, and he basically thinks John Mayer is the younger version of Eric Clapton. Yea-ah, Agreed. By the way, I totally took my hat of to Ethel who had class at 8:40 that morning (!!)

So moving on, the new week greeted me with a sumptuous 4-course dinner at the all new Taste of Thai Express. We had a pleasant visit from the people in the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU), who flew over 10,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean and brought along with them none other than the highly entertaining Guest-of-Honor Hossan Leong - all in the name of building stronger bonds with Singaporean communities abroad. The event definitely exceeded my expectations (honestly, they weren't that high to begin with). I thoroughly enjoyed the food; I had fried ice-cream for dessert! Finally, a dish that reminds me of happy days back home. It wasn't outstanding, I have to admit, and nothing close to the real McCoy - fried durian ice-cream at the New Majestic Restaurant, a definite "die-die-must-try!" on any foodie's list.

I ended up having a fantastic conversation with Avinash, Ming and one of the OSU representatives: From National Service and un-men armies... to immigration laws and the possibility of raking up dual citizenships - Certainly not in the near future, I must say.

Wednesday was Ling's 21st, and I baked birthday cupcakes - a choice of vanilla or chocolate! Blanketed those babies with some freshly whipped frosting, and topped off with a marshmallow and Ferrero Rocher for some added sweetness.

Though everyone enjoyed them, I thought the chocolate cupcakes could have been a tad bit more chocolatey. Lesson Learnt: Stop being lazy and melt real chocolate! I thought I could get away with an easy recipe that only called for cocoa powder to give it that chocolatey flavor...

...The Verdict: Nothing beats real chocolate chocolate cupcakes.

And as for tonight's gourmandizing episode, I was spoiled by a fabulous food and wine dinner pairing by the Johnson School Wine Club. A decadent 6-course meal accompanied with fine wines from Castello Banfi. The Best pairing of the night?

Dark Chocolate Tart
Strawberries, Aceto Balsamico di Modena
accompanied with Rosa Regale

The B.E.S.T. Ever

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Breakfast In a Cup

So last night Shihao and I had ambitious plans to wake up at eight this morning to enjoy a bit of a weekend breakfast before heading for our first pottery class at 10am.

Well, I did wake up this morning. To my Dad calling me on my cell phone. At 1130am.

Darn it again.

And why wouldn't I be surprised that my dear roommate slept past his part of the commitment too..? After all, he stayed up till the wee hours playing Defense of the Ancients (while I devoured food blog after food blog - you won't believe how many amazing foodie writers there are online!). And our sumptuous Japanese feast at Plum Tree earlier that evening didn't help alleviate the snooze factor either. And here's a glimpse of what we relished in...

So yes, we both missed our little American breakfast and pottery class lesson we were so keen on attending: He wants to make a coffee mug for his dad, and I intend to mould a pie dish for myself. As such, I ended up whipping up a batch of Maple Cupcakes to bring a bit of that relaxing weekend spirit to make up for the breakfast we never had.

They came out paler than I expected - but I guess that's where the maple glaze comes in (though I did add some maple syrup to the batter as well). And I actually think the pale quality does give those fluffy sponges a seemingly feminine beauty, especially against the pastel-colored cupcake holders. I gave some to Jacqueline, my dear neighbor living below me, who greeted me blearily in her PJs. And the UPS delivery guy came with Shihao's order of wines (a whole crate!), which thoroughly made our day - so I gave Mr. UPS-guy a cake as well. And I think that little breakfast in a cup made his day too.

The rest would probably go Philicia, Deb and Dave, who are coming over later. We're all heading to Ithaca's Chili Cookout Fest (yay!), then Wegmans after to grab some fresh ingredients to whip up a cosy dinner for five. P.S. - I'm craving for a poached salmon.

Sweet, sweet weekend people!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Banana Bread Story: An Ode To The Good Life... Yet Again

I stepped into the kitchen this morning to find a bunch of brown-spotted (clearly overripe) bananas sitting on the sill - Hmm, they definitely weren't there five minutes ago. Shihao (one of my two most awesome college roommates) responded, "I brought it out. They're too ripe, so let's turn them into banana bread tonight."

I just adore this Banana Banana Bread recipe from Shelly Albeluhn. It's superbly popular simply because it's effortless, and it works. Needless to say, we threw in some semi-sweet chocolate morsels since as we all know, chocolate and bananas are definitely best buds.
Shelly Albeluhn,
The Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
The Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended.
  4. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Before hitting the oven...

Oh. How. Glorious.

And that's basically one thing I love about baking: Converting overly ripe fruits into a sweetened pastry dessert (compotes, crumbles, muffins, jams... the list goes on). I mean, who would ever complain about a moist, dense, and freshly-baked loaf of bread filled with intense, fruity sweetness? Nope, I know I wouldn't.

This actually reminds me of how I was desperately craving for salad over lunch today. I never understood how people living in this country could ever 'grab' a mealtime salad on a borderline daily basis and feel satisfied with it. But contrary to (my) popular belief, the Americans actually do do salads outstandingly well. With the surprisingly endless array of toppings you can dress your leafy greens with - ranging from beets, asparagus tips and bulgar wheat, to cranberries, peaches and pineapples - I genuinely do look forward to eating my veggies... Well, I suppose when you're living in the absence of 24-hour kopitiams that whip up a whole spectrum of hawker fare to taunt your tastebuds, those salads of yours better taste pretty damn decent. Overripe bananas to banana bread, and boring leaves to fancy salads - as Daddy always say: "It's all about making the best with what you have."

Interesting Fact of The Day:
Coincidentally enough, my housemates and I were actually baking the same bread the same night one year ago while booking our Spring break trip to Vegas. And presently as I speak - or type - we just booked our 7-night Carnival cruise around the Caribbean. Departing from Miami, Florida this March (oh yeah!), and the ports of call? Half Moon Cay Bahamas, Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas, San Juan Puerto Rico, and Grand Turk Island. And to add a crimson cherry on top of an already all-star vacation, we're spending a night in Miami before setting sail. Yea-ah, tell me about it...!
So it's ode to the good life, once again, with a little slice of delish Banana Banana Bread, and a satisfying chomp! to yet another spectacular, fun-in-the-sun sojourn. I promise postcards from the Caribbean when I get there! XOXO!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fancying Cupcakes With Your Glass of Chianti?

This evening was our first wine tasting session of the semester, and so, I decided to whip up some of Nigella's banana, cranberry and chocolate chip cupcakes to usher in this final 6 months of spring in Ithaca.

Well, then again, you can just say it's just an excuse for me to satisfy my cuisson cravings.

Nonetheless, the crimson-studded medallions came out rather decent and were a hit with my friends at the wine session. I was initially worried that they would be inedible just because the oven in my apartment didn't seem to be working as efficiently as I hope it would. The original recipe called for a baking time of 20 minutes (till amber golden and springy on the top) at a moderate 350-degree oven, but it took more than double the time to get these miniature sweet sponges to the required texture.

Faulty ovens aside, what I love so much about this cupcake recipe is the fact that I can do it without the use of a mixer - which is awesome since I don't own one in my college apartment. I know - a definite pâtisserie sacrilege! But on the bright side, it brings challenge and sparks creativity in my recipe searching sessions - plus, I'm graduating in 3 months time, so I deem it to be a slightly unworthy investment that I believe I can live without for the time being. Alright, let's move on to the recipe.

Nigella Lawson, How To Be A Domestic Goddess
The Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons dried cherries, chopped
  • 2 ounces white chocolate, chopped, or chips
  • 12-cup muffin pan with paper baking cups
The Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then, off the heat, add the sugar, vanilla, and soft bananas, mashing them with a fork in the pan.
  3. Stir in the sour cream and the eggs and - still using your fork or a wooden spoon if you prefer - beat to mix. Add the baking soda and the baking powder, and stir in as well, then finally stir in the flour, cherries, and chocolate.
  4. When the mixture's just blended, divide among the 12 muffin cups and cook for 20 minutes or until golden and springy on top.
  5. Remove the cupcakes in their paper cups to a wire rack and leave till cool.
Max actually recommended that I throw in some walnuts or pecans into the batter, and I actually think he's right on that. Those fruity-chocolatey sponges are actually good the way they are, but embellishing it with some nutty crunchiness may just boost its sugar ratings up a notch.

I thoroughly enjoyed my intimate wine evening - it's just so wonderful to immerse myself amongst fabulously talented people who are undeniably passionate about food and wine. I'm making a resolution to whip up sugary treats for our future wine sessions - a perfect excuse for me to satisfy my whimsical confectionary wishes and temporarily neglect that never-ending pile of assignments due the following week...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's My Birthday & I'll Bake If I Want To!

I'm actually a year older now. Wow. Time does fly.

After pampering my stomach with a carbo-laden dinner and polishing off almost the entire bottle of red, I'm not exactly in the right state of mind to present a comprehensive entry on my birthday festivities. Nonetheless, I thought I had to post something on this special day just so that it'll go into my blog archive. (Yes, go ahead - roll your eyes)

So it all started with a lovely surprise by my most awesome housemates and bestest Cornell buddies ever - Miss Malika and Swati - who all simply barged into my bedroom past midnight with a video camera, a titanic Triple Chocolate Cake (credits to Cornell Dining), and an a cappella performance to the tune of 'Happy Birthday'. There I was, lying on my bed chatting with Matt on my cell phone in pitch black darkness, dressed to kill my most *ahem* (un)fashionable PJs ever, and hair tangled in the fanciest knots imaginable.

I was shocked.

And to make things worst - It was all caught on tape. So much for blackmail, huh.

But of course, I was thoroughly happy with the intrusion. We ended up enjoying a bit of that gorgeous chocolate cake - which explains why it looks so much like a Pac Man when I took the picture of it - and almost finished up the bottle of sparkling left over from the previous wine night we had. I'm actually impressed at the quality of cakes supplied by Cornell Dining. It was amazingly rich and dense, but not cloyingly sweet, which made it such a delectable midnight treat.

Moving on, I had a dinner celebration with Bern, Shihao, Yong Kai, Ethel and David at Joe's Restaurant, which served Italian food (though the name doesn't give it away that easily). The food was decent, and we continued devouring that quarter-eaten chocolate confection (but failed miserably and again, leftovers are presently lying in my refrigerator). Nonetheless, the company made it all the more spectacular.

And when you're 10,000 miles away from home (I mean it literally), friends become family. And that's what I call Food For The Soul.

P.S.- Now, it's definitely time to hit the haystack. Sugar kisses and chocolate dreams people!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking My Pâtisserie Adventures To Greater Heights (Literally)

"The end of a journey marks the wonderful beginning of a new one."

Winter greetings from the 'gorges' town of Ithaca in upstate New York! It has been slightly more than a week since I've arrived, and the weather conditions here are a stark contrast to the abundant sunshine I've been basking in for the last month-and-a-half. School has been decent thus far, and I'm actually enjoying most of my classes this semester (despite the arduous workload that lies ahead of me).

Honestly, shifting gears and assuming a brand new semester of college life after being back home wasn't an easy switch. I was missing home dearly the whole of last week, and being the complete foodie that I am, sought refuge in the simple comfort foods that reminded me of the pleasures of home. I was completely satisfied with waking up to a steaming mug of Milo (filled to the brim with chocolate-malt goodness) and jam with bread, and ending my day with a hearty bowl of herbal chicken soup decked with bok choy, Chinese cabbage and bean sprouts. And to add on to that, I am extremely grateful for the Lunar New Year tidbits that my Mom made me pack along.

So the week came along and went, with me ending up at Mont Tremblant in Quebec during the weekend with my three other girlfriends. We planned for this winter ski trip since two months back, and I am thoroughly glad we did it since it did alleviate my spell of homesickness. Mont Tremblant was beautiful and intensely cold, and though we had our fair share of explorations, retail therapy treatments and snow-laden adventures (tubing was absolutely thrilling, by the way), surprise surprise - eating was by far the top activity on our list.

Entering this quaint little crêpe cafe, La Crêperie, on a Saturday morning just made me feel like I stepped into a typical Parisian coffeehouse. I was warmly greeted with wafts of sweet crêpe batter sizzling gently on an open pan, bright blue wooden furniture, and an eclectic collection of country-style paintings and chef figurines displayed proudly all over the cosy interior of the restaurant. Moreover, the French-speaking Canadians just made the seemingly European atmosphere all the more believable. I settled for a Mediterranean-style crêpe loaded with aromatic flavors of sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach, olives, feta cheese and the likes.


And finally, the highlight of the meal: Dessert was simple, comforting but exceedingly satisfying. I took a amateur video documenting the works of our banana split crêpe à la mode covered with a blanket of golden caramel sauce and a thick glossy chocolate glaze.

After our drooling Brittany dessert, we wandered around the ski resort and stumbled upon an interesting maple syrup store that sold Maple Taffy On Snow. The owner basically pours strips of melted maple syrup on a barrel of ice and you simply roll it up into a taffy stick after 15 seconds of freezing.

Just when I was convinced that Durian Ice Kachang was the best thing you could use shaved ice for...

I guess there's always room for innovative frosty ideas when you are constantly living in 50 feet of snow.

Anyhow, moving on again, my awesome girlfriends surprised me with an early birthday treat during our final Mont Tremblant dinner together. How could I resist a huge slice of this gorgeously moist multi-layered chocolate confection? (Though amusingly, it did remind me of Bruce Bogtrotter's chocolate cake-eating scene in Roald Dahl's Matilda...)

But of course, I wasn't at all aiming to pull any sort of Bogtrotter chow-down scene any time soon. Mmm... just look at the rich and moist interior glistening in all its pleasurable chocolatey glory. A definitive sweet ending to our girly weekend getaway, I'd say.

...And as Julia Child would exclaim, "Bon Apétit!"