The food of Florence [Part 2]

It has been very warm in London lately, and the sun has brought back many fond memories of my recent trip to Florence. In an ideal world, I’d jump on a plane and fly out to Florence again (because it has truly won its place as one of my favourite holiday destinations)… but for now I’ll just have to be content with looking back at photos and reminiscing.

As I mentioned previously, the only part of the trip I planned (besides where we would stay, of course) was the food. I actually had a list of restaurants tucked in my handbag, which I constantly referred to in the time we were there. One of the places that was high up on that list was Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane. I read many good reviews about this cozy little Italian tavern, tucked away in a quiet street away from the bustling tourist spots. It took a while to find it, but boy am I glad we did. The food was simple, but oh so good. And to top it all off, they had the most beautiful outdoor dining area – if only we had similar places in London! I can’t think of how to describe the area, so I’ll let a photo do the talking.

Isn’t that just so beautiful? We dined at an odd time, so the restaurant was almost empty. From what I hear, it gets really busy during dinner service – and I can imagine why! We dined there twice, but both times were during lunch so we never got to see the outdoor dining area by night.

I was happily snapping photos of my surroundings whilst waiting for the food to arrive…

Carpaccio di bresaola con rucola, scaglie di grana e limone (very typical salami beef with salad and cheese).  So simple, yet so good. The beef carpaccio was seasoned to perfection, and complemented the bitter rocket leaves well. The cheese was just icing on the cake, because what dish doesn’t taste good with cheese? (Please note that I am an utter cheese fanatic though – when I was younger, I used to throw cubes of cheddar cheese into Chinese style soup because err.. well, I liked the meltiness of it. My mum thought I was completely bonkers by the way, so I won’t be surprised if you are appalled by this.)

Salsiccia di cinghiale con carciofi marinati e mozzarella di bufala (wildboar sausage with artichoke and buffalo mozzarella). I was on a slight artichoke-mad phase whilst in Florence, and would inevitably be attracted by any dish that had artichokes in it. Based on the deliciousness of the wildboar ragu at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, I decided to order this and I was very happy with my choice. I sometimes find it amazing how simple ingredients can taste so good, because this was what it was. The meatiness of the wildboar, woodiness of the artichoke, the freshness of the buffalo mozzarella and the sweetness of the tomato slices went really well together, and I truly enjoyed this dish.

Carpaccio di carciofi con scaglie di pecorino e limone (artichoke carpaccio with pecorino cheese and lemon). More artichokes, yes. I’m unstoppable when I’m on a food craze. Also, artichokes are rarely used as the star of the dish in London, and it was really nice to see it being featured so heavily in Florence. This was very good, and the artichoke carpaccio was perfectly seasoned. I suspect meat lovers may feel that the dish is lacking ‘meat’ though.

Orecchiette con salsiccia, cavolo nero e semi di finocchietto (pasta with pork sausage, black cabbage and fennel seeds). I absolutely LOVED this dish. I’d never even heard of black cabbage (also known as black kale/Tuscan kale) before eating this dish, and I’m so glad I now know that it exists. I felt that the addition of the fennel seeds elevated the pasta sauce to something really special. I was planning to order it again when we returned two days later…. but alas, they didn’t have it on the menu! (The menu had changed ever so slightly… it’s good though as it probably means the food they cook is dependent on the produce that is available on the day.)

Garganelli di pasta fresca con zucchine spek e zafferano (fresh pasta with smoked ham, zucchini and saffron). Now, we’ve all cooked a ham and zucchini/courgette pasta at some point. But I’Tozzo goes one step further and adds saffron. And my oh my it does it work well. This was a perfect example of how Italians manage to keep their pastas simple but so wonderfully delicious.

Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Again a wonderful example of how you don’t need many ingredients to create a stunning dish. I always find it hard to plate pasta/noodles, as mine inevitably ends up looking really un-artistic and ugly. I can only look at the wonderful pasta and noodle photos in Donna Hay magazine and hope that one day, I will learn how to plate noodles properly. Anyway, I digress. I meant to say that I loved how this was plated, and the sprinkling of chopped parsley added more colour and vibrancy to the dish. No paramesan with this dish: our waiter pleaded “please don’t use parmesan, pleeease” when he brought this to the table. Heh.

Filetto di maiale all’aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar pork fillet). I daresay this was R’s favourite dish in I’Tozzo, as he ordered it on both visits. It doesn’t look like much, but it definitely delivers on taste. The pork fillet was beautifully tender and each bite gives you a huge hit of balsamic vinegar. I enjoyed this, but not as much as R – but that’s because I have very sensitive teeth that don’t do very well with acidic foods like vinegar. Having said that I did eat a fair bit of this… as much as R would allow me to anyway!

Straccetti di manzo al vino rosso e finocchietto (beef in red wine with fennel seeds). This was good, but not as good as all the other dishes that we tried here. The beef chunks, whilst perfectly seasoned, were ever so slightly tough – which made me not as fond of it as I could potentially have been.

Panna cotta with a chocolate sauce. Now, compared to the panna cotta at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, this was much much creamier. I could literally feel the pounds piling on as I ate this. Not that it stopped me from finishing it, of course. My only gripe about this was that the chocolate sauce wasn’t thick enough.. perhaps an attempt to not make the dessert too cloying? If I could, I’d eat the panna cotta from I’Tozzo with the chocolate sauce from Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. If only.

So yes. This is just a glimpse of the wonderful dishes at this cozy and friendly osteria. I daresay we experienced the friendliest and most helpful service here – our waiter (whose name I forgot to ask for!) was the most cheerful waiter I have EVER come across, and was constantly humming/singing. It also helps that he recommended an excellent gelato shop to us, and even marked it on my map! (I shall blog about gelato in a future post.)

Delicious food and excellent service. Could a girl want any more?

Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane
Via Guelfa 94/r
50129 Firenze
http://www.osteriatozzodipane.it/en_home.html

The food of Florence [part 1]

My attitude towards food has changed in the last few years. I used to be the sort of person who would ‘wing’ it when it came to meals whilst on holiday. Then there’s the me of today, who researches the food before anything else when it comes to holidays… and you know what, I’ve eaten better since I started doing this. I mean, trawling through restaurant reviews and making a shortlist of restaurants has to have some sort of benefit, right? :D

We truly indulged in food (and gelato) whilst in Florence. Don’t ask me what it was, but we were eating twice the amount we normally do in London. I don’t regret a single bite of it though, and would go back and do it all again. (Except if I did I might no longer fit into my clothes….)

If you’re not familiar with Italian dining, the menu is often broken down into a few parts… First of all you have the antipasti (which translates into “before meal”), which is usually a selection of cold items like cured meats. Then you have the primi piatti (first course) which consists of dishes like pasta, polenta or soups; as well as the secondi piatti (second course) of meat or fish. Lastly there’s the dolce (desserts). From what I understand, not everyone has all 4 courses… because let’s face it, that is a whole lot of food to eat. When we were there, we ate 3 courses at the most.

Here’s a peek of the deliciousness that was Florence…

Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco

I’d read good things about this osteria, and immediately put it on my ‘to eat’ list after I visited their website. What can I say, I’m a complete sucker for well constructed websites with good photos. I wasn’t dissapointed though, so maybe this whole ‘judging a book by its cover’ thing works at times…

Photos (unfortunately) have a yellowish tinge to them due to the lighting… *sniff* Food was amazing though, so look past the yellow-ness! :)

Taglierini al tartufo (taglierini with fresh truffle) – this dish was simplicity at it’s best. Being someone who had never tried truffles before (I know, shocking) I instantly fell in love. The strong nutty flavours of the truffle complemented the perfectly cooked taglierini very well, and I only wish I could have regular access to this dish in London.

Pappardelle al cinghiale (wide ribbon noodles with boar sauce) – by far, one of the best ragus I’ve ever tasted. I suspect it’s because it used wild boar meat for the sauce, which gave it a very hearty and “meaty” taste. If only I had easy access to wild boar meat!

Coniglio arrosto con patate (roast rabbit with potatoes) – It’s always nice to see rabbit on the menu, and we decided to have this as one of our main courses. I don’t know about you, but I find that rabbit tastes very similar to chicken – but with a slightly game-ier aspect to it. If that makes any sense.

Maialino arrosto con contorno (roast baby pig with roast potatoes) – I’m a sucker for pork, especially when it’s cooked well. This dish was cooked perfectly, and the meat was deliciously tender. Accompanied with the roast potatoes and gravy, I was in heaven. :)

Panna cotta with chocolate sauce - Now I must be honest, I was completely stuffed by the time it came to contemplate dessert. But I had spied the neighbouring table order some dessert and willed my stomach to make some space for something sweet. Mind over matter and all, you know. ;) Boy was I glad I did. This panna cotta was perfect. Creamy, gooey, and with just the right amount of wobble. The chocolate sauce that came with it was rich and not overly sweet, and was a perfect pairing to the panna cotta. I could eat this everyday.

Tiramisu – this didn’t look like very much when it was brought to the table, but I must admit it did taste good. The sweet mascarpone cream, liqueur soaked sponge and coffee flavour… all done to perfection. I still preferred the panna cotta though, and I suspect it’s because I was enthralled by it’s wobbliness. :D

Il Santo Bevitore

We turned up (without a reservation) at this very popular restaurant around 8pm, and was told that there were only 2 tables left, but they were located near the kitchen. I like having a nice atmosphere when dining, but in this instance the need to try out this highly rated restaurant overrode the need for not seeing waiters rushing in and out of the kitchen. And you know what, I barely noticed them. One thing I really did not like about this place was how DARK it was! Sure, it was romantic and all but it was a nightmare for any food blogger. All I had for lighting was literally the candle on the table (oh and some really dim lights on the ceiling)… I wanted to weep. I still managed to take photos though, but please forgive the poor quality!

Also, I forgot to note down the exact names of the dishes so I’ll be describing them based on what I remembered of the waiter’s explanations…

Spaghettini with clams, fresh spring onions and botargo fish roe. I expected the usual spherical fish roe, and was very surprised when this dish came to the table – my first thought was “where is my fish roe?”. Then I realised that the shaved orange pieces on sitting upon the mound of pasta were the roe.. and you know what, they tasted really good. A bit like a very fishy version of proscuitto. I’ve since done a spot of googling and found out that botargo is a Mediterranean delicacy of cured fish roe, usually served grated or in thin slices. The fresh spring onions were an interesting addition, and gave a ‘fresh’ taste that cut through the fishiness of the roe and the clams. I really enjoyed this dish.

Pasta with a duck ragu, topped with a deep fried sage leaf. I love duck (roast duck rice is truly one of my comfort foods), but have never ever had it with pasta. This dish was a revelation – I mean, duck in pasta? Genius. I might just have to attempt recreating this at home.

Artichoke souffle topped with fried artichokes, served with a lemon sauce. Now, I really wanted to try this because I looove souffles. I was expecting some really nice puffy souffle, and was really disappointed when this was served. It tasted more like a mousse than a souffle. I have to admit that I enjoyed the flavour of artichokes in this, but I wish I had forgone this dish to make space for dessert – what was I thinking? Sniff.

Grilled octopus served with romano chicory and citrus glaze. I can safely say all my previous experiences of eating octopus has not involved eating a beast as big as this. It was beautifully cooked with no hint of rubbery (I hate it when that happens)… glorious. Admittedly I wasn’t a fan of the chicory, but that’s because I don’t like anything that’s bitter. Errr so I just ate the octopus. R had to eat most of the chicory. :P

Cod fillet with caramelised aubergines and juniper berries. This dish was SO pretty. As I have mentioned, I’m a complete sucker for anything that is plated beautifully, and this dish was one of those. The cod was perfectly cooked, and I especially enjoyed the crust – not sure what it was… possibly some semolina? No idea. The caramelised aubergines were divine, with just the right amount of charring on them. All that paired with the mild sweetness of the juniper berries made for a very good dish.

Trattoria Sant’Agostino 23

This was located slightly off the main areas of Florence, in a ‘not so touristy’ area. We turned up quite early (it was just after seven I believe) and were told they only opened at eight! So it was off for another wander around the streets of Florence until 8 o’clock came about. The menu was in Italian (no English menus here) so we had to ask our waiter for help when it came to ordering. The food here was lovely but something was lacking… maybe it was the fact that the restaurant was really empty (it was a Wednesday night), or the fact that they forgot to bring the white beans that we ordered to go with our steak. But as I said, the food was good so it didn’t matter as much.

Spaghettone in salsa d’acciuga (spaghetti with an anchovy sauce). The menu stated that this would take 18 minutes to prepare, but we weren’t too fussed as we weren’t in a rush. I’m also a huge fan of anchovies and wasn’t going to pass up a chance to try this. And I’m so glad I did. I don’t know how they did it, but the pasta was miraculously not salty at all. I’m still trying to figure it out, because I would love to recreate this in my own kitchen.

Mille righe al sugo di carne (penne with a ragu sauce). This was good, but not as good as the wild boar ragu we had at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. I know it’s not really fair to compare wildboar and beef, but oh man, wildboar ragu is awesome.

Bifstecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak). One word – yum. We eat our steaks medium rare, and they cooked it perfectly. Not too underdone, and not too overdone. The meat was also beautifully tender, not something I can always say about steaks. Now, I won’t lie – I have almost no knowledge of steaks (apart from how to eat them), so I decided to do a spot of googling. It’s actually rather scary how I rely so heavily on google… Anyway. Florentine steak is essentially a T-bone or porterhouse steak (taken from the loins), usually from Chianina or Maremmana breeds. It’s usually cooked rare or medium rare over a grill/charcoal fire, and served with a side of white beans. We ordered some beans to go with the steak, but it never came. You might ask why we didn’t ask for it, but the waiters were no where in sight for the first 5 minutes, and I’m not someone who can refrain from eating food that’s sitting right in front of me. It didn’t take anything away from the gloriousness of the steak though.

So yes, that’s some of the food we ate in Florence. Just so you know, I’ll be blogging about other things in between the Florence posts, as to not bore you all. :)

Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco
Borgo San Jacopo, 62r
50125 Firenze, Italia
+39 055 215706
http://www.cinghialebianco.it/ (for some reason their site seems to be down at the moment…)
Closed Wednesdays

Il Santo Bevitore
Via di Santo Spirito 64 r
50125 Firenze
+39 055 211264
http://www.ilsantobevitore.com/home.htm

And lastly (forgot to take a photo of this one):

Sant’Agostino23
Via Sant’Agostino 23r
50125 Firenze
+39 055 210208

A very belated Easter post

I love Easter for many reasons. Not only does it give me an excuse to overdose on hot cross buns and easter eggs, but it also tells me that spring (and the sun) is just around the corner. I had great plans for this Easter weekend, which included making mini chocolate easter eggs, jellies in eggshells (which my aunt used to make and I found so cool) and hot cross buns. Alas, my plans were not to be as I was rather unfortunately working over Easter – which I was highly upset about, naturally!

I did, however, manage to find some time to bake some hot cross buns. A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of baking hot cross buns, especially when there are such amazing ones available at Marks & Spencer (especially the luxury ones, oh my) and Waitrose. Of course, this was when I thought baking bread was too difficult and required too much work. But as I become more obsessed with food *cough* I do feel the need to recreate the food I like in my own kitchen.

I used this recipe from Wild Yeast for these hot cross buns. What I liked about this recipe was that it uses a mix of plain and wholemeal/wholewheat flour, which adds that “healthier” edge to the buns. Do be forewarned though – I commonly throw in one healthy ingredient into my meals and declare it good for myself, even when it’s so blatantly not the case. Another thing I found interesting was how it used a sponge dough method – I previously made some buns (Rotiboy buns for you Malaysians out there who know what these are) with this method, and they turned out to be the softest, fluffiest buns I had ever made.

And these buns didn’t disappoint. They were best eaten warm, fresh out of the oven, and were really soft and light. I cut down on the amount on sugar used, and also only used raisins (as I didn’t have anything else to hand) so these were not as sweet as the hot cross buns you normally get in stores. I did feel that my hot cross buns lacked some dried fruit though – the next time I make them, I will use a mixture of sultanas, raisins and currants. And I will use a LOT of it! (p.s. I don’t use orange peel as I’m not a huge fan of orange in bread)

I must admit to having a mini-disaster when trying to pipe the crosses onto the buns. I didn’t have a suitable tip for piping them, which I rather helpfully discovered only after I was left with ridiculously thick crosses onto the buns. This was unacceptable to the OCD in me, so I scraped that off and started pacing the kitchen (whilst eating some chocolate to stimulate my brain) for an alternative way to pipe these crosses. I considered using a spoon to drizzle it on, but that would result in uneven crosses. And finally I had another idea – to use my squeeze ketchup bottle. And it worked perfectly (thankfully!). Anyway, the moral of the story is: always ensure you have everything you need before trying to cook or bake anything.

And because there were quite a few leftover hot cross buns, R suggested that I try making a hot cross bun bread and butter pudding. I believe it was something he saw Jamie Oliver make on the food channel (the food channel is the source of a lot of inspiration I must admit). As always, we decided on this on a whim, which also meant we didn’t have a lot of ingredients to hand. So, I guiltily admit to using a “sort of” custard for the base of this pudding – made from milk, vanilla bean paste and… custard powder. I know, I know. Terrible. Rest assured that it tastes nothing like the real thing, but it still made for a pretty good pudding. I think it would have tasted amazingly good if I had used proper custard though…

Let me also mention to these amazing hot cross buns that popped up on the blogosphere this Easter. How good do those look? Man.

Hot cross buns
Slightly tweaked from this recipe from Wild Yeast

For the sponge dough:

  • 40g bread flour
  • 190g warm milk
  • 10g caster sugar
  • 8g instant yeast

For the final dough:

  • 170g bread flour
  • 170g wholemeal bread flour
  • 60g butter, softened
  • 55g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3g salt
  • 1 tbsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 120g raisins

For the piping paste:

  • 80g plain flour
  • 10g oil
  • 45g water

For the glaze:

  • 3 tbsp hot water
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar

1. For the sponge, combine milk and yeast in a medium bowl. Whisk in flour and sugar. The mixture will be very liquid. Cover and let rest until it is about 3 times its original volume, 30–40 minutes. (I left it for a good 2 hours as I decided to err… nap.)
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle, mix final dough flour, whole wheat flour, and softened butter until the butter is evenly distributed through the flour.
3. Add egg, sugar, spices, and salt. Continue to mix until combined. The mixture will be quite dry at this point.
4. Replace the mixer paddle with the dough hook. Add the sponge and start mixing in low speed. Add water as needed to make a very soft dough and mix until well combined, about 3 minutes. It is almost more like a cookie dough at this point, and will not come together yet.
5. Mix in medium speed, occasionally scraping the dough down the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix until the dough starts to leave the sides and come together around the dough hook. This may take about 8 minutes, but will varies depending on the mixer.
6. Add the currants and orange and lemon peels. Mix in low speed just until they are evenly distributed through the dough.
7. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, covered container. Ferment in a warm place for 1 hour.
8. Turn the dough onto an unfloured counter and divide it into 12 pieces (about 70g each).
9. Lightly punch each piece of dough and tuck the edges under to form a loose ball. To tighten the ball, place it on the counter with your cupped hand loosely around it, and move your hand in a tight circle several times.
10. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press them lightly with your palm to flatten them a bit.
12. Cover and proof in a warm place for about an hour.
13. While the buns proof, make the glaze. Combine the sugar, hot water and honey. Mix well.
14. Now make the piping paste. Sift the flour and combine it with the vegetable oil. Slowly add water, stirring well after each addition, until the mixture reaches the consistency of very thick glue. Don’t make it so thin that it runs, but if it is too thick it will be difficult to pipe.
15. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
16. When the buns are finished proofing, pipe the crosses onto them using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch round tip. (Or in my case, by using a squeeze ketchup bottle)
17. Bake the buns until the tops of the buns brown (this took about 10 minutes in my oven). To check that the buns are cooked, tap the bottom of the buns – they should sound hollow.
18. Brush a light coating of glaze on the hot buns, and serve.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not use a proper recipe for the hot cross bun bread and butter pudding. I made some (instant) custard, added some vanilla bean paste, soaked the (buttered) buns in this mixture, and baked for about 20 mins at 180°C. For a better, more coherent recipe, do check out this recipe from Jamie Oliver, which I will be using in the future.

Counting down to the year of the tiger!

First of all, I need to apologise for not blogging for such a long time – I think it’s been 2 weeks now, yikes! Posted the previous post the day I started my week of night calls, and then it was a mad flurry of shopping for gifts to bring home to Malaysia, then the ‘post coming home’ period of pure sloth… But yes. I have neglected my blog for a while, but I will be good over the next few weeks and bring you some hopefully interesting (and festive) posts about Chinese New Year! :) Am very excited about this year as I haven’t celebrated Chinese New Year at home since I first left for UK 7 years ago.

As most of you probably already know, Chinese New Year is centered around two things – family/friends and food. And when I say food, I truly mean food. You may have already come across the various types of cookies found during this season in the blogosphere (e.g. the ever favourite pineapple tarts, groundnut cookies, kuih bangkit). And believe me when I say that this barely scratches the surface of the variety of cookies you can find during Chinese New Year (a future post).

I decided to make these angku kuih when I was still in London as I had a major craving for them. Angku kuih is a traditional Chinese pastry that has always held a special place in my heart. It has a sticky outer skin, which gives way to a yummy green bean or peanut filling when bitten into. The name “angku kuih” translates into “red tortoise cakes” – traditionally, these kuih are made with a special mold, which gives them a beautiful “tortoise shell” pattern and shape (see here for photos of what this looks like). I didn’t have a mold to hand, which is why my angku kuihs are less pretty to look at!

But as I was saying, this pastry is shaped like the shell of a tortoise as the Chinese believed that eating a pastry in the shape of these creatures with such long lives would subsequently lead to longevity. These kuih (pastries) usually make an appearance during special occasions such as religious events (where they are used as an offering to the various gods), birthdays and first month anniversaries of births of babies. You can get them all year round though, as they are a popular snack. And just to mention something rather interesting – for first month anniversaries, angku kuihs for 1 month old boys are oval in shape, whereas the ones for the girls are round. (Having said that, I have friends who said they didn’t know about this, perhaps it’s a Hokkien thing?)


Angku kuih
Tweaked from this recipe on My Kitchen, who adapted it from kuali.com

For the skin:

  • 250 grams glutinous rice flour (this is easily available in the London Chinatown)
  • 120 mls hot water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 130 grams of sweet potatoes – steamed and mashed (I used 2 medium sized sweet potatoes)
  • few drops of food colouring (optional) – red and orange are the traditional colours, but feel free to use green or even purple

For the filling:

  • 200 grams green mung beans*
  • 2 tbsp of oil (I used canola oil)
  • 150 grams sugar (I used caster sugar)

You will also need:

  • Banana leaves (cut into rounds/squares to fit each kuih, and lightly greased with oil)

1. Prepare the filling first. Place the mung beans, sugar and oil into a blender and whizz it into a fine paste. Leave to cool, then divide into small round balls (~2cm in diameter).
2. Next, mix all the ingredients for the skin in a large bowl until it forms a soft dough. You don’t need a mixer for this, using your hands works best. If you find that the dough is too dry and it crumbles, add more water (a little at a time) until it no longer crumbles.
3. Divide the skin dough into little rounds of ~3cm in diameter. (I played it by ear when it came to this, so please forgive the rather vague instructions here).
4. Flatten a ball of dough, place the ball of filling in it, and wrap it up (it should form a ball). Place this onto a greased banana leaf. Repeat until all the filling and dough balls are used up.
5. Steam the kuih for 8 minutes. I used a bamboo steamer to do this.
6. Remove the kuih from the steamer, and brush with some oil immediately. This helps to prevent the kuih from sticking to one another (and trust me, it is VERY sticky!). Of course, you do run the risk of getting overexcited brushing too much oil onto the kuihs (as I did) – so remember to be less heavy handed than me when doing this…

*Soak the beans overnight, then steam and mash them. It’s best to get skinned mung beans as it gives you a nicer pale yellow coloured filling. I used mung beans with skins still on, which gave me a “dirtier” looking filling – it doesn’t change the taste in any way though!

Here’s wishing you all Gong Xi Fa Cai – may the year of the tiger bring happiness, health and good food to us all! :)

Having fun with turkey leftovers

I have a confession. I cook turkey for Christmas so I can have tons of turkey leftovers. You see, I think there’s just something so enjoyable about coming up with new dishes from something old. :)

As most of my friends have either left London or were not here over Christmas, it was just R and I trying to eat a 5kg turkey. (I did try to look for a smaller turkey, but that was the smallest one they had in store!) But I wasn’t complaining, as it meant I would have lots and lots of leftovers to play around with!

One of the dishes I made was a turkey leftovers pizza. This was inspired by a pizza feature in one of the issues of Donna Hay magazine… as you can see, I am easily swayed by good looking food. Although I’d never tried anything like this before, I decided to just go for it as I figured it would be hard to go wrong when it came to pizzas.

I made the pizza bases with wholemeal flour as I had run out of plain bread flour, and I must say I could hardly tell that it was wholemeal. In fact, I might start using a mix of plain/wholemeal flour for pizzas in the future. For the fillings, I used all the leftovers from the dinner (except the gravy) – turkey, brussel sprouts, stuffing, potatoes and even the cranberry sauce!

And despite the fact that this was a very ‘thrown together’ (or as we Malaysian’s would say – “rojak” style) dish, both of us really enjoyed it! Though to be fair, it’s hard to not like pizzas. :P I do wish that I had rolled out the dough to make thinner pizzas though. I should also seriously consider getting a pizza stone…

I also made some Asian inspired turkey ‘salad’ , which I also made last year. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe, which I originally thought was no longer available online. (I have since found the recipe here). As I didn’t have a recipe at the time, I decided to just work from memory. What I like most about this is that the turkey becomes really nice and crispy – slightly reminiscent of crispy duck. When eaten with the crunchy cashews and sweet cranberries… yum. We had the salad with a hoisin based sauce, smeared on a homemade tortilla.

The last thing I made with the turkey leftovers was a turkey and leek fusilli. This was a very simple dish, tossed together in a matter of minutes. Rather terribly, I had leftovers from this dish itself, so baked it with a mozzarella topping the following day – and I have to say it tasted better baked. Or maybe it was all that cheese….

I really enjoyed our turkey leftovers this year, and am already counting down to the next time I get to do this all over again. So if you ever are faced with tons of leftovers, just remember that there is always a good way to use them! :)

Turkey leftovers pizza

For the pizza dough:
Recipe from Donna Hay magazine, issue 47

  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour (I used wholemeal bread flour)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Place the sugar and water in a bowl, and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle the yeast over the sugared water, and leave for 10 minutes until bubbles appear on its surface.
2. Place the flour, sea salt, and olive oil in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer, and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast mixture, and mix using the dough hook on slow speed until a dough is formed (this normally takes me 7-10 minutes). The dough should be soft and elastic.
3. Divide the dough into (roughly) equal sized balls – you can make either large or small pizzas, depending on what you prefer. Cover with a teacloth or clingfilm, and leave to rise for 30 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
4. Press each dough ball into a round, and roll out to the desired size. The pizza dough is now ready to use.

For the toppings:
I don’t have a proper recipe for this, but I used the following ingredients, and just randomly threw them onto the pizza bases. ;) Quantities don’t really matter as it really depends on how much of each you have available.

  • torn pieces of leftover turkey
  • sliced leftover brussel sprouts
  • sliced leftover potatoes
  • 2cm cubes of leftover stuffing
  • mozzarella, torn
  • cranberry sauce

Turkey and leek fusilli

  • 500g fusilli
  • 2 cups cooked turkey, shredded
  • 3 leeks, cleaned and chopped into ~2cm pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 can chicken/mushroom soup (I used Campbell’s chicken soup)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook the fusilli in a pot of salted boiling water, for about 7-10 minutes, or until it is cooked al dente. Drain the fusilli and set aside.
2. Heat some olive oil in a pan over high heat. Fry the garlic for 1 minute or so until it becomes fragrant.
3. Add the chopped leeks, and cook for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the shredded turkey, followed by the can of soup. Turn down the heat, and leave to simmer for 1 minute.
5. Toss the fusilli with the sauce, and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you wish, grate some parmesan to serve.

*Alternatively, cook the pasta as above, top with torn mozzarella and put in the oven until the cheese melts to become a yummy gooey mess.

Asian inspired turkey ‘salad’
Inspired by this recipe from Jamie Oliver

For the turkey ‘salad':

  • 2 cups brown turkey meat
  • 1 cup  cashew nuts
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons ground five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey

For the sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons plum sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • pinch of brown sugar

1. Put a pan on medium high heat, and shred the turkey meat into the pan using your fingers.
2. Add the cashews, dried cranberries and five spice powder. Stir till all the ingredients are well mixed, and let it toast whilst you make the sauce.
3. To make the sauce, just mix all the ingredients in a bowl until they’re well combined.
4. Smear some sauce on a tortilla, top with the turkey ‘salad’, wrap – and serve!

Note: I also served my tortillas with (leftover) potatoes and stuffing.


If you’re interested in making your own tortillas:
Homemade tortillas
Adapted from this recipe from Cooking Mexican Recipes

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons corn oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer. Add the water and oil to the flour mixture, and mix with the dough hook attachment until a dough is formed. (This took about 7 minutes for me.) If your dough is too sticky, add more flour 1 teaspoon at a time until you reach the right consistency.
2. Divide the dough into equal sizes (mine were probably 30-40g each), and leave to rise for a few minutes.
3. In the meantime, heat a pan (nonstick or cast iron) over high heat.
4. Flatten the dough rounds (on a lightly floured surface), and roll them out into rounds roughly 4-5 inches in diameter.
5. Place the rolled out tortilla in the heated pan and cook for 30 seconds until brown spots appear on its surface. Flip over, and cook for another 30 seconds on the other side. Be careful to not overcook the tortilla as it becomes very hard and crunchy if you do so – I made this mistake with my first tortilla, but I can’t say I was complaining as I thought it tasted like a healthier version of Doritos! :P

Of turkey, cranberries, and the end of 2009.

I still remember the first time I had a proper Christmas dinner with roast turkey – it was in my third year of university, where my flatmates and I decided to take the plunge and cook a turkey for the first time ever. And it turned out pretty well! I have fond memories of that dinner, mostly because I spent a fair bit of time decorating the table, and was really pleased when it turned out nicely!

My first ever Christmas dinner!

Since then, I’ve tried to cook a Christmas dinner every year. It’s lots of fun, and it creates a lot of leftovers – which I love.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of the food channel, and I watch as many Christmas specials as I possibly can. :P My favourites are Nigella (because she’s Nigella), and Jamie Oliver. Rather dissapointingly, Nigella didn’t have a Christmas special this year, but thank goodness for reruns!

I normally cook the turkey in the traditional way – butter on the turkey skin, with some herbs stuffed in the cavity. However, Jamie had this interesting method of cooking his turkey, what he called the “self basting turkey” method. This simply meant he stuffed butter under the turkey skin, which helps to crisp the skin as well as keep the breast meat nice and juicy. What was even better was the fact that he used flavoured butter – which I thought looked amazing.

The bad thing about stuffing butter underneath the turkey skin is that the areas with the flavoured butter looked darker (and “dirtier”), due to the herbs in the butter. It still tasted delicious though, and the skin was amazingly crispy – the crispiest skin I’ve had on a turkey to date.

And of course, what turkey is complete without some stuffing? I like cooking the stuffing separate from the turkey, and usually cook them in individual “meatball” sized pieces. This year, I decided to do something different, and cooked it in a loaf pan – which made it look a bit like meatloaf! There are cranberries and walnuts in addition to the sausagemeat, which I enjoyed as they provided a nice contrast of textures.

The turkey “meatloaf” stuffing

There were also dishes served on the side…

Roasted potatoes with a twist – inspired by this recipe by Martha Stewart. There was just the right amount of lemony-ness in the potatoes, which I absolutely loved. I also liked that I got to use olive oil instead of something more sinful like goose fat. All I can say is, if you’re a fan of lemons, you’ll love the taste of these potatoes!

Brussel sprouts, with pancetta and chestnuts. This dish was inspired by the one and only Nigella – she cooked this on her show, and I thought it sounded really interesting. It turned out well, and I really enjoyed the various textures in the dish: the crunchy brussel sprouts, salty pancetta and sweet chestnuts. Can’t say I’m a fan of brussel sprouts though – I’ll eat it but I wouldn’t order it in a restaurant, let’s just say.

Cranberry sauce, a necessity for a Christmas meal (to me anyway!). This was cooked with orange peel and and a touch of cinnamon, which gave it a very nice “festive” feel. I didn’t like how bitter the cranberry seeds were, so decided to run the sauce to a sieve – and the sauce became much sweeter. :)

In all, I must say that I really enjoyed my Christmas dinner – and I still have some leftovers in the fridge, which is brilliant. I’m one of those people who enjoys turkey leftovers more than the actual meal itself, as it gives me the chance to create new dishes!

On another note, I can’t believe it’s already New Year’s Eve. Time has really flown by, and I can hardly believe how much has happened in the last year. I won’t go into it all as it would be a really long post, but all I can say is that I’ve enjoyed 2009 immensely.

So, here’s wishing all of you a very Happy New Year. May 2010 bring joy, good health and good food to you all! xxx

Roast turkey
Inspired by this Jamie Oliver recipe

  • 5 kg turkey
  • 2 clementines
  • 2-3 sprigs rosemary
  • 200g butter
  • 2-3 sprigs rosemary (chopped finely)
  • 2-3 sprigs lemon thyme (chopped finely)
  • 2-3 bay leaves (chopped finely)
  • rind of one clementine

1. Make the flavoured butter: Mix softened butter with the grated clementine rind, chopped rosemary, chopped lemon thyme and chopped bay leaves. You may add dried cranberries to the butter, but I left this out as my stuffing already contained this.
2. Preheat your oven to as hot as it can go (for me, this was 220ºC).
3. Get your turkey, and use a spoon to work your way between the skin and the breast meat. Take care when doing this as you do not want to break the skin. Stuff the butter into the cavity you have just created. Rub any remaining butter all over the turkey.
4. Halve 2 clementines and pop them into the cavity with a few sprigs of rosemary. Jamie says that this is so the fruit will steam and flavour the turkey.
5. Put your turkey into the preheated oven, and immediately turn the oven down to 180ºC.
6. As a rough guide, each kg of turkey will need 35-40 minutes to cook. That said, each turkey and each oven is different, so just check on your turkey every 30 minutes and keep it from drying out by basting it with the juices from the bottom of the pan.
7. When the skin gets golden and crispy, the turkey should be done. To check on this, gently pull the drumstick outwards – if the juices run clear, the turkey is done. Alternatively, it is done when a meat thermometer (inserted in the thickest part of the breast) reads 65ºC.
8. Move the turkey to a platter then cover it with a double layer of foil to keep it warm while it rests for at least 30 minutes.

Cranberry and walnut sausagemeat “meatloaf” stuffing
Inspired by this recipe

  • 400g dried cranberries
  • 150g walnuts, chopped
  • 1kg sausagemeat
  • 4 shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 bunch sage, finely chopped
  • 3 slices of proscuitto

1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
2. Mix all the ingredients (except the proscuitto) together, using either a spatula or your hands. Make sure all the ingredients are mixed up evenly.
3. Put the sausagemeat mixture into a loaf pan. Top with proscuitto slices.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, until cooked through.

Cranberry sauce

  • 500g fresh cranberries
  • 400g sugar
  • rind of 2 clementines (I simply peeled the rind off, there is no need to grate it)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • splash of red wine (ideally I would use port, but I only had red wine to hand)

1. Heat all the ingredients (except the red wine) in a pan over medium high heat. Once it reaches a boil, add the wine.
2. Turn down the heat, and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
3. If you like, you can sieve the mixture to get a silky smooth cranberry sauce.

Brussel sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts
See this recipe by Nigella – I followed it pretty closely (by my standards anyway!). Only changes I made were using red wine in place of marsala, and omitting the parsley.

Roast lemon potatoes
See this recipe from Martha – Only change I made was to use fresh herbs (which I used for the turkey) instead of dried.

* I’ve only posted the links for the last two recipes as there would be too many words in this post otherwise! ;)

Happy Holidays!

Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year. There’s just something about the decorations, the food, and the classic movies on the telly that make it all seem very… fun. :)

I decided that I would make gifts for my friends this year, and started planning about a month in advance. Now, when you are as undecided as me, this is not always a good idea. I kept on finding such great ideas that I grew quite concerned at the number of recipes I began to accumulate. Nevertheless, I finally managed to make up my mind, and made some oreo truffle pops and Mowie’s spekulatius biscuits. I originally planned to make a few other types of biscuits, but didn’t have the time to do so.

I had never made (or even tasted!) spekulatius before, but Mowie’s description of the biscuits and the amazing photos he took was enough to convince me to give it a go. And I certainly wasn’t dissapointed! The best way I can think of to describe these little beauties are that they taste like crunchy shortbread, with a nice festive aftertaste from the spices. The taste develops with time, and were amazing 2 days after they were initially made.

I also made oreo truffles, which are one of my favourite things to make. I must say I favour this way of making truffles to the more traditional way of using chocolate ganache, as this feels less fiddly. Relatively anyway. Why do I say relatively? Well… because I decided that I would try making Bakerella’s reindeer pops – which I immediately bookmarked the moment I saw them. I mean, how cute are they? They took quite a lot of work though – especially those reindeer horns! They almost drove me insane. Which is why I stopped at 12… (plus I had run out of red/orange smarties…).

Having said that, I felt that all the effort put in was definitely worth it. And I must admit that I had lots of fun packing them up to be given away! :P I’m strange like that, I find such things therapeutic.

German spekulatius
Slightly adapted from Mowie’s family recipe
(Makes 60-65 cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutter)

  • 500g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 170g sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • Seeds of 2 vanilla pods, or 1 tsp vanilla essence (I used 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
  • 2 drops almond essence
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g cold butter, cubed
  • 100g ground almonds (you can also use hazelnuts)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice

1. Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add all the other ingredients.

2. Use your hands to mix the ingredients properly until a ball of dough forms. Alternatively, do what I did and let your stand mixer do the hard work for you. I used the K beater at medium speed, which worked very well.

3. Place the dough in the fridge for about 15 minutes, as the dough needs to be cold before you start cutting out shapes.

4. Preheat your oven to 180˚C in the meantime.

5. Roll the dough out thinly (roughly 5mm thick), and cut the dough using your desired cookie cutters.

6. Place cookies on trays lined with greaseproof paper, and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes (until golden brown).

7. Allow the cookies to cool before peeling them off the paper. Store biscuits in a biscuit tin, and slowly enjoy your little bites of goodness!

*You can decorate these by placing flaked almonds on each cookie, I brushed the spekulatius with melted butter to help them stick. (I didn’t use an eggwash as I didn’t want the cookies to be shiny).

Oreo truffle pops
Makes 10-12, depending on the size of your truffles

  • 1 tray of Oreo cookies*
  • 1 tray of cream cheese (I used extra light cream cheese)
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • lolly sticks
  • 100g white chocolate (for decorating)
  • coloured sugar/crushed Oreos/sugar sprinkles (for decorating)

1. Crush the Oreo cookies until it reaches powder like consistency. I use my mini food processor to do this as I find it does a much better job than me!

2. Mix the crushed Oreos with the cream cheese. You can do this using a wooden spoon in a bowl, or with a stand/handheld mixer.

3. Form the mixture into balls, and place them on a tray lined with either foil or greaseproof paper. Put a lolly stick into each truffle ball, and flash freeze for 10-15 minutes.

4. Whilst the truffle balls are in the freezer, melt some dark chocolate in a double boiler.

5. Dip each truffle ball into the melted chocolate, and leave to dry. I leave mine for at least 30 minutes, just to be safe.

6. Decorate as you wish – I used white chocolate, crushed Oreos, and coloured sugar. And not forgetting the reindeers, instructions for which can be found here.

* You can also use Tim Tams, which I actually prefer, but they are just much harder (and more expensive) to find in London!