Saturday, December 27, 2008

Donna Hay's Apple Pie

Every single time I pick up a Donna Hay magazine or a Donna Hay recipe book, I end up with a very strong urge to bake or cook everything that's featured in it. Most of the time, I actually do end up baking something. There's a certain magic that her books have. Everything from the way the recipes are written, to the clear concise instructions to the plain and simple yet so delectable photos. Everything about her books just make you want to pick up the spatula and start churning out baked goodies.

When it comes to Donna Hay, I have no complaints. I only have praise. Today is another of those days where I say more good things about Donna Hay. I haven't baked much this year so I was clearly suffering from a serious baking deficit disorder. So much so that the moment I started baking two apple tarts for the two Christmas parties that I attended, I must have let my guard down and got bitten. Yes, by the baking bug. It's a very good thing I insist. My friends will agree and I'm sure my family won't protest.

The joys of baking, the immense pleasure derived when your prepared baked good goes into the oven to complete its life cycle. Then there's the nose twitching knee jerk reaction whenever the prized baked good lets out the most irresistable aroma. Till this day, I still literally jump and run to the oven the moment my nose picks up on the toasty, buttery, lip smacking smell that charges through the old rusty Moulinex. I get high on these buttery smells.

Flipping through a Donna Hay recipe book gives me that same high. I can picture myself with the finished baked good and looking very happy. I imagine Donna Hay giving me an approving nod and a thumbs up sign. I am also very optimistic because I think every thing I bake using her recipe will end up looking as beautiful as the ones pictured in her book. I'm an easy sell I think. But it's okay.

Yesterday I couldn't help but flip through my Donna Hay Modern Classics Book 2. This one has to die for cookies, biscuits, slices, small cakes, cakes, desserts, hot puddings, pies and tarts. The first page got me so excited and by the time I reached the end of the book, I was hyped up and on a high. I wanted to bake something. I wanted something that would make me very happy.

And there it was on page 157, and it spoke to me:

An apple pie it was. I must say it was the photo in the book that had me sold. It looked just like the ones Enid Blyton always had by the window sill, in all her story books. Enid Blyton was my literary crack when I was a child and I have not forgotten. I had never made a pie as well. The only thing close was the apple tart. But tarts are different from pies.

So after getting my groceries, I started prepping. I made the sweet shortcrust pastry, refrigerated it for 30 minutes. I cooked the granny smiths and let it cool. When it was time to lay out the pastry, I went round looking for a pie tin. Then I realised I only had a tart tin. Pie tins and tart tins are different things. But time was running out and I had no time to get a pie tin so I made do with my tart tin.

Laying down the pastry case ove the apples was a challenge. I had to be careful not to tear it. This recipe also called for some egg wash and sugar (to sprinkle over the pastry).

Here's the pie out of the oven:

I couldn't help but help myself to the first slice. It was really good. The apples were slightly tart but it was good with the pastry.

Now all that's missing is a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Christmas in Wonderland

photos courtesy of ashley choo (a.k.a. tweedledum!)

Christmas in Singapore this year was different from the one last year, yes the one spent in the thick of Taiwan's scenic mountains.

My Christmas this year was far from quiet and far from boring. I have my dear friends to thank. My dear fun enthusiastic friends from my Ngee Ann Mass Comm poly days. Dull moments are non-existent when you're in their company. I couldn't attend the one last year because I was in Taiwan but this year, this year I could and I did and it turned out to be the best christmas ever.

The theme for the party was 'Down the Rabbit Hole'. You obviously know what that means. It's Wonderland with all the quirky characters and of course Alice. We had in total one Alice, two white rabbits, two queen of hearts, one king of hearts, one cheshire cat and the twins tweedledee and tweedledum. Can you guess which character I was? You only have to check out the photo to figure out :) To Ashley, Ghimz, Ronald, Valerie, Geetha, Sheryl, Ivy, Adeline -you're the coolest. Thanks for making my Christmas fun and memorable!

The party was at Ivy's place except that she wasn't due to come back home at 11pm. So we went to her place first and laid out all the food and took more photos and finished the rest of our outfits. Later on, we decided to go to Changi Airport to fetch Ivy. Yes, in our Alice in Wonderland gear. That's what we did.

Check out the Queen of Hearts with The White Rabbit. They're waiting for Ivy to come out of the arrival hall. She was surprised to see us, but she was clearly more shocked at our awesome dress sense. I think she called us morons :)

Here's us at the travellator:

When we went back to Wonderland, we ate somemore. The food was delicious. Ashley bought gourmet sausages and salami! Green olives stuffed with Feta too. Ghimz bought shepherd's pie. Adeline bought fries and Ronald brought carrot and celery sticks with dips. Valerie baked cookies!

And I brought my apple tart:

It was a fun filled night. I will definitely want to spend next Christmas with them.

Here's to us and may the coming year bring more joy, fulfilment and satisfaction!
To all my dear readers, Merry Christmas to you! I hope you had a fantastic Christmas.

*Photos by Ashley Choo

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cycle safe

My Gazelle at the jetty

The post that was to accompany this picture of my bicycle was supposed to be about my recent cycling trip to the beach, of Dad's to-die-for beef stew and how I had it for lunch by the jetty, complete with fluffy bread rolls.

However, because of certain events that happened yesterday, I shall endeavour to put across an all important cautionary message, one that has to do with me, my bicycle and cycling in general. It is not a light-hearted message. Though what happened wasn't that serious, it was rather frightening experience.

Let me start from the beginning, at 10am in the morning. I had a Christmas party to go to in the evening. It was a pot luck and I intended to bake a tart. As usual, I decided to take my bicycle to the supermarket to get the ingredients.

I was cycling at a slow and steady speed on the walkway. Everything was fine until I came across a zebra crossing. After checking out for incoming cars, and waiting till they had stopped, I started to cycle onto the crossing. The crossing was to my right, so I had to swerve a little. There were some road works going on so the pavement was uneven, with plenty of loosened gravel. As I swerved, the bicycle just slid and I was thrown to the ground. Okay here's where I announce that I was stupidly unprotected - no helmet, nothing. So I hit the ground, landed on my knee, my left hand and my forehead.

Since I was in the middle of the road, I knew better than to just lie there. I got up quickly, picked up my bicycle and moved toward the traffic junction. I was relieved and thought that it was just a silly little accident no different from the ones I always get myself into. I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green before crossing. Then it happened - the scary blackouts.

At first, I felt my head spinning, then I became giddy and everything started to darken. I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. It was like I was being sucked into a black hole. I thought nothing of it, thinking that it was just me reeling from shock. I held on to my bike, trying to keep upright. Then I fainted. I've never ever fainted and I wasn't sure what was going on. My bike must have fallen because when I came to (not sure how long it took, but probably just a few seconds or a minute, I'm not sure, I wasn't aware of the time), everything was on the floor. The basket Dad attached to the back of the bicycle with cable ties had broken off.

Thank God there were helpful passers-by. One dude was concerned and asked if I was all right and if I needed to get to the oppostite void deck to sit. I remember nodding and getting ready to cross the road when another blackout happened. This time, I wasn't even sure what happened. If any of you have done video production, you would know this term 'fade in', and 'fade out'. Well that's what I felt was happening. In between consciousness, I was simply fading in and out. Both my mind and my vision and whole being. This happened about two to three times. When I was conscious, I remember asking the dude what was going on. I would be talking to him and in a few seconds, I would fade out and then when I came back again, I kept asking how come I was still here, and weren't we supposed to cross the road. Eventually I managed to get across the road with the help of another kind gentleman who thought I might be diabetic. He insisted I have a sweet and sat me down at a nearby void deck. He also insisted that I see a doctor (I had originally intended to cycle back home!) and asked me to call my family. No one was at home at the moment and everyone was occupied so the first person I called was my aunt. In the end, I went to the nearby polyclinic. The doctor said the blackouts were probably vasovagal reactions. He said it might have been just the body coping with the shock. I had to take an X-ray for my left ring finger though. It hurt when I tried to move it. The clinic did not have X-ray facilities so I was referred to Changi General Hospital's A&E. The doctor there said the same thing about the vasovagal and insisted that I take an X-ray of my head too.

So $75, two X-rays, and four hours later, the verdict was that I was just a complete klutz and I would be fine. I was given Fastum gel for my sprained finger (yes, it was just a sprain. not a hairline fracture that the first doctor was afraid it was, thus the X-ray!)

In my entire 24 years, I have gotten myself into some pretty nasty mishaps so I'm usually not daunted by a simple fall. But what I went through yesterday was by far one of the most scary yet. Yes, I would say that it was scarier than the time I had to stitch up a hole in my shin, one I had gotten from a bad fall over a drain.

This accident has made me understand how important it is for cyclists to wear helmets. I didn't think of getting a helmet because I thought it would be too uncomfortable. I also admit that I can be quite the maverick at times, pretending to be solid as a rock. I never thought that I would get into an accident on a harmless bicycle. How silly I was to think myself impenetrable. Just because I'm strong doesn't mean I shouldn't take precautions. Then I realised that most of us actually think the same, expecting the worse only when the worse happens, and not actually doing what it takes to prevent the worse from happening. I guess there is a reason why people buy insurance. A helmet is a good enough insurance for cyclists who don't wish to crack their skull. I count myself very blessed to not have sustained any serious injuries. I see this accident as a serious and painful reminder to always take precautions even when feeling confident.

P.S. My Gazelle is all right as well. It's a solid piece. :)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Etihad Airways

Plane food has a bad reputation. There isn't a need to explain why. You know it and I know it. We also understand the challenge that comes with presenting edibles that not only look good but taste good while you're in mid-air. That is why when it comes to plane food, expectations dip to an all-time low. So low that it might not be surprising if someone says that he will choose greasy fast-food over a serving of plane food. This unfortunate judgement has its truths most of the time. There are indeed limitations of serving food that's cooked a-la-minute and especially when it is a fact that food tastes different in a high-altitude environment. With so many factors going against the hardworking chefs who create airplane meals fit for consumption, you wonder how they eventually decide what goes into your meal.

Airplane brochures never fail to print glossy photos of delectable airplane meals. In these photos, the juicy-looking meat glistens, the fish looks fresh and everything looks picture perfect. However, the skeptic in us starts to doubt and assume that it only looks good because it's a photo. This is how it has always been. Perhaps that is the case but not anymore. Not for Etihad, to say the very least. Not when they have a food and beverage manager on board - a capable stewart who ensures that these pretty photographs are not just a fantasy or a figment of each passengers imagination but rather, a great-tasting reality:

Since I have yet to fly on Etihad Airways, I cannot confirm that what you see in those photos is what you get when you're thousands of miles up in the air. But I do know that the food beats most airplane food. I learnt about this because Eithad invited me to a press conference and media lunch in celebration of their first year in Singapore. As the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad is known for its quality service and well-trained staff. They also announced the launch of their new Inspired Service for premium passengers (Diamond First and Pearl Business Class) arriving into and departing from Singapore.

An important part of the Inspired Service involves food. Not only will the food be of top quality, the crockery, linen and glassware will be more tasteful - think normal dining size classic white porcelain. The menu will also boast a wide variety. You will be able to choose from the a la carte or the kitchen menu. The a la carte menu needs no explanation. However, I do think that the kitchen menu is a smart idea. This menu offers an array of invidual snack-sized dishes that can be eaten at any time during the flight. That means if you skip the a la carte meal because you were not hungry during the time set aside for dinner, then you can request for an item on the kitchen menu whenever you feel the rumbles in your stomach. Some items on their present kitchen menu includes Arabic baklava, warm truffle popcorn with porcini salt, warm bella olives, orange, garlic and rosemary, Providore natural ice cream, selection of cheeses etc. Etihad's menu changes every few months so passengers (especially frequent flyers of Etihad Airways) will not be bored.

Before lunch began, we were provided with a demonstration of how the dishes are usually assembled on the flights. It was rather interesting. The food and beverage manager explained how they take pride in good food presentation as well. Here's a snapshot at the long table of airplane food:

After hearing about all that goes into making each passenger feel comfortable not just with palatable food but good service, I was starting to feel that the food on Etihad Airways might just have one of the best plane food around.

For lunch, we could choose our appetisers, main course and dessert. I chose smoked salmon terrine, baby herbs, parsley oil, Spanakopita with ratatouille and baked rhubarb and strawberry pie with double cream.

The food was not bad, considering that it was made just the way it would have been made on the plane - pre-cooked and assembled on board. I think what I do understand that day, was that since it is impossible to cook food on the plane, everything has to be pre-cooked. The food will then have to be warmed up and assembled before serving. What sets Etihad apart is the way their system functions. Preparation for each dish is precise. The flight staff are given a 'manual' of sorts that provides clear instructions on method of heating & placement of each ingredient.

I did not bring my camera with me that day so that's why you don't see shots of each individual dish. However, I managed to get from them a shot of their three-way bread. Three-way because it's actually three types of bread together in one loaf:

One's normal white bread, the other's a slightly spicy one, and if I remember correctly, the last one is the multigrain one. Served with quality french butter, this is Etihad's signature bread. It's pretty impressive I'd say. It is served on all of their flights.

So with this, I suppose I have less reasons to be judgemental about plane food. Sometimes all you need is an ambitious vision to re-align and correct prior judgements of plane food. For Etihad, their answer is a food and beverage manager. As mentioned, this manager is the point of contact with passengers, in charge of talking to them about their food preferences and making recommendations. Now don't you think you have one more reason to give plane food a second chance?


Etihad currently offers flights to 48 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

To find out more, please visit

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sunday morning at Chinatown

When I think of Chinatown, I think of thick sweaty crowds amidst narrow lanes in the darnest most uncomfortable humidity.

The tedious process of getting stuck in and wiggling through a sea of unknown human bodies is rather unappealing to an adult. But somehow kids love it. I only say it because I used to fancy getting lost. It was scary but oh so exciting. God only knows how many times I've gotten lost. That is just so telling of what kind of child I was. Call it a hunger to explore or pure playfulness if you will; only one thing is certain in these scenarios - adults hate it. And you must understand that kids relish anything that adults hate. Perhaps it's that thrill of being away from your naggy parents (come on, don't tell me you enjoyed the constant repetitions of 'hey, stop that', 'get back here!', or the usual 'you'll get it from me when you get home!') and the sheer excitement of being able to go whereever you want.

But as with all things exciting, once you realise that you might indeed get lost for real with no chance of getting home (highly unlikely here in Singapore though, it's such a small island!), then you'll start to panic. At this point, excitment turns into anxiety and gleeful eyes turn red and glossy, and your breath quickens as you try to retrace your steps. I am sure that most of you have gone through this at least once.

Getting lost is by far no laughing matter especially when your 3ft tall (or short for that matter) frame is at a disadvantage, amidst a sea of tall, lengthy adults. Perfect example - visiting Chinatown during Chinese New Year. Now that's what I'm talking about. Swarmed with tourists, locals, mums, dads and kids all checking out the various goodies ranging from bak kwa (barbecued minced meat), melon seeds, love letters, pomelos, white rabbit candy (i know it's now a god-damn poison carrier but hey i loved it! i can still remember the creamy sweet chunk of goo wrapped in edible rice paper, one that i lovingly ate before popping the entire sweet into my mouth), etc.

At that time, I believed that a Chinatown experience should be what the Chinese term as being 热闹. The noisier the better, the more crowded, the more fun it was. The Chinatown crowd is especially fierce during Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is also not Chinese New Year without that annual trip to Chinatown during the festive period.

I still enjoy strolling down the streets of Chinatown and I still get do get lost sometimes but that usually happens only when I head down to the area during Chinese New Year, and Mid-Autumn festival. That's when the place gets busy and becomes untolerably congested. So congested that you can't see where your feet are and where you're headed to.

Chinatown has changed quite a bit since my childhood days. It's cleaner, the roads are wider and even the food centres have undergone an overhaul, making it less dingy and more sanitary. I like the present day Chinatown and I love the fact that it's chockful of great food at cheaper than cheap prices. Hawker centres (or food centres) are indeed a great blessing. That's one thing I'm glad we have here in Singapore.

There are a few hawker centres in the Chinatown area but my current favourite is the one located right smack towards the end of Smith Street. Oh wait, I just did a quick Google search, it's at 335 Smith Street. And the proper name's Chinatown Complex Food Centre. It is apparently also one of the must-visit hawker centres recommended by the Singapore Tourism Board.

The last I heard, there are a mind-boggling 200 stalls at this food centre. You can work up an appetite just thinking about it, or actually visiting the glorious food haven to see for yourself what the hawkers have to offer. You have to trust me when I tell you that it is an ultimate buffet spread. There's everything you can possibly imagine. I reckon that this would be the best place to visit if you have a craving (well even if you don't, just checking out the stalls will make you salivate).

So just what do you crave for? Dim Sum? Yes they have it. Claypot rice? Check. Porridge? Check. Kway Chap? Check. Popiah, fried Hokkien mee and Guo tie? Check. Duck rice? Chicken rice? Banana fritters? Beef noodles? Minced pork noodles? Thick peanut butter toast? Pumpkin sago? Xiao long bao? Yes this place has all of the above.

I would love to continue that list but I won't. I will not spoil the experience for you. That's because part of the fun lies in getting lost in the maze of food stalls there. No kidding. You have to remember which route you took or else you'll get lost. I'm speaking from experience.

On Sunday, after a very early morning mass (I usually go for the afternoon or evening one but Mum tempted me with a Chinatown brunch adventure of sorts and oh how could I resist? :D ), my mum and I headed down to the said food complex to have brunch.

I knew I was going to have an interesting time from the moment I stepped foot into the food centre. I could tell. I saw plenty of queues and you know what queues mean :)

Very much intrigued, I was determined to go round the entire food centre at least once to suss out the 'hot' stalls plagued by incessant queues. I did all this exploring while my mum did the queuing at one 'hot' stall. You know a 'hot' stall when its queue is ridiculously long. I can say for a fact that this stall had one of the longest queues, and the average waiting time varies from 15 to 30 minutes.

All just for a bowl of yong tau fu...

My mother first read about this famous stall in the papers a couple of weeks back. Since then she has been patronising the food complex in search for it. She was very determined to try a bowl. I mean come on, yong tau fu is one of the simplest dishes you can find. Isn't it just some noodles mixed with a broth with pieces of tofu? I thought the exact same thing. I found it silly that my mother would want to queue that long for just some plain yong tau fu. Little did I know that I would soon join the fan club.

The draw I believe, is in how they prepare the noodles:

Or rather, the condiments they serve the noodles with. Most patrons usually request for the rice vermicelli (bee hoon). I went with the thicker flatter rice noodle (kway teow) because I wanted to be able to get more mouthfeel. Their yong tau fu is unlike any others. Order it dry and you'll be surprised to see none of that maroon-ish, brown sweet sauce usually served with yong tau fu. Instead you get lightly oiled noodles topped with crisp fried ikan bilis. In the above photo you'll see a pool of chilli. It's usually served separately but trust me, it goes better when thrown in together with the noodles. Very reminsicent of those served with Hainanese chicken rice, this chilli sauce has plenty of zest and omph factor. I finished up two saucers of it. It goes well with the yong tau fu pieces too of course.

I thought it tasted fantastic with the very buoyant fishballs. I just had to dunk them into the fiery red sea...

Okay I feel like having some of that right now.

Here's the bowl of yong tau fu soup and the seven pieces of tofu, fishballs etc that comes with the noodles:

At $3, it is not only cheap but satisfying, and healthy too. That is if you discount the fact that they deep-fried the ikan bilis. It was lovely to watch the vendors at work. This stall occupied two stall spaces and one was solely for assemblage, serving and payment while the other side busied with the cooking and frying of the ingredients. The two halves worked like a well oiled machine and it was a pleasure to watch.

There was something about that Sunday that overwhelmed me in a very good and inquisitive way. Food centres are not new to me, I am afterall a big fan of the good 'ol decent no-fuss meal. I adore a $3 plate of well-made fried hokkien mee, complete with smokey 'wok hei'. So why the sudden hoo-ha about a visit to a food centre? I don't know, maybe it was the fact that it was a Sunday and I had all the time in the world to stroll and explore as long as I want. I need not rush because I had no where else I wanted to go to. That's what made it different.

I eventually walked around the food centre, checking out the 200 stalls and only stop short of ordering food from all of them. Some were closed of course, but most were open and alot of them had really good stuff to offer. I should have taken more photos but I was so caught up with soaking up the sights and smells. Here are two cool stalls I think you should check out:

Gogo Beanz must have some of the most delicious soybean combinations I've ever seen. You can have red bean with your soymilk, or aloe vera, or pineapple or candy jelly, or oreo or peach. I tried the one with red bean, which I liked. Well I like anything red bean anyway!

Another stall I reckon is worth trying is this one:

They sell glutinous rice. Just the rice, with some fried shallots, some sesame oil and a light dash of sauce (light soy i think!). Their queue is one of the longest. As curious as I was, I wasn't patient enough to stand in line (which was a smart move because soon after I took the photo, half the queue was forced to leave empty-handed because they had run out of rice). So if you have tried their glutinous rice, pray, do tell. I'm curious. It must be so good, considering that it looks rather plain. But as I have learnt that day - plain looking food (yong tau fu included) can be as delicious as anything.

After I was done exploring the food centre, I went to the basement together with my mum to buy some groceries. I needed to get some sweet potatoes for a sweet potato bundt cake I wanted to make. Martha Stewart featured it on her Thanksgiving special.
I was pleasantly surprised by how clean the market was. The stall we bought our groceries from was manned by a sweet old lady and her family:

I promise that she wasn't trying to throw that huge aubergine at my mum. But I am sure she was gesticulating while my mum tried to bargain for a better price.
As much as I fancy supermarkets and their sanitary clingwrapped meats and prepacked vegetables, I still find wet markets a pleasure to visit. It is very much an adventure and that Sunday I renewed my love for wet marketing.

I also came across a few vegetables I did not recognise. Maybe you could help? The lady tried to explain it in Chinese. She said that it's usually a garnish for fried prawns and meat. Alas she could not remember the name. My guess is that it belongs to the spring onion or scallion family:

And now, let me present to you, Exhibit A:

This vegetable bewildered me. It looked like something that belonged to the ocean, or perhaps another planet. I thought it resembled a coral. Beautiful ain't it? Care to guess what it was? You'll find out... soon.
Check out their red tomatoes:

For local tomatoes, they looked pretty good. And hey, she sells banana leaf, curry leaf and laksa leaf too...

I know some people have trouble finding those leaves so I thought I should highlight this fact. Now you know where to find them.

That's the entire stall. Such a jovial chatty lady. I will be back for sure.

After grocery shopping, mum and I (being the gluttons we were), had to get some dessert. We shared a green tea snow ice dessert with red beans.

Mum kept insisting that it looked like a pile of vegetables. Well yes it did, but it tasted nothing like it of course. This was a light and refreshing dessert, perfect for the two of us. I forgot to take down the name of the shop. All I know is that it's the famous warm dessert shop that's known for their mango pomelo sago as well as their walnut cream, almond cream and black sesame cream. Oh and Cantonese dumplings. It is quite easy to find this shop if you know where the CK departmental store is. The shop sits on the same street that CK is on, and it's at the start of that street. I'll update when I find out the exact name and location.

Back to Exhibit A. Did you manage to guess what it was?

Perhaps this will help:

Ah-hah! It's actually Romanesco broccoli. Mind you, I did not know what its exact name was, until my smart cousin told me on Facebook. I had posted up the a photo of the beautiful broccoli and before I knew it, he pointed out Romanesco broccoli! Thanks Nigel! :)
I actually thought that it was just a different breed of cauliflower. I believe it is also called a Romanesco cauliflower. It also tasted more like cauliflower. Whatever it is, it is a marvel in itself. A true art-work of mother nature. The main pattern it follows is known as a fractal form, referring to its self similar pattern throughout the florets. The Romanesco broccoli is rather intriguing I must say, but perfect if you want to generate buzz at a dinner party.

If you're ever bored of the countless malls and cannot take one more chill-out session at Starbucks or Spinelli's, then you should try heading to Chinatown for a fun day of good and cheap eats. Don't forget to get lost along the way. That is after all the essence of Chinatown - to stumble upon treasures you never knew existed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pumpkin pie

Yesterday I made pumpkin pie. There's usually a sense of achievement that follows after I take my finished bake good out of the oven. But with this pie, it was a different story. Apprehension is the best word for this situation. I will not tell you why until the end of the post.

For now, I will show you photos. This by far will be the best example of how every baked good does not always taste like what it looks like. I should know best. I have had successes and failures in the kitchen and it can get pretty disheartening at times. That's especially when you need to get that cake frosting right because you're baking a birthday cake.

But yesterday was a different story. Part of me feels a little guilty but I am really glad I went ahead and did it anyway and ended up with some orange coloured pie:

At least now I know what to do and what not to do. Look at the closeup of the pie, can you see the texture? Does it look like pumpkin to you? Well it has a colour similar to pumpkin yes? Let me fill you in on an extra bit of information - it might look like pumpkin but it didn't really taste much like pumpkin. I'm certain about that. I trust my tastebuds enough to know when they're taking a holiday. I might not have a palate as refined as a critic at The New York Times but I am sure I can tell the difference between a pumpkin pie and a pumpkin pie that's supposed to be a pumpkin pie but turns out to be more like a pumpkin pie-lookalike.

You might have gotten it by now. And yes you guessed right. I was a bad baker yesterday. A very lazy one. Although I did make my own pie crust, I took the easy way out for my pumpkin pie filling. I did not think I could get away with it though, knowing the reputation of quick-fixes. I've never been one for the ready-made mixes and tricks but I just had to try it at least once. I had to pick up this conveniently labelled huge can of easy pumpkin promise:

I just had to know if the shortcut alternative would taste as good as something freshly made. Libby's is a brand I've seen quite so often at the supermarket. Everytime I walk down that 'baking help' isle I can't help but be enticed by that sweet promise of the possibility of having a lovely warm comforting pumpkin pie with just the twist of a can opener. Prior to yesterday I was careful not to be wooed by such promise of course. I take pride in being someone who puts in the extra effort to bake from scratch.

Oh but you know how hard it can be sometimes. Especially those times when you really crave for something and are too tired to go the extra mile - which in this case involves me lugging home some sugar pumpkins, skinning them, baking them, pureeing them, and measuring out all the spices like ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, etc. The entire picture seems pretty clear now. There is a reason why grannies make their pumpkin pies from scratch. I recently read on someone's food blog that a friend had baked two pumpkin pies for a taste test and the one that won hands down was naturally and predictably the one with a homemade pumpkin pie filling.

Reading that and having experienced my personal canned pie filling fiasco. I would not say it was a complete failure. Perhaps I should also attribute it to the fact that I DID NOT use evaporated milk as instructed. I did not have any at home and I had just got out of bed and was in no mood to leave the house (see, again, laziness!) so I made do with the only possible substitute I had in my fridge - some low fat milk mum had bought the night before. I guess that could have been one of the reasons why the pie didn't taste that good. But I assure you that I did taste some of the pumpkin filling straight out of the can and was also unimpressed. Seriously, people who have used this pie mix, do they actually like it enough to give it a second shot? Maybe they do but I don't.

I hate to sound harsh but I know a bad pie mix when I taste one. Even more so when my brother, after tasting some of the finished pie, starts to ask my mum if there were tomatoes in it. He honestly thought it could have been a tomato pie. I took another taste and found his observation to be quite right. It did taste a bit like tomato ketchup and I found that highly disturbing. I had also failed to check the ingredient list. Again, silly me. Maybe I was trying too hard to believe that I could simply rely on a canned pie mix to satisfy my pie craving. Turns out that my pumpkin pie craving does not include one that tasted like ketchup.

I know that the next time I bake a pumpkin pie, I am going to use my own filling, made from scratch. I am sure then, that it will also look better than this sad coloured slice:

Oh how I would kill for a slice of fresh pumpkin pie right now, one with pumpkin filling NOT out of a can. I wish I still had slices of my crostata di mele from last week. Now that's a perfect example of a pie we all ought endeavour to make once in a while, even if we're really busy. Canned stuff can only fulfill so much of your expectations. It will never replace the real and freshly made deal.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Crostata di mele

Ever since my Dad bought two second-hand Gazelle bicycles (which happened to still be in perfect condition) for a cool S$100, I've been quite the cyclist. I've been discovering new cycling routes every other week. Just last week, I found a route that can get me from where I live (Bedok) to my grannie's place in Sengkang in just about half an hour. Well, that is if I cycle there in the dead of the night, say at midnight. That's when I have the roads all to myself, well, nearly.

Cycling is addictive and I find myself wanting to cycle everywhere now. I think it's a healthy obsession. When I say obsessed I really do mean it. But it also means that I become fitter, even though alot of times I cycle to my favourite dining places in the East. Think Changi Village, East Coast Park, Tampines and of course Katong. I have also found out how to cycle to the Ikea at Tampines - this means Ikea breakfast for me next weekend!

Any who, along the way, although I have discovered a renewed passion for cycling, I have yet to master the tricks of cycling with a bagload of groceries.

I learnt that the hard way, yesterday. You see, I've been craving for a homemade apple tart the entire week and have stopped by many bakeries in search of it. But much to my dismay, I realised how common apple crumble is, as opposed to apple tarts. This only meant one thing - I had to take things into my own floured hands. Yesterday afternoon was all that and more.

So where did my bicycle come in? When I came up with the bright idea of cycling to get my groceries. I was silly not to anticipate the huge load of groceries I was to get. This included 2kg flour, 5 granny smith apples, a block of butter, 1 litre milk and some extra biscuits that caught my eye. My bicycle does not have a basket - it only has a metal seat-thing at the back where three elastic bands were placed, to keep steady a fair amount of load. Apparently though, I had too much faith in those elastic bands. Or maybe I put too little thought into planning my grocery shopping. I was too ambitious, cocky even.

I left the supermarket with a huge smile, thinking how brilliant an idea it was to cycle to and fro my home. What a carbon-neutral act, I thought in my head. I wasn't contributing to the pollution of the world and I get to exercise as well. So as I cycled off home, only happy thoughts clouded my head. I was pretty satisfied especially since I knew that in a few hours, I would have a warm whole apple tart to enjoy.

Before I continue, might I just add that this apple tart proved only one thing - hard work tastes sweeter. I should know, because I cycled all the way home with more than 4kg worth of groceries behind me, on my trusty Gazelle bicycle.

Mid-way home, I realised something was not right, I turned behind and saw that my groceries were wobbling, trying their darnest not to slip out of those elastic bands. Like I said, I had great faith in those bands, so I didn't bother and cycled on. Then a while later, while cycling and thinking about my apple tart (again), I heard a loud thump behind me. When I turned back, I saw that one bag of my groceries (containing my milk, butter and apples) had fallen off. Damn those elastic bands, they were not so reliable after all. I screeched to a stop by the side of the road and went back to pick up my fallen bag of groceries. This cannot do! By the time I get home, my groceries would probably be bruised and tattered.

What was I supposed to do? I thought hard. I really did. Then I decided to put the apples and butter in my sling bag and to carry the milk on my hand, with the plastic twirled around the handlebar lest it it slips out of my hand. Viola, that was a perfect arrangement. And that worked. My groceries arrived home safely and by that time, I was stinky and sticky. It was a very hot day. I did not feel like an apple tart anymore. However, you must remember that I'm quite the greedy girl. My body was tired but my mind kept playing pictures of a warm baked apple tart and I swear I could smell the tart aroma coupled with the buttery tinge from the shortcrust pastry.

My tastebuds and imagination got the better of me and soon I was off to work. I made the shortcrust pastry dough and I was really happy with it. Mostly because I had decided to splurge a little on some French butter (which cost me S$5.20) for my pastry. I wanted to see if it would make my apple tart more French and more tasty. To be honest, I could tell the difference right from the start. The butter was so creamy and it really smelled like France (not that I had ever been to France. It's just what I would imagine France to smell like). I was so enamoured by the butter that I smeared some leftovers on a piece of bread to try and I loved it.

While I left my pastry to rest in the fridge for an hour, I went ahead to prepare the apple filling. This recipe is a little different from most apple tart recipes because it required one to cook and caramelise the apples first:

Thanks to my trusty apple corer/slicer, I hd beautiful uniformed apple slices from my five granny smiths in under 2 minutes. Then I cooked and caramelised the apples in the lovely French butter, after which I added the honey and lots of cinnamon (my favourite). The aroma that ensued was irresistable. I couldn't resist mopping up the residual sticky caramel that remained in the pan after I transfered the apples to a seperate bowl to cool.

After the apples were cooked, I took out my shortcrust pastry and started to line the tart tin. Then I added the apple filling and proceeded to top it off with a simple lattice:

I was quite bowled over by how it all looked. I have to admit that though I love tarts very much, I seldom make them. And I have also never made one with a lattice. So I was pretty excited. I even called my sister to come look. She said it looked pretty.

So now all that's left is the baking.

After 30 minutes, I was attracted by a buttery aroma and knew that my tart was done. I ran to the kitchen, and basked in my achievement for a bit while staring at the tart in the oven before snapping out of my proud moment to take it out to cool.

I really like how rustic it looks. It gives off that country vibe don't you think? Here's a closer look at the pastry:

It was nicely browned and looked so delicious. I am sure it wasn't difficult for you to figure out what happened next:

That slice went to my sister. And of course I took another slice for myself...

There's nothing like freshly baked warm apple tart, or as the recipe calls it crostata di mele. But there was something about this tart that made it taste sweeter, and perhaps it has got to do with the extra effort put in to get the ingredients home amidst the sweltering heat. Hmmm yes I'd say it's got to be that. The apple filling was sweetened perfectly. The honey and cinnamon lifted the tartness of the apple and gave it an oomph that was the stuff of countryside goodness. Again, I draw reference to Enid Blyton's many homemade tart/pies by the windowsill depictions in her well-loved tales. For me, the only thing missing from the equation were some fairies and elves. I know I would have gladly shared my tart had they showed up. Haha, wishful thinking I must say. The only creatures who would love to be in the company of my tart were the very hardworking ants at my home.
Last night I brought some to my Grannie's place to let my aunt and grannie try some. They liked it and that really means alot because my aunt is quite the baker (come on, she bakes her own bread!) and her opinion means alot to me. I was pleased of course.
I had another slice again this morning, with ice cream for breakfast. I must say Sunday mornings and crostata di mele are a delightful combination.
Crostata di mele (apple tart)
Country cooking by stefano de pieri, pg 3, delicious Mar 05 issue
Serves 8-10

5 golden delicious or granny smith apples
50g unsalted butter
4 tbs honey
1 pinch cinnamon
Icing sugar, to dust

Shortcrust pastry
1 and ½ cups (225g) plain flour
2/3 cup (100g) self-raising flour
2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup (60ml) full-fat milk
2 egg yolks

For the pastry, process the flours, sugar and butter in a food processor, then mix in the milk and egg yolks. If dough is too wet, add a little more flour. On a lightly floured surface, bring dough together, then knead until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples, then cut into quarters. Melt the butter in a frypan over medium heat, and when it begins to froth and brown, add the apple and cook until brown and softened; about 5-10 minutes depending on the ripeness of the apples. Add the honey and cinnamon, reduce heat to medium-low and stir continuously for about 10-15 minutes or until the apples are golden and caramelized. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 180 degree celcius. Grease a 24cm loose-bottomed tart pan. Once pastry has rested, roll out on a lightly floured surface to 5 mm thick and line pan with pastry.

Place cooled apples into pastry shell. With any remaining pastry, use a crinkled pastry cutter to cut 1cm-wide strips to make a lattice to place over top. Bake 30-35 minutes. Dust with icing sugar before serving with ice cream or cream.

Powered by Blogger

Tell me when this blog is updated

what is this?

Site Meter