Thursday, 26 July 2012

honey quince tea

honey quince tea.

You know it's the season for quince when you see these large, yellow, knobbly, apple-like fruits popping up on the bargain table at the markets near closing time, bundled together in a bag with the more common fruits like apples and oranges. Except, wait, hang on - we're right smack in the middle of winter now, so this is actually an unusually late appearance. But I am not one to reject unexpected blessings.

I wanted to make something easy (so what else is new?), so I decided to brew a quince tea. I had a quick search online for recipes, and most of them involved macerating thinly sliced quinces in sugar or honey for weeks. I didn't want to wait that long. I found a quick, simple one, where boiling water was simply poured over chopped quince, but I wasn't quite sure if it would be flavourful enough as I've heard that quince gets sweeter and more fragrant when you cook them for an extended period of time.

I decided to go for a middle ground with the good old poaching method. I chopped up the quince into little cubes, inhaling their fresh apple-pear scent. As they simmered, they released beguilingly sweet honeyed floral notes, and I would poke my nose where the steam escaped, to breathe it in, deeply.

The end result was a humble affair: a mellow tea to be sipped, with bits of quince to be chewed... and on that cold winter's night, it brought a much-welcomed warmth to our bodies.

a lone quince.

honey quince tea
(makes about 4 cups)

1 generously large quince, or 2 small ones (approximately 450g / 1lb)
Honey, to taste

Peel, core and chop quince into petite chunks of about 1 cm / 1/2 inch. (To keep the quince fresh and bright, soak the pieces in a bowl of water with a dash of lemon juice as you chop them up.)
Place 6 cups water and quince pieces in a saucepan and bring to boil. Turn down to a simmer and let it cook gently, partially covered, for 40 minutes, or until the quince flavour has sufficiently infused in the water, and/or the quince pieces are sufficiently tender to your liking.
Remove from heat and add honey to taste. Serve with a spoon for scooping up the cubes of quince.

Other ideas:
Simmer with a small knob of ginger, a pinch of nutmeg, or a vanilla bean.
Add in a squeeze of lemon juice or mandarin juice in the end.
Mix in some freshly brewed green tea in the end.

honey quince tea, with a touch of lemon.

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

krua thai 2, richmond

Condiments at Krua Thai 2. Clockwise from top: salt, pickled chilli, chilli sauce, dried chilli flakes.

Edit: Krua Thai 2 no longer opens for lunch. Unfortunately, their dinner menu doesn't have the street food element I love in their lunches. However, the same people have now opened Jinda in Abbotsford, where they continue to serve the delightful meals you see below.

Earlier this year, I visited Krua Thai 2 (37 Bridge Road, Richmond) with my family and really enjoyed the food there. I keep meaning to go back, but you know how it is... laziness, procrastination, all that jazz. Meanwhile, my photos and draft from that visit are lying dormant, so I figured I should write it up before I forget all the details.

Krua Thai 2 is a nice little place. A cosy fitout with carved wooden decor. Humble menus with the items typed in both English and Thai. A pleasant lunchtime buzz when we went there on the weekend.

I started off with a Thai iced tea with milk. This is pretty sweet stuff, which is expected, but not as sweet as most other places I've been to. And for that, they get bonus points.

Thai iced milk tea.

My uncle has taken my parents to Krua Thai 2 before and so they had all already developed some familiarity with the menu. My dad is enthusiastic about the pork noodle soup - it reminds him of the koay teow soup in Malaysia, he said. I can't NOT order it after that endorsement.

Noodle with pork in clear soup, $6 for a small bowl ($9 for regular).

And yes, it was scrumptious. Yes, it reminded me of home. Silky noodles in a light broth, tangled with bean sprouts, topped with pieces of pork, a fishball, and a crispy cracker. Yes!

Noodle with pork in clear soup, again - a shot of the half-eaten dish.

This - guay-jub - is another dish I eat with fondness as it reminds me of something similar back home. A sweet-salty-spiced soup with rolled rice noodles and a small assortment of intestinal delights. Mm-mmmm!

Guay-jub, $6 for a small bowl ($9 for regular).

The Yen-ta-four is the odd one out as it's not something I recognize well, but it is intriguing. Fermented bean curd, also known as red pickled tofu, is used here, giving the dish a pink tint and a tangy, salty flavour. A bit of an acquired taste, but started to grow on me after a few spoonfuls. This also has offal in it. Check out that smooth, rich blood cube gleaming serenely by the side.

Yen-ta-four (noodle with homemade special sauce), $6 for a small bowl ($9 for regular).

I like how the soup noodle options at Krua Thai 2 come in two sizes - $6 for a small bowl, and $9 for a regular bowl. The small sizes really come in handy when you want more variety for your money, or if you just feel like something light. I'm keen to try more from that list. I noticed, too, that they had a good selection of rice dishes, stir-fries, plus snacks like deep fried chicken wings and grilled pork skewers, which I'd be interested in sampling as well. So, yes... next time, when I finally get around to it.

Krua Thai 2 on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

lamb's lettuce (aka corn salad, mache, rapunzel, etc.)...
and a simple stir-fry

an easy lamb's lettuce stir-fry.

Apologies for my long-winded post title, but you would be hard-pressed to find another vegetable suffering from a similarly severe case of identity crisis, and I wanted to cover at least some of its many interesting monikers. Here are the names we use to refer to the pleasantly placid vegetable I'm introducing today, according to Wikipedia:

Corn salad, Lewiston cornsalad, lamb's lettuce, lamb's tongue, fetticus, field salad, mâche, feldsalat, nut lettuce and rapunzel.

I bought it at a vegetable stall at the market where it was labelled as "corn salad", which had me imagining them to be young corn sprouts. But no, apparently this little vegetable used to be harvested from corn fields before the days of commercial cultivation, and that's where it got its name. I've taken a liking to the name "lamb's lettuce", though, because this was charmingly derived from its resemblance to a lamb's tongue, and also because it is purportedly a lamb's favourite food. So from here onwards I'll be referring to it as lamb's lettuce.

lamb's lettuce, aka corn salad, lamb's tongue, fetticus, field salad, mâche, feldsalat, nut lettuce, rapunzel.

To me, lamb's lettuce tastes like a marriage of butter lettuce and baby spinach. It's quite mild when raw, and features often in salads, but I personally think that cooking actually brings out more of the sweetness of the vegetable, even if they do shrink a lot in the heat. Lamb's lettuce cooks fast, too, so you can add it into a soup right at the end, and when stir-fried, as I have done, you shouldn't need more than 20 seconds, and perhaps even less, depending on whether you want to retain a little bit of crunch or if you prefer them completely tender.

So keep an eye out for this little vegetable next time you're at the markets. Or jostle with some lambs for a share when you're next strolling through a corn field.

chilli-garlic lamb's lettuce stir-fry
(yields one very petite side serve)

50g (2oz) lamb's lettuce
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil (or any neutral or nutty oil suitable for frying)
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 - 3 cm (1 inch) red chilli, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
a few drops sesame oil

Thoroughly wash lamb's lettuce, as dirt collects easily in its nooks and crannies. Trim off the roots, if you like - I didn't bother as they were quite tiny. Shake off as much excess water as possible, or use a salad spinner to do the job.
Heat up the oil in a frying pan or wok over a medium heat, and swirl it around. Fry garlic and chilli for about 20 seconds or until softened.
Turn the heat up and add lamb's lettuce. Stir-fry for another 20 seconds or until slightly wilted, bearing in mind that they will continue to cook from the residual warmth of the pan. Remove from heat immediately. Mix in soy sauce and sesame oil. Serve.

This stir-fry recipe can be adapted to suit other vegetables in lieu of lamb's lettuce.
To make this dish gluten-free, use a wheat-free soy sauce.

stir-fried lamb's lettuce.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

earl grey pear muffins

cross-section of an earl grey pear muffin.

The beauty of making do with what you have, and using up stuff in the pantry, is the surprisingly fancy combinations this frugal activity can inspire. The following recipe is a result of putting two and two together: cheap beurre bosc pears from the market and earl grey tea bags nearing their expiration date. My baking adventures suddenly sound that much more sophisticated.

Exhibit A:

Simon: What're you baking?
Me: Earl grey pear muffins.
Simon: Sounds a bit pretentious, doesn't it?

I rest my case.

Forget about winning prestige points on the name alone, though, the muffins did actually live up to my expectations. The pears, delicately infused with a buttery earl grey broth, radiate with a warm complexity. Likewise, the batter takes in soft, sensual hints of the bergamot, black tea, and pear flavours, then diffuses them gently to the muffin-eater.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Simon couldn't get enough of my pretentious muffins.

Exhibit B:

Simon (taking a bite): So how many did you make?
Me: Six.
Simon: So that means I can have six muffins, right? Do I get six muffins?

Again, I rest my case.

with their russet-and-gold appearance, beurre bosc pears exude romance and charm.

earl grey pear muffins
(makes 6)

3 earl grey tea bags, or 3 teaspoons loose leaf earl grey tea
1/2 cup freshly boiled hot water
2 pears (300g / 2/3lb total ±5%) peeled, cored, and chopped into 1.5cm / 0.5 inch cubes
1/4 cup salted butter, plus more for greasing
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 cup raw sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180°C (360°F) fan-forced, or 200°C (390°F) regular.
Steep earl grey tea in freshly boiled hot water for at least 5 minutes. Once they are thoroughly steeped, remove the tea. If using tea bags, diligently squeeze the bags so you get as much of the tea infusion as possible.
Simmer pear cubes with earl grey tea and butter over a low medium heat for 5 minutes or until just tender. Let it cool slightly.
Set aside half the pear cubes, and puree the remaining mixture of pear cubes, earl grey and melted butter.
Stir together pear cubes and buttery earl grey pear puree.
Place flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl and make a well in the centre.
Pour the pear mixture into the centre of the bowl and stir gently a few times until the wet and dry ingredients just combine to create a thick batter.
Divide batter evenly amongst 6 lightly greased muffin cases.
Bake in the oven for approximately 25 minutes or until a light earthy brown.
Let the muffins cool slightly for about 10 minutes, then serve. They're best eaten warm.

If you have a very fine-textured whole-wheat flour like atta flour, feel free to substitute 1 cup in lieu of the 1/2 cup plain, 1/2 cup wholemeal mix.
Substitute butter with a vegan spread e.g. Nuttelex, Earth Balance etc. for vegan muffins.

earl grey pear muffins, warm from the oven.

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