Monthly Archives: September 2013

Off to Oxford

Train stations are wonderful places! Here we are at London Paddington, on the way to Oxford. And I love the train station. That hangar-like roof, cavernous and held up by a steel skeleton, trains running in an out… The transport arteries, pumping passengers from the heart of the city to the rest of the body. That’s something from a sec 2 compre passage that I’m never going to forget. A very nice extended metaphor!

Well this is a good break from all the recent food talk.

So yes, train stations. Liminal spaces between spaces, a permanent place of transit. How poetically paradoxical. Such is the world we exist in!

The train seat I get is a ‘Quiet Carriage’. Ah! How nice. They should have this system on the MRT… front two carriages are quiet ones, no students in groups of more than three allowed. Or anyone under 12. Third carriage should be for older folks, purple ezlink cards and all, and fourth carriage for parents with young children and strollers. You know, middle carriages, closer to the lifts. Fifth carriage for anyone, and last carriage for noisemakers… Especially those people with mini boomboxes masquerading as earphones. Those people should have specific seats on public transport… Next to each other. Ha!

At Oxford’s Covered Market I have a little butter pork pie. Salty dense pork in a superbly buttery dense pastry. This is the enemy of dietitians worldwide, but it is so good. Nom. Nom.

Christ Church is pretty cool! It’s huge and beautiful, very statuesque. Why isn’t NUS like that? Oh well! There’s the great hall, which is the inspiration for Hogwarts’ dining hall, and the cathedral is pretty epic. I like the stained glass! Oxford is a lovely peaceful town.

A 5km walk takes me to Wolvercote Cemetery, where I visit the grave of the great Tolkien, and his wife. Luthien and Beren…

The serene silence of the cemetery tunes you in to the sounds of young kids playing football in an adjoining field. Bright voices, young life. Would not those in their graves be gladdened to know that life goes on!

Then off to a pub I go. Oh! Pubs are nice. The atmosphere and all that. It really is. I try an IPA… India pale ale. How it came about is really interesting, I won’t spoil it for you, go Wikipedia it! Truly a product of the British empire.

So this is what a university town is like! It is literally dominated by the university: buildings and colleges and faculties everywhere. I like the History faculty building!

Okay very abrupt post but well it was a one-day trip… Possibly appropriate?

banana lava nutella lasagna

that, ladies and gentlemen, is the name of the dessert that i have come up with.

side note: in the span of 10 days i have used up 500 grams of dark chocolate just on making dessert D:

here, visual preview: http://instagram.com/p/expRnPuiSL/

come on. you know you want it.

anyway, let me tell you how it goes.

first i prepare a bowl of chocolate cake mix. flour, cocoa, castor sugar, milk, olive oil, nutella, egg. sift and mix until just combined.

then i slice two bananas. on hindsight i should have sliced more, but it’s okay. the next time i’ll get it right. but i am feeling particularly triumphant right now so i’m just going to carry on in my moment of glorious gastronomic arrogance. i love that word… gastronomic.

and i have a big bottle of nutella and a block of dark chocolate at the ready.

so then i scoop a big tablespoon of the mixture and dollop it into the bottom of a small mug. it will even itself out so let it sit a bit. make it a tablespoon and a half. why lasagna? cos lasagna is meat pasta cheese. meat pasta cheese. meat pasta cheese. yes?

similar concept.

on top of the cake mix,carefully layer 3 pieces of dark chocolate. worry not about spacing yet.

on top of the chocolate blocks, layer banana slices.

on top of these, apply one heaped teaspoon of nutella, spreading it evenly.

repeat from top. see? cake chocolate banana nutella. except of course the dark chocolate blocks will melt, all lava-cakey like.

so unfortunately i do not have enough mix, so i can only do two layers ):

i top them off with a final dollop of mix, and then put a banana slice in the middle – presentation and all, you know.

my eye strays across the counter and hey! i knew those chocolate shavings would come in handy (attribute this to my lousy chocolate cutting skills). so the entire mug is finished off with a dusting of chocolate shavings. if i had a little icing sugar to dust it would look wonderful, but you can’t be choosy…

in it goes for 2 minutes. i have to keep checking cos this microwave has a personality, you know what i mean? it doesn’t always behave the way it should.

and it comes out.

glorious! cymbals clash, foodies rejoice, chocoholics around the world look up in the sky acknowledging a portentous event. choirs of bakers give voice to a celebratory song, critics drop their pens to join in the chorus, and a million cocoa beans in their pods spontaneously combust…

ahhhh!!! wonderful gooey delumptious scrumptiddly mookaful CHOCOLATE GOOP with PIPING HOT BANANAS and MELTY LIQUIDY CHOCOLATE LAVA and HAZELNUT OVERLOAD and AHHHHHHHHHHH

and it was good.

and hence the name. it has such a delightful ring to it, doesn’t it?

more kitchen adventures

so now i discovered a new facility to one of my primary joys in life: food.

packed sandwiches are easy.

my chocolate lava cake has been perfected: consistency is just nice (750W for 50 seconds), a bit more egg, a bit less sugar, remember to sift flour and cocoa. it is stupendous. of course i teetered over the edge of decadence by adding a topping of chocolate chips, and then a layer of nutella over for a nice glossy finish, and more hazelnut kick. turned out pretty perfect. it straddles that thin line between outright extravagance and can’t-get-enough-of-this: so far my two victims have both fallen prey to the oh-this-is-too-rich-but-i-can’t-stop-its-too-good syndrome. so i would say, just about right. even i found it incredibly rich and filling. brings you to the edge of jelat, then reels you back into satisfying comfort with all that chocolatey goodness.

so today with more whatsapp instruction, i proceeded to creamy chicken tagliatelle. i love tagliatelle! basically its tomato sauce on tagliatelle, then you serve the creamy chicken sauce on top of it.

so this morning i woke up and marinated my chicken, which i took out of the fridge… which had been transferred from the freezer. cooking is like combat – logistics have to be planned way in advance. more on cooking-as-combat later. so i start whipping up some marinade. worchester sauce, bbq sauce, salt, pepper, olive oil, sugar… it tastes kinda good, but i’m not so sure about it. anyway in goes the chicken (chicken is really easy to cut), and i have lots of fun using my (cleaned and washed) hand to mix the chicken into the marinade. then comes the cling wrap (still suck at cling wrapping neatly) and back into the fridge it goes. marinades should be fun to experiment with! i want to do a very spicy one, with chilli powder and pepper and tabasco, etc, all this good spicy stuff.

i cheat on the tomato sauce by adding a can of plum tomatoes into the sauce… next time i’ll try making it from scratch. by now i am pretty decent at frying mushrooms so i manage not to overdo them. my mushroom slicing (slicing this time, not quarters) is a lot more precise and deliberate, since i know how important it is now! first thing to go into the pan is almonds, but i start with too high heat because i was trying to get the oil hot, and i think i burnt my almonds a little… but they turned out fine in the end. things to take note: even heat, less oil on almonds. golden, not brown! then its garlic (garlic is magical) to brown, and make the mushrooms taste good. no salt for shrooms! spoils that wonderful taste of the good earth. out come the shrooms and in goes the chicken! chicken browns and is nicely moist, though my seasoning can be a bit stronger. but there’s going to be tomato sauce so its fine.

cooking pasta and warming tomato sauce is routine and simple now  so i’m a pro i’m not going to talk about it. like a boss.

so next comes the cream. pretty worried about it because i’ve never done cream before, mum says it burns really easy. while the chicken is in the pan i just dump the cream in, turn the heat down. simmer simmer simmer! please simmer, cream. what do you know, it does! it boils and then thickens and then i dump the shrooms in, add oregano sage and thyme to season (should have gotten rosemary, eh), and stir and boil some more, till it thickens. i know its ready when i take a sip to test, and before i know it i’ve sipped 5 times. which means its good to go!

my d-day h-hour has come together nicely: pasta is ready just as the chicken and cream is ready, and tomato sauce has been kept on low heat. almonds are crushed… time to serve! this making things and managing all at once isn’t easy as it looks… how does mum have three things on the stove and still prepare two things at the same time? i’ve got three on the stove and i don’t even dare to take my eyes off the stove, let alone prepare something else.

cooking for four, so as the 3 girls sit down (all my friends in london are girls, oh dear), i carefully spoon out the tomato onto the pasta (trying to pay some attention to presentation since its not just me eating), then even more carefully the creamy chicken sauce, then add a dusting/sprinkling/dumping of crushed almonds on top. i do wish i had the green tagliatelle, it would be a lot more visually impressive! but it’s still pretty nice.

okay i found out how to put a link so the photo is here: http://instagram.com/p/espZkEuiVT/

dessert, however, was a different story… i tried to do cookie-in-a-cup, and zhnged it with bits of mars bars and chocolate chips. unfortunately it did not bake very well. it was more cookie doughy than anything else ): it did not become a cookie-ish, baked texture! but it tasted good la. sort of disappointing because i was looking forward to eating a giant cookie. i conclude that it is because there was too much mixture. have to even it out, have it in thinnier portions. also, let mixture cool from melting the sugar + butter, if not chocolate will start melting inside :O and become horribly hard to handle again. however, it goes very nicely with a layer of peanut butter melted on top, followed by banana slices,

this has inspired me to try making cookie dough lasagne. which will be banana slices, chocolate, cookie. banana slices, chocolate, cookie. etc. stacked up. in a cup. should be good. yeahhhhhh. results in a week or so… after i gather up enough energy to start doing this again. baking (even simple simple stuff) is hard work! but it’s pretty fun. cleaning up, however, is not.

now i need to figure out what to do with minced beef and stir fry beef slices. and how to get more veggies into my diet.

cooking is really fun. this creative process thing… even if it’s following instructions! it’s sort of like writing. speaking of which, i was going to come up with a cool name for today’s dessert, but its apparent failure has robbed me of all inspiration. let us hope that the muse of good food returns soon. i might not be able to sing or dance or do cool things but perhaps this cooking thing can be slowly worked at

the joys of the kitchen

so today, i cooked myself dinner for the first time in my flat in London. wow!

now pray do not judge my inability to cook – all my life i have been blessed by a mum who always cooks up delicious home cooked healthy nutritious wonderful food that comes hot on the table, and then bakes even more delicious but not-so-healthy things to boot, and to bring to camp too, to keep me in my boots.

so i have grown up with good smells emnating from the kitchen, and while i was in secondary school and a growing boy, the first words out of my mouth when i stepped home would be ‘hi mum what’s for dinner?’ after a while i started guessing what was cooking just by sniffing the air, and i must say i got quite good at this guessing game. another part of growing up is watching mum prepare food and bake… of course not for extended periods of time, given that my attention is paid more than necessary to things like the xbox.

so i decide to cook today, given that i have the time to do so. i decide to do pasta, which is hard to go wrong with, and something that mum always cooks at home. and i decide to try my hand at one of those purportedly 5-minute mug cake recipes.

off i go to my local Sainsbury’s and start looking for things. i am quite excited about the mug cake so i dutifully locate the cocoa, the flour, etc etc. meanwhile i am whatsapping mum and asking her how to store the beef, how much to use, etc. i get an online whatsapp lesson in how to fry mince beef, along with all the pro-tips that come with experience. however, as we shall see, i am to later fall prey to inexperience. with groceries in hand and what to do in my head, off i head to the kitchen. whee!

as every well-trained son of the Low household does, i wash up everything and clean up the work area. then i approach the problem of cooking like attacking a defensive position – timings and G&T, what to do, ammo to prepare, stores to load, etc. i have laid out my stuff! today’s target is fusilli with minced beef and mushrooms, with tomato sauce. yes i cheated and used the tomato sauce that comes in a bottle.

so i start by preparing everything. i throw the minced beef in the freezer once i get back (even before i do the washing), then proceed to pour out one plateful of pasta, and clean and quarter my mushrooms. i dutifully wrap up the rest of the pasta, and keep the unused mushrooms inside a food bag, putting them inside the freezer. my cutting skills clearly leave much to be desired as my mushrooms are rather unevenly shaped, but it doesn’t bother me too much… we’re looking for survival, not presentation. i heat up the stove and start boiling the water, and add a teaspoon of salt into the water as mum tells me to do. in the pasta goes and i set my timer for 8 minutes. then i heat up the frying pan… and take out the beef, only to realize that crap, i should have taken it out earlier to defrost. oh well.

i put olive oil into the frying pan and then pop my quartered mushrooms in, stirring them around. i become really absorbed in trying to cook my mushrooms evenly (see i should have cut them nicely). they turn out pretty okay, add i add a little pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. ooh la la! next comes the beef. at a loss of what to do, i decide to dump the whole 250g lump of minced beef into the pan. as it starts to brown i realize – OH NO! forgot to break it up and now its clumping together. what follows is some ungainly struggling with my spatula to break up the half-frozen and half-cooking beef into smaller bits  before it becomes an overcooked hamburger patty.  suddenly at the 5 minute mark (this with the benefit of hindsight) my pot of pasta begins to boil over. whoops! mum did tell me that pasta boils really fast. water comes out. oh no. and this while my beef is being broken up halfway. aargh! what did i say about inexperience?

i turn the heat down on the pasta and decide to just let it boil away, concentrating on my beef. after the beef is in acceptably small bits i realize… i forgot to stir my pasta. oh dear. some vigorous stirring ensues but i don’t think it makes much of a difference. at 8 minutes i test the pasta. it’s a bit hard. back to the beef. the shrooms are sitting on a separate plate (at least i thought of that, whew). they smell nice and earthy and mushroomy. beef! ahh! i add tabasco and pepper to season and throw it around a bit more before separating it into two portions, and taking out half to keep. next it’s time to drain the pasta, after i turn down the heat on the pan. i take out the pasta (after 10 minutes, it’s just nice, al dente!) and put it onto my plate… only to find out, whoops, that’s a LOT of pasta. i guess 170g of pasta was a bit too much. but never fear! that’s the least of my worries.

i then dump the mushrooms back with the beef, and open up my bottle of tomato sauce and spoon it into the frying pan. it starts sizzling and making cooking noises. at this point i would like to think that it’s doing something cool, like reducing, and the flavour of the beef and the shrooms are integrating into the sauce but i’m afraid reality dictates that the water content in the tomato sauce is simply evaporating. nevertheless i toss it around a bit until it isn’t too watery, and promptly, without much ceremony, pour the thing over my pasta, trying very hard to lay it out evenly and hoping that it doesn’t spill over. it doesn’t. i’m saved.

first things first! stoves turned off and implements into the sink to soak, then my plate goes onto the table. it’s time to try out my own cooking – if you could call it that. i toss it around… clearly plating and presentation is not my strong point when it comes to food. well lets see. its’ edible and tastes alright, and the pasta is just how i like it. i’m afraid the positives end around there. i overcooked the beef a little, and its still in small chunks, not nicely distributed and minced. should have added more mushrooms! and a little more salt would be nice. i think the pre-made tomato sauce saved me. all in all i am very satisfied with what i have done. yum yum. i gobble up my food and then proceed to wash up everything, before moving on to…

mug cake!

which is simple, really, i told myself. just throw everything together and mix, how hard can it get? it says 5 minutes, right?

good thing i watched my mum bake before. so i dutifully added all the dry stuff before adding the liquid stuff.

however, things to note:

1) i need a sifting-thingie

2) i need a proper measuring spoon set. agar-ation might do for mug cake but not for more complex stuff

3) mixing by hand is no go

4) chocolate is really hard to handle. i couldn’t find chocolate chips so i bought a block of dark chocolate and started chopping it up. i had lots of trouble chopping it up evenly! and then it starts melting and my not-so-deft hands are making it slightly difficult to handle the knife and chocolate… it starts melting and i inevitably start licking. oh dear.

5) its really difficult to spoon the mixture into the cup nicely, how does mum do it????

6) it’s really good that mum isn’t there to stop me from licking up all the bits of cake mix

okay so then comes the fun bit of pushing the chocolate chips into the mug. in my enthusiasm for chocolate i dump a bunch of unevenly-chopped chocolate onto the mix in the cup, and attempt to push it into the center in order to form the wonderful lava-ish center. my technical skill is clearly not up to my intention… i end up stirring chocolate bits into the mix. for a bit of extravagance i add a thin layer of chocolate chips on top.

the end result is not perfect but is chocolatey enough to eat, and my two flatmates who taste it both respond with suitably appropriate ‘oh my its good’ that you normally hear when lots of chocolate and cocoa is present in something baked.

1) need to rethink the way that i build it. maybe put one dollop of mixture, build the chocolate center, then more mug cake? that will make sure the center is nice and runny and flowy.

2) mixture needs to be lighter. it’s a bit too dense for my liking, has to be a bit fluffier. how?

3) less flour, more cocoa :D but cocoa is expensive…

4) more chocolate!!!!!! where did that chocolate poem i wrote go?

5) need a bigger bowl to make larger quantities

6) 5 minutes is a scam, i took like 20 minutes

so. it is finished! my first meal, done all by myself, with no supervision, except whatsapp advice and a little mug cake recipe (gotta find more mug cake recipes). i am very satisfied – there is something extremely nice about the creating that goes on in cooking. though the washing up and cleaning is not nice. but the planning and execution… ah! the precision of great cooking! oh my. its good. i am inordinately proud of my rather minor achievement.

more importantly – cooking isn’t easy! especially if you’ve done it day after day after day. have to think of what to buy, what to cook, dread the washing up, blah blah. dear mum, if you are reading this (as i know you will be, o stalker mum of mine), thank you for cooking and baking all these complicated things that you know i like to eat, and for always making the effort to do the extra work like chopping onions and garlic just so that whatever is cooking tastes better, and for washing up and cleaning up and making sure every dish is served hot, and for telling me how and why different things are done in the kitchen (though ‘why, mum?’ has been around since i understood the concept of ‘why’), and packing good things like brownies and cookies for me to bring to school ever since i had a lunchbox, and packing my lunchbox every day of school since 1997 to 2008, then after that a big tupperware of food every weekend from 2009 to 2010, and all the apple crumble and yummy things in between, and doing all this without complaining and with a heart of love.

also, can you learn to make carrot cake? the super dense kind with layers and layers of cream cheese and walnuts and other delicious nuts.

Bedtime reading

Snuggled in bed I am reading a book, with Marks and Spencer’s Jaffa cakes beside me. Under my duvet I am warm. In my hands is an item of great power, whose mystery is never fully fathomable. I am reading a book.

I am reading Roald Dahl’s The Big Friendly Giant. It is intoxicatingly pleasant, and pleasantly intoxicating. I am getting tingles in my brain reading it. It is magical.

Next time if I ever have kids I will read Roald Dahl to them for bedtime stories. With lots of drama.