Sunday, January 23, 2011

Butternut Squash Brulée: Malaysian winter?

You can find my serious voice for this recipe at The Daily News Egypt.

Dear Butternut Squash,
I'm sorry I never bothered making you before. I know, I know. I've tried out quite a variety of things in the short time I've been cooking but you, I never bothered to pay attention to you. You see, before I dealt with you, I thought you were just a pumpkin. A kind of long pumpkin that couldn't really be any more interesting than a regular pumpkin. Shocking really. Thinking about it. I'm not to be blamed. There's no winter in Malaysia so we're not really looking for winter squash now, are we? And you're a winter squash, baby. I'm so horribly sorry. I know this hurts. See, I thought your skin was a lot thicker than what it actually turned out to be. I can peel off your layers a lot easier than I thought. You're such a fragile, delicate thing when you're scorched but sometimes, Butternut, that's the way some souls should be dealt with and you should accept that. So now that I've used you, I hope you're happy. I'm not sure how often I'll call but I'll give you a call again sometime soon. I hope you'll be waiting by the phone. 
Yours until you enter my body,
User Not Abuser
P.S. I'd like to thank my stepkids for being my hand models on occasion. Butterflies love you and so do I.
Butternut Squash Brulée
You'll need:
1 cup of butternut squash purée (I roasted a 1 kg one and pureed it. You'll need half of that.)
3 large egg yolks 
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of hot heavy cream left to cool
1 full teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 a teaspoon of allspice
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
 A small pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar, per ramekin
Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks and the brown sugar and whisk until you get a nice deep color and a relatively smooth consistency. This took me around a 1.5-2 minutes. Pour in the cream slowly while whisking continuously. Blend in the vanilla, cinnamon and all spice until all is combined. Add the butternut squash and stir until it all comes together. Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins. Place the ramekins in a roasting dish and pour water in until it reaches halfway. Make sure you don't get water into your ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes. It should be set but should tremble a little in the center. The jiggle shouldn't be liquidy. You're looking for a relatively firm jiggle. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. When you're ready to serve, sprinkle a layer of sugar. Make sure it's spread evenly. You can either use a propane torch to caramelize the top or you could place it under a hot grill for up to 5 minutes at the most. Make sure to watch it carefully. Allow it to rest for a few minutes and serve.   
Then you tap on it and make up a song before you crack it. 

Buttered Up in The Daily News Egypt

Buttered Up is now a food column in The Daily News Egypt. After being interviewed by the Lifestyle Editor, Heba El Kayal, for a regular Q&A piece about my blog, I was offered the column and now that the first one is published, I'm trying to hide the smile on my face, I'm giddy on the inside and I'm definitely feeling a little challenged. You'll be able to read the initial Q&A here and read the first column with a recipe here. This is all new to me and my mind is already moving in thousands of different directions. I would love to hear from anyone who's read it. Heba, it is becoming a rare thing to find people who truly and genuinely have faith in you. Thank you for believing in me. :) 

UPDATE: The older columns are now available on Buttered-Up. You can read it below. 
How did you see yourself at the age of 11?

I, for one, thought I wouldn't get married until the age of 30 due to being the high and mighty career woman I was to be. I never dreamed of a big, poufy wedding dress, never wanted a sprawling buffet or an equally horrifying seven-tier wedding cake, and I definitely did not want the gushing bridesmaids. No, thank you. Your cue to laugh is coming up.

I'm a 26-year-old stepmother of two and wife to one. It isn't recent either. We're counting up to four years as a modern blended family. The quixotically romantic 14 year old in me, who dreamt of boys, cheered me on as I left my celebrated career in advertising to dance with my husband on the pavements of rainy Kuala Lumpur, when he's not working that is.

The monsoons trapped me indoors long enough to allow me to face up to my fear of the kitchen and now I'm here as I have been for a while. So how is living in Kuala Lumpur? Confusing enough to misunderstand the meaning of the word “breakfast.”

I woke up to a friend calling me at 8 am. She had already gone for her morning swim and was bringing “a yummy-licious breakfast over.” In all seriousness, that is the way she speaks.

My mind, already crawling towards the coffee maker, decided to simultaneously flick through its countless albums of sticky and not-so-sticky pastries; or maybe a panini laced with grilled aubergine and peppers. That morning, unlike other mornings, I couldn't wait to eat. A brief 10 minutes later, my dreams were deflated like a badly beaten soufflé.

My breakfast buddy showed up with a grin and a Nasi Lemak, Malaysia's national dish, a concoction of rice soaked in coconut milk then steamed and served with compulsory condiments: a hard boiled egg, crunchy roasted peanuts, dried anchovies, a spicy sambal sauce, a piece of fried chicken and some cucumber slices to cool you down. The condiments that are optional, in case you're interested, range from pickled vegetables to beef stew.

“The trick is to mush it all up together with a fork. That's the way my grandma used to feed it to us when we were kids,” she continued to chirp as I secretly cried at the fate of my street corner croissant being attacked by a Chinese school boy.

The thought was quite endearing really that she would bring me a part of Malaysia's heritage for breakfast — a dish they were happy to devour happily at any time of the day, a dish that made her talk about her grandmother. It was then that I had the feeling I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

There weren't any marketing executives on power trips judging my breakfast choices over morning briefings for the next campaign and there certainly wasn't any sugar in my tea, anywhere. Sugar in your plain, beautiful, fragrant tea? Are you mad? Things are different here in Malaysia.

You lose touch with your senses as they blend into the cornucopia of cultures and thus cuisines, and rediscover them all over again when you're hit with a smell of the downright bizarre amidst a city embedded in the jungle.
The one thing you learn about local friends is that they come with offerings of stingray, tofu, variations of tamarind sauce and an intriguing interest in yams, not to mention the durians, but that's for a later date. What happens after three years of tamarind and turmeric?

You start shifting your eyes towards your own culture and begin to wonder why we don't have the passion to experiment on our own; that is assuming no one is doing it for us: the newest imported chef carrying the freshest imported produce, the composed restauranteur who holds the key to the bounties of the city along with other cities, the people who “know how.”

With the influx of trendy new eateries in Cairo, I'm surprised that most of us haven't chosen to start branching out in our own kitchens.

Can I make a deal with you? I'll follow the self-help books and let the change begin with me. I'll give you a recipe every week and you promise that you'll try to branch out, just a bit. That's all.
And as is tradition, I'm breaking bread with you — in the form of a sandwich. We can all make a sandwich, can't we?

A Mediterranean Panino

(Serves 2)

You'll need: 
4 slices of good bread (I'm using ciabatta)
3 teaspoons of pesto Genovese
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 handful of rocket
1 small aubergine, peeled and sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow pepper, roasted and sliced
2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A few slices of Gruyère
Salt to taste

Spread the pesto on the bread — 1.5 teaspoons per sandwich. Heat up your pan or griddle to medium heat. Add the olive oil, aubergine, zucchini and black pepper and cook for 6-8 minutes or until tender and nicely colored. Remove from the pan. Add salt to taste when you're done. You don't want to draw out the juices while cooking by adding salt. Alternately, you could also slice fresh peppers and add them to the pan to cook out if you'd prefer not to roast them.  Wilt the rocket in the same pan for 5-10 seconds and remove from the heat. Assemble your panino. The rocket goes first then the aubergine, zucchini and roasted pepper follow. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar in between. Top with Gruyère and melt by placing the sandwich in a clean pan or griddle on medium heat until the bread is toasted. Serve with a baby spinach and walnut salad drizzled with a basic vinaigrette.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sunshine Toast, because there's sun.

Today is a rare day. Today, the sun is out and there is no gloom yet. Gloom should move. It should reside somewhere else. It should move to the homes of people who ask for fake Rolexes with bad zircons.   
You'll need:
2 to 3 tablespoons of butter
1 slice of bread
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Use something small and with a round edge (like a glass or a cookie-cutter) to cut a hole out of the center of your bread. Don't discard the cutout. Begin melting your butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Toast your bread and cutout on one side in the pan until golden. Don't turn your heat up. You'll risk burning your bread and butter. Turn your bread to the other side as well as your round cutout. Melt a tiny bit of butter in the bread hole, crack the egg directly into the hole and cook until the egg is set to your preference. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the toasted cutout. 

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