Unknowingly, I’d spent more than 3 hours in the kitchen that late Saturday afternoon preparing dinner while listening to the limited, repetitive coverage of the Bersih rally on Channel NewsAsia. My menu was a progressive build, which started from my purchase of a bottle of white truffle oil (that made up a third of the dinner’s cost) at noon. The rest of the ingredients were picked up at a hypermarket, mindfully and economically, as to not exceed my personal budget (truffle oil included) comparable to a main course at most starred restaurants in town and yet, are able to be used to create dishes that are much more interesting than most weekday dinners of stir-fried leftovers from the refrigerator with soy sauce, dark or light.
Cream of Carrot, Dried Shrimps and Pumpkin with Truffle Oil
I have been using a lot of carrots and pumpkins for my regimented weekday dinners. Apart from being a rich source of vitamin A, I begin to discover the immense natural sweetness of these two ingredients and have been planning to create a dish to just showcase this character, hence the cream of carrot and pumpkin. I used a stock of sun-dried local anchovies and pork bones, which were simmered for almost an hour. It’s an easy starter to prepare – just pureeing the softened mirepoix of carrots, onions, garlic and pumpkin with toasted dried shrimps and stock. No cream of any kind was used. I topped the dish with a crack of black pepper and a drizzle of truffle oil. I should have omitted the latter as its scent was overshadowed by the pungency of the dried shrimps. The sweetness of the cream was expectedly intense. The dried shrimps gave the starter an Asian twist, which I thought was interesting. This was served with slices of dark rye sourdough.
Spread of Spinach and Anchovies
The chilled spread of spinach and Spanish anchovies in a yoghurt/chilli powder dressing, believe it or not, was supposedly a two-dish of palak paneer and fish/vegetable curry! I’d decided to scrap the idea of preparing two dishes as it was laborious and of course, more expensive. I toyed with the idea of canapés for the spread as well, but ended up conveniently smacking a thick layer of the green paste on the sourdough. I thought the combination of savouriness of the anchovies, sourness of the yoghurt and tinge of heat from the chilli powder worked well with the bland, finely chopped spinach. The remaining spread was sandwiched between multi-grain toasts for breakfast on Monday.
Angel Hair Carbonara, Truffle Oil, Assorted Mushrooms in Balsamic/Muscovado Reduction
One of the reasons why I bought the bottle of truffle oil is to improve my carbonara recipe. Previously, I’d used truffle salsa and the scent was consistently mild, despite my pouring of almost half a bottle to approximately half a pack of spaghetti. Perhaps I should have made some truffle butter for the mix but I guess I’m just too lazy for that. So, this time, with three raw eggs, a pack of grated parmesan cheese, some truffle oil and another generous pouring of truffle oil to every individual serving, the scent was much more prevalent. Instead of the usual bacon strips, I’d incorporated a medley of mushrooms (white, porcini and portobello) into the carbonara mixture. The sliced mushrooms were flavoured with a reduction of balsamic vinegar and a dash of muscovado for a sweet contrast against the rich carbonara sauce.
Not every dish that I make turned out edible like any of the above, I must note. And embarrassingly, I still haven’t been able to grasp the fundamentals of cooking plain white rice. Desserts? I’m definitely a goner. In my last attempt at something sweet, I’d wasted a few eggs, cubes of cheddar, sugar, dried longan flesh, beancurd skin and some wolfberries. Among other memorable sweet failures include a carrot cake that ended up dark brown lumps of carrot shreds, crushed walnuts and pineapple cubes that resemble...I shall not elaborate further. I did consider restarting with simpler desserts like a trifle or crepe. But I’m not really interested in either, so why waste time and effort constructing such dishes, right? I’d decided that I should just stick to what I enjoy making the most – savouries. :D