Monday, August 29, 2011

Bartlett Pear Preserve

Does anyone have any memories of tasting something just once, and it stuck so deeply in your mind, even after a decade?  That happened to me.  That happened to me and pear preserve.  The most common jams and preserves I've had are berries, apricot, and orange marmalade.  Prior to making this baby myself, I've only tasted pear preserve once.  Just once.

It was Autumn 1996.  I went on a 10-day Japan home-stay exchange under the LEX Language Research Foundation and Hippo Family Club program.  It was my first trip to Japan, and I still remember it like it happened just yesterday.  When I was staying with the Muto family, okaasan (mother in Japanese, that was how I addressed her) bought me sushi for dinner one evening.  Unfortunately, I was having a bad spell of migraine and any smell seemed to multiply itself by 10.  Needless to say, the raw fish didn't go down well that night.  I felt really bad, having wasted her warm hospitality.  Even now when I think back upon it, I still hope she understands that it wasn't the food or the culture, it was me and my horribly-timed migraine.  See, I couldn't speak Japanese back then and she didn't understand English very well.  All I knew was arigatou (thank you), konnichiwa (greeting), hai (yes), and samui (cold).  So I couldn't tell if she understood what I was saying.  Anyway, I went to bed earlier that night after some medication and woke up feeling much better in the morning.

When I went seeking for okaasan in the morning after brushing and cleaning, I found her in the kitchen with two dictionaries on the table and a note.  She had taken the time to look up words between two dictionaries and wrote a note for me.  The gist of it saying that she hoped I'm feeling much better and actually apologized for the food upsetting my stomach.  Instantly, I felt a warm and fuzzy feeling spreading all over me.  Then, she sat me down on the table and brought out a simple breakfast for me that tasted so good, I remember it to this day.  It was a thick slice of toast, covered in slightly melted cheese, and had a kind of jam spreaded over it.  Warm melty cheese toast with cold jam/preserve?  One bite was all it took.  I had to ask her what it was.  She looked up the dictionary and smiling, said: "Toast, cheese, and pear jam."

It's been more than 10 years now, but that simple breakfast stuck in my mind, unwilling to let go.  I tried looking for pear preserves, but they really aren't that common.  So, I decided to do my own research and make them myself.  And here, is one of my most cherished memory of Japan and okaasan, all wrapped up in one simple recipe.  It is my wish that you'll have beautiful memories with this pear preserve recipe as well. 

1- Jam and preserve are slightly different in a sense that preserves have bigger chunks of fruit whereas jams are mostly finely pureed.
2- If you prefer you may use pectin instead of lemon pith.  I just prefer using lemon pith because since I'm using lemon juice, there's the pith right there with it!
3- Sitting the pear slices in sugar overnight allows the fruit to release its juices.  I've also read that it helps the pears not to float up on top of your jar after cooking.
4- While preparing the pears, immerse the sliced pears into a bowl of cold water to prevent browning, especially if you have a large batch of pears.
5- If you prefer, do throw away the pith after cooking, or you can put it in a teabag or a tea-strainer for easier removal post-cooking.
6- To see what part of lemon is a pith, please see my Peach Preserve recipe.

Bartlett Pear Preserve

1-1/2 lb Bartlett pear, sliced
1 C sugar
1 bowl cold water
Juice from 1 lemon

Wash, peel, and core the pears.
Cut pears into thin slices.
As you are cutting, immerse the pear slices into the bowl of cold water to prevent browning.  (Tip #4)
Drain water from the pear slices and toss well with sugar.
Cover tightly, and leave overnight or at least 12 hours.
Next day...
Half a lemon and squeeze out the juice and set aside.
Cut off the tip of the lemon and open up the lemon peel.
Carefully, place your paring knife between the pith and peel, and cut out the pith from the peel.
Place all pear and sugar mixture, lemon juice, and pith into a medium sized sauce pan.
Heat the pan over high heat until the mixture boils.
Once the mixture is boiling, turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for 2-3 hours until thickened and fruit pieces have all softened.
*Do not worry too much if it still seems slightly watery, it will continue to thicken as it cools.
After the preserve has cooled, transfer the preserve into a clean jar and store in fridge.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Curry Curry Night: Chicken Curry, Bak Kut Sooi, & Five Spice Tofu Stirfry

Anyone else cooked curry on August 21st?  For those who aren't familiar with news in Singapore, where many of my friends are from, here's a quick summary from Temasek Review Emeritus.

I'm not trying to get political on any sides.  I'm not a Singaporean, I'm not associated with any event creators or any parties directly involved in the original hoo-ha.  I'm merely a fellow Earthling, who has Singaporean friends and relatives, who enjoys different sorts of curries, who believes that anyone has the right to cook whatever cultural dish they want to.  I'm writing this from a stand point of a cook.

I'll make and eat nato (Japanese fermented soybean), kimchee (Korean fermented cabbage), sauerkraut (German fermented cabbage), stinky tofu (a type of Chinese tofu dish), menudo (Mexican dish made with beef stomach), or curry if I like.  It's not as if I'm going cannibalistic and start eating fellow human flesh here.  So what's up with eating what I want and most importantly, cooking something that's intimately linked to my culture?

Anyone who knows belacan knows how strong it smells.  Belacan is a type of shrimp paste, an essential ingredient used in many Southeast Asian dishes.  Its smell can be described as pungent or fragrant, depending on if you like it or not.  On occasion, I still cook with belacan.  I'm lucky I don't live in HDB flat (flats are the English equivalent for the American apartment), where every many units are in close proximity.  However, I dare anyone to try pan frying belacan or making sambal belacan in their home with windows closed and then tell me their house does not smell.  Regardless of how great your love for belacan, you will find not only your hair and clothes smells like belacan, your whole house will smell like it.  That is why we love our stoves near the window.


I'm not Indian by ethnicity, I can't imagine being told not to cook curry, or in this case, only cook when the neighbors are not around.  But I can imagine being told not to cook with belacan, or only to cook belacan when my neighbors are gone.  If that were to be the case, that would mean I would almost never get to cook it.  Cripes!  Can you imagine being told not to cook a dish that's so intimately linked to your culture?  It's like being told to BBQ only when your neighbors are not home.  Or being told to cook chile relleno only when your neighbors are away.  Or being told to cook (insert cultural dish here) only when your neighbors are away.

Anyway, my point is, food is one of the most unifying factors that crosses countries and boundaries.  In fact, in my humble opinion, it is the factor that can unite people across the globe.  There are steakhouses in Asia, sushi restaurants in America, pizzas in Australia, kebob sold in Europe, crepes sold in Japan.  Let's cook and eat to be friendlier with each other, not against each other.  So here's a pot of curry that I share with all who visits this page.  Let's be friends, not enemies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cherries: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (cheat version)

What do you do with leftover chocolate cake layers?  I love schwarzwälder kirschtorte, also called Black Forest Cake, Black Forest Cherry Cake, or Black Forest Gateau.  After making one just a few weeks ago, I was left with one, single layer of chocolate cake.  That's just too little for a full cake, but to throw it away would have been so wasteful.  So, I decided to do a little cheat version of the cake I love so much.

1- If you have leftover cake layers, wrap it tightly with plastic wraps and it should store in the freezer for about two weeks.
2- It doesn't necessary have to be a heart-shaped cake, go for anything you have or like.
3- Personally, I prefer using Kirschwasser, it literally means cherry water in German.  However, if you are serving this to a child or pregnant ladies, you can substitute it with syrup from canned cherries mixed with simple sugar syrup (see recipe below).
4- You will see multiple choices for the soaking liquid.  You can chose any versions you prefer depending on your own liking and who you are serving the cake to.
5- I'm using fresh Bing cherries which are sweeter, but you can also substitute with canned cherries if you prefer.  Sweet, tart, pie filling, any kind of cherries you have are fine.  Marachino cherries, however, does not go so well if used as the filling, decorations are fine though.
6- If you don't have piping tips or piping set, you can spread it with a knife and spoon, or cut a 1/4 inch tip out of a zip top plastic bag and pipe.
7- If Chantilly cream on the cake turned soft due to surrounding temperature, do chill it in the fridge for about 10 minutes before serving.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (cheat version)

1 Chocolate chiffon cake layer
Arrange and using cookie cutters, cut out 3-6 shapes of the cake.
If the thickness of the cake is at or more than 3/4 inches, half it, so that it is about 1/2 inch thick.

Cherries, halved and pitted 
Depending on the size and shapes of your cake, you may need less or more of the cherries.

Chantilly Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
Whip all three ingredients to stiff peak and store in refrigerator until it is ready to be used.

Soaking Syrup:
Choice I)
1/8 cup kirschwasser

Choice II)
1/8 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
Boil the two ingredients until dissolved for a simple syrup.
Cool the syrup and set aside for later use.

Choice III)
3 tbsp simple syrup
3 tbsp kirschwasser
Mix all ingredients and set aside for later use.

Choice IV)
3 tbsp simple syrup
3 tbsp syrup from canned cherries
Mix all ingredients and set aside for later use.

Choice V)
2 tbsp simple syrup
2 tbsp syrup from canned cherries
2 tbsp kirschwasser
Mix all ingredients and set aside for later use.

After cutting out cake shapes, immediately brush with your choice of soaking liquid so that the cakes does not dry out.
Set first layer on a plate and pipe a thick later of Chantilly cream around the border.
Set cherry halves on the cake.
Add a little more Chantilly cream to fill the spaces between the cherries.
Place another layer of cake on top of the first layer, with soaked layer facing bottom.
Brush the top of the second layer of cake with soaking syrup.
Repeat procedure of piping cream and placing cherry halves on cake.
Place third layer of cake over the second layer of cream and cherries.
Decorate top of the cake with Chantilly cream, and decorate with more cherry halves.
Dust with cocoa powder if you wish.

You can also cover the whole cake with cream as shown in the picture below.  Whatever you wish, you can make em!  As the title of the blog suggests:  PLAY!  Have fun, enjoy! ^^

Sunday, August 14, 2011

For $2.50 at Farmers' Market...

That's what I got for $2.50 at the Farmer's Market this past weekend.  Ten picking cucumbers, four yellow onions, and three bell peppers (green, purple, and light yellow).  I've never seen a purple one before.  I'm excited to try it out.  Hopefully tomorrow.

I've never been to a farmers' market before this year, and my first experience was way more expensive than I thought it'd be.  Then, my friend who pens Little Corner of Mine, asked me if I wanted to join her visiting a local farmers' market a few weeks ago.  During my first trip there, I came out with pickling cucumbers, squashes, and carrots.  In fact, we both came out with similar produce.  She couldn't make it this weekend, so I went with hubby.  Again, I came home with another big bag of goodies.  More picking cucumbers this trip.  I've already sliced em all up and pickled em in a couple jars.  Now I can't wait for breakfast tomorrow morning with tri-colored bell pepper omelette.

Anyone had good or bad experiences at their local farmer's market?  I'm a newbie and if anyone has any good tips or things to look out for at the market, please do share, I would love to know. =)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Of Cherries and Pears

Phooey...  It HAS been a while since I've posted anything...  I feel bad, I really do.  Sorry everyone.  I was a stay at home wife for more than a year, and just recently started working as an interpreter.

I've always had a penchant for languages.  I grew up in a family speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien, then learned English and Malay in school.  Tried picking up German and Japanese along the way, and now I'm trying to learn Spanish.  I'd say I'm a pretty strong Mandarin language user.  However, since about 10 years ago, English has slowly but surely overtook Mandarin as the stronger language.   Thanks to a recent German trip, I've got some of those German words coming back to me.  It was really fun trying to use my really-touristy-broken German.  Let's see, I accidentally ordered a large beer instead of a small one?  Or paying 60 cents for a 70 cents ice-cream and had the lady behind the counter laughing as I sheepishly dug out another 10 cents to cover the difference.  I'd like to think of it as I made her day better with a laughter.  I hope...

As for my Japanese skill, well, let's just say that if you drop me anywhere in Japan, I'll manage to find my way out fine.  Not strong, just very child-like Japanese, but I won't starve to death in Japan.  After three years of weekly Japanese classes, I almost gave all of it back to my teacher.  Thank goodness for animes, mangas, J-pops and dramas.  Now I'm picking up a little Spanish here and there.  Hmm let's see, I can do a simple greeting and order food from restaurants or at the mercado (market/marketplace).  I really need to be better at my Spanish.  haha

Anyway, have you ever had that feeling that you can do more?  That you can somehow contribute more to the society, to your community?  For over a year, I held fast hoping that I could find another job in my previous engineering field, but that didn't happen.  I was just feeling that I should be doing more for my community when this interpreter thing dropped in my path.  By "thing", I mean a good thing!  I was a little skeptical when my lady boss said that she had a good feeling that we'll work along very well.  Maybe because I was going into a new field?  Maybe because I will be working mainly in medical settings?  Maybe...?  There may be a lot of "maybes", but I did it anyway.  I've taken a course, I've drilled myself in medical procedures and terminology, and also on what being a professional medical interpreter means.  It can be hectic sometimes, but so far, I like it!  Even though there are days when I felt that I could've done better, could've been better, deep down, I know that even just a little, I'm contributing to my community.  And I like that!  I've got this skill that can be applied in this way to serve my community, so why not?  But, on the downside, that means weekly drilling of medical terminologies and procedural names so that I can be better at what I'm doing.  Good way to keep my brain going I suppose.  And a very good way to bring back all that Chinese language skills that I have into tip-top shape.  YAY!

So, that's what's up with me as of late.  And finally I'm able to get a better foothold of my schedule and come back to my little blog.  Yes, I HAVE been playing with my food.  Still am, and probably always will.  I have been cooking, baking, and having fun in my kitchen, I just didn't have enough time to put everything together and present them out to the world.

Thus far, it seems like nothing's related to the title of this post "Of Cherries and Pears".  Sure does seem like it huh?  Fear not!  This is just the beginning.  *wink*  What's coming in the next couple posts will be cherries and pears related.  I'm SO excited!  I'm in love with cherries this season.  Bing, rainier, montgomery, or marachino, I love em all!  And pears, I have this little secret love for pears.  Umm hmm.  Yup!  I will be sharing a pear preserve recipe and what to do with leftover chocolate cake layers and some cherries.  How did I end up with a leftover chocolate cake layer?  Well... here's why...

Black Forest Cake!  My all time favorite...  Now I'm craving again.  *sigh*  I'm hopeless.  Hopelessly addicted to this little baby.  Now this?  I'm not so great at it yet, and my measurements are sorta in the trial and error stage, without any proper measurements, so I won't be a good source for this recipe for a while at least.  Meanwhile, I leave all of you with a beautiful photo auf Palais im Der Großer Garten (of Palace in the Grosser Garden) und Guten Tag!