On a springtime Saturday

Poached eggs over smoked salmon and asparagus
Waking up early with a smile on your face. Lazing in bed knowing there is a slight drizzle outside but enjoying the comforting thought that you are not under any pressure to get up anytime soon. Reading your favourite food blogs for inspiration while sipping on a hot, strong, cappuccino. The perfect breakfast. I can’t think of a better way to start off a springtime Saturday.

So maybe it is not exactly spring in Malaysia considering we only have two types of weather – scorching hot and thunderous rainy days. Birds continuously chirp and trees flower pretty much all year round here. However while going through my usual blogroll and soaking in the entries dedicated to the fresh seasonal produce during this time of the year, I could not resist the urge to join the bandwagon in celebrating the arrival of spring in many parts of the world. Think a wonderful array of green and yellow – asparagus, peppery rocket, watercress, radish, chicory, heirloom tomatoes. The foodie spring fever has certainly kicked in with many features on light, bright, and fresh dishes to honour the season of new life. They May asparagus month is always one of my favourite times of the year. These lovely green spears require absolutely minimal cooking as the main standout is in its natural flavour. I always rejoice in the fact that the inclusion of asparagus to any dish invariable adds a touch of class, transforming a simple home cooked dish into an elegant, gourmet meal. Luckily for me  (but not so for the carbon footprint), asparagus tends to be available throughout the year since this is imported from various locations.

Inspired to bring the joyful spirit of spring to my tropical kitchen in Malaysia, I started off a wonderful Saturday morning with poached eggs, lightly grilled asparagus, smoked salmon topped with a yoghurt hollandaise. Such a simple breakfast with minimal cooking time and yet you come away feeling like it is a grand celebration of a special occasion. Guaranteed to put a spring in your step to welcome the weekend ahead.

Poached eggs over asparagus and smoked salmon
with a yoghurt hollandaise sauce

Basic Ingredients
Asparagus, smoked salmon, eggs, half a ciabatta, butter. 
For the sauce: onion, garlic, small single portion tub of natural yoghurt, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, dried thyme, juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. Toast ciabatta
2. Trim off their ends and blanche asparagus spears in boiling water for about 1 minute. Following this, pan grill with a bit of butter for about 2-3 minutes to add a bit of smokiness.
3. For the sauce – sauté onion and garlic with olive oil. Add yoghurt, dijon mustard, lemon juice, thyme, and season. Let sauce reduce.
4. Poach eggs.
5. To plate, line ciabatta with asparagus and smoked salmon. Top with poached eggs and a drizzle of the yoghurt hollandaise.

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Looking at the sunny side up of things

Mushroom, cherry tomatoes & feta omelette
Unexpected, yet so comforting. Blank canvas of possibilities but also a trusting safety blanket. A sense of newness and so familiar at the same time. These are the words that I would use to describe one of the most simple and down to earth meals – the almighty omelette.

With the omelette comes  a world of exciting new filling discoveries (great for clearing out the fridge with various ingredient combos) but yet somehow, each and every bite always feels so right, as if you’ve known this taste forever – it feels like home. So experiment with ingredients, go a little crazy. Let the surprises sweep you off your feet. I’m holding on to the magic of the unexpected.

Cheese, feta, mushroom omelette

The Ingredients
Two eggs, splash of milk, chopped onions, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, butter, salt & pepper. To garnish: rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, more feta.

The Preparation
1. Whisk the two eggs with splash of milk. Season.
2. In a pan melt butter, add chopped onions, and sautee mushrooms. Set aside.
3. Melt butter in a pan and pour in egg mixture.
4. Once egg has started to settle add in mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
5. Add in feta cheese.
6. Fold omelette until it looks 3/4 done.
7. Serve with rocket leaves, tomatoes, additional feta, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Just like the old days part 3

A twist on eggs florentine
The final chapter in my tribute to the London foursome, I’m dedicating this to the member who is always my partner in crime when in comes to foodie adventures. This lovely lady, who is still holding down the fort in London town for us, was the one person I would immediately turn to when I was on a mission to find the best of the best. These constant quests to find meals that would surpass a previous discovery made the whole experience of eating in London incredibly exciting. We hunted down the best Red Velvets – after one too many cupcakes, sugar highs, and to avoid bursting the seams of our jeans we conceded Hummingbird Bakery (still) holds the crown. There were numerous Sunday brunch dim sum trials (I am a Royal China loyalist) and stomach bursting Greek restaurant sessions (the jury is still out for Retsina of Belsize park vs Lemonia in charming Primrose Hill). Probably the most significant search of them all – the best eggs benedict/florentine. We cracked (cue drum cymbal) through a dozen different brunch places, even attempted making our own, but absolutely hands down this award goes to Raouls in Maida Vale. The eggs here were out-of-this-world, enormously golden orange yokes poached to perfection. At the risk of sounding like a broken record from previous posts, I hate non runny eggs and poached eggs with overcooked yolks are a sacrilege (this explains why I refuse to step foot at Bangsar’s Plan B – RM 16 for well done poached eggs, I don’t think so). 

I cannot have an eggs benedict or florentine without missing this lovely lady. Our egg-scapades powered us through catchups on life, morning-afters bitching about how all men in the world suck (or were sweethearts depending on the day), weekend escapes from insane flatmates, and celebrations such as Will and Kate’s nuptials, where she made gorgeous homemade eggs benedict in our little commoner’s party for the royals. 

When making eggs benedict or florentine at home, I tend to tweak the recipe to make the dish a tad less sinful. I cannot bring myself to make my own hollandaise sauce knowing how much butter and additional egg yolks are required. My version of hollandaise uses natural yoghurt and dijon mustard for a similar creamy sauce with a tangy hit. The spinach is also cooked in the sauce for extra lusciousness. When I’ve made this recently, a wholemeal roll was used as base because for some reason English muffins bought in Malaysia taste a tad cardboard like? The eggs you see below were poached using a nifty device from John Lewis that are meant to be quite easy to use. The eggs sit in the pouch, hovering over a pot of boiling water. Before you know it, ben’s your uncle and you should technically have poached perfection. I don’t seem to have a problem with the runny yolks, it’s more the egg formation that can get extremely messy even with additional help. Lucky for me, cameras can hide certain angles. I will not say more. I have officially added ‘perfectly poach an egg’ to my list of things to do before turning 35 to compensate. 

No competition to Raoul’s but still a reminder of our lovely food quests and catchups. To our foodie adventures, weekend brekkies are not the same without you Nana. 

Eggs Florentine

Basic Ingredients
Two eggs, wholemeal roll, spinach, half an onion, 1/2 cup natural yoghurt, 2-3 tsp dijon mustard, half a lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper, spring onions to garnish.

The Preparation
1. Poach eggs (or in my case attempt to poach eggs).

2. Make the sauce by sautéing onions with olive oil. When onions start to brown add natural yoghurt and dijon mustard. Season. Before sauce is about to boil, squeeze in lemon juice and reserve some sauce to pour over the eggs.
3. Add spinach leaves to remaining sauce in pan. When leaves have wilted take off the heat.
4. To assemble place a layer of the spinach mixture on top of a halved, toasted roll. Top with poached egg, drizzle extra sauce, and garnish with chopped spring onions.
5. Serve with a simple side salad of spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes.  

Turning over a new leaf

Oatmeal porridge with nuts and berries
24th June. 42 km. Exactly 24 weeks to prepare myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the things on my to-do-list before turning 35 is to run two full marathons. The 16 year-old version of myself, who might I add was horrifically bad at ALL sports, would have had a heart attack knowing that out of all the aspirations to have in the world, running marathons makes the bucket list. Whatever happened to the good old simple dream of having a nice family, house, and job? I guess I have always prioritised things slightly differently than most people. I picked up running in my mid twenties and since then have been hooked to the focus, endurance, and clarity that each run provides.

The marathon bug kicked in last year when I went to watch the annual London marathon. I was absolutely mesmerised by what I consider a prime example of the spirit of humanity at its very best. Young and old were determined to complete a task that challenges the very core of your willpower. The most beautiful part of the day however was being immersed in the positive energy of the crowd cheering, supporting, and encouraging completely random runners. I found myself in tears several times, knowing that the spirit of genuine, compassionate brother/sisterhood albeit rare nowadays, still exists.

I participated in my first half marathon in October 2011 and now I am setting my sights on completing the full 42 km. The mere thought that the upcoming run will be double in length of what I considered a challengingly ass-kicking run last October is enough to make me question my own sanity level. Unlike some people, I’m not a natural born runner – it’s something that I have to work very hard at. So to ensure that I perform the best I possibly can, I have chosen to embark on a slight lifestyle change to allow me to focus on training to improve my run. Unfortunately this will mean hanging up my club night dancing shoes and going completely teetotal for a little while. Over the past years, I have been able to crawl into bed at 6am on a Saturday morning and still manage a lengthy run later in the afternoon. Recently though (I blame age!), I do find that after a night out, my running session is more torturous as my throbbing head violently resists enduring another bout of further head and heart pounding pain.

I will of course miss dancing away to my favourite tunes and the calming effects of a glass of vino at the end of a long work week, but to be honest I am looking forward to being more health-centric for the next couple of months. More sleep and not ingesting twenty packs worth of cigarette smoke actually sounds like bliss. It will be nice not waking up reeking of ciggie smoke, feeling that the stench has permeated every inch of your skin and all items of clothing that you own (they really need to start banning smoking in clubs/indoors/in-general-period in KL!).

So to mark my turning over a new leaf, I started my morning with a heartwarming bowl of oatmeal porridge. This is normally not my first choice for brekkie after a night out but otherwise I am a hardcore porridge loyalist. Porridge was my best friend in London – knowing that I would eventually sit down to a bowl of warm goodness was what got me through freezing cold winter morning runs. Oats are a great source of endurance for runners. As a complex carbohydrate with high amounts of soluble figure, it releases energy slowly avoiding the highs and lows that can result from eating other foods with fast energy release. This keeps you fuller for longer, while nourishing you with its high levels of vitamins and minerals. Porridge also reduces the build up of bad cholesterol thus ensuring a healthy heart and is known to have mood enhancing effects. Combine this with the endorphin releasing buzz triggered from running, it is definitely a great way to start the day on positive note.

Plain porridge oats (I am not a fan of sugar laden flavoured options) may be a wee bit bland so I tend to add on berries, nuts, raisins, a drop of honey and some cinnamon to liven things up. So with each bite of this nourishing goodness, I say farewell (temporarily of course) to the dance-floor-loving me and look forward to the next few months of a more focused, healthier, and stronger version of myself.

Goodness in a bowl – porridge oats

Basic Ingredients
Porridge oats (I prefer organic wholegrain oats instead of instant oats), semi-skimmed milk, honey, cinnamon, berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries), mixed nuts (hazelnut, walnuts), raisins, dried cranberries 

The Prep
1. Measure 1 small cup of porridge into a pot. Using the same cup, add in one and a half cups of milk. There is not an exact science to this as some people like their porridge drier while others prefer more milk. I would suggest starting off with less milk and then you can always add more of the porridge dries up.
2. Add in a teaspoon of cinnamon
3. Porridge is done when most of the milk is absorb – again this is based on preference of how you like your porridge. If porridge looks to dry, you can add more milk. Take off the heat and add a drop of honey, berries, nuts, raisins, cranberries.

To new beginnings

Vegetarian breakfast fry-up
The first day of a brand new year always unfolds a fresh wave of optimism, hope, and excitement about the endless possibilities the next 12 months hold. 
At the stroke of midnight it feels as if your slate is magically wiped clean of any past grievances, opening the door to reinvention and new experiences. 

I’m not one for making new year’s resolutions.  I tend to set my goals and achievements as and when I am inspired to do so rather than at the beginning of the new year. However I do believe in having a clear mantra each year, which I use as point of inspiration to understand any key decisions, occurrences, or challenges I am faced with. Establishing my own philosophy based on pure intentions that I can relate to, helps me to become a more grounded (and hopefully honest) person. I would like to hope that with each mantra I set (and as the years go by and I get a little bit wiser!), I’ll be a step closer to understanding the universe and why it has led me to where I am at that point in time. 

To welcome 2011, I toasted with a nice glass of champagne (they do it in style in Dusseldorf!) to ‘new adventures and new chapters’. I knew 2011 would be a pivotal point in my life with my move to KL and turning 30, so everything I set out to do was with the intention of transformation and testing my comfort zone. And what an experience 2011 has been, to the extent that I had maybe just one too many adventures. This realisation kicked in after I was pulled over by a police car for running a red light (on justifiable grounds might I add) and an expired road tax all on the same night (not to mention mowing down my gate a couple of days beforehand).

So for 2012, I’m opting for a mantra that is perhaps a little less exciting but more appreciative of everything that is around me. For me, 2012 is about seeking positive energy and joyful moments in everything I do. Surrounding myself with positive people that can inspire laughter, a sense of understanding, and the tendency to see life with a ‘glass half full’ attitude will naturally bring out the best in me to acknowledge all the small moments that matter.    

As I opened my eyes for my first morning of 2012, I was thankful that I absolutely had no plans  – no runs, no yoga classes, errands, or commitments. It’s been a while since I’ve intentionally planned to have no plans. Usually when I don’t feel like doing anything, this is a forced response to having to recover from a big night out or sheer work exhaustion. When you have the luxury of time on your hands, one of the best ways to start the morning is preparing a long, self-rewarding breakfast that helps set the right tone and mood for the rest of day. My vegetarian breakfast fryup was extra special today as I prepared the meal with family in the kitchen. What was possibly more miraculous was the fact that my dad freely volunteered to eat something I had prepared when he normally shuns my cooking as hippie food. To appease him, I was slightly more decadent with my treatment of the portobello mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and spinach (I don’t normally use a lot of butter or cream in my cooking). In this case, the richness of the herb butter on the portobello mushrooms was not overpowering and actually helped integrate and accentuate the flavours of the other ingredients. I absolutely love cherry tomatoes that have been slightly over roasted, where the slightest bite easily triggers an explosion of sweetness. So with family in the kitchen, lovely over roasted cherry tomatoes, and buttery portobello mushrooms, my 2012 is off to a positive and joyful start. 

Vegetarian breakfast fry up (portobello mushrooms with herb butter, cherry tomatoes & rosemary, spinach and scrambled eggs)

Basic ingredients
Portobello mushrooms, butter, mixed herbs (I use dried), cherry tomatoes, rosemary, spinach, garlic, eggs, sour cream, salt & pepper.

The joy begins with
1. For portobello mushrooms with herb butter – mash butter with mixed herbs and seasoning until the butter has quite a smooth consistency to make it easier to apply. Spread mixture into the portobello mushrooms (I actually like leaving the stalks on my mushrooms, especially in Malaysia when the size of portobello mushrooms are TINY!). 

2.  For the roasted cherry tomatoes & rosemary – halve cherry tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and rosemary. Grill with the portobello mushrooms so that the juices from both have a chance to amalgamate (lovely to soak up with some bread!!). 
3. For the spinach – sauté garlic with olive oil. Add spinach and cook until the leaves have wilted, season. Before taking off the heat, add a tablespoon of sour cream to the pan and mix. 
4. Serve all of the above with scrambled eggs and toast. I poured the juices from the roasted vegetables onto the plate as well.
5. Appreciate the moment.