A kitchen in January, mindful eating, a recipe for steamed egg custard

New Years Eve

January began with a quiet evening among friends, with blini, pizza bites, haloumi salad, ratatouille, and an Aussie barbecue, welcoming the new year. Do you like the view from our borrowed party pad? 🙂

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Markets

January is a time to restock after the Christmas holidays. Saturday morning, I went to the Eveleigh Markets followed by Paddy’s Markets in Chinatown. Here is part of the morning’s bounty. And, if you want a peek into other people’s kitchens, please visit the “In My Kitchen” posts hosted by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

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Cookbooks

January is a time to dive into cookbooks (that I bought, ie, non-sponsored), three in particular.

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To start, Naomi Duguid’s Burma: Rivers of Flavor. I didn’t need 20 new ingredients and trips to 5 speciality stores to get started. Shallots, turmeric, coriander, fish sauce, supplemented by a few easy-to-make pantry staples (from ingredients available even in good supermarkets in Sydney) resulted in clean yet complex flavours.

We’ve had golden egg curry (excuse the photos from early blogging days…), tamarind and pumpkin curry and travellers eggplant curry. In this heat wave-y weather, we’ve been dipping into salads – coming soon to a blog near you. I’ll come back to this book again and again.

Grapefruit salad, post coming soon...

People who follow The Garum Factory probably also know that Jody Adams and Ken Rivard published a book, In the Hands of a Chef. I recently got a copy, and have been immersed in Jody’s friendly and instructive voice. The approach to food seems to be just how I would like to cook and eat all the time. It serves as a reminder that, on some weekends or when we have friends over, I can take time to make my own stock, get people into the kitchen, make it fun, and focus on fresh seasonal food.

I’ve made the ‘jewel-like’ goat cheese terrine, but didn’t get photos (sorry Jody & Ken). Oliver’s chicken stew is next. To make up for my omission, here’s one from Ken himself – click on the image for their panelles recipe:

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Then, I found a copy of Gay Bilson’s Plenty: Digressions on Food. More a memoir and a food history of Sydney than a recipe book, it takes the reader through memories of Gay and Tony Bilson’s restaurants – iconic restaurants of their times, preparing food, the people, the meals. And tucked between the pages, like leaves from Gay’s notebook, are recipes from meals they have served, from chefs who worked in their restaurant.

This line from the cover of the book describes it so well, I won’t try for my own: “Gay Bilson’s writing is in turn cerebral and sensuous, analytical and celebratory, purposeful and playfully digressive.” I’m carrying this book to work, so I can read a few pages during lunch hour. It takes me away from the CBD and reminds me that dinner can be a simple yet pleasurable experience.

image from www.womensnook.com

Mindful eating, a steamed egg custard

And finally (phew!), I read the challenge from Stéphane of My French Heaven to eat mindfully – to eat something with minimum cooking or seasoning, to appreciate it for what it is. Since it was a challenge for ‘real foodies’, how could I say no?

I made steamed egg custard. A recipe from (southern?) China, the simplest version has eggs, water, a touch of salt and pepper: the egg mixture is steamed – gently! – until it just sets.

steamed-egg-custard-01

Simple, yet hard to make just so. Too much stirring, the custard will have bubbles. Too much heat, the custard will seize up and become tough, meaty in texture. Wrong bowls, or too much egg mixture, the outside will overcook before the centre sets. Too much heat, the custard surface will become pockmarked. My first attempt positively puffed up, souffle-like and might have made Julia Child proud – alas.

But get this right, you’ll be rewarded with the silkiest, softest, almost-buttery custard. It just wants to slip past your tongue, and feels like eating nothing at all. The simple version is all about the eggs. Invest in good organic eggs – ones with a thick shell and a bright orange-reddish yolk, from hens scratching for worms in open spaces – and you will have chicken soup for the southern Chinese soul.

Here’s the basic recipe. Give this a go. If you make souffle, congratulate yourself on conquering a French culinary feat and eat it mindfully anyway.

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Steamed egg custard

(similar recipes all over the interwebs)

Ingredients

4 free range eggs
250ml water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

To serve and garnish

light soy sauce and sesame oil, optional
thinly sliced spring onion, white/light green part only
toasted and ground black sesame

Method

1. In a large bowl, stir eggs, water, salt and pepper together until well blended. Pour into a measuring jug (this makes it easier to divide into equal portions), straining the mixture through a fine sieve to get rid of large bubbles.

2. Pour mixture into two or four bowls. The bowls should be heavy-ish and heat proof, such as Chinese ceramic bowls or pyrex. If there are floating bubbles, consider using a skewer or toothpick to prick them.

3. Boil water in a large saucepan or wok, set a steamer into the saucepan or in the wok. Reduce heat so the water is bubbling gently. Place bowls into steamer, cover and steam for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your bowl.

4. The custard is done when it is just set and only have a slightly wobbly (but solid) centre. A skewer inserted should also come out clean with no liquid clinging. (You may need to do a couple of test runs before figuring out the optimal water temperature and steaming time for the bowls you are using. It took me 3 attempts to get an ok result.)

5. Remove bowls, let cool slightly, garnish and serve.

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40 thoughts on “A kitchen in January, mindful eating, a recipe for steamed egg custard

  1. Sally 6 January 2014 at 12:10 am Reply

    That silky custard has my name on it. What a view for New Year…

    • saucygander 6 January 2014 at 1:42 pm Reply

      I think you would like the custard, and there are so many variations once you get the basic technique, Neil Perry serves it with spicy diced quails – such a contrast in flavours and textures.

  2. Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs 6 January 2014 at 4:07 am Reply

    I love certain food for their simplicity…for their simple beauty. This is truly one of them. Lovely post. ❤ I may have to make an online trip to Amazon for one, two, or three of those cookbooks today…

    • saucygander 6 January 2014 at 1:47 pm Reply

      Hi Prudy, indeed the custard is so simple yet elegant, and there are many variations and toppings once you get the basic recipe right.
      I’d like to hear about your favorite cookbooks too!

  3. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial 6 January 2014 at 8:01 am Reply

    Your custard looks VERY good! And what a spectacular location for NYE, lucky you! The Burmese cookbook looks very good, I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the pointer! 🙂

    • saucygander 6 January 2014 at 1:50 pm Reply

      Thanks Celia! It took a few goes at the custard, it was custard for lunch and dinner and b/f!
      Thanks for visiting and for organising IMK!

  4. Ada ~ More Food, Please 6 January 2014 at 8:29 am Reply

    I love steamed eggs! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Kim Bultman 6 January 2014 at 8:56 am Reply

    Yes. Yes I do like the view from your borrowed party pad. I also enjoyed your cookbook reviews. It’s remarkable how many types of cuisine are at our fingertips these days — very different from when I first began cooking — yet I’m game. The egg custard sounds worth the challenge and do-overs. Happy New Year!

    • saucygander 6 January 2014 at 1:56 pm Reply

      Hi Kim, happy new year! The egg custard is definitely worth it, and you can do so much more once you have the basic recipe, such as pairing it with crunchy / spicy dishes.
      And the range of good cookbooks is pretty exciting isn’t it?

  6. Gather and Graze 6 January 2014 at 9:36 am Reply

    Wow – this looks like a fabulous challenge to make – I imagine it will take a couple of attempts to get right! Aren’t eggs the most amazing of ingredients!?
    Your NYE must have been spectacular – right there on the Harbour – fantastic! 🙂

    • saucygander 6 January 2014 at 1:58 pm Reply

      The harbour view is probably the best well get for the next decade! 😀
      The egg custard took me a few attempts, you should have seen the bowls of custard in the kitchen… But it’s really worth it, so many variations for snacks or a full dinner dish.

  7. ladyredspecs 6 January 2014 at 10:02 am Reply

    Wow savoury steamed custard looks subtle, silky and sensuous! Great job! I love reading Gay Bilson. She may be opiniated, but she’s got the goods to back up her ideals. I looked at that Burmese cookbook the other day and almost bought it, might need to take another look!

    • saucygander 6 January 2014 at 2:02 pm Reply

      I hesitated for a while before buying the Burmese book, as I want so many! But I am really liking it. I’m only part way through the Gay Nilson book, am loving the restaurant history and her thoughts on food and restaurants. As you say, she has the goods to back herself up.

      Glad you liked the look of the custard, I was like, finally, I can stop steaming custard! 😀

  8. Joanne T Ferguson (@mickeydownunder) 6 January 2014 at 10:15 am Reply

    G’day! What a view!
    Your custard looks very yum and wish I could try some right now!
    Thanks also for this month’s kitchen view! GREAT!
    Cheers! Joanne

    • saucygander 7 January 2014 at 1:31 pm Reply

      Thanks for visiting, we liked the view too! 😉

  9. Liz 6 January 2014 at 1:11 pm Reply

    once again, lovely prose and gorgeous photos. That custard would melt in your mouth, yes? Mmmmmm….. And yes to new cookbooks!

    • saucygander 7 January 2014 at 1:30 pm Reply

      Yes, when the custard isn’t trying to become souffle, it is melt in your mouth silky. Goes well with crunchy/spicy food!

  10. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 6 January 2014 at 8:21 pm Reply

    When the egg custard is done right, it’s heavenly!

    • saucygander 7 January 2014 at 1:34 pm Reply

      It is! And I love what Neil Perry does with egg custard and spicy quail…

  11. My French Heaven 6 January 2014 at 10:29 pm Reply

    What a great idea! You know I am mad about Asian food. This post is quite inspiring! 😉

    • saucygander 7 January 2014 at 1:37 pm Reply

      Speaking of inspiring, your latest post with all those images of France, wow!

  12. lizzygoodthings 7 January 2014 at 7:12 am Reply

    Wow, now that is what I call a wonderful custard! Love those books… have never heard of the titles so must now go an investigate. Happy new year and happy cooking xo

    • saucygander 7 January 2014 at 1:41 pm Reply

      Hi Lizzy, thanks for dropping by! Some of the titles are harder to find, but definitely worth finding!

  13. Lilly Sue 7 January 2014 at 5:21 pm Reply

    This definitely sounds intriguing! I think I might try this. Did you do it as a side dish or first course to something else?

    • saucygander 8 January 2014 at 2:17 am Reply

      I had the custard as a light meal, topped with crispy bacon bits and chopped spring onions. The bacon isn’t traditional but was a good contrast in texture and flavour.

      • Lilly Sue 8 January 2014 at 9:40 am

        Ooh, that sounds very delicious 🙂

  14. yummychunklet 8 January 2014 at 3:20 am Reply

    Now I want to make a custard!

  15. TIFFIN bitesizedfood (@TIFFINbitesized) 8 January 2014 at 10:18 am Reply

    I laughed at your Julia Child souffle comment. Eggs are the darndest things aren’t they? Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more IMK adventures in 2014.

    • saucygander 8 January 2014 at 12:32 pm Reply

      Thank you! Eggs *are* the darnedest, but so much fun along the way. 🙂

  16. Jody and Ken 8 January 2014 at 1:20 pm Reply

    How nice of you to mention us! The custard sounds really intriguing–something to do on one of these freezing Saturdays when you don’t dare go out. Ken

    • saucygander 10 January 2014 at 9:54 pm Reply

      Thanks, glad you liked the custard. It’s my idea of comfort food, once it stopped trying to be souffle.

      • Jody and Ken 10 January 2014 at 11:31 pm

        Ha! I’ll let you know how mine goes. Ken

  17. heidiannie 9 January 2014 at 4:04 am Reply

    Those look perfect. I’ve never had anything that simple yet -well- perfect. I’m going to try it- even if it takes a few tries.
    Thanks for the recipe and inspiration.

    • saucygander 10 January 2014 at 10:00 pm Reply

      Thank you so much! Egg custard is wonderful when made properly. Great to have you visit this month!

  18. tableofcolors 10 January 2014 at 6:30 am Reply

    I too, have thought about mindful eating for the New Year. I believe it to be a very achievable goal. Loved your kitchen.

    • saucygander 10 January 2014 at 10:04 pm Reply

      Yes, I agree, simpler whole food and less ‘fuss’ is very achievable. If dinner focuses on bringing out the best of one or two ingredients, it can be really satisfying and encourage mindful eating.
      Thanks for visiting!

  19. Michelle 10 January 2014 at 11:03 am Reply

    The custard looks fabulous! I bought the Burma cookbook a year or so ago and made only one recipe from it before setting it aside and forgetting about it. But we just last week happened upon a Burmese grocery here in town (we assumed it was Thai-owned until we noticed all the Aung San Suu Kyi posters) and so we’ve resolved to get the book back out and start cooking.

    • saucygander 10 January 2014 at 10:52 pm Reply

      You have a Burmese grocery store? I am still looking for those soybean discs.. The recipes work well in the hot Australian summer weather, and I like that some are simple enough for weeknight dinners.

  20. My Kitchen Stories 16 January 2014 at 6:53 pm Reply

    Thanks for reminding us to all slow down and think what we are eating. Plenty is/ was a cutting edge book when released. gay is an iconic figure. Egg custard wow, it looks delicoius

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