Posted: 06 Nov 2012 02:57 AM PST
TV chef Rachel Allen takes the stress out of cooking and baking.
WHAT is it like cooking with the famous TV chef Rachel Allen? To say "awesome" would be an understatement!
But more than that, I was really impressed with how easy it actually was. No frills, no cheap thrills, just pure good ol' home-style cooking with fresh wholesome ingredients, and delicious results. It was that simple.
The best-selling cookbook author was in town recently to promote her latest TV series, aptly called Rachel Allen's Easy Meals.
A selection of her favourite recipes from the TV series and its accompanying book, entitled Easy Meals, was featured in a cooking masterclass held at The Food Studio in Amarin Kiara, Mont'Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.
If the thought of meeting a celebrity chef was a bit intimidating, that anxiety dissipated upon meeting the charming Irishwoman. Her warmth, friendly demeanour and down-to-earth style would put even the most awkward person in the kitchen at ease in front of a hot stove.
In fact, it did not really feel like a "masterclass" at all but more like cooking and baking with a friend at her home, trading recipes and sharing useful tips.
"My kitchen is the heart of my home," Allen says with a smile. And indeed, this motto truly reflects her philosophy in life. After all, it is often over good food prepared in the kitchen that family and friends gather together.
During the masterclass, Allen taught members of the media how to prepare a traditional apple tart, a refreshing artichoke salad, a flavourful cauliflower soup, and a quick red pepper and pesto focaccia.
The cooking session started off with dessert, a simple and unpretentious Irish Apple Tart, which is fast and easy to prepare.
This two-crust pie, filled with slices of Granny Smith or green cooking apple, is appropriately – for someone who cooks with heart – finished with little heart-shaped pastry decorations.
According to Allen, there can be many variations to this simple apple tart. It can be made with or without a base, and flavourings, such as cinnamon, can be added to the filling.
Knowing the basics in cooking enables one to improvise and create one's own style or version of a particular dish, she says.
In lieu of apples, other fruit, such as apricots, peaches and berries, can also be used. Allen says those who are adventurous enough may even want to try tropical fruit like mangoes and pineapples.
The apple tart goes well topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
"Stirring a sprinkle of cinnamon into the whipped cream before serving the apple pie gives it that extra special flavour," she shares enthusiastically. It is her attention to such little details that makes the Irish cooking queen's passion in the kitchen obvious.
The nice thing about cooking with Allen is that she provides many expert tips to make the lives of busy lay-chefs easier.
"To help the pastry dough chill faster before rolling it out, just place it on a metal tray before putting it into the refrigerator," she advises.
Another useful tip is to put a layer of aluminium foil in the base of the oven when baking the apple tart because when the sugar and apples get heated, the juices might overflow. This saves a lot of time and energy when cleaning up later.
Quick Red Pepper and Pesto Focaccia
In Allen's own words, this is "just a simple soda bread". The dough is made using olive oil, plain flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, and buttermilk, and it is garnished with roasted red peppers and pesto.
Since it was a hands-on session, those present had the chance to get their hands dirty and bake their own bread. However, as one of the participants mentioned, "it was amazingly easy!" There was no kneading required, no use of a breadmaker, nor even an electric mixer.
In fact, after mixing the wet and dry ingredients, the dough is just mixed by hand, using what Allen calls the "claw method". The dough is then turned out onto a floured surface and gently shaped into a huge round.
"If you can't find buttermilk, you can use normal milk mixed with two tablespoons of either vinegar, yoghurt or lemon juice. You will notice how the mixture curdles because it is acidic. Or you can save all the milk in your refrigerator that has gone sour, because it is excellent for making soda bread," Allen explains.
"We should always handle the soda bread dough with tender loving care ... just as if it were our very own baby!" she says with a laugh, as she demonstrates how to lightly "palm" the dough with floured hands and shape it. The gentle treatment positively affects the texture and density of the soda bread.
The shaped dough is laid on a baking tray and the surface is then gently pressed with floured fingers to make little dimples.
"These little dimples are good for holding the additional olive oil that we drizzle over the dough, as well as other toppings like roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, rosemary, and lemon thyme," she enthuses.
"However, certain ingredients that burn easily can be added to the soda bread mixture instead of used as a topping," she adds.
"The flexibility of this soda bread is that it goes well with a great variety of other toppings, even sweet ones like chocolate, in which case, we should add some sugar to the dough too," she advises.
Not only is this soda bread easy to make, but you can improvise too and concoct your own favourite combination of toppings with wonderful results. Furthermore, even though it is always best to serve bread freshly baked, the focaccia keeps well because of the olive oil.
The Artichoke Salad was an amalgamation of chopped up artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and red onions. It was drizzled with a tasty home-made dressing, made with olive oil, lemon juice and pesto.
Allen's recipes are so simple to follow, and allows for certain ingredients to be easily substituted if they are not readily available.
For this salad, other vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes (boiled, but better roasted) or plantains can be used in place of artichoke hearts. Instead of red wine vinegar in the dressing, use lemon juice.
This flavourful soup has a velvety texture and goes extremely well with the red pepper and pesto focaccia. It is easy to make and can be prepared in advance.
Onions, leek and cauliflower florets are sauteed in butter, and chicken or vegetable stock is then added. When it boils, the mixture is blended and then returned to the heat and seasoned. How easy is that!
Serve the soup piping hot with a spoonful of creme fraiche, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of chives.
Allen's simple practical style of cooking stems from her own life experience. Besides being a successful TV chef, cookbook author, teacher and writer, she is also a busy working wife and mother. The attractive 40-year-old lives with her husband Isaac and three children in County Cork, Ireland. She is also daughter-in-law of the famous Irish celebrity chef Darina Allen under whom she originally trained at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.
The masterclass with Allen proves that great cooking doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming. Start with fresh quality ingredients and simple preparations, and this will keep cooking time down so that more time can be spent on the most important element of the meal – eating with family and friends.
Well, this is indeed good news for aspiring home-chefs who are too busy to cook for themselves and their loved ones, or who feel that cooking is too much of a chore to undertake. The wholesome recipes that Allen taught us are simple, fuss-free and can be successfully replicated at home.
Allen says that all the recipes in her book were "road tested" by her family and friends, and if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the verdict of what we cooked at the masterclass is ... absolutely delicious!
> The recipes taught during the masterclass are part of Rachel Allen's Easy Meals, which airs on BBC Lifestyle Channel (Channel 140 on HyppTV) every Monday at 8pm. They also feature in her book Easy Meals.
Posted: 06 Nov 2012 01:57 AM PST
Sweet-natured Aimee Chan flexes her acting muscles.
LOOKING especially demure in a coral-coloured peplum dress and dainty fuchsia-and-gold pencil-thin stilettoes, Aimee Chan made a captivating picture at the interview held in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, recently.
The Hong Kong-based actress was accompanied by fellow TVB actors Jason Chan, Florence Kwok and Ku Ming Wah at a press conference to launch the Astro On Demand Awards 2012, which will be held at Sunway Convention Centre in PJ, on Dec 2.
Often in the press for her much-publicised relationship with fellow TVB actor Moses Chan, she is now in the limelight for her nominations in two categories: My Favourite Actress In A Supporting Role and My Favourite Top 15 Drama Characters, both for her portrayal of Tin Oi Tai in The Last Steep Ascent.
"It was the first time I played a tragic character in The Last Steep Ascent, so I'm thankful for the support I've received from viewers. Getting nominated for an award is indeed a huge encouragement.
"I'm very happy and hope that more people will vote for me," said the sweet lass, who joined TVB after winning the Miss Hong Kong title in 2006.
Inspired by the real-life love story of Chinese national Lau Kok Gong, who hand-carved more than 6,000 stone steps for his beloved wife over a period of 50 years, The Last Steep Ascent is filled with family feuds, marital infidelity and tussles for inheritance.
In the series, Chan's character is forced into many unfavourable circumstances, from washing dishes to being almost sold to a brothel as a prostitute.
"She has such a horrible life but doesn't give up on love. I love her strong character and have a lot of sympathy for her," said the 31-year-old actress who was born in Toronto, Canada.
Playing such a sad character required a lot of crying, which Chan admits didn't come easy for her.
"She is like the opposite of me. I like to smile and laugh. Although I may get emotional easily, I don't like to cry. So, I have to psych myself up by not smiling when I drove to the set to film my scenes."
Chan was recently seen on 8TV playing the cheery Perlie Ching in the detective drama Every Move You Make (2010), which co-stars Bowie Lam, Kristal Tin and Bosco Wong. The unique detective drama involves the use of body language to solve criminal cases. Apart from The Last Steep Ascent, she is also featured in three other TVB drama series this year: Master Of Play, Ruse Of Engagement and The Confidant.
With 14 drama series and an appearance in the film 72 Tenants Of Prosperity, Aimee shared that she employed different speech patterns to differentiate her characters.
"For The Last Steep Ascent, I adopted a breathy voice and hesitant speech to show my character's indecisiveness.
"In Every Move You Make, I employed a higher-pitched voice and spoke faster as the young and playful Ching Bui Yee.
"Then for Master Of Play, it was a deeper tone because the character is more mature.
"And in The Confidant, I went high pitch," said the charming actress.
Chan revealed that she would be making her way to Malaysia again to shoot a drama.
"When I first found out about it, I was so excited. I'm not sure yet where we'll be filming, but I'm thrilled at the thought as I already had such an enjoyable time visiting three different cities in Malaysia this time.
"I'm really glad for the opportunity to meet Malaysian viewers," shared Chan, whose promotional tour took her to Cheras Leisure Mall in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh Parade in Perak, and Gurney Plaza in Penang.
Those unable to make it to the Astro On Demand Awards Presentation 2012 at Sunway Convention Centre on Dec 2 can tune in to the live broadcast on Astro On Demand (Astro Ch 934) at 8.30pm.
Posted: 06 Nov 2012 01:56 AM PST
HBO Asia, the leader in home entertainment, will soon be launching a brand new Internet streaming service known as HBO GO in Asia. The service allows subscribers to enjoy their favourite HBO Original programmes 12 hours after the United States across multiple devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones at anytime, anywhere. Hong Kong's now TV will be the first broadcaster in Asia to launch HBO GO in the first quarter of 2013.
HBO GO draws on a vast library of around 1,000 hours of HBO Original programmes, including series, films and other special programming such as documentaries, entertainment specials, family content and stand-up comedy.
Exciting line-up of programmes include the latest seasons of award-winning and critically acclaimed series, Game Of Thrones, Girls, True Blood and Veep. Popular series such as Band Of Brothers, The Pacific and The Newsroom will also be available. Subscribers will be able to select what they want to watch on the device of their choice, giving more control to the viewer.
"This announcement further demonstrates HBO Asia's commitment to introducing value-added services that provide flexibility, compelling content, and increased customer satisfaction," said HBO Asia chief executive officer Jonathan Spink in a press release.
"HBO GO will meet the demand of changing consumer viewing habits, offering subscribers quick access to a wide variety of award-winning and critically-acclaimed content 12 hours after the US, which will help with the ongoing fight against illegal copying, distribution and piracy."
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