‘No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.’ Julia Child
It’s funny, despite my obsession with eating, cooking, reading and anything to do with the gourmet world, I have never had the courage to join a cooking competition. When I heard of the Simplot Best Food Blogger Competition, I did hesitate on joining, most so because of public performance rather than anything else. I kept thinking and thinking over and over again… would I have the courage to do this?
Somehow, sometime, some way, I decided to focus on thinking of what to make, what creative twist I could come up with using Simplot Hash Browns. Before I could think further of this, I went grocery shopping and whip up my Simplot Hash Brown Arancini one Sunday evening. At that time I told myself there was no going back and if I have been selected as the 8 finalist, I am just going to do my best!
Then during the week, I was told that I am in the final 8! Sweat starts. Adrenalin kicks in. I got nervous and really worried about what to do for the competition. I spent days Googling, running through my cookbooks, checking magazines and even asking my family on what to make. The few nights were spent tossing and turning in my bed, my brain kept thinking what I can do with hash browns. I only had a weekend to test what I wanted to make and since it was an extremely busy week filled with work and appointments, it really had my stress levels shooting up.
By Saturday, I finalized a few things I wanted to try but I knew time was not on my side. Although I could use back the Simplot Hash Brown Arancini recipe, there was just not enough time on the actual competition day to make this. And so I spent my Saturday shopping for ingredients and doing some costing checks (because there is a limitation on cost for the recipe). I only managed to start testing on Sunday afternoon after come chores and I have decided to go with a quiche recipe.
Ever since my sister made quiche for me from her French neighbour’s recipe, I got hooked. There is just something really comforting and unctuous goodness from a creamy cheesy quiche filled with lots of warming flavors. Now the recipe was made with ham and cheese in a large pie pan. I knew time was my greatest enemy on the competition day so I had to improvise. Since I had to make this a halal version, I also had to change some ingredients. And so I completely forgot about my sister’s recipe and search for one on Google instead.
After much thinking, I have decided to make the quiche in mini muffin case since it would lessen the cooking time. What would most people enjoy I asked myself? Salmon seems to be a favorite and I decided to try this. Now if I use fresh salmon, I would have to cook it, thus adding another step, so I decided to use smoked salmon. Since I love Gruyere cheese, I have decided to add this too. Then I saw on some recipes that spinach is used and decided to add this to the combination. In short, I tested this filling together with another Greek filling of feta cheese, spinach and sundried tomatoes. Testing recipes requires a lot of work, I wanted to make sure the hash brown shells did not turn soggy and so I tested the hash browns fried and non-fried. After a day’s worth of testing, the both quiche did not turn out as good as I had wanted. My heart sank… I kept thinking this is not going to work and the next two nights was extra tossing and turning in bed again. Though my partner kept reassuring me its ok, I knew it wasn’t my best effort to be tasted in a competition.
On the eve of the competition, while lying in bed, suddenly I remembered by sister’s quiche recipe. I consoled myself that maybe this will help and so I got up early on the day of the competition and check out her recipe. It was a little change in the custard and since it was still within the budget, I decided to take a risk. My dear friend Choi Yen and I arrived fairly on time and we both went around to make sure all the ingredients we needed was available.
B.I.G at Publika is one of my favorite grocery stores. It has such a vast international range of products and fresh produce that I can always get everything at one stop. Though some items are a little pricey than other stores, quality is always top-notched at B.I.G. In addition, B.I.G. offers really great imported items that few other stores offers. I have blogged about B.I.G before on how I love the spacious aisles and the neat rows of items arranged for easy shopping. They have a cooking area and that is where the competition is held!
Once we got ready for the competition, we were handed our RM88 for a 30 minute shopping on all ingredients. I raced through the aisle with a list on my hand. Since I knew where most of the ingredients were, I had no trouble shopping at all. (Did I mentioned that I love to hang out at B.I.G just oogling at all the gorgeous food here?) The spacious aisle and quick checkout counters help too. There were quite a few choices of smoked salmon offered and my favorite Gruyere cheese was available there too. Another point I like about B.I.G. was that I could buy fresh veggies like baby spinach or wild rocket by weight. The grocery stores also carry a large range of herbs. Everything worked out as planned as I grabbed the final most important product of Simplot Hash Browns before checking out within budget.
Prior to the cooking competition, we were given a demonstration on using Philips Airfryer. Silly me got worried as I forgot to check this out despite being told earlier. Anyhow, glad to say that the Philips Airfryer is super easy to use! Using Rapid Air Technology, we were told that the Airfryer can fry up anything with up to 80% less fat. This means that very little or no oil is used. There are only two settings on the Airfryer, one is temperature and the other is timer. The Philip Airfryer also fry up faster than the regular deep frying method as it heats up faster and the temperature is well controlled. I was quite impressed as we were told that the Simplot Hash Browns only used 8 to 10 minutes in the Airfryer without any oil.
Then we were ready. The cooking competition started and everyone got busy. I barely remembered much but I completely blocked everyone out and tried to stay calm and focus on what I needed to do. Though lots of media and others were around and the judges were also making their rounds, I tried to focus as I knew that I needed the whole 60 minutes to get the quiche done. I have never cooked so hard in my life and so fast to say the least. I am glad that the Philips Airfryer helped to fry the hash browns pretty fast and I didnt have to watch over it while I prepare other ingredients. I barely made it as my quiche was not cooked enough though I only had 3 minutes left for plating. I told myself that I had to cook it more and cranked up the heat to the highest. I waited till the final minute before I quickly took it out of the oven and somehow, plated it and brought it over for testing. Phew…
Oh well, I told myself, I don’t even know how it tasted as I didn’t managed to taste it along the way. I kept repeating I have done my best. When they announced the winners, I was so tired and nervous that emotions flooded me when I heard my name as the winner of the competition. In the midst of all the surroundings, I was suddenly lost at what to do and before I knew it, lots of flashes were going off with lots of congratulatory wishes from everyone. Truth be told, I was still trying to come in terms that I won.
It was indeed a very memorial moment in my life. My very first competition and I won. At that very moment, all I kept thinking was to count my blessings. The last few days of tossing and turning, research, testing, butterflies in the stomach really paid off. I am very thankful and I also told myself even if I didn’t win, I would have been happy since I had put in so much love into this competition. I did my best and that is good enough. Just like Julia Child’s quote above, I have learned and pursued what I love. I never had any education in the culinary field except from my mother’s kitchen and my passion and obsession for food. The one lesson I took home with me that day was really never to give up and put in all that I have got…
Thank you Simplot and Philips for organizing this competition! It is certainly an unforgettable experience in competing for the Simplot Best Food Blogger Cooking Competition. I would also like to thank Choi Yen for being there with me together as we faced off in the competition. To all finalists, everyone was a winner to me as well because everyone put out their best and gathered up the courage to compete in this competition. Congratulations to Kelly and Asliza on their win too! Thanks to the honorary judges, Chef Poobalan, Dr. Sidney Kan, and celebrity Chef Dato’ Fazley Yaakob and Vibes Communication for everything. Last but not least, thank you Mom, without your guidance, my passion would never have existed.
I won a Philip Airfryer and a Philips Juicer in addition to the cash prize and I am so looking forward to using the Airfryer in the comforts of my own kitchen!
*All photos are provided by the organizers of the competition.
Simplot Hash Brown Smoked Salmon Quiche
1 packet (637gm) Simplot Hash Brown
1 packet (100gm) Smoked Salmon
75gm Gruyere Cheese
200ml Cream plus 1 tablespoon water
Salt & Pepper to season
Leggo Sauce & Sour Cream to serve
Extra Smoked Salmon to serve
Prepare a big deep non-stick muffin pan that holds 6 muffins. Heat oven to 180 degree Celsius.
Deep fry the hash browns till lightly crispy and lightly golden brown. Drain and cool.
Once cool, crush the hash browns and press these into the muffin pan to make a hash brown shell for all 6 muffin cases. Make sure to press the hash brown till it forms a firm case but do not make it too thick. Baked the hash brown in the oven for 10 minutes to make it crispy.
Prepare quiche filling by boiling spinach till soft. Drain and squeeze out all water properly and chopped the spinach roughly.
Cut smoked salmon to small pieces. Grate Gruyere cheese.
Mix eggs, cream, grated Gruyere cheese, chopped dill and season with salt and pepper.
Put smoked salmon and boiled spinach into the hash brown shell. Pour in the egg and cheese mixture till full. Add a sprig of dill on top and baked the quiche for 15 minutes in the oven. Remove and serve.
Add slices of smoked salmon on top of the quiche and served with side of Leggo’s tomato pasta sauce and sour cream.