When undergraduate Claudia Koh is bowled over by a dish in a restaurant, she goes beyond snapping photos of it.
The 21-year-old second-year medical student at the National University of Singapore is not afraid to be a "kay poh" (Hokkien for busybody) and ask for cooking tips and recipes from chefs.
She says: "Cooking should be like having a conversation. It is about sharing knowledge and learning from one another."
Having a thick skin has paid off for her as chefs have revealed their kitchen shortcuts and given her personal cooking demonstrations.
While on a family holiday in Siem Reap, Cambodia, three years ago, she and her mother liked the house-made yogurt served at the hotel's breakfast buffet. So they asked the hotel's general manager how it was made. To their surprise, he took them to the kitchen to meet the chef, who shared the recipe.
In June last year, she picked up a recipe for pancakes when she was staying in Morino Lodge, a bed-and-breakfast place in the ski town of Hakuba in northern Japan.
She could not get enough of the soft pancakes and decided to ask the cook for the recipe. The gregarious cook not only showed her how to cook pancakes, but also gave her another recipe, for pizza dough.
Ms Koh shares her recipes for plain yogurt and yogurt pancakes, which is a combination of two recipes that she collected on her travels.
The unusual idea of stirring yogurt into the pancake batter came from a book of yogurt-centric recipes called Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Ms Koh bought the book for her mother as a Christmas gift last year.
She uses yogurt in place of egg whites in the batter to make the pancakes more fluffy.
"Stirring yogurt into the batter is foolproof, compared with separating eggs and whisking the whites into the batter," she says.
For the past two years, she has been trying to perfect the art of making soft and fluffy pancakes, which she calls her "breakfast comfort food". She has tried four other recipes, including one by British cookbook author Nigella Lawson, and a recipe that called for wholemeal flour.
Making pancakes is a monthly affair as she makes them for her family or for her friends when they come over for school project meetings. She likes drizzling honey over them and adding berries.
Apart from using yogurt as an ingredient in pancakes, she also adds it to American carrot cake and banana cake batter, as it makes her cakes more moist.
She also uses yogurt as a substitute for cream when making Bolognese sauce, and mixes it with caramelised onions to pour over her homemade taglierini pasta.
The Kohs makes about two litres of yogurt every 11/2 weeks. Her mother also uses whey, the cloudy liquid by-product from straining yogurt, to tenderise meat and fish. She uses this technique for dishes such as roast tandoori chicken and pork katsu.
Ms Koh's parents run a roof tiling business and she has an older brother, 24, a law undergraduate.
She loves the versatility of the yogurt and says it is more than just a breakfast food.
She says: "Yogurt adds creaminess to a dish and its sourness brings out other flavours in a dish."
MAKE IT YOURSELF: YOGURT PANCAKES
360g self-raising flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3 Tbs sugar
180ml full-cream milk
180ml homemade plain yogurt (see recipe below) or store-bought plain yogurt
2 large eggs
30g salted butter, melted and cooled
Strawberries, blueberries and honey to garnish
1. Sift flour and baking soda into a mixing bowl. Stir in sugar.
2. Mix milk and yogurt in another bowl and whisk thoroughly until the mixture becomes smooth. Crack in the eggs and add butter, and whisk until the mixture becomes foamy.
3. Use a spatula to make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the yogurt mixture. Using a whisk, fold the mixture in a clockwise direction, turning the mixing bowl slightly in a clockwise direction. Do this until all the flour has been incorporated into the mixture and it is a little lumpy.
4. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes.
5. Heat a non-stick frying pan over low heat and ladle two to three Tbs of batter into the pan.
6. Let the pancake cook for one minute. Once bubbles start forming on top and the edges of the pancake are mostly firm, use a spatula to flip the pancake and cook another minute.
7. Repeat until all the batter is used up. 8. Serve the pancakes with strawberries, blueberries and honey. Makes about 15 pancakes
2 litres full-cream milk
200ml store-bought plain yogurt
1. In a pot over medium heat, heat up the milk. Whisk the milk in the pot occasionally to ensure the heat is evenly distributed, until its temperature reaches 82 deg C. Use a candy thermometer, which can be bought from baking supplies shops.
2. Prepare an ice bath by putting ice into a large mixing bowl and filling it with water.
3. Once the milk reaches 82 deg C, submerge the pot in the ice bath and let the milk cool until 45 deg C. Whisk in plain yogurt.
4. Ladle mixture into mason jars and close the lids.
5. Place the jars in a warm place for at least six hours or overnight.
6. Refrigerate the yogurt for one to two days before using. Makes two litres of yogurt
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