A Ganaching of Teeth

Friday, July 31, 2009

What to do when half your team leaves for a better offer? Celebrate graciously with cake of course.

farewell boat cake
Mr. Kitchen Hand had commissioned a cake to farewell a couple of colleagues who were moving to a different department. We decided on the idea of “jumping ship”, with the guys being left on a dry, boring island (new dept), as the rest of the group sailed away on the party boat (old department). Nothing like sticking the knife in ☺

To save time, I decided to build a diorama rather than a proper ship. I used one square cake, two loaf cakes and a sheet cake to complete the whole scene. The cakes were just simple pound cakes (vanilla and chocolate) baked from recipes in The Cake Bible. I use these cakes because they’re quick and easy to bake, store well, hold their shape under the weight of the icing, and most importantly – taste good!

Here’s a bit of a peek into how I went about making the cake.

I used modelling paste to make all the figures, the palm tree and the “railings” on the boat. Everything else is covered in RTR (ready to roll) icing, also known as “plastic” icing - doesn’t sound very appetising does it? Truthfully, the taste of the icing is too sweet and I always urge folks to peel it off before eating the cake but most people eat it anyway (probably for the sugar rush).

making sugarpaste people

The starting point for the figures, and my tools

sugarpaste figuresThe figures get clothed

painting on hairWill you cheer up if I paint on some hair? (Paste colour mixed with royal icing)

sugarpaste treeThe making of the tree. Lots of leaves in case of breakage

Usually, I just cover the cake with the RTR icing, but recently, I came across the fabulous book by Paris Cutler – Planet Cake. In the book, Cutler reveals the secret of achieving a supersmooth finish is a ganache layer first under the icing. So I gave that a try.

cake scaffoldingScaffolding technique (as suggested in The Cake Bible)

ganache covered cake
I made the "sea and sky" separately from the "boat" shape. These have been covered in ganache and left to set

After covering each part separately, I put them together with more drinking straws to hold them in place

more sugarpaste boat

I do think I should have put on a thicker ganache layer, but it certainly helped with the smoothness. The only drama I had was when I accidentally rested my hand on one part of the cake, melted the ganache underneath and took away a chunk of icing (yeah, I’m hot stuff). And it was a bit of a pain trying to keep the chocolate from marking any white icing, but I’d definitely use the technique again.

sugarpaste people

Once I was satisfied with the overall cake, I used royal icing to pipe on the finishing touches.
top view boat
Pa-Dah! One farewell cake. We ended up calling it the “Paradise Lost” cake. Yes, it’s wonky and my piping skills need work, but I had lots of fun, and the recipients were very pleased with it!

marooned figuresThe lonesome twosome...

Agar Do Do Do, Use Pineapple and Kiwi

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

star agar agar

Ok, ok, I’m sorry! But I do lurvve the corny jokes. And don’t let me get started with puns – I don’t care if it’s considered the lowest form of humour.

So, back to the agar – which is one of my childhood favourites (yup, another one). As most people would already know, agar is derived from seaweed. Malaysians call it agar-agar, and the same name is used for the ingredient as well as the dessert made from it. No kid’s birthday party would be complete without some bright red diamonds of sugary agar-agar. (The agar itself is pretty tasteless, so it needs a lot of sugar or other flavourings to make up for it).

I’ve been thinking about agar-agar lately because a parcel arrived in the post recently (Thanks Mum!) with a book about various fancy agar desserts and a little flyer for this place . Good grief, I knew agar was versatile, but an agar-agar Barbie “cake”?

Anyway, here’s my version of agar-agar, with less sugar and more good stuff in it.

Pineapple and Kiwifruit agar-agar

Pineapple Layer
agar powder
150g diced fresh pineapple
3 cups cold water
Agar-agar powder (5g)
Sugar to taste (I used about 60g)
Diced pineapple to decorate
More water if needed.

Boil pineapple until really soft (about 15-20 mins). Puree with a stick blender or mush with a thick spoon. Strain into a clean heatproof container and weigh the amount of liquid collected.

I used an agar-agar powder which had a ratio of 25g powder to 3kg of water. So I used 5g for 600g liquid.

Bring liquid to boil (add more water if necessary to make up to required weight). Add agar powder and stir until dissolved. Add sugar to taste.

Pour into a clean cake tin and leave to cool for a bit. Add pineapple pieces to decorate. Pop into fridge to set. (It doesn’t take long)

Kiwifruit Layer

1 kiwifruit
3 cups cold water
Agar-agar powder (5g)
Sugar to taste
Sliced kiwifruit to decorate
More water if needed

Make the liquid agar as above.
(Addendum: Arrgghh..I was to lazy to type out the method, but DON"T whizz kiwifruit with a stick blender - I mushed it with a spoon. The seeds are bitter)
Take pineapple layer out of fridge. Score the top of the layer with a fork to help the new layer “stick”. Pour in the kiwifruit layer, decorate with sliced kiwifruit then put in fridge to set.

The agar-agar can also be made in any moulds or cups that take your fancy.

agar kiwifruit
The set agar is really stable and can be cut into shapes with a cutter, and it doesn’t melt at room temperature (it weeps a bit in really hot weather.)

Mallow Mania - Daring Baker's July Challenge

Monday, July 27, 2009

mallow warholThe Marshmallow Wa(rho)ll of Fame - with apologies to Andy!

My first ever Daring Baker’schallenge, and it was a blast!

But first: The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

choc mallow and raspberryMy first attempt. Plain mallow on left, raspberry mallow on right

(We could choose to do both cookies, or just choose one. I did attempt the Milan Cookies as well but err…the less said about that the better)

I was initially a bit nervous about attempting homemade marshmallows as I didn’t have a candy/sugar thermometer. Thanks to a lot of helpful people on the Daring Baker’s forums (eg Audax), I discovered I didn’t need one, and soon managed to make my first lot of Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies (or Chocolate Royals as they are known in Oz).

And once I got the hang of it, I was on a roll! I ended up with raspberry flavoured mallows, cardamom and brown sugar mallows, coconut and cherry mallows with a chocolate base, orange mallows with a chocolate base, ginger mallows and frangelico and hazelnut mallows. (I’ve made flavouring notes at the end of the recipe).

lots of mallowsThe mallows before being covered in chocolate, clockwise from bottom right : orange, hazelnut, cherry coconut, hazelnut and frangelico

Like many of the other Daring Bakers, I found the quantities given were a bit off only because I Iike lots of marshmallow and less biscuit. If made this way, you’ll end up with way more cookie dough than mallow. For my purposes, 1/3 the quantity of cookie dough went with 1 portion of mallow mixture.

What I learnt:
1) Piping of the actual mallow mixture was an extremely sticky process and the end result wasn’t as visually appealing as I could have hoped. Luckily, thanks to more help from Audax, I learnt how to mould the marshmallows using a very ingenious method involving cornflour. This was much simpler, and quicker and I could pick up the resulting marshmallows – the first piped lot kept accidentally sticking to my clothes and limbs everytime I got too close!(I stuck the finished mallows onto the hot cookies as they came out of the oven)

molding marshmallowThe mallows setting in conrflour. The set mallows. (These were brown sugar ones)

2) Start with room temperature butter for the biscuit base! On my first read of the instructions, I thought the base was meant to be a bit shortcrusty (and I made it by hand). Unfortunately not! The resulting dough kept shrinking and pulling and didn’t have a very nice texture. (We ate them anyway, chocolate covers up a multitude of sins). Second try with softened butter and a hand beater resulted in easy to work with and definitely yummier bases.

more mallowsMallows, mallows everywhere!

Apart from those minor issues, the rest of the process was pretty straightforward and not as daunting as it sounded.

kids eating marshmallowMallow quality control process
Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies
Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

My flavourings:
1) Raspberry flavoured mallows. I pushed ½ cup thawed frozen raspberries through a sieve to remove the seeds. I then cooked the resulting puree over low heat until really thick and reduced to about 1 tablespoon. I stirred the thick paste through 1 cup of marshmallow mixture. The taste is subtle with a bit of a raspberry tang.

2) Cardamom and brown sugar. I just substituted brown sugar for the white sugar, and popped 3 cardamom pods in with the boiling sugar. I would steep the pods in hot water first next time to draw out the flavour more. I also crushed the black seed inside the pods and added them to the cookie dough.

cardamom and brown sugar mallow Brown sugar and cardamom mallows

3) Coconut cherry mallows. I stirred through about 2 tablespoons dessicated coconut to about ½ portion mallow mix. I also changed the biscuit base to a chocolate one by substituting about 40g of the flour with cocoa powder (I made 1/3 portions, so 40g from 125 g flour). Then for an added over the top touch, I pushed a glace cherry into the mallow before it set.

4) Orange mallows. Again, I used a chocolate biscuit base. For the orange flavoured mallow, I juiced 1 orange, sieved it to remove any stray pulp, and used the juice instead of the ¼ cup water in the mallow recipe. For added oomph, I added about 1 tsp finely grated rind to the final mallow mixture. I also pushed a chocolate chip into the mixture before it set.

5) Ginger mallows. I added a pinch of gound ginger to the mallow mixture and the base, plus a crystallised ginger in the middle.

6) Hazelnut and frangelico mallow. I made caramel and dipped the hazelnuts in it, then set aside on baking paper to cool. I was a bit nervous about using frangelico because I’d heard alcohol could interfere with the setting of gelatine, so I poured the flavouring into the sugar syrup when it had reached the soft ball stage – hoping that excess alcohol would be burned off. It worked.
hazelnut and frangelico mallowHazelnut and frangelico mallow in front. Other mallows at back

Now I’m off to read all the other blogs to see what they’ve come up with ☺


Saturday, July 25, 2009

(Warning: Soppy post to follow)

I’ve been away, then he’s been away.

I miss the little rituals we’ve fallen into. The things we do without even noticing they’ve become a part of our daily routine.

I suddenly realise that the part of the day I miss most is when he turns the kettle on at suppertime. This usually annoys me as it invariably intrudes on a very important scene in the crime drama I’m watching. But I miss it because it signals the start of our unwinding stage – the time when we slowly let go of the day that was.

When the kids have been safely tucked into bed, when the dishes have been cleared away, when it’s time for cups of green tea and talking. Or at least, for me to talk and for him to listen (or pretend to).

He customarily tucks into dessert at this point - the same strange concoction (almost) every night. A bowl of mixed cereal (sometimes crunchy nut, sometimes nutty clusters of some kind or another), a dollop of berry yoghurt, sliced seasonal fruit and vanilla ice-cream on the top.

I figured a variation on the theme wouldn’t go astray as a way of welcoming him home.

Oaty biccies with yoghurt and berries.

berry yoghurt and biscuit
I wanted crisp biscuits (cookies) not the chewy kind, so I adapted a recipe for vanilla snaps from Donna Hay.

90g butter (softened)
90g sugar
10g cornflour
40g plain flour
75g oats
1 egg (lightly beaten)
vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg, then beat in flour and oatmeal and few drops vanilla extract. The resulting dough is really quite sticky and will work as drop cookies, but I was determined to cut out heart shapes (stubborn I hear you say?), so I wrapped the dough in plastic film and refrigerated for an hour.

The dough firms up after refrigeration but is still sticky as all get out, so I liberally dusted all work surfaces with flour to roll and cut out shapes (I’d probably add more flour into the dough recipe, but will have to make it again to work out how much more to add).

Bake in preheated oven (about 180˚C) until golden. Cool on wire racks.

Serve with:
Greek yoghurt mixed with honey to sweeten (I also added a drop or two of orange blossom water)
Berries / fruit of choice.

Back from Byron

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

byron bay lighthouse
Yes, that’s where I’ve been for an extended long weekend – thanks to the very generous Mr Kitchen Hand. He’d organised the surprise trip for yours truly to attend an art workshop (I’m an amateur who likes to dabble), while he stayed home to mind the mini-critics. (Yup, he’s a keeper this one ☺)

Of course, I couldn’t miss the opportunity of sampling my way through some of Byron’s eating establishments.
(Fyi, Byron Bay is a popular tourist destination on the north coast of New South Wales, Australia).

Holiday breakfast – lemon filled doughnut and baci from L’Ultime (5 Lawson St, BYRON BAY 2481).

This little patisserie near the roundabout on Lawson Street became my regular haunt (all in the interest of research!).

chocolate tart coffee eclairMore L’Ultime treats. The coffee eclair was my favourite

Dinner on the first night was at Why Not. I didn’t dig the name but as I walked past, the words “Slow Roasted Bangalow Pork Belly ($28)” screamed at me from a menu, so I just had to go in. (Being part-Chinese, pork belly has a revered place in my food hierarchy).

why not byron bay

And I was not disappointed by the succulent squares of perfectly crisp crackling, melt-in-the mouth fat, and tender meat served up with rice and asian greens. Sorry, no pic of this because the lighting was too moody and I was too shy to take a snap.

Dessert was a Jamaican warm chocolate pudding with strawberries ($16), that looked fabulous and tasted the same.

chocolate pudding

The restaurant had a lovely cruisy vibe, while the staff were very friendly and attentive (I was treated to a complimentary amuse bouche while I waited for my main to arrive). And, the value for money was pretty hard to beat - considering a curry at the nearby “cheap and cheerful” Thai place cost $20, Why Not were offering a winter special of entrée + main + glass of wine for $30.

Going for an early morning walk one day, I discovered a quirky little café called barcelo down the quieter end of town (Middleton Street). It’s a fun space, with mismatched chairs and tables and I went in for breakfast not expecting too much but came away pleasantly surprised. It’s the little touches that count here- for example, I was given my own dish of salt and my own pepper grinder (something not even some of the bigger restaurants can get right).
pepper grinder

The menu is interesting with dishes like baked eggs and spicy lentils alongside other more standard breakfast fare. I’m boring at breakfast, so went for fried eggs and toast and mushrooms. The eggs were perfectly done and came with a dollop of pesto (not mentioned on the menu), and the mushrooms were sautéed with garlic and thyme (but maybe not so much vinegar next time). A thick crusty slice of Turkish bread and great coffee from the Byron Bay Coffee company completed the meal – all for $14.

About 15 minutes drive from Byron is the town of Bangalow. The main street here seems to be made up of designer giftware and homeware stores and places to eat. I’d been lured here by the chance to dine at ate. The chef used to work at the famous Tetsuya’s, and I was hoping to make it for the Saturday night degustation dinner, but was too tired after a hard day’s painting, so settled for lunch instead. The seasonal lunch menu special ( entrée + main or main+ dessert as well as a glass of wine) for $30 was hard to resist. There was a choice of 3 entrees, mains and desserts with the special menu, while the a la carte featured all the items on the special as well as a few extra.

ate montage(One of the tabletops at ate covered in business cards from restaurant land - spot the Tetsuya's card)

I couldn’t go past the Bangalow Pork Belly Cassoulet, even though it was actually a really warm day outside. Mmmm, it went down very well indeed! And the chocolate raisin clafoutis for dessert went down even better! Thankfully, ate lived up to my (pretty high) expectations and I’d love to come back for dinner (maybe next year hon?)

pork cassoulet raisin clafoutis

Quince and brown sugar tarts

Thursday, July 16, 2009

quince illustration
Quinces always struck me as a bit strange looking – almost like a peach on steroids. It took me a while to get into quince, because I never could fathom the point of having to cook a fruit first before being able to enjoy it.

A few seasons ago I finally decided to try some, and the aroma of the fruit cooking made me an instant convert. And with beginners luck, that first fruit turned a beautiful shade of pink when cooked.

Usually, I just stew the quince and serve it with ice-cream or cream. But I wanted to make something a little bit more memorable for Mr Kitchen Hand and the mini-critics, as I wouldn’t be seeing them for a few days. Hopefully they’ll behave (and miss me!).

(This will be my last post for a few days, will spill the beans when I get back next week).

I cooked the quince with some sugar and star anise (a vanilla bean or cinnamon quill would also work well), then made them into little tarts with a frangipane filling. Once baked, the quince dried out a little, so a quick kaffir lime glaze added some shine.

stwed quince

Tart base
(I used a basic biscuit paste from Quick and Easy Small Cakes by Kazuko Kawachi.)

100g flour
50g unsalted butter (softened)
50g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1/3 tsp salt
vanilla extract
30g extra flour for rolling out.

First cream the butter in bowl with a spatula - I used a wide rubber spatula. Mix in the sugar then beat until light and creamy. Add egg yolks one at a time and mix well. Then add vanilla extract and mix well. Sift in flour and salt, mix with spatula (do not stir) - it's more of a scarping and folding motion. Scrape the paste onto some plastic wrap and shape into a disc. Chill for at least half an hour.

Lightly flour work surface and rolling pin. Roll out pie paste and cut with shaped cutters or lift into a tart tin. Bake blind before filling with stewed quince and frangipane.

quince tarts

(My friend NL gave me this recipe, which she obtained from a friend of hers – who probably received it from her friend. No matter the origin, it’s a really good frangipane recipe. I halved the quantities and changed the sugar for making my mini tartlets.)

120g butter
120g caster sugar (I substituted brown sugar instead)
2 eggs
120g almond meal
30g flour

Cream the butter and sugar until light. Add eggs, mix well. Fold in almond meal and flour. Spoon into tart cases, top with stewed fruit and bake at 180˚C until done.

Kaffir lime glaze
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup water
3 kaffir lime leaves

Stir sugar and water together, then simmer gently together with the leaves until syrupy. Glaze cooled tarts.

Enjoy! And see you in a few days :)

Finger Bun Fun

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

School holidays are here! Hooray for sleeping in. Hooray for no homework. Hooray for afternoon naps and hooray for kids helping in the kitchen.

The mini-critics are big fans of finger buns (or ‘finger bunch’ as MC junior calls them). But every time we get one from the bakery, she just licks the icing off, then leaves me the naked bun. I can’t say I blame her though, the bun is pretty boring.

So into the kitchen we troop, to see if we can come up with a new and improved finger bun.

First off, I look up my favourite baking science website. Maths is not my strongest suit but, after some fiddling around with the calculator, I draw up what I hope will be a workable recipe. We attempt a brioche-like soft bun, flavoured with cinnamon.

I quickly prepare the dough (recipe to follow) while the two mini-critics have a nap - there is only so much help I can take in the kitchen.

Then the fun begins. “Mummy, I want to make a teddy bear shaped bun!” MC senior announces. “Me too!” MC junior pipes in. Rightey-o, let’s start.

After much rolling, pulling, twirling and giggling, two surprisingly clean helpers produce a love heart, a snowman, a snail, two surfboards and a whole lot of rolls (I helped with the rolls).

(Clockwise from far left: surfboard, love heart, snowman, snail and another surfboard)

The buns smell gorgeous as they bake and we can hardly wait to taste them. I scoff one straight from the oven and it’s beautiful: soft, cinnamony and very sweet (which appeals to my Asian palate).

The texture firms up a bit once cool (it’s still soft, but not as fluffy as when fresh from the oven). A quick glace icing on top, the obligatory sprinkles, and the buns are a hit. “These are the best buns in the world!” MC senior declares (she has learnt the art of flattery well). MC junior says nothing much as she chomps away – bun and all.

The TWS version of the finger bun

500g plain flour
2 tsp dried yeast
1/2 cup (90g) sugar
90 g butter (melted)
1 tsp cinnamon (ground)
1/2 cup (100ml) milk (warmed slightly)
200ml water (may not need all of it)
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt

Stir 1 tablespoon sugar into the milk. Mix in the yeast. Leave to activate (froth up).

Sift flour, remaining sugar and salt into large mixing bowl. Make well in centre, pour in the butter and lightly beaten egg yolk, Start mixing the butter and egg while drawing in flour from the sides. Add the milk/yeast mixture, keep drawing more flour. Pour in almost all the water and mix thoroughly (adjust water if needed). You should have a quite sticky dough. Start kneading the dough (I did this part by hand so it took a little while, maybe 10 minutes or so). Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Put dough into well oiled bowl and cover with clean tea towel. Leave to rise for about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, then roll into desired shapes. (I used a pastry mat so I didn't really need more flour, but lightly flour work surface if needed). Put shapes on baking sheet lined with baking paper. Let rise for about 20 minutes (cover with clean tea towel).

Brush tops of bun with an eggwash (1 egg beaten plus 1-2 tbsp milk). Bake at 180˚C until risen and golden. When cool, ice with glace icing and cover with sprinkles.

(I used a simple glace icing made from 1 cup icing sugar, a knob of butter and enough hot water to mix it into a thick icing - thick enough to coat the back of a spoon).

Market Sunday

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Any other morning of the week sees me hitting the snooze button and mumbling “five more minutes” as the kids try to get me to get out of bed. “But, we’re hungrryyyyyy!” they cry. (The plaintive wailing doesn’t work on me. Mr Kitchen Hand usually gives up and gets them breakfast - thanks hon!)

But come Sunday, I’ll jump out of bed and head out the door because I don’t want to be late for the markets. The French’s Forest Organic Food and Farmers Markets to be exact, held every Sunday from 8 am - 1 pm at The Parkway Hotel, 5 Frenchs Forest Road East (rain or shine). Not all the stalls are organic - there is a mix of organic and conventional produce.

black sapote and other fruits(This week's bag of goodies. Found a black sapote fruit, can't wait to try it)

The short trek to the markets has become an almost weekly ritual for me. I find that we eat better, have more vegetable based meals and hardly any processed foods when I do make the effort to go. And because we’re eating seasonal produce, I don’t get stuck in the rut of only getting the same thing all the time.

Plus, it’s such a great way to start the morning. My first stop is the Organic Food Network stall where I stock up on the weekly veges and fruit. It’s really popular which is why I make an effort to get here early. Sometimes (especially in the warmer months) the more popular vegetables are sold out by 9am! This is THE place to get great garlic bulbs, they stock two kinds, an Italian and a Russian (both Australian grown). Supermarket / imported garlic can’t even compare.

And for those who think that going organic means more expense, the prices are pretty reasonable. I find that I actually spend less going to the markets because I’m not tempted to put pricey processed stuff in the bag.

fruit and veg box(Last week's haul)

Next stop is the Clarendon Farms egg stall. All they do are cartons of free range eggs (current price $6.50 a dozen). Think eggs are eggs? These ones have thick shells and brightly sunny yolks. Again, supermarket eggs just don’t compare.

During apple season, I stop by at the apple people (I forget their stall name sorry, but they’re hard to miss) and buy a bag of unwaxed apples.

After that I head to the Honest to Goodness stall to stock up on dried fruit and nuts which we snack on during the week. They have a range of organic, pesticide free and sulphur free products. The tamari roasted almonds are great to nibble on when the pre-dinner hunger pangs strike and not as guilt-inducing as a potato chip! I’m also partial to the dried nectarines and the dried mango. There’s a great range too, from quinoa to black turtle beans (for feijoada enthusiasts)

By this time, I’m starving as I usually skip brekkie to get out of the door in time, so I head over to the Dosa Delight stall for authentic South Indian Masala Dosa….woo hoo! Complete with Sambar and Coconut Chutney. I dive in with fingers (the proper way to eat dosa) and I don’t care who stares at me!

masala dosa(Sorry this pic is a bit blurred, I forgot my camera so I used my phone instead. Plus I couldn't wait and ate some of the sauce before I took the pic)

Finally, a quick browse through the other stalls – clothes, books, jewellery, baked goods (lots of bread, cupcakes, slices, pies including vegetarian/vegan options), specialty products (meats, milk, cheese, butter, jams etc) and plants, then home I head to deliver the goodies. Another perfect Sunday morning.

(If you’re a fellow devotee and you spot someone pulling along a bright red shopping trolley next time you’re at the markets– say hi, it’s probably me ☺ )

Invalid Jelly

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Poor MC (mini-critic) Senior was feeling a bit fragile. She had spent most of the morning curled up under her doona on the sofa, nursing a temperature.

What to feed a poor mite with no appetite? Jelly! I had some gelatin leaves in the cupboard, which I’d been saving for a special occasion. Cheering up a sick child was definitely one of those times.

After looking around for a flavour inspiration, I found a box of frozen mixed berries in the bottom of the freezer. Ooops, they’d gone a bit icy, but it didn’t matter what they looked like, it was the juice I was after.

Berry Jelly with a hint of mint.

400g (I started with about 375g) frozen berries
3 – 4 tbsp caster sugar (depending on the tartness of the berries. The mix I used contained redcurrants, so needed a bit more sweetening)
Sprig of mint (optional)
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Cook the berries and mint over low heat to release all the juices. Strain through fine sieve or muslin cloth, into a measuring jug. If you want a clear jelly, don’t push down on the solids left over in the sieve/cloth. I can’t bear wasting food, so I squeezed the muslin cloth, wringing out every last drop of berry goodness. The resulting jelly was “cloudy” but I didn’t mind. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice if using.

Follow instructions on your gelatin leaf packet. I had almost 500ml liquid, so I used 2 gelatin leaves (titanium strength). First soak the leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. If the berry liquid has cooled too much, give it a quick zap in the microwave to heat up. Stir the gelatin through the hot liquid. Pour into serving cups (decorate with extra berries if desired), let cool then place in fridge to set.

The jelly was a welcome treat and MC Senior did revive a little bit. And MC junior enjoyed it too - “Wibbly-wobbly! It’s in my belly”

Persimmon Cupcakes

Thursday, July 9, 2009

fresh persimmon
I thought persimmon season was over but spotted a tray of bright, shiny globes lurking in the fruit market a couple of days ago. Of course I couldn’t resist -persimmons are one of my favourite fruit and I actually prefer the dried version, which I used to eat as a child growing up in Malaysia.

Dried (and fresh) persimmon is known as “pisang kaki” in Malay, which translates, literally, as banana foot but I’m not quite sure why. They were a common treat during the Lunar New Year celebrations - dried flat discs covered in white bloom that didn’t look particularly appetising, but tasted divine. Sweet, chewy and jellylike all at the same time - I guess it’s a texture you either love or hate. (Follow this link if you’d like to read more about the drying process.)

I was a little disappointed, however, with my recent fruit market purchase. The season’s peak is definitely past and the fruit I bought wasn’t as sweet as it should be. I wouldn’t normally cook a persimmon, but I decided to see if they would work in a cupcake.

I used the non-astringent persimmon variety. Make sure you know which one you are about to eat (you can tell by the shape) because, when unripe, astringent persimmons can make your mouth feel as if it is turning itself inside out!

Persimmon Cupcakes
(A TWS original recipe)
(The whole recipe makes use of 1 large fresh persimmon)

persimmon cupcakes
First make the persimmon puree:
100g roughly chopped persimmon
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp water

Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for about 10 minutes or until persimmons are very soft. Do not boil, keep stirring to prevent sticking. Let cool then push through a sieve. This removes the skin as well. You should end up with about ¾ cup jelly-like puree. Set aside.

Cupcake batter
110 g plain flour
80g caster sugar
75 g unsalted butter (softened at room temp)
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
¾ cup (90g) persimmon puree from above
40 g finely diced persimmon (skin on – the skin lets the fruit hold its shape and adds colour and texture)

Preheat oven to 180˚ C. Place flour, sugar and baking powder in mixing bowl. Beat on low speed for a few seconds to mix (I used an electric hand beater). Add butter and half the egg and beat on low speed until well combined. Increase speed to high and beat for about 30 seconds (I wanted the texture to be a little dense, so I didn’t beat it for too long). Add the rest of the egg and beat until incorporated (about 10-20 seconds). Gently fold in the puree, then the chopped persimmon. Don’t worry if the puree is not mixed in completely.

Spoon into cupcake cases and bake for about 12 minutes or until golden.

Cool, then ice with cream cheese icing and top with persimmon glaze (to follow)

Makes 18 small cupcakes.

Cream cheese icing
30 g icing sugar
30 g butter (softened)
60g cream cheese (softened)

Cream all ingredients together with a wooden spoon, until smooth.
(This quantity makes about ½ cup and is just enough to thinly cover the cupcakes. I did not want to mask the delicate flavour with too much icing)

Persimmon glaze
40g finely diced fresh persimmon
20g sugar

Gently cook the persimmon and sugar in a saucepan until thick and syrupy. Let cool.

persimmon glaze

Verdict? The persimmon flavour is very delicate which is why I did not add any other flavourings (eg vanilla) because I didn’t want to overwhelm the persimmon. I also layered the flavours by adding the puree, the chopped fruit and the glaze. I have to admit the flavour is very mild – it’s still a tasty cupcake, but I might attempt this again with dried persimmons to see if I can get a stronger flavour.

Pine Nut and Pear Paste Pinwheels

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I do like a bit of alliteration - probably a result of watching too many Sesame Street episodes with the kids. I also like simple recipes that look as if I went to a lot of effort! And I especially like recipes that get the thumbs up from the mini-critics.

I do love pumpkin soup!” , mini-critic senior declared not that long ago, so pumpkin soup has made an appearance at least once a fortnight this winter. What’s not to love? Quick, easy, healthy and there’s room for endless tweaking.

In the April 2009 issue of the ABC Delicious magazine (my fav. mag), I came across a recipe by Belinda Jeffery for blue cheese and pecan snails. Teamed with the soup, this made such an impact that a new family favourite was born. (And the kids don't even realise they were eating blue cheese – I still haven’t told them, shhhhh….).

Of course, I couldn’t resist tweaking the original recipe a little bit, and when I discovered a lovely spiced pear paste (Maggie Beer), I had to put some into the snails. And pine nuts went in because I’d run out of pecans.

The recipe is actually a scone recipe made into a snail shape. Scones must be flavour of the month - fellow food blogger Y has done a take on scones too!

Blue cheese, pine nut and pear paste pinwheels.

(A TWS version of Belinda Jeffery’s Blue Cheese and Pecan Snails).

2 cups (300g) self raising flour
1 tsp caster sugar
80g chilled unsalted butter, plus 70g extra at room temp.
½ cup (125 milk), plus extra if needed
90 g creamy blue cheese, crumbled
2/3 cup (50g) finely grated parmesan
100g toasted pine nuts (or pecans or walnuts)
1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tsp water/milk
1-2tbsp spiced pear paste (optional)

Sift the flour, sugar and salt together. I rubbed the butter into the flour mix by hand. (The actual recipe says to use a food processor). Doing it by hand saves taking the food processor apart to clean. I find that the dough seems to need less chilling time, but can't say for certain.

Add the milk and mix lightly with a fork until a soft dough forms. It may need more milk.

On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until smooth (not too long, just a couple of minutes or so). Roll out the dough into a rectangle.

Put the extra butter and cheeses in a food processor and whizz until well combined. To save washing up the food processr, the buter and cheeses can also be mixed together in a bowl.

If using the pear paste, spread evenly over dough leaving a 1 cm strip on the long side (for rolling up later) . Then spread cheese mixture evenly over the paste mixture. Sprinkle over with pine nuts then roll up like a jam roll. Transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper, then chill in fridge for 1-2 hours. I’ve managed to get away with as little as 20 mins. (The original recipe also says to brush the exposed 1 cm strip with the egg wash mixture but I have missed this step without too much drama as long as the roll is refrigerated seam side down).

Preheat oven to 200˚C. Carefully put the chilled log onto a cutting board and cut into slices. Arrange the pinwheels on a baking tray, leave a bit of space for spreading. Brush with eggwash, then bake until golden. Serve straightaway. (We’ve had it the next day as well. Refresh in a moderately hot oven for 3-5 minutes….yum!)