Foodbuzz 24,24,24: Seeing Red at Summer’s End.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today is officially the last day of summer. Soon the bright, brazen colours of warm weather fruit and vegetables will be but a memory.

I love the sights (and scents and tastes) that make up an Australian summer. The vivid hues of stone fruit and berries beguile from a distance, urging me to pick them up. Before I know it, they’re weighing down my bags as I head home from the markets or greengrocers.

This post is my ode to summer, a meal made from all things red (with a splash of pink and green thrown in). Red for heat: bright sunlight and long, languid days at the beach. Red for celebrations: Christmas and Valentine’s and Chinese New Year. Red for blazing barbecues: friends and family feasting, and kids with berry juices dribbling down their chins.

But before I share some of the recipes from my meal, I’d like to urge you to spare a though (and possibly something more), for the people who will be genuinely affected by the onset of cold weather. Living on the streets is difficult at the best of times, but worse when winter sets in. Perhaps visit this organisation to read about their work and find out how to help.

Thanks for bearing with me, here are the red dishes as promised. Aside from the colour red, this meal utilises a few herbs and vegetables that don’t really thrive once the cooler weather arrives.

Red for roasted capsicum and tomato soup with coriander pesto.

5 medium tomatoes, halved
2 capsicums (I used one large and one small), deseeded and quartered
2 garlic cloves, peel, lightly smashed
A punnet of cherry tomatoes (about 250g)
Olive oil
Pinch of cumin seeds (abt 1 tsp)
Seasoning (salt, pepper and sugar if needed)
Vegetable stock (I made a quick one using a handful of celery leaves, one carrot and one onion simmered in a pot of water while the veges were roasting and cooling)

Place tomatoes (but not the cherry tomatoes yet), garlic cloves, and capsicums in a large roasting/ baking dish, drizzle with olive oil then roast in a hot oven. After about ten minutes or so, add the cherry tomatoes as well. Roast until the tomatoes are meltingly soft and the capsicums have some charred bits on the skin. Peel off any blackened capsicum skin but don’t worry too much if you can’t get all the skin off. Leave to cool slightly, then puree in a blender or using a stick blender. Sieve and collect the puree, discard solids. I got about 4 cups of puree.

In a large pan, heat a little olive oil then add the cumin seeds and stir. Let it sizzle for a bit until it smells good. Add the puree and enough stock (I used about 2 cups of stock and saved the leftovers for something else). Simmer until desired consistency is reached. Season with a touch of sugar if the tomatoes taste too acidic, and of course salt and pepper.

Serve warm with a dollop of coriander pesto. It’s great as a make ahead dish for a dinner party, as it can be refrigerated or frozen then reheated without too much loss of flavour. (Could possibly also be served cold but I am not a cold soup person (unless it’s dessert))

Coriander pesto recipe can be found here. I halved the recipe and omitted the chilli and ginger. I also made the pesto a bit chunky rather than perfectly smooth so that it would contrast with the soup better.

Red for seared salmon, red lentil puree with coconut topping and wilted “kangkong”(water spinach).

 (sorry, night-time pic)

Red lentil puree (with coconut topping).
(This makes a truckload of lentils, but I remove half partway during cooking to freeze for other uses).

2 cups red split lentils (I think it is commonly referred to as masoor dhal). Picked over, washed and drained.
½ cup diced red onion (about 1 medium onion)
2 garlic cloves, finedly diced.
A thumb sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled.
A little vegetable oil.
Pinch of ground paprika and cayenne pepper

Fry the diced onion and garlic in a little oil until fragrant and translucent. Add the ground spices and stir for a bit. Add the lentils and enough water to come up an inch or so over the lentils (I used about 3 ½ cups and added more during cooking). Bring to the boil, skim off any scum from the surface, reduce heat and simmer gently with the lid of the pot slightly open. Stir from time to time. Cook until the lentils are soft (at this point, I removed half the lentils to cool and freeze for a later date). Turn down the heat further and stir more often until the lentils become a thick puree (it will get slightly thicker upon cooling). Don’t forget to season to taste.

When ready to serve, place a dollop of puree on a plate, reheat briefly in the microwave then sprinkle the following coconut topping on it. Serve with the seared salmon and wilted kangkong. (This puree and topping also works well as a warm dip for bread).

Coconut topping (an idea inspired by farofa)

¾ cup dessicated coconut (unsweetened)
a sprig of curry leaf (Murraya koenegii)
pinch of mustard seeds
pinch of ground tumeric
vegetable oil (about 1 – 2 tablespoons)

Forgot to add this pic earlier - this is curry leaf 

Heat the vegetable oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds, and as soon as they “pop”, add curry leaves. The leaves should go bright green and crisp up. Add the ground tumeric, give it a stir then turn the heat to low and add the coconut. Stir until well mixed but not browned. Remove from heat, cool completely and store in an airtight container until needed.

For the fish, heat some butter and olive oil in a frying pan. Sear the salmon skin side down until crisp, sprinkle on some ground ginger and salt, then turn and cook until desired “doneness” is achieved.

For the kangkong, first remove leaves from stems and cut stems into small bite sized pieces. Heat some oil in a wok, add some diced garlic and chilli, add kangkong stems then leaves. Cook on high heat until wilted.

Red for two toned jelly and rosehip and lemon balm granita.

Rosehip granita (a very easy version, feels like cheating)
¾ cup sugar syrup (I part sugar dissolved in 1 part boiling water)
2 rosehip teabags (I used a herbal, caffeine free brand of rosehip and hibiscus teabags)
1 ½ cups (approximate) boiling water
Sprig of lemon balm

Steep the teabags and lemon balm in the hot water. Leave for 15 minutes or so then remove tea bags and herbs, and leave until cool. Stir in the sugar syrup, mix well then pour into a shallow dish and freeze. When frozen, scrape with a fork. Very refreshing and great following the rich fish meal.

Two toned (plum and nectarine) jelly.
This jelly has a cloudy puree based jelly at the bottom and a clear juice jelly on top. I wish I could say that I did this because I wanted to show the relationship between the warm , light days of summer, merging into the colder, heavier days of autumn and winter. But the truth is I stuffed up – I pureed the plums in the hopes of extracting juice but made pulp instead. Working with what I got yielded a fabulous flavourful result, so here’s to a happy accident ☺

For the plum “jelly”

1 cup plum puree sieved (about 4 plums, I used 2 blood plums and 2 “other kind” (can’t remember the variety).
2 gelatine leaves soaked in cold water for 5 minutes to soften (you may need more or less gelatine depending on your gealtine variety)
60g (about 4 tablespoons sugar)
½ cup water

Put the water and suagr in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the suagr dissolves. Add the puree just to warm then remove from heat and stir in the softened gelatin leaves.

Pour into suitable moulds/glasses then chill until set. When the jelly has set, make the next layer as follows.

For the nectarine jelly
4 yellow nectarines roughly chopped (skin on)
1 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 gelatin leaves softened as above

Place nectarines and water in a saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes or so until the nectarines release their juices and the liquid goes a sunset colour from the skins. Remove from heat, strain through a sieve, then add sugar to the liquid. Reheat this liquid if necessary, then remove from heat and stir in the gelatin. Pour over the plum layer and chill to set. (I also saved the pulpy leftover nectarine, might turn it into a sauce to serve over ice-cream).

Serve the jelly with some granita spooned over the top. I also made this utterly delectable Crisp lemon biscuits (cookies) from Belinda Jeffery’s Mix and Bake. I cannot recommend these cookies (or the book) highly enough. The book is not about fancy desserts but honest, homestyle country baking, I think I will be making lots more treats from it to have with a warming cup of tea when the weather gets colder.

Thanks for visiting and hope you’re safe and warm wherever you are.

Daring Bakers February : A Trio of Tiramisu

Saturday, February 27, 2010

No silly names or funny inventions this time around. I was so excited at making tiramisu from scratch for this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge that I did it “properly”.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I’m a fan of both these bloggers so it was a real kick to bake with them this month.

We made the Italian dessert tiramisu, which means “pick-me-up”. This recipe makes use of home-made Savoiardi (Ladyfinger/Spongefinger Biscuits), mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, pastry cream and whipped cream (no dieting here!). You can view the full recipe here


Home made mascarpone - never buying store bought again!  

 I made six mini tiramisus in large muffin pans, with three different flavour variations :

1)    Coffee hazelnut tiramisu.
2)    Jaffamisu (Chocolate orange tiramisu).
3)    Peach and white chocolate tiramisu (no-alcohol version for the mini-critics).

To do this, I made up the whole quantity of the given savoiardi and mascarpone recipe, then made different pastry creams and zabaglione, and used different liquers/syrups to flavour.

For the flavoured pastry cream, I divided the given recipe into three portions while it was still hot, then added 30 g grated white chocolate into one portion, 30g grated dark chocolate into the other, and some grated lemon zest in the third portion.

The chocolate melts easily and the result is extremely luscious. I think I may have put a bit too much dark chocolate in the first lot as it was quite thick but the mini-critics polished off the leftovers after I told them it was “chocolate mousse” so it can’t have been that bad!


L-R: White choc pastry cream, Dark choc pastry cream, vanilla pastry cream, peach zabaglione, frangelico zabaglione, cointrea zabaglione (accidentally made thi a bit too thick) 

For the savoiardi, I drew circles based on the size of the muffin pans and piped to fit. I made three circles per tiramisu, and had enough batter left over to make some mini-fingers for the mini-critics to munch on (massive hit!).

All three varations were super delicious and while I am actually a huge fan of the usual coffee tiramisu, I was quite surprised that my favourite for this take was the jaffa version. (or maybe not that surprising given the chocolate content)

Coffee hazelnut tiramisu

-    this was the basic challenge recipe except I used Frangelico to flavour the zabaglione and pour onto the savoiardi. (We were meant to dip our savoiardi in a coffee/liquer mix, but I used a spoon to pour the mixture over the sponge while it was in the mould instead. Worked a treat.)

Jaffa tiramisu

This one was made using the dark chocolate pastry cream and a cointreau zabaglione. For the syrup to pour onto the sponge, I used some orange syrup leftover after making crepes suzette (orange juice, dash of lemon juice, sugar, melted butter) mixed with some Cointreau.

For the zabaglione, these were my ratios:

1 egg yolk
1½ tbsp sugar
30 ml Cointreau (well, I must have accidentally used less Cointreau but didn’t realise till after I’d cooked it when it went super thick. It worked fine anyway).

Peach and white chocolate tiramisu

This used the white chocolate pastry cream, a zabaglione flavoured with peach juice, some additional peach puree (just a peach blitzed in a blender with a dash of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar, then pushed through a sieve). For the syrup, I made one up with lemon juice and sugar (sorry can’t remember the ratios)

Ratios for the peach zabaglione were exactly as the Cointreau version, and I used 30ml peach juice instead.

 A spoonlicking good challenge this month!

Thanks for a wonderful challenge Deeba and Aparna, and thank you for reading ☺ Don’t forget to check out what the other Daring Bakers have done.

Ps: do come back tomorrow, I've something up my sleeve.

EOWTTA*: S is for Sesame

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

*Eating Our Way Through The Alphabet

Sez a who? Sez a me! Heh - yes, we are easily amused.

S is also for stupendous, super and shaz (*ahem*) and sorry we have been so slow with this post.

Actually I waffled (technical term) for ages trying to decide between sesame and sugar. But, at last count I had two kinds of palm sugar, two kinds of caster sugar, icing sugar, and brown sugar on hand – and I definitely do not need more. So sesame (Sesamum indicum) it is.

I’m sure most of you would be familiar with sesame in some form. There are the seeds (white, black, red), there’s sesame oil, and of course hummus fanciers would know all about tahini. (Btw, here’s an interesting link on how to buy tahini).

  From these simple seeds (pun intended), many, many tasty treats blossom – think halva, sesame seed balls, sesame snaps (which I have heard are similar to an Indian sweet known as Tilgul), and the list goes on. And of course, my favourite street bears its name.

Sesame seeds are apparently a good source of protein. It is also often touted as a good source of calcium, however the calcium content differs between hulled and unhulled sesame seeds. Unhulled sesame seeds contain higher amounts of calcium but they also contain oxalates, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium. If you’re interested in reading more, google “bioavailability” and “calcium” then wade through the scientific jargon :P.

Sesame oil 

And speaking of googling, I found out that sesame seeds contain something known as an anti-nutrient. Whoa! Sounds like some sort of interplanetary delicacy.

Speaking of delicacy (segue shaz strikes again), here’s a pic of some Greek sesame biscuits I attempted for this post. I’d clipped this recipe from a mag ages ago and seem to recall they tasted great the first time I made them. This batch? Bit boring. And not being Greek, I can’t even be sure if this recipe is “authentic”. Since I’m not sure what went wrong, I won’t post the recipe here.

But I’d like to share with you a couple of really simple ways I use sesame oil in my cooking. For a super simple vegetable dish, stir fry some minced garlic, then add green vegetables (eg: pak choy, chinese broccoli) or mixed vegetables (baby corn, capsicum, carrot, snow peas) and a dash of sesame oil and oyster sauce. Serve with steamed rice. (Makes sure vegetables are cut into even sized pieces so they cook uniformly, and it helps to stir-fry the thicker veges/stems first before adding the thinner/leafier ingredients.)

Or use sesame oil and seeds in a marinade/sauce. Here’s a quick dish I threw together using chicken, minced ginger and garlic, sesame oil and seeds, light soy sauce and thick soy sauce and honey. (I don't often post savoury food recipes because I cook Malaysian style - a dash of this, a dash of that, and don't really use measurements, so feel free to adjust all the flavours to suit your tastebuds).

And that’s about all I have to say about sesame.

For further reading, head over to Wikipedia

Malaysian Monday 26: Fried Kuih Bakul and other fritters

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ah, the start of another week and the Mondayitis has hit bad. I think it’s because the weather’s heated up again but it’s a really oppressive heat, the kind that makes you feel so lethargic. Everything is still and silent, I can’t even hear any cicadas or birds about.  All I really feel like doing is vegging out on the couch.

Which is hard to do when there are children to be ferried around and dinner to make.  Luckily I hit the markets yesterday and the fridge, fruit bowl and pantry are well stocked, now all I have to do is try and find some inspiration…maybe if I look in the back of the vege crisper, it may be hiding there.

So without further ado, here is today’s Malaysian Monday offering of fried tee kueh/ kuih bakul. Remember the kuih bakulfrom a couple of weeks ago? I let it sit in an airtight container in the fridge to become hard enough to slice. And when I found some fresh taro/yam at the greengrocers the other day, I just knew I had to make this.

The kuih is sandwiched between slices of sweet potato and taro, then dipped into a batter and deep fried until the tubers are cooked through, the kuih becomes all gooey and sticky and the batter turns golden and crisp. Can anyone resist such a contrast of textures? Apparently Mr. Kitchen Hand and MC Junior can! They both only had a mouthful and refused any more. MC Senior on the other hand, absolutely loved it and asked if there was any more of the sticky chewy bit in the middle. (MC Junior loved a banana I fried for her though – asking for more “hot banana” when she’d eaten it all up).

Fried tee  kueh
kuih bakul – sliced into rectangular portions
Enough sweet potato and taro to sandwich the kuih (I used about half each of a medium sized sweet potato and taro). Make sure to slice thinly so it can cook through faster.

(Adapted from a goreng pisang batter here and here)

½ cup plain flour
¼ cup rice flour
2 tbsp cornflour
½ teaspoon each baking powder and baking soda (if you don’t like the after taste of baking soda, use all baking powder instead)
pinch of salt
about ½ cup water (may need more or less)
1 egg, beaten lightly.

Oil for frying (I used just enough to shallow fry, so the oil comes up halfway to each “sandwiched” kuih)

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the beaten egg and stir with a whisk or fork until the ingredients start to come together, then add a little water at a time until you get a smooth batter. It has to be thick enough to “hold” onto the dipped slices of vegetables or fruit. The consistency is slightly thicker than pouring cream.

Heat oil in suitable vessel until ready for deep frying, use the bread cube test or just drip a bit of batter in – it should sizzle immediately but take at least half a minute or so to turn golden. Too hot and the potato slices don’t cook through and too cold makes for a soggy fritter. Adjust the heat as needed during the cooking process.

Dip the “sandwich” slices in the batter (need to use hands and it’s very messy!), then carefully lower slices into the hot oil. Turn once or twice to ensure it’s cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on crumpled kitchen paper.

Serve hot or warm. Best eaten immediately but I saved a few for the next day (in airtight container in fridge) and heated them up on a wire rack in the oven. Not as crispy as day one but still pretty delectable.

The batter can also be used to fry any leftover slices of sweet potato (ubi keledek goreng), taro (ubi keladi goreng) or banana (pisang goreng) - all favourite tea time snacks. (Goreng = fried).

Fried banana fritters (pisang goreng) 

Hope you’re having a not too lethargic start to the week ☺

Splish, splash - it's a cake

Friday, February 19, 2010

Been a bit of a busy week, So much so that I've managed to procrastinate again with my letter S post for EOWTTA. Ah well.

How about we look at some cake instead? I do apologise for the quality of the photos, I did all of the photos very, very quickly and in terrible light, but hopefully you can make out enough detail.


The mermaid cake was for a little friend who was having a pool party and the other cakes were for a joint birthday celebration. Each child had something they liked as a topper - kittycats, ballet tutu etc.


I had so much fun making mermaids, I wish I had a job just making fairytale cakes all day...

Have a great weekend and I'll see if I can scrounge up letter S soon.

Don't go, Mango!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Woke up the last two mornings to a distinct nip in the air. I don’t think summer’s ready to leave just yet, but it’s a sign of things to come. Better savour the last of the warm weather produce before it’s too late.

Mangoes are one fruit I’ll definitely miss. They just scream “sunshine” from their brightly hued skins right down to their sweet, juicy seed (I always save the seed for myself). We go through a lot of mangoes at our place – usually eaten fresh, but sometimes tossed into salsa, salads and smoothies.

Wanting to try something a little bit different, I decided to make these mango tartlets. I like these sorts of dishes that can be assembled when needed, so all the different components can be kept fresh. No soggy bottomed tarts here. The idea is pretty simple, just your regular shortcrust pastry base, then a crème patisserie filling, topped with fruit.

Of course, I cannot leave well enough alone so there’s a tropical twist. The crème patissiere is made with coconut milk and flavoured with lime rind, and the fruit is topped with some caramelised coconut. When warmed gently just before serving - it’s fabulous! So creamy, warm, buttery, sweet and caramel-y, we went back for seconds. Luckily they were small tarts.

So, please don’t go just yet summer. I need to eat many more mangoes first ☺

For even more of a mango boost and to add some contrast in textures and temperature, serve the tarts with a mango granita.

Here’s how I made my tarts, feel free to use as a jumping off point and vary the fruit and filling etc.

Mango tarts

For the base – use your favourite shortcrust pastry recipe (there must be a million variations out there). Blind bake some tart bases. I used mini tart pans with removable bottoms. Cool and store cases in an airtight container.

For the crème patissiere filling
(adapted from a basic crème in Stephanie Alexander’s Cook's Companion)

1 cup milk
1 cup coconut milk
6 egg yolks
finely grated rind of 1 lime
150g castor sugar
50g cornflour

Mix milk and coconut milk together in a saucepan with the lime rind. Scald and remove from heat. Beat egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until very thick. Pour the milk mixture into the egg mixture and beat until well mixed. Rinse out the milk saucepan and return the custard base to the pan over medium low heat. Stir until thick and when it starts to boil, stir very, very well (in my handwritten notes, I’ve jotted down, stir like crazy). Strain through sieve and press a piece of plastic wrap on the top and cool. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

For the coconut topping
(this is a “make it up as I went along” thing, so treat the following measurements as a guide and feel free to deviate)
¼ cup (heaped) shredded coconut
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp white sugar

Mix the butter and sugars together over low heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the coconut and cook while stirring. If the mixture is too thick add a little bit of water (I added water about 1 tbsp at a time when needed). Keep cooking, adding water to prevent burning, until mixture is brown and caramelised.

(For decoration in the photos, I also made some plain caramel to drizzle over the top of the tart, but this is optional).

To assemble, place a little crème patissiere in a tart shell, top with mango and caramelised coconut. Serve at room temperature or warm gently in a low oven before serving.

Malaysian Monday 25: Peanut Biscuits (Cookies) and memories of fireworks past.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy belated V-Day, New Year’s Day or weekend, whichever one you did, hope it was lots of fun.

These peanut biccies (cookies) were another “must-have” Chinese New Year cookie when I was growing up.

But I hear you say, “Aren’t you a bit late with a new year post, seeing as it was yesterday?”  And I’ll say, “Ha, ha, guess what? Chinese New Year stretches on for 15 days, yup, it goes even longer than the 12 days of Christmas!”

Actually, we never had a big CNY celebration at home (only Mum is Chinese). Instead, my brother and I would get the requisite ang-pau (red packet) on New Year’s morning, along with some new clothes, then off we’d go to do the rounds of uncles, aunties and cousins. Mum came from a large family, so the visiting was usually stretched out over a few days. We’d bring along mandarins and lollies to exchange, and of course us kids looked forward to the little red-packets we’d collect along the way.

But I think the most fun part about the CNY celebrations, bigger even than cookies, lollies and packets of money – was fireworks! Sure, I can see now how unsafe these things were, but to a kid, this was our chance to play with fire, and not get told off for it.

There were the bright red, and extremely loud, firecrackers - which we buried and let off to produce mini dirt-explosions even Adam and Jamie would have been proud of. Then there were the “Moon-travellers”, a sort of rockety thing on a stick. You put the stick end in a bottle to hold it up, lit the fuse and watched it spiral off into space, finally exploding with a pop. Of course, we found novel ways to play with these – racing them horizontally along straight stretches of road, or aiming them into the open drains and watching with glee as the resulting “glub-glub” bubble trail ended with a sputtery explosion.

MC Senior plays it safe with a sparkler 

There were also tamer fireworks, the sort that spun around amidst a shower of sparks (a lotus I think), and “bees” that zoomed around when lit. I also remember “fountains” of fire and little coloured balls of flame that shot out of the end of a cardboard tube. And every once in a while, we were lucky enough to have a type of firework that exploded and sent off a little plastic soldier attached to a parachute. Little brother and I would elbow each other out of the way to claim the prize – which invariably lasted about 4 minutes, then got so tangled we’d have to cut the parachute off.

But enough about fireworks, here’s the recipe for today’s post. It’s super simple and I made it in a food processor because I was pressed for time. I’ve adapted it from Mum’s methodless recipe which went : 1 bowl flour (1/2 self raising), 1 bowl peanuts, 1 bowl sugar and 1 bowl butter.

Here’s the longer version I figured out by myself (very chuffed with own effort) ☺

Raw cookies - no eggs means safe to eat cookie dough he he! 

Peanut cookies
150g (abt 1 cup) – shelled, unsalted peanuts - toast the peanuts (even if using the roasted version,) in a medium hot oven until golden brown (it took me about 5 minutes). Watch carefully or it will burn.
150g plain flour (abt 1 cup)
½ tsp baking powder
200g sugar
100g butter (cold, cut into cubes)
50g peanut butter (about 2 tbsp)

extra peanut halves to decorate

Pulse the cooled toasted peanuts in the food processor until quite fine, careful not to overdo it or you’ll get peanut butter. Remove peanuts and set aside. Place flour, sugar and butter in the food processor and blitz until the mixture looks “sandy”. Add the peanuts and peanut butter and blitz again until well combined and looks like a soft dough. May need to use a spatula to dislodge any stuck bits from base of processor bowl.

Tip the dough out into a mixing bowl. It may look a bit crumbly but pick some up and see if it can be formed into a ball – the heat from your hands should be enough to meltify the butter and make the dough come together.

Form teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place on lined baking trays. Leave room for spreading. Flatten balls slightly, eggwash the top then press a peanut half carefully into the top. Bake until golden. (I didn’t eggwash the peanut because I didn’t want it to brown too much).

Don’t worry if the cookies dome then crack – they’re meant to do that.

Makes at least 3 dozen cookies.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's not quite midnight yet, so still enough time to wish everyone a Happy Lunar New Year and Happy Valentine's Day!!

Hope you had fun :)

Just floating around

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Not much of a post today, just a few pics of the latest cake creation. Another lemon-poppyseed cake with cream cheese icing (flavoured with lemon curd). I make a basic cream cheese icing, then add as much lemon curd as I think the icing can "hold" without going too sloppy. If I accidentally overshoot, then I add icing sugar to firm up. It's still a juggling act which is why I haven't posted any recipes yet. To add more lemony flavour, I also add some zest to the icing.

And I know you Northern Hemisphereans are saying enough already..but boy, it's been hot. I'm not just saying that for small talk, but the heat really interferes with getting my icing right. A lot of refrigeration and waiting around time needed.

Anyway, it was a scuba diver theme, and as you can see, she's making the international scuba diver sign for A-OK. (I made her out of modelling paste)

The cake and the topper travelled separately to the destination, then the scuba diver was placed in those rippled outlines. Hard to see but the blue specks are blue edible glitter. 

Hope you're all feelign a-ok too :)

Mactweets : Mac-ing love out of (almost) nothing at all*

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

*apologies to Air Supply. Have I given you an earworm? =)

Well, luuurrvve is in the air, and the wonderful Jamie and Deeba have put the call out to Mac-a-Valentine for Mactweets.

Coffee coconut macaron, eaten with lemon curd ice-cream. Mr. Kitchen Hand likes to get a coffee/lemon gelato combo which sounds odd but works! 

Actually, we don’t do Valentine’s Day over here at the Skewer House. Well, very early on in the relationship,  Mr. Kitchen Hand declared a Sharontine’s day the week after V-day, because I’d chucked a big sulk at missing out on flowers. Then I got over it, and now refuse to play the game and pay the prices they keep asking for roses and reservations. (I’d rather buy pashmak and vanilla beans with that money instead).

But hey, the hopeless romantic hiding inside me could not pass up the opportunity to make heart shaped sweets. Macarons flavoured with coffee and coconut for the bean loving Mr. Kitchen Hand. I tried the Italian meringue method again, and this time I think I’ve pretty much nailed it.

Smooth tops? Check!
Dried bottoms? Check!
Feet? Checkity, check, check. (yes, they do look a bit alligator teeth but hey, they’re still feet)

And all thanks to a simple suggestion by Heavenly Housewife – to cover the macarons during cooking to prevent the tops browning too much. One of those “why didn’t I think of it *slap forehead*” type suggestions. So thank you HH, this batch is dedicated to you.

Coffee coconut macarons with dark chocolate coffee ganache.

(adapted from a recipe by Adriano Zumbo for Candy Cane macarons)

Macaron shells
80g almond meal
40g dessicated coconut
110g icing sugar
160g caster sugar
110g egg whites (roughly 3 eggwhites, best to measure) – divide into equal half portions (I aged mine for three days in the fridge. Not really on purpose though, it just took me that long to get around to making the macarons)
40ml freshly brewed espresso coffee

Sieve almond meal, coconut and icing sugar into a large bowl. (I wasn’t really planning to add coconut but after starting the  process, realised I didn’t have enough almond meal so grabbed the first thing that I thought might work).

Add the coffee to the caster sugar in a heavy based saucepan. Stir over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves, then let it boil and cook until it reaches about 120-125˚C (It’s hard to tell accurately on my thermometer). The coffee did smell scarily as if it was burning but the end result tasted fine so I think the amount of sugar involved helped overcome any overly bitter flavour.

Now comes the tricky part if like me, you only have a set of hand beaters. While the sugar syrup is boiling, whip a half portion of the eggwhites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. (Because I was curious, I actually used eggwhites straight from the fridge, they worked fine). When the sugar has reached desired temperature, carefully pour it in a thin stream into the eggwhites while continuing to beat. Try to aim for the sides of the bowl otherwise it will just hit the beaters and get flung around a bit. I risked stopping a couple of times to pour the syrup in properly and to scoop the last of the syrup out with a spatula. I’d then quickly start beating again – and kept beating until the bowl was just warm to touch. Overall, it worked quite well apart from a few blobs of hardened sugar around the edges of the bowl.

Next, add the other liquid half portion of eggwhites to the almond meal mixture, then add in the beaten meringue. Fold with a sturdy spatula until a blob of the mixture will slowly settle onto itself (you’ll probably see lots of posts talking about a lava-like flow. Having never seen lava first hand, I find this a hard stage to judge. I would describe the flow as akin to thick paint, the kind that gets squeezed out of a tube).

Spoon into a piping bag, then pipe onto trays lined with parchment paper. I only have two trays, so I pipe the rest onto parchment paper and when ready, I carefully slide the sheets onto the next available tray.

Let the piped macarons sit while you preheat the oven. According to my oven thermometer, the temperature is 150˚C. Arrange one oven rack in the bottom third of the oven, then another rack slightly above that. Place macaron tray on the lower oven rack, bake for about 6 minutes or so until feet appear, then place a sheet of parchment/baking paper on the tray above it and bake until the shells are dry. It took mine about 20 minutes altogether. Carefully try to peel one off, it it comes off cleanly, it’s done, otherwise place it back in the oven. When done, let the macaron shells cool on the tray for about 5 minutes, the remove and cool on baking racks. The easiest way to remove from baking paper is to hold the paper almost vertical to each macaron and sort of “peel” the paper off.

 Look! Look! No cheating - bottoms are on and dry :)

Dark chocolate coffee ganache

For the filling, I made a simple ganache using 1/2 cup cream, 150g finely chopped dark chocolate and 1 tsp finely ground coffee beans. Heat the cream and coffe beans until it reaches scalding point ( I did this in the microwave), then pour over chocolate. Let it sit for half a minute or so, then stir well (I used a spatula) until glossy and ganachy.

I've encountered some issues during my mac attempts, and here's what I've found helpful:

1)    Shiny shells, quick to burn – my hands get very hot when piping, so instead of placing the whole lot of macaron mixture into a piping bag, I do it in three batches so the sugars don’t “melt” too much from contact with my mitts.

2)    Sticky bottoms, brown tops -  I found that lowering the temperature and upping the cooking time helped. And as I discovered with this batch, covering them with baking paper really works. Also, I am currently baking with only the top element of my oven working, so I rely on my oven thermometer to tell me when the oven is hot enough. Positioning the oven rack towards the bottom of the oven also helped me.

I think weighing everything on a set of digital scales is also crucial.

If all else fail, relax, have fun, it’s only egg whites  – I think I may have broken a fair few macaron rules – using defrosted whites, not waiting for whites to warm up etc, but I whipped ‘em good ☺

Here’s to our next passionate mac encounter ☺

Malaysian Monday 24: Kuih Bakul (Steamed Glutinous Rice Cake)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kuih Bakul (Kuih = type of cake/dessert, Bakul=Basket) is also known as Tee Kueh or Nin Ko (this is what it sounds like to my ear, I don’t actually know the “proper” Chinese characters to describe this delicacy). There are different names depending on which Chinese dialect one speaks (or in my case, doesn’t speak!).

Red is considered a lucky colour - hence the red paper decoration.

It’s actually a simple treat with very few ingredients, but tricky to make correctly. This kuih plays an important role in the Chinese New Year celebrations, it is used as an offering to the Kitchen God.

I didn’t pay much attention as a kid, but I think the Kitchen God makes a yearly report to the Big Boss (I think he’s called the Jade Emperor). Folks hope that after partaking in the sticky, sweet Tee Kuih, the Kitchen God’s mouth would be so glued up, he would only be able to pass on a glowing account of the family’s behaviour. Thus ensuring a year of good fortune ahead for the household.

We never made this at home, but my mum remembers helping her mother make this kuih as a child. Her mother would make lots of batches to sell. Mum was tasked with grinding the glutinous rice into flour using a stone grinder. Luckily there’s ready-made flour these days, and gas /electricity on demand! During my mum’s childhood, these kuih would be steamed over a charcoal fire, which had to be tended to ensure even cooking.

There are a fair few “pantang” (taboos/superstitions) associated with the making of this kuih. Mum recalls how her mother would cover the tins of tee kuih with a large muslin cloth (I’m assuming to stop drips from the steamer lid marring the surface of the kuih). Then her mother would sprinkle a mixture of rice grains and salt around the lid and the fire - to ward off  any lurking gremlins I  suppose.

One year, Mum remarked “how easy” it was to make the kuih, then wondered aloud what would happen if they didn’t turn brown. Her mother reprimanded her severely and unfortunately for my mum, that batch of kuih didn’t turn out right. Half the tins turned out brown and glossy while the other half remained white. Poor Mum copped it for apparently causing the bad batch because she'd talked too much!

In case you're wondering what that "bump" in the middle is - I'd stuck my finger in to test if it was cooked. Well it wasn't quite.

Fortunately for me, this batch of kuih turned out quite well, but I don’t think I will bother making them from scratch again because of the long steaming time involved! It took more than 8 hours of steaming to make these. They do look, smell and taste like the tee kueh I remember from childhood, so I’m pretty pleased with that. We’ll be eating one “fresh” and I’m going to let the other one go “stale” so that I can turn it into another favourite childhood snack – deep fried tee kueh (he he, it’s like the Malaysian version of a deep fried Mars Bar!)

Tee Kueh/ Nin Ko/ Kuih Bakul

(Mum had clipped this recipe from one of the Malaysian newspapers, and in the article, the authors credit this recipe to a place called the Berten Cookshop. I don’t know how old this clipping is, so I’m not sure if this place is still around. I made my own changes to the recipe, so here’s my adapted version)


Steamer or a wok with a trivet set in it

Small baking tins (2 very small ones or 1 small)

Banana leaves to line the mould – do try and get these because they impart a subtle, almost smoky flavour to the kuih. Without the leaves it will just taste sweet.Scald the leaves with hot water first to soften otherwise they will crack.

Pastry brush and water to wet down sides of saucepan when making caramel.

13 tbsp sugar (I used caster sugar)
at least 10 tbsp water (I found that I needed more than than this – explained in the recipe)
120g glutinous rice flour

(When the kuih has cooled, you can glaze the surface with a simple sugar syrup if desired, this keeps the kuih fresher for longer. I omitted this step because I don’t think it will last that long!)

First up, line one or two small tins (my square tin measured 10cms) with a few layers of banana leaves, overlapping the sides to make sure none of the final mixture can seep out.

In a small bowl, mix the flour with enough water to form a soft dough. The recipe originally recommended 5 tbsps, but I found that I needed about 9. Add the water a tablespoon at a time. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to mix the dough (no gluten remember?) – mine had the consistency of soft playdough, I could grab a fistful and squish it through my fingers.

Leave aside for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, make some caramel. (The original recipe had a series of convoluted steps which I figured out were actually a way of making caramel syrup, so I simplified it). In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, place the 13 tbsps of sugar along with 5 tbsp of water. Stir carefully over low heat until the sugar dissolves. As soon as the mixture starts to simmer stop stirring, if there is unmelted sugar, pick up the saucepan and jiggle it a bit – be very careful of the hot sugar! Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to get rid of any sugar crystals. Don’t be afraid to do this as often as you like, the excess water will just evaporate anyway.

 Keep cooking the sugar over medium high heat, jiggling the saucepan from time to time to make sure all the sugar has dissolved. When the mixture starts to turn a slight golden colour, watch carefully. Keep cooking a little while longer until it is deep golden but not brown. Use your nose, it should start to smell caramelly. Remove from heat and VERY CAREFULLY add two tablespoons of water to the sugar in the pan. It will hiss and bubble and maybe spit a bit. Stir with a long handled spoon and set aside to cool. Don’t let it cool for too long or it will harden – just until it’s warm enough to not cook the flour.

When the caramel syrup is just warm, carefully pour it into the ball of flour. Pour half in first, stir well, then add the other half. This should result in a soupy but well distributed mixture. Pour the mix through a sieve (there will be lumps) into the one/two prepared tins. The mix doesn’t rise during cooking but I think the shallower it is, the faster it takes to cook through.
The raw mixture before the steaming process

Here comes the hard part. Steam on medium heat for at least 8 hours until the white mixtures turns into something golden brown and slightly translucent. Check the steamer every so often and don’t forget to top up the water level (I had a couple of close calls!). Every once in a while, wipe down the inside of the steamer lid to prevent drips from falling on the kuih (or cover the kuih with muslin)).

It was very late and I decided to go to bed, but I didn’t think the kuih was quite ready, so this morning, I popped one back into the steamer and it seemed to cook a bit more. The square one was re-cooked and it looks much closer to a tee kueh than the round one.

The square one had a longer steaming time = brwoner looking kueh. I've popped the round one back in the steamer now, fingers crossed :)