Making like a squirrel...(Macattack 13).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s Mac-attack time again, and this month’s theme is Fall (Autumn). Our lovely hosts Jamie and Deeba tasked us with creating macarons that reminded us of the season.

As much as I bemoan the drop in temperatures, I actually secretly love fall/ autumn. You know, for all the obvious reasons: that slight nip in the air signalling the change of seasons, the colours of the foliage, the hint of woodsmoke in the air. I also love the fact that the water temperature is actually at its warmest. Unlike summer, where swimming can be put off for another time, we don’t waste a chance for a dip on a warm autumn day because we never know if it’s our last for the year. (Yes I know there are people who go swimming in winter but that’s just masochistic).

But best of all, I love being in the kitchen when it’s cooler. Stews and soups reappear on the menu, baking becomes almost a necessity and cups of tea are requisite. Like a squirrel, I start laying down stockpiles of chocolate for the winter. I hardly crave any in the warmer weather, but when it’s cold and gray outside, I pity anyone who’s around me when supplies run low.

So it wasn’t hard to decide what to make for the fall theme. I was quite surprised when I realised I’d never attempted chocolate macaron shells before. How did that happen? I used David Lebovitz’s recipe, found here, and I followed it with a few minor tweaks. I weighed the egg whites, using 70g, and I also baked the macarons at a lower temperature (around 150˚C) than the recipe called for.

The resulting shells looked wonderful and this is the first batch of French macarons that I haven’t struggled with the problem of overbrowning/ sticky bottoms. I think the cocoa powder had something to do with it. However, I found that the shells are slightly drier and crisper than the non-cocoa powder variety. Once they are filled though, it’s not as noticeable, but I highly, highly recommend letting the filled shells sit for at least a day so that the moisture spreads evenly through the whole thing and the flavours get a chance to shine.

For the filing, I used chestnuts. This was also an easy decision, nothing says cooler weather to me than the arrival of chestnuts. Ah, I know what you’re thinking: “But isn’t it almost summer where you are Shaz?” Well, I had done that squirrel thing at the end of the last chestnut season and stashed some away in the freezer.  Sometimes I amaze even myself ;P

I still have issues with my beating. The top shell was fine but the bottom shell had a bit of "doming" (which I think is caused by underbeating??)

I made a sweet chestnut puree by simmering about 2 cups of peeled chestnuts in 1 1/2 cups of sugar syrup. (My syrup = 3/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1 1/2 cup hot water). When the chestnuts were soft, I blitzed them in  food processor.The I whipped 1/2 cup pure cream until stiff peaks formed, and mixed half a cup of the cooled  chestnut puree through the cream. I stored the filled macarons in an airtight container in the fridge.

The bitterness of the cocoa powder and the mild filling make these chocolate chestnut macarons just right for those with a not-so-sweet tooth. The family loved them, as did I.  

“Fall into love with macarons all over again,” said the brief. I’ve never fallen out of love!

Thanks for the fun theme Jamie and Deeba! Don’t forget to check out what the rest of the Mactweet gang has come up with.

Malaysian Monday 56 : Milk sweet (Pal Gova)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy Monday everyone.

Phew, I feel like I need a breather from the weekend, but alas, no rest for the wicked. *cackles and adjusts pointy hat*


Here we are again at another installment of Malaysian Monday, and after the success of the ladoo a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to try my hand at another Indian sweet. I’m actually a bit confused as to what this is called because my dad always called it Pal Gova (which I think means “milk cake”), but when I started to look it up, I discovered it’s known as Doodh Peda. Can anyone tell me what this means/ which dialect it’s in?

There are two ways to make this sweet. The easy way or the painstaking 4-hours-of-continuous stirring way. Guess which I chose?

The easy method called for a substance known as khoya, and the closest replacement seems to be powdered milk. This almost put me off completely because I really dislike powdered milk. It’s a residual childhood memory thing. Because our diets weren’t exactly dairy-heavy, Mum was quite conscious about making sure we got enough calcium, so she made us drink a glass of milk every day. Although we did have access to fresh local milk, both my brother and I absolutely hated the smell of the stuff, so we got powdered milk instead. It smelt only marginally better.

I wouldn’t have made this dessert if the other ingredient hadn’t been condensed milk. I love condensed milk. Enough said.

So I looked at lots of recipes and picked this one to adapt. The resulting sweets looked like the shop-bought ones, but the texture was slightly chewier. I’m assuming that they dry out more if stored for a couple of days.The flavour is mild and very milky as expected. MC Junior loved it, MC Senior hated it and Mr. Kitchen Hand was indifferent. I think this is one for the "acquired-taste" bag.

Thanks for reading and have a great start to the week. If you’d like to join 3 Hungry Tummies and I for Muhibbah Malaysian Monday, please send your entries in to me at its(dot)sharon(at)gmail(dot)com before the end of the week. I’ll be posting the round up of delicious entries next week.

Mini sweets - in mini patty pans

Indian Milk Sweet (Doodh Peda)
2 cups powdered milk (I measured this in my measuring jug where 2 cups was roughly 250ml)
1 can condensed milk (395g)
ground cardamom seeds (I used seeds from 3 pods)
40 g butter, melted and slightly cooled.

Sift the powdered milk into a large microwave safe bowl. Add the condensed milk , ground cardamom and butter and stir to mix. The mixture was very heavy so I ended up beating it with hand-beaters. It worked like a charm :)

Place the mixture (it will be very stiff and thick) in the microwave and give it a quick blast on high. All microwave ovens are different, I did this part for about 40 seconds. Remove and stir well ( I used beaters again). Place in microwave and cook for another minute or so. Remove mixture and do a quick taste. If it still tastes “raw”, give it another zap. Repeat the mixing and tasting. Give it one final zap if needed. Don’t over do it.

While the mixture is still warm, roll into walnut sized balls and flatten with your hand (I use the side of my hand, close to the palm). Arrange on some baking paper and leave to set in the fridge.


(DB Nov 2010) You say crostata, I say ...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jam tart :)

Yes, it’s that time again. No, not just Daring Bakers reveal time. It’s dance recital time! This year, MC junior joins in the fun for the first time. So a great part of my day today was spent making ballet buns (no, not edible), and making sure costume bits didn’t go missing at the dress rehearsal.

Which means my post for today is probably going to be quite succint (did I just hear cheering?). And do forgive me if I don’t get a chance to visit your blogs promptly. I will definitely come along soon, promise!

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I’d made pasta frolla and crostata once “before blog”, but it didn’t quite float my boat that time around. I thought it was a bit dry and boring. Luckily, this challenge gave me the chance to try a new recipe and I am definitely a convert! Perhaps using lots of home-made jam made a difference. And perhaps rolling the dough out quite thinly helped too.

I chose version 1 of the pasta frolla recipe, and made the whole thing in the food processor. The cicadas were screeching madly singing loudly outside when I made the tart, a sure sign of a very hot day, so I needed to chill my dough a little. My work process went something like this : roll out dough, refrigerate, put into tart pan, refrigerate, spread jam on, refrigerate, roll out lattice dough, refrigerate, place lattice on, refrigerate, brush with eggwash, refrigerate. Finally the crostata made it into the oven, and I covered the top lightly with foil for the first 15 minutes or so of baking, to protect it from browning too quickly.

The resulting crostata had a beautifully rich and buttery base, complemented by the yummylicious  strawberry, peach and ginger jam I had made earlier. I took the tart along to a picnic to share with friends and we polished it all off in one go. Thanks Simona for the very tasty challenge.

Do check out the different variations created by my fellow Daring Bakers. You’ll find the recipe at the Daring Kitchen or at Simona’s   blog.  As for the jam, I used 2 peaches, 500g of strawberries, some lemon juice and a chunk of ginger,  and made it up as I went along, following a few tips from the  national centre for home food preservation(US based) . I also referred to The Cook’s Companion, and found it useful to cook the jam until it reached about 104˚C (boiling vigorously).

 Jam, lovely jam.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Campfire Cake (otherwise known as the 1/2, 1, 1 1/2, 2 Cake)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Remember how we went camping a little while back?  No? I don’t blame you, it’s taken me a while to get this post together. I’m lucky I still have the photos as I’d uploaded them to my old computer. That computer has now decided it’s in eternal panic  mode and won’t turn on properly. (I’m not kidding, it’s in a state known as a kernel panic, whatever that means. To be fair, the poor dear was quite ancient).

Thankfully, I hadn’t deleted the pics off my memory card, and since we’d had the foresight to upgrade to a new computer before the old one expired, things haven’t been all that bad :)

Now back to the more important matter of cake.

This is the story how we attempted to bake a cake on our campfire.

Did we succeed? You can be the judge of that :)

I’m sure you’d have heard of the 1,2,3,4 cake by now. If you haven’t, here’s the link to the recipe (courtesy of Paula Deen). The 1,2,3,4 refers to the measurements involved.

I’d read how foolproof the cake was, and of course I needed a really basic recipe that relied on cup measures since I couldn’t carry my digital scales along!

This is how our cake-baking went:

Step1: Build your fireplace

Step 2: Set up the oven. Oops, I've only just realised this photo is sideways. Bear with me.

This is the cake pan I used. I didn't really want to use such a fancy pan but it was the only one I had that would fit properly in the camp oven.

Step 3: Ensure that the oven sits level. You may have to find some rocks for this. Best to do this step before oven becomes too hot to handle.

Step 4: Preheat the oven. It was really hard to see the embers in the bright light of day. Would be easier to control at night.

Step 5: Mix the cake batter. We halved all the measurements

 Don't forget to keep an eye out for intruders who want to steal your food.


It's ready to go into the oven!

 Baking time! I didn't realise this at the time, some firewood on the opposite side to where I was sitting (and watching the oven) had flared up, heating the cake too quickly.

So, even though the cake looked ok from the top...

It was, uh, slightly scorched at  the bottom. Plus some of it stuck to the pan.

But, no way were we throwing out cake! After trimming, it looked good enough to eat. (In fact, there's only half here because we'd already eaten a fair few de-carbonised slices by this stage).

 Of course, chocolate icing always helps (will type up recipe soon).

We polished it all off. I must say I'm very impressed with the 1,2,3,4 cake because it not only survived the camp fire, it tasted great!

Next time, I’m packing a simpler cake pan, and baking in the evening so I can actually see the coals properly.

And before I go, Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends who are celebrating!

Malaysian Monday 55: Chicken Curry / Kari Ayam

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Monday everyone.

I‘ve had to drag myself to the computer today! We’ve had a brilliant sunshiny sort of day with just enough breeze to temper the heat. The kind of day where all I wanted to do was sit and watch  butterflies dart about the garden. No “must-dos” or “should-dos” on my mind, everything’s been mañana. But I couldn’t let this Monday drift by without a Malaysian food offering could I?

Luckily, this is one I prepared mid-week. It’s the kind of curry that can be thrown together with hardly any grinding or blending involved, and it uses store-bought curry powder.  This curry is actually a really good example of a classic Malaysian dish because the ingredients blend Chinese, Indian and Malay influences together.

Everyone adds their own little tweak to this curry, and truth be told, I’ve attempted to cook it quite often but something always seemed missing. Asking for the recipe from Mum wasn’t very helpful either, I’ve mentioned before, Malaysian cooks are very vague about measurements, it’s all “a dash of this and a pinch of that”. I knew that I had to use onions, star anise, cinnamon sticks, curry leaves, and curry powder, but in what amounts?

Then I stumbled across a recipe from the people behind Mamak (a Malaysian retaurant in Sydney), over here on the Gourmet Traveller website.  Looking at the ingredient list, I saw that their recipe included cardamom seeds and lemon grass. Ah, maybe those were the missing ingredients.

I did notice however, the recipe didn’t include coconut milk, but I’ve always used a little to give the curry some richness. Just to double check, I sent Mum a quick SMS asking if I should add coconut milk to chicken curry. “Yes,” came the reply. “Or you could use ideal milk (what we call evaporated milk) or yoghurt if you prefer”.
So off I went, and ended up with a curry that was very close to what I remembered from childhood. I found that adding a lot more curry powder than I usually do seemed to add the desired boost, and lemon grass definitely added an extra level of flavour. 

The best part about this curry is that it can be made as mild or as spicy as desired. I pulled some of the chicken out after the initial cooking stage, and added it to a separate pot with more coconut milk to tame it down, and both the Mini Critics loved it. Looks like this will become a firm family favourite from now on.

Enjoy the rest of the week:)

And don’t forget, if you’d like to join 3 Hungry Tummies and I for our Muhibbah Malaysian Monday event, I’ll be hosting this month.  Please send all entries to its(dot)sharon(at)gmail(dot)com.

Chicken Curry
(with help from Gourmet Traveller and Mamak).

(Oh dear, I’m going to be very Malaysian and give you vague amounts based on what I remember because when I went looking for the piece of paper I’d jotted my measurements down on, it was gone! I’m looking at you Mr. Kitchen Hand...)

1 whole chicken (mine was about 1.3kg), chopped into pieces, with the bone on. I removed the skin from as much of the chicken as possible, mainly because I don’t like how the skin gets sort of ”flabby” in curry. You can use chicken thighs/ legs if you prefer.

1 stick cinnamon,
2 star anise,
5 cardamom pods
Half a spanish onion diced, plus 2 small eschallots diced.
Chunk of ginger (about an inch long) - skinned and grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves (this is what gives the curry its distinctive smell, I’m not sure what would make a good substitute).
2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, kept whole but bruised with the back of a knife.
about 4 heaped tablespoon meat curry powder made into a paste with a little water (Mum swears by a brand called Baba’s which is quite hard to find here, but I found one called Burung Nuri and it works well too.)
about 1/4 cup coconut milk (the canned stuff is fine. Don’t use too much or it will dilute the flavour)
Potatoes - I only used 1 because I forgot to buy some and that’s all I found when I started cooking.
Salt and a pinch of sugar to season

Chilli powder can be added for extra heat if desired.

Heat some vegetable oil in a large pan (large enough so that all the chicken can fit), and when hot, saute the onion for a few minutes until fragrant and softened. Add the cinnamon, star anise and cardamom, stir until fragrant. Then add the garlic and ginger, stir to mix, then add the curry leaves and stir. Then add the curry powder paste, stirring well so everything doesn’t stick or burn. Adjust heat if necessary. The mix should be smelling sensational by now.

Curry leaves (Murraya koenigii  - I have a plant in a pot in my courtyard garden. It's pretty easy to grow and seems to handle the Sydney winter ok).

Add the chicken pieces, potato and lemon grass and stir to coat well in the mix, then add enough water to just cover the chicken. Cover the pan, bring to the boil, then simmer with the lid slightly ajar until the chicken is cooked and potatoes are tender. At this stage, add about 1/4 cup coconut milk if using, bring back to a simmer for a minute or two and remove from heat. ( If curry seems too dry, add a little bit more water, if it’s too thin, simmer it for longer until thickened. Do this before the coconut milk is added though.)

Season well with salt and a pinch of sugar to taste.

Serve with rice, or roti canai or roti jala. The curry tastes better the next day too. Great for dipping with bread at breakfast :)

Raspberry dreaming and a night out on the town.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not too long ago, I received an email invitation to something a bit swanky. After much checking to make sure that the PR person had actually addressed the missive to little ole’ moi, I started panicking a little. Why? The dress code said “beach chic”, and seriously friends, the words “chic” and “shaz” don’t really go together.

But I am nothing if not curious, and the lure to check out one of Sydney’s happening nightspots proved too great.  So I hit the local op-shops, pulled together a passable outfit and squired Mr. Kitchen Hand off to Zeta Bar’s 5th birthday bash.

 Which is where I encountered the Raspberry Mule. Well, two of them in fact. We were greeted at the door by a deconstructed version first - a cube of raspberry and vodka jelly, served on a spoon with a dusting of sherbert and a sliver of lime.  Your royal gaucheness then spent ages trying to work out what to do with the resulting piece of lime-peel left in her cheek. I wasn’t desperate enough to swallow it, but spitting it into my hand and carrying it around all evening wasn’t that a-peeling either. (Oh ha ha ha, I kill me!).

Who's ready to party?

I did eventually get rid of the peel, just in the nick of time because the finger food started making the rounds. Of course I don’t have any photos of the food, I was busy eating wasn’t I? A couple of other more civilised bloggers have done a round-up of the repast on the night, and you can check out their posts here and here. My favourites were the mini-hamburgers and the fried ravioli thingies.

Light projections behind the bar

The place was packed and heaving by this stage, then out of the corner of my eye, I spied candy floss! By the time I got to the candy floss machine, it was refusing to spit out any more floss. Oh the disappointment! It was supposed to be Chandon flavoured candy floss too.  Never mind, we scored a comfy position on a discreetly tucked away sofa so we could people-watch. I’d read some reviews of Zeta before hand and it was mentioned that this is where the “beautiful people” hang out. Mmm, hmm...certainly lots of eye-candy doing their air-kissing rounds.

Eye-candy :) (Models who helped set the tone for the beach-chic soiree)

Then I spotted candy floss again! But again disappointment struck thanks to the cantankerous machine.

Ah well, I grabbed a drink instead, which turned out to be the Raspberry Mule I mentioned before. Hello! Where have you been all my life? (I don’t get out much as you’ve probably gathered by now). Mr. Kitchen Hand pronounced it too girly, so it was mine, all mine to finish up.

And as luck would have it, I saw candy floss again, sent Mr. Kitchen Hand off to get me some and third time’s the charm, he returned triumphant. Unfortunately I couldn’t taste any  Chandon-ness in it, but who cares, it was sugary and I was happy.

Now a week a half later, I’m even happier because I’ve just blitzed together a non-alcoholic version of the Raspberry Mule to enjoy in the sunshine. :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Non-alcoholic rapberry mule-like drink
1/4 cup sugar syrup (I made a very simple version by dissolving 1/4 cup caster sugar in 1/2 cup boiling water. Let the resulting syrup cool before using)
1 cup frozen raspberries
Juice of 1 lime
Ginger beer to taste.

Blitz the syrup, raspberries and lime juice in a blender. Strain through a sieve into a jug or serving glasses. Top up with cold ginger beer.

Add a splash of vodka for the adults.

(If you want to know how to make a proper raspberry mule, I’m sure Google can help you :))

The Bird-day party and a mini cake-wreck moment.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hi again :)

Sorry, I just didn’t get around to a Malaysian Monday this week, but please keep those entries coming.

As you know, we had a party on the weekend to celebrate MC Junior’s 4th birthday. I don’t know who gets more excited at birthday party time! I love a good theme and often pick up ideas from this website. A bird-day party immediately appealed to my punny bone and I suggested it to MC Junior. She’d only recently abandoned the idea of a pirate themed party (that she had been talking about for a year) and was a little undecided.

But I knew how to convince her, I promised to make bird shaped cake pops.  and when I showed her a photo of Bakerella’s gorgeous little spring chicks, she readily agreed!  :)

Our own bluebird of happiness. I followed the tutorial on Bakerella's site, but I couldn't find candy melts and used those white chocolate Melts instead (looks great but tastes like compound chocolate, bleagh). Actually, it didn't taste too bad because I used good chocolate cake and chocolate ganache for the actual cake ball inside. Found the lollipop sticks (about $AUD3 for a pack of 50) at Spotlight!

It turned out to be an eggciting party and MC Junior was a tired little birdie by the end of it all. Hope you enjoy the pics and I’ll try be a better blogger soon :)

MC Senior made egg-carton bird decorations

She also emceed - here she is doing the chicken dance.

We ate bird themed food, like these eggs and cupfuls of udon noodles with a splash of soy sauce. Yes, we called them worms. There was also fruit, vege sticks and dip, and all manner of savoury snack type food for the kids to nibble on.

Oh, and the cake wreck moment? I knew I shouldn’t have laughed at these wrecks, because my cake did the same thing. Luckily it was sitting in a tub when it happened so I managed to push the cake back together and it held together long enough for a birthday song. Phew!

The cake started out looking ok, but I didn't notice while taking the photo, the fault line in the middle can already clearly be seen.

Birdhouse cake - yes I know it's slightly unbalanced, I was going for whimsy here.

Salvaged cake - arrows show where cake got a bit smushed

Sugar cookies and origami cranes for lolly bags.