Fast away the old year passes...

Friday, December 31, 2010

And as we prepare to break out Auld Lang Syne, I'd like to share with you a few snippets of our Down Under Christmas on the South Coast of NSW.

 Is it  bird? Is it a plane?

 No, it's the Cheese Monkeys!

 Christmas crackers bring big smiles all around

 Our Christmas day lunch/dinner involved lots of seafood, salads and ham.

Of course, some bubbly was requisite (very affordable but delicious South Australian Croser).

After Christmas, we spent lots of time at the beach. On a not so sunshiny day though, we went out and found a classic Aussie milk bar burger. Forget wagyu or brioche, this burger is decidedly ungourmet. But one bite will take you back to summers past. It's definitely the kind of burger you eat only on holidays and that's why it tastes so good.

Don't be a wuss. If you're going to go a milk bar burger, make sure you go the "Burger with the Lot". (For my non-Aussie friends, this means a hamburger patty, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions, fried egg, a pineapple ring and a slice of beetroot. Did I forget anything? Oh yes, maybe there's cheese in there too, plus sauce. And in case you're wondering, a milk bar is sort of like a corner store with much less groceries, usually just the newspapers/ magazines, lollies and milk. You can get burgers, milkshakes, chips (fries) and ice-cream).

 Burger innards

And as we drove away from our holiday, this sight greeted us! Can you guess what they are? This is NOT my in-laws residence by the way. I repeat, this is NOT my in-laws place.

 More luvver-ly decorations.

Give up yet? For the unitiated, these silver pilows are the "bladders" from inside a cask of wine. All washed and dried (I hope), and cleverly recycled. I'm guessing this is probably not something you'll see on Martha Stewart :)

Wishing all of you a safe and happy start to 2011, see you on the other side :)

Over and out from all of us at The Skewer residence!

Wishing you a berry merry Christmas with stollen (Daring Bakers challenge Dec 2010).

Friday, December 24, 2010

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go...ok, technically I haven’t packed my bags yet, but at least the presents are wrapped.

We’re heading off to spend Christmas with the in-laws, so this is probably my last post for the year. And of course, I cannot leave without wishing all of you a happy and blessed Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year. If you aren’t celebrating, hope you have a wonderfully relaxing holiday season.

But before I leave, I need to reveal my Daring Bakers challenge for December. Not one, but two stollens for your viewing pleasure (is the plural of stollen, stollens?).

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Fresh out of the oven - stollen number one - currant, craisin, cherry, ginger and almond.

I divided the given dough recipe and turned half of it into a currant, craisin, cherry, ginger and almond stollen, while the other one was a blueberry and peanut marzipan stollen (inspired by PB & J).

We loved the currant, craisin, cherry, ginger, almond stollen but the MCs found the peanut marzipan one a bit too peanutty (I thought it was great).

Thanks Penny for a great challenge.  Don’t forget to check out what the other Daring Bakers have done, and the recipe can be found at the Daring Kitchen.

The "before" shot

The "before" close-up

The "after" shot 

The "after" close-up

Home made peanut marzipan left over from a previous recipe

Peanut marzipan on stollen dough, about to be rolled up

Trying out some fancy-schmancy wreath making - not quite successfully.

Stollen number two - these babies are HUGE ! How on earth did the Daring Bakers who made the whole portion actually fit these into their ovens?

Stollen number two dredged with icing sugar then coated in a layer of warmed berry jam, then more icing sugar over the top (of course)

We were asked to package our stollen creatively. Not sure that bunging it onto a foil covered plate and wrapping cellophane all round it could be called very creative, but the packaging held together very well when I took it along to a carols by candlelight do.

Stollen on the sand

I used the challenge recipe with the following changes:
1) Made the dough but didn’t add fruit in until time to knead. I divided the dough into two by weight, so I could bake smaller sized stollen and change the flavour as needed.
2) I added some grated nutmeg and allspice to the flour.
3) For the first stollen, I soaked the fruit in Cointreau because I wanted a citrus note without having to use peel. For the second stollen, I soaked the blueberries in bourbon.

Thanks for visiting, take care and I will come by to visit your blogs soon :)

Making Merry with macarons (Mactweet 14)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Anyone who has ever eaten a macaron will know that they pack a pretty sweet punch. Eat enough of them and you’re staring down the barrel of a sugar coma. So this month’s Mactweet challenge was pretty tricky. “Create a savoury macaron,” said our hosts Jamie and Deeba.

Hmmmm...I wasn’t game to try mucking around with the sugar ratio too much because I’ve been there, done that and the results weren’t good. Instead, I racked my brains trying to work out what kind of sweet-salty combination would work. Inspiration took a long time coming, but when I read the challenge again, something caught my eye. “Invent a macaron to be served ... as hors d’oeuvres with a glass of champagne”. This made me think of a cheese platter, and so the Oat and Parmesan macaron shell was born. I was thinking of those oat biscuits you serve cheese on, so I added some finely ground rolled oats into the shell. But what to fill it with? A slice of brie and some caramelised pear of course. (I know it sounds a bit strange but I urge you to try this combo, it really, really works as a savoury macaron!).

While the flavour combo worked fabulously, my idea of topping the macaron shells with grated parmesan cheese was a semi-fail. I forgot that the cheese would weigh down on the shells and affect the “rise”. The shells with the least amount of cheese on them looked the best.

In hindsight, I should have just made the shells without the cheese topping, and made a cheese disc instead, like this, to sandwich in the mac, or balance on top for a touch of whimsy.  Live and learn.

Normally, I would have tried making another batch of macarons, but I’ve been a tad busy. Doing what you may ask? Making more macarons of course :)

Here are some Christmas themed chocolate macarons.

 I piped circles with a 1/4 inch tip, then put some macaron batter into a baking paper icing bag and used this to pipe antlers. Then I added red cachous for the noses. When the macarons had cooled, I used a toothpick to blob on some melted white chocolate for eyes, and another toothpick dipped in food colouring formed the pupils.

Instead of piping, you can even used slivered almonds for antlers!

Only three more sleeps to Christmas! Come back late tomorrow to find out what the Daring Bakers made for the holiday season :)

See you soon and happy baking.

For the oat and parmesan shells, I halved and modified David Lebovitz’s chocolate macaron recipe. I used 50g icing sugar, 20g almond meal, 15 g rolled oats, 35g eggwhite and 30g caster sugar. I lightly toasted the almond meal and the oats together, then blitzen (ha ha) them in the food processor until fine. Proceed according to French macaron method.

For the pear, I cooked thin slices of pear with butter and a touch of water until soft, then added some brown sugar to caramelise and coat the pears in a thick syrup.

Malaysian Monday 58: Agar-Agar Gula Melaka (Palm Sugar Jelly).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hello friends, are you all relaxed and ready to face the holiday season? Or do you feel a little pressed for time? Well, I’m feeling the latter so today’s Malaysian Monday is a simple, quick dessert that’s made with minimal ingredients.

Agar-agar desserts are a staple at Malaysian gatherings and parties, so making this dish put me in a festive mood. I think sneaking palm sugar bits also helped with the happy feeling ;)

Given the minimal number of ingredients, it’s essential to use the proper sugar in this recipe. Gula melaka (dark palm sugar) is the colour of black coffee and sold in logs. You can find it in Asian food markets. Do check though when purchasing palm sugar, as there is another kind that is light golden and sold in the form of little cakes, this is the kind used in Thai cooking. I suppose in a pinch you could probably substitute one for the other but dark palm sugar has a stronger, earthier flavour, almost a little salty.

Gula melaka syrup

I made this up as I went along and the recipe only makes a very small amount (2 x 10cm square pans) of agar-agar. I had to reduce the quantity because there seems to be a truckload of sugar and other good stuff floating around at the Skewer House at the moment, so I didn’t want too much temptation in the way. Feel free to experiment with the quantities.

Pardon the cream at the very top of the agar-agar, it really shouldn't be there but I used coconut cream instead of coconut milk. Oops.

Bear in mind that the setting property of agar-agar will vary between brands, so do check the instructions on your packet.

Agar-agar gula melaka

approx 1 cup dark palm sugar (gula melaka) chopped into bits
Boiling water - approx 600ml (split in two lots of 300ml)
5 - 6 g agar-agar powder
about 6 tablespoons coconut milk (or add more to taste) - I used coconut cream because that’s all I found in the pantry, but I don’t recommend doing this because it is too rich and leaves an unsightly layer on the top of the finished agar-agar.

Place the gula melaka into a heatproof jug and add 300ml of hot water. Stir to dissolve. If needed, heat in the microwave in short bursts and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. You can also place the sugar and water in a pan and heat over gentle heat.

Strain the sugar mixture into a clean bowl. This step is necessary because gula melaka usually contains impurities.

Bring the other 300ml of water to the boil and stir in the agar-agar powder. Simmer and stir until the agar-agar dissolves, then add the sugar mixture and stir well. When all the agar-agar mixture has dissolved, stir in the coconut milk and let it come back to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and remove the pan from heat. Don’t allow the coconut milk to boil vigorously.

Pour into moulds and leave to cool slightly before putting into the fridge to set. The coconut milk should rise to the surface and two distinct layers should be seen. Best served chilled.

This is most probably my last Malaysian Monday post for the year, thank you so much for following my journey thus far! Remember, if you’d like to join in our Muhibbah Malaysian Monday event, do send your entries to Suresh ( at 3 Hungry Tummies

I’m off to bake macarons now so I can catch the Mactweet express, and don’t forget to come back and check out the Daring Bakers reveal towards the end of the week. We get to post slightly earlier thanks to the holidays.

See you soon and have a great start to the week!

Impromptu caramels and fruit mince.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Aaah, first day of school holidays and finally everything seems to be slowing down a teeny bit. Only a teeny bit mind you, but enough for a breather. And a chance to make these caramels. I hadn’t planned on making these sweet, sticky squares of smoky, sexy goodness but luckily my reluctance to throw food out meant that a carton of cream nearing its expiry date got a new lease on life.

At first, I’d though about using the cream in a caramel sauce, but when I was looking at different recipes, David Lebovitz’s salted butter caramels(toffees) crossed my path. Well, hello! I was hooked.

I’m not much of a candy maker but the recipe seemed simple enough (provided you own a sugar thermometer and are comfortable working with caramel). The overall process worked a treat and the end result was sensational, I used golden syrup instead of corn syrup, and Murray River pink salt instead of fleur de sel. I did have a problem getting the foil lining off my sticky caramels though,  because instead of using oil/cooking spray I rubbed the oil on with some crumpled kitchen paper. In the end I had to cut off quite a lot of foil. David has a wonderful tip for cutting the caramel, involving the use of a knife heated on the gas hob first. This step was quite slow and painstaking but definitely worth it.

The caramels are not as sweet as they appear, MC Senior loved them and couldn’t stop raving about them, but MC Junior licked one and went “blearghh!”. More for us then, might as well make the most of it before her palate matures!

 I love how the sweeties looked so pretty all wrapped up and I’m definitely making more soon to give away.

While the caramels were unplanned, I’d decided that this year I would make my own fruit mince/ mincemeat to go into mince pies. I’ve never been a big fan of mince pies before but I ate a few good ones last year, and thought how much better home-made ones would taste. So far, I’ve only managed to make the mince, but mmmmm, mince is good.

I based my mincemeat very loosely on a Stephanie Alexander recipe, but swapped a few ingredients and omitted the lard. Traditionally, fruit mince, also known as mincemeat, did actually contain meat. Modern day versions omit the meat, but some still use lard. Apparently the lard gives the mincemeat a lovely sheen and mouthfeel, but I’m not so convinced. I figure I can always wrap some extra buttery pastry round the mince to give it richness ;).

And if you’re not interested in the mincemeat I made, check out Rosa’s mincemeat, and Fiona’s mincemeat. Everyone’s making mincemeat this year! Must be something in the air.

Hope your Christmas/ holiday plans are shaping up well. See you real soon :)

Mincemeat with kumquats and rum
(Traditional mincemeat uses candied peel and brandy. I had a jar of home made kumquats in syrup - I simply poured boiling water over the kumquats, made a heavy sugar syrup and put the kumquats in a sterilised glass jar with the hot syrup, sealed it, cooled it, then stored it in the fridge. Six months later, the kumquats were mellow and ready to use. I hadn’t planned on using them for mincemeat, I just hadn’t decided what to do with them for 6 months! I also used currants instead of raisins because I actually don’t really like raisins or sultanas.)

(Begin the day before and allow time for mincemeat to mature)

4 apples (I used 3 granny smith and 1 pink lady) - peel, core and cut into matchsticks
300g currants
handful of craisins (dried cranberries)
half cup of chopped candied kumquats
200g brown sugar
100g demerara sugar
1/4 cup rum (Mt. Gay if you must know), and a splash of Cointreau
pinch of salt
ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground allspice, ground cloves (I didn’t really measure these, I kind of just grated and sprinkled and eyeballed).

On the first day, cook the apples gently (add teeny amount of water if necessary) then cool, cover and store overnight. I actually just put the apples in a microwave safe jug and cooked in short bursts.

The next day, mix all ingredients together with apple and store in an airtight container in the fridge, leave for a few weeks to mature. Mine is about a week old, and I used a large glass jar which I had cleaned well with hot soapy water then dried in a warm oven.

 I shook the jar every day just to make sure the mixture was “even”. I’m planning to use this soon so I don’t know how long it will keep. But if processed properly in sterilised jars, mincemeat should store for a long time.

I’ve already tasted a little bit of the mincemeat and it’s definitely a keeper. The citrus zing from the kumquats add a really interesting note, and don’t stint on the allspice, it really comes to the fore here.

Malaysian Monday 57: Yam kuih (Taro cake)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Monday all! Ah, only a couple more weeks till the holidays and I yam definitely ready for a break.

Ha, did you catch that? I said yam. My segue into this week’s Malaysian Monday item : Yam kuih, also known as Woo Tau Koh. When I say yam, most Asians will know that I am talking about Taro, that hairy brown tuber with the white and purple flecked insides. But in other parts of the world, the tuber referred to as yam is actually what we call sweet potato, which is orange (or purple or white depending where you are). If you want to see a photo of a yam and sweet potato side by side, I have one in this post.

Back to the dish today: yam kuih is a savoury snack and makes for a filling brunch or supper treat. It’s often found at potlucks and parties too. because it’s a dish that can be enjoyed even at room temperature.

I was inspired to make this because a) I’d found a ziplock bag of cubed fresh yam stashed in the freezer, and b) I was going through some recipe cards mum had given me and came across the recipe.

These recipe cards were distributed by a leading Malaysian margerine manufacturer, and the styling is definitely 70s. Take this chicken salad for example...

Who knew that reassembling chicken into a semblance of a whole would be such a great serving idea!?

And before I go off on anymore tangents, here’s how I made the Yam kuih:

(I used some ingredients from the recipe card, but made the base of the kuih by adapting a recipe found in a book called Hot Favourites: Kuih, which I’d mentioned before. I know it sounds like a lot of Franken-recipeing, but Malaysian dishes are like that. You can tweak and add and subtract until you find something to match your own tastebuds. I also made a smaller serve than either recipe recommended).

250g (about 2 cups) Taro, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic - finely chopped
3 tablespoons dried shrimp (or to taste)
150 g (about 1 1/4 cup) rice flour
2 tbsp corn flour
1 tbsp plain (wheat) flour
2 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper to season (the recipe called for chicken stock granules, and I’ve seen some other recipes that use five spice powder. I found the kuih flavourful enough with the garlic and dried prawns and garnish to help it along).

To garnish - deep fried onion, green eschallots, fresh chilli, preserved salted radish (chai por), dried prawns. (Use as much or as little as you fancy - finely dice the bigger ingredients)

From left: yam, dried prawns, salted radish

First I usually soak and rinse the dried prawns before using to get rid of excess salt and to remove any impurites. I’m not sure if anyone else does this or whether I’m just fussy. I drain the prawns on paper towels.

Prepare a steamer and a pan to cook a kuih in. I lightly greased a non-stick loaf pan to use.

Mix all the flours together with the water to form a thin batter. Set aside. Heat some vegetable oil in a wide frying pan (over medium high heat), fry the dried prawns until crisp and golden, then remove about a tablespoonful to use as garnish later. Add the garlic and the yam cubes and stir-fry until the garlic is fragrant, be careful to keep the mixture moving so it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat then pour the batter in and stir constantly until mixture thickens (around 4 or 5 minutes). Season well, remember that the garnish will be pretty salty too thanks to the dried prawns and preserved radish.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and steam until cooked. It took about an hour, and I wasn’t sure how to test for doneness. I touched the top of the kuih and it was sticky but firm, and the edges had started to come away slightly from the sides of the pan.

Sprinkle garnish ingredients over the top, leave to cool before attempting to slice. I, of course, was trying to be too clever and thought that if I tipped the pan upside down, I’d get a nice loaf shape that would be easy to cut. In theory it would have worked if I had waited till the kuih was much cooler. In reality, I ended up with a messy “top” but at least the garnish helped disguise this flaw a little bit.

I’m sending this dish over to Suresh ( at 3 Hungry Tummies who will be hosting Muhibbah Malaysian Monday 6. If you’d like to join in, here’swhat you need to do.

Have a great start to the week!