Everyday Cooking

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yule Log - A Daring Bakers Challenge

From our family to yours....

I am growing to love, love, love these Daring Baker challenges. With trepidation, I joined this daredevil group of breadmakers and cakemakers (amongst other things) in an effort to learn more about the art of baking. Boy, two challenges down and I can't count the number of 'firsts' I have had experienced in trying to meet my challenges.
The December challenge is appropriately a Yule Log or Bûche de Noel. Yes, I asked the same question. Wiki had the answer as usual and informs that a Yule Log is 'a traditional dessert served during the Christmas holidays inFrance and Quebec. As the name indicates, the cake is generally prepared, presented, and garnished so as to look like a log ready for the fire. The traditional bûche is made from a Génoise or other sponge cake, generally baked in a large, shallow jelly roll pan, frosted, rolled to form a cylinder, and frosted again on the outside.'

The recipe involves making a génoise, Swiss buttercream, marzipan -none of which I have attempted to make before.

The Christmas rush of baking , gift-buying, visiting friends, having friends over etc ., proved to be a blessing. By the time I got around to making ¨the log¨, lots of fabulous and talented Daring Bakers have already made theirs. The DB blog was inundated with tips and tricks which helped immensely. See, this is exactly what I love about the group-it's all about sharing the failures and successes with their creations and allowing everyone to learn in the process.

What with all the Christmas stress and all, I didn't think my nerves could take any more unpleasant surprises so I decided to stick to the recipe to the letter. No exotic flavour for my butter cream, no nuts thrown into the sponge batter, no fancy baubles to decorate the log with. Nevertheless, making this was a lot of fun. My sponge might have been overcooked (though I only baked it for 8mins, as opposed to 10-12mins as stated in the recipe) and the buttercream was runny and perilously split (salvaged by putting in the fridge and whisking by hand additional icing sugar)- the result was absolutely delicious. I have to say that the buttercream was the star in this recipe. I just could not get enough of the coffe and rum laden dream of an icing. This cream will be used in this household again, for sure. Hmm, I can already see it over a mocha chiffon or some dark chocolate cupcakes.

Making the marzipan was also a hoot. It was playdough for grown-up. Sadly, I've never been much good with playdough so I did not attempt to make anything fancy with the marzipan (I left that to my three-year old). I stuck with the humble mushrooms and oh, how I loved the little stumpy ones. They were so cute.

As a final touch, I just added some gum tree leaves and gum nuts for that Australian feel.

Thanks to the Dynamic Duo (and Daring bakers founders) of Ivonne (of Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lis (of La Mia Cucina) for choosing a fabulously festive challenge.

Happy Holidays Everyone!!

Yule Log
(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)

Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).
4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.
2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.
4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.
5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.
6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.
7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

Assembling the Yule Log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pippies and Pumpkin Flowers in Coconut Milk

My family has been putting up with very unimaginative meals of late as I'd been busy preparing goodies for our Christmas give-aways:
Mango and Lime Jam
Cinnamon Stars

This is actually the first year that I'm gifting homemade stuff on a large scale. Last year's fudgy brownies and biscuits for the neighbours were whipped up in an afternoon. Not these. Halfway thru, I seriously had to think up friendships and how they (did not) served me in the last year in an effort to shorten the list of recipients. Just kidding!;-)
The jamming and baking did take a lot out of me and I'm still not finished. Another 7 or 8 hampers to put together. Some of those will have these lovely Oreo-style cookies (from Patricia's Technicolor Kitchen) instead of the Cinnamon Stars, for friends who are allergic to nuts. Can't wait to bake and taste those. Now if only I could find the time. Or the energy. Spending too much time in the kitchen and having the kids fall ill totally sapped me of energy and inspiration.

Then, Mum dropped by on the weekend with these:
very pretty Pumpkin flowers from an aunt's garden. Couldn't wait to get my hands on those but the common ways of preparing gourd flowers (stuffed with cheese or in fritters) were not enticing enough.

Another inspiration came from a fellow blogger. Tigerfish' Clam Pasta made me think of Pippies (or Cockles or Surf Clams). The last time I had them were three years ago, on a short visit to Sydney (I was still living in Zurich then) while I was six and a half months pregnant. Hubby and I rented a beach house for a few days with another couple (the girlfriend was eight months pregnant!). The pregnant women suddenly decided that we were in the mood for Pippies and so off we went digging at the closest surf beach within the National Park. Dodging the park ranger (it wasn't exactly legal to gather the clams from the National Park but that's by the by...) and ignoring the eye-rolling by the husbands, two huge ladies had their fill of clams that wonderful sunny afternoon.

Anyhow, despite the long and digressing introduction, combining the Pippies and Pumpkin flowers in a dish was a simple exercise. Sautéed in garlic, onion, ginger and tomatoes, the fresh and clean flavour of the Pippies was not overwhelmed by any strong ingredients. The slight bitterness of the flowers added an interesting dimension to the dish.
I had this with steamed rice but it would also be lovely with some crusty bread for a summer's lunch.

Pippies and Pumpkin Flowers in Coconut Milk
serves 4

1 kg Pippies (or clams)
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced ginger
2 medium onions, sliced finely
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1tsp tumeric (optional, I only used for colour)
1 tin coconut milk (400mL)
salt and pepper
15 Pumpkin flowers
5 pcs red chillies*

To prepare the flowers, take out the stamen in the middle and rinse the flowers.

It is best to soak the Pippies in saltwater overnight to get rid of most of the grit.
After soaking, brush the shells in clean cold water.
Steam the Pippies in a large pot with a cup of water. It will only take around 5 minutes for the clams to open up. Drain in a colander, over a bowl to save the cooking juices. Discard any shells that did not open.

In a pan, heat up the oil and sautée the garlic and ginger. When they have coloured a little, add the onion ,tomatoes and tumeric if using. Mix around and cover. Cook until the tomatoes have softened and you have a sauce-like consistency.

Add the coconut milk and half a cup of the Pippies cooking juices.
Let the sauce boil and simmer until it has thickened a little. Throw in the Pippies in their shell. Turn the heat up until the sauce boils. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the Pumpkin flowers and chillies. Quickly and carefully mix, then turn off the heat.

*I left the chillies whole as I knew I would be sharing these with family who don't care much about spicy dishes. If you love your food with zing, chop up the chillies and add at the same time as the onions and tomatoes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Creamy Pumpkin Penne with Bacon

We have seen some dramatic weather in Sydney lately. Warm humid mornings gave in to dramatic lightning storms in the evenings. Hailstones the size of golf balls came raining down upon us on the weekend. Debris everywhere and it looks like there'd be more to come.

The electric storms definitely brought some restlesness in the air or is it just Christmas already making its presence felt? So much running around to do, cooking, visiting and shopping to get out of the way. Would I love Christmas without all these frantic activities? Probably not.
Amidst all the Christmas baking, jamming and cooking that's beein going on, it's good to have some simple fare during the week. This pasta dish fits the bill perfectly. Simple, easy to make and comforting on a stormy night.

Having small children in the house, we always have pureed vegetables in the freezer for adding to pasta sauces, using as a base for soups and to make into simple dips (My daughter is going thru a 'dips' phase. She likes to have something on the side to dunk her pieces of meat and vegetables in). This recipe makes use of puréed pumpkin but I've also made it before with puréed cauliflower (see smaller photo). Both versions have been a hit with the little girl.

To purée vegetables, cut into small cubes and steam until
very soft. Use a masher or hand blender to get a thick mush.

Creamy Pumpkin Penne with Bacon
serves 2

100 g bacon, cut into small pieces

200g Penne or other pasta

25g butter
1Tbsp plain flour
1 c milk
1/2 c grated Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1 c pureed pumpkin

1Tbsp chopped parsley

Fry the bacon until browned. Keep warm.

Cook the pasta in a generous amount of salted, boiling water.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a pot. Add the flour, stirring vigorously until a paste forms and comes off the sides of the pot easily.

Slowly add the milk while still stirring with a wire whisk. Cook very gently until smooth and thick but do not let it boil.

Take the pot off the heat, add the grated cheese and mix until all the cheese has melted. Return to heat on low and add the pureed pumpkin while stirring. Heat up until bubbling gently.

Take off the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Strain the cooked pasta and transfer into a bowl. Top with the pumpkin sauce and bacon. Garnish with parsley.

I'm sharing this for Presto Pasta night over at Once Upon a Feast.
This is the first time I've been participating although I've been keeping an eye on the wonderful weekly round up by Ruth for some time now. Be sure to visit!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I, the Maybahay

The sweet lady behind Dhanggit's kitchen has tagged me for my first meme.
I'm finding it fun reading everyone else's little revelations and finding tidbits that make up the personalities behind the blogs.

Getting on with mine...

What were you cooking/baking 10 years ago?

Lots of vegetables! I was living with a friend who has asthma and allergies, and so had to watch his diet carefully (If you are reading this Anthony Long, let me know where you are. I've been looking everywhere for you!!!!). His Mum would come around every week with a large box full of fruit and vegetables straight from the markets. Curried vegetables were regularly on the menu. The rest were eaten in salads. Unfortunately, we always ended up binning lots of the vegies as neither myself nor my friend had much time to cook. I was enjoying singledom then and was eating out lots.

I didn't bake much then though, I remember the' unfortunate incident of the shattered lemon tart'. I had a beautiful tart made for my housemate's dinner party. One of his guests turned on the electric hob unknowingly while the pyrex tart dish was sitting on it. Apparently there was tart everywhere and no one got to try it...

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?
I was cooking and baking our daily family staples like meat and couscous salads, stir-frys, lots of Thai curries and Indian curries, the occassional brownies and muffins. One of the reasons I decided to start blogging is so I can widen my cooking repertoire a bit.

Five snacks you enjoy:

Me love salt and grease! Yum
1. Bhuja/Bombay mix
2. Seaweed rice crackers
3. Char Siu Bao (Siopao or Barbecue pork buns)
4. Hot Chips
5. Sushi (yes, as a snack!)

Five recipes you know by heart:

1. My very own 'special' fried rice (this dish has seen me through feasts and famines in my life)
2. Kare Kare
3. standard Sunday roast (whether it be chicken, pork, beef or lamb)
4. pancakes
5. Sinigang

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:

1. Pay someone to clean-up after me so I can cook up a storm everyday with no worries.
2. Go to as many Michelin star -rated restaurants as possible.
3. Set up my own cook book shop/bistro.
4. Set up my own arena to hold 'Iron Chef' style cook-offs in. I get to try all the dishes at the end, of course ;-)
5. Have a cellar of the best Margaux' for my husband.

Five foods you love to cook/bake:

1. Pakbet. I love vegetables and this is a uniquely Filipino way of enjoying them.
2. Stir-fries. The variety can be endless. Experiments hardly ever go wrong.
3. My 'party pork'. Slow-roasted pork belly sitting in a braising liquid (stock, cane sugar, sometimes with anise, fish sauce, etc). Chuck it in a low oven, forget about it for a few hours, serve it on the table and watch your guests devour it.
4. Simple sugar cookies made with my darling little girl.
5. Wickedly fudgy brownies.

Five foods you cannot/will not eat:
1. Any dish made from creatures that could count as a housepet :-(
2. Licorice. I just don't get it.
3. can't think of anything else...

Five favorite culinary toys:

My collection of kitchen gadgets is quite lean. I don't even like food processors.

1. My husband's big set of Wüsthof knives and kitchen utensils. Very sharp knives are safe knives. He got these before we got together. I think it's what sealed the deal for me ;-)
2. can't think of anything else...

Five dishes on your "last meal" menu:

I would like to keep this quite simple

1. soft-boiled egg and toast (I have this almost everyday for breakfast)
2. rocket and parmesan with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
3. crispy roast duck
4. lemon meringue pie
5. gruyere on crackers

Five happy food memories:
1. Weekend meals at my Mum's or an aunt's house. My extended family love to eat and the table is never big enough for the food everyone brings to share. Food tastes best over gossip, laughter, a little bit of fighting, complaints about ailments, plans for the future, etc.
2. As a child in the Philippines, waiting for the street vendor bearing the afternoon's merienda.
After an imposed siesta, we got to enjoy daily treats like fried noodles, sticky rice in coconut milk, different types of rice cakes and spring rolls.
3. Packed picnics by my husband. Alpine mountain and lakeside walks were made the more special by his little parcels of goodies-cheese, crusty bread, cold meats and a few bars of Swiss chocolate.
4. LOTS of cheese and LOTS of wine while on holidays with friends in the south of France.
5. Introducing my children to their first taste of anything. Seeing my kids' expression when they first had ice cream is priceless.

It would be great to get to know more about the other bloggers who inspire me.
Of course, there's no obligation on their part to do this. I am passing this on to:
Margot of Coffee and Vanilla- she's such a prolific poster, has great variety of recipes and beautiful photography.
Veron of Kitchen Musings- her posts are always very informative. And this lady CAN make Macarons!
Kate of Applemint-there's always freshness about her recipes and photographs
Zuzana of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen - her recipe collection is so culturally-diverse. And I LOVE spicy food
Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen - this site is a recent discovery for me. The recipes are varied, simple and elegant.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Flambéed Caipirinha Scallops

Since coming back from holidays, all I could think about are seafood and cocktails. Something clicked and I decided to combine the two!

Caipirinha is a favourite summer drink of mine. I finally found a bottle shop in the city that sells Cachaca and am looking forward to treating friends to a round of the refreshing cocktail one weekend soon. In the meantime, I enjoyed the flavours that go in this drink in an unusual way.

The sauce for this scallop dish is very simple, a mix of lime juice, rind and sugar. A glug of Cachaca is added and set alight (I do love some theatrics in the kitchen from time to time!).

The result is simple but special enough to be part of a festive meal with the closest of your friends. This is not a traditional dish served for a traditional festival but I believe that just getting the chance to sit down for a meal with your nearest and dearest is always worth celebrating.

I am sending this over to Anna of Morsels and Musings for the Festive Food Festival.
Pop on over and enjoy the buffet!

Flambéed Caipirinha Scallops

Serves 2 for a light lunch but if you're feeding the masses, bigger quantities are best made in small batches.
I had the scallops with some tumeric and butter rice but they would also be nice served as an appetizer/finger food, sitting on some lettuce leaves.

300g scallops (roe removed)
a knob of butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp lime juice
zest from 2 limes
1 Tbsp raw or brown sugar
a dash of Cachaca

chives for garnish

Combine in a cup the lime juice, zest and sugar.
In a skillet/pan, heat up the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted, add the lime juice mix.
Swish the skillet around to keep the sugar from burning. Once the sauce has thickened and browned slightly, turn up the heat and toss in the scallops.
Stir-fry for around one minute. Add a dash of Cachaca. If cooking over a gas burner, tilt the pan slightly such that the alcohol catches the flame. Otherwise, light up with a match.
Do not let the scallops overcook. They are best flash-cooked to keep them plump and sweet.

Garnish with chives and extra lime slices.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Tender Potato Bread- A Daring Bakers Challenge

When I started this blog, I wasn't really sure where I wanted it to lead me. It was simply something to while away the time with while my kids are down for a nap or too engrossed in play to have Mum hovering around. It was a bit of me time while being productive by documenting my recipes in a medium a little more of this era (I still have some recipes saved in floppy discs. It's weird realising that my kids will not even know what those are!)

Three months on and blogging has re-defined my relationship with food and cooking. Where there was before a convenient albeit stagnant marriage, there is now an exciting, growing and inspiring love affair. I am finding fun in my daily ventures in the kitchen knowing that I am later able to share the experience with newfound friends. I try and become more attuned to flavours and savour my food a little bit more lovingly so I can honestly describe my creations in words. I have spiced things up a little bit more by bringing in inspirations from other food blogs and taking advice from the more experienced. Now the love affair has just moved up another notch -each month I will be venturing into unchartered territory all in the name of self-improvement so I can further nourish the passion. I have joined the Daring Bakers. Yep, I will be baking more. And more succesfully, I hope.

The Daring Bakers is a group of food bloggers of varying experiences, blogging on the same day each month about a recipe set by a member as a challenge. The bakers follow the recipe to the letter, apart from some allowed modifications.

I nearly fainted when I saw what was to be my very first Daring Baker challenge: Tender Potato Bread as chosen by Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups. I have tried to bake bread maybe two or three times before and the results were average at best. My husband has always blamed the non-success on 'atmospherics'. 'Hmm, it's been quite humid today' or 'Maybe the recipe did not take into account altitude' (this when we were living in a city approx 430m above sea level). Yeast is contentious enough a foe but adding mashed potato to bread dough? What complications would that throw in the mix? Great, my first challenge might end up as my last.

Finding the right day to bake the bread was in itself a challenge. Having read posts of fellow DBers, I got the impression that making this bread is a long process, involving boiling, mashing potatoes and letting it cool, then working a very sticky dough. Can't have kids running around or crying in the background while I grab this one by the horns. Knowing that the family will be holidaying around the time we were scheduled to post didn't leave me much choice though. So, out I went to get my potatoes (Pontiac) and crossed my fingers that the baking stars would align for me. And that they did.

The original recipe called for '4 medium potatoes' which can be quite open to interpretation. Luckily, the more experienced bakers gave an approximate weight to try (between 8oz to 16oz). I used close to 400g of potatoes (approx 14oz) and 1kg of unbleached flour. The resulting dough was very tacky. It also had a very flabby feel that unfortunately resembled my upper arms which have not been in any contact with gym equipment for years. Eeek. I oiled my hands and dug in to knead. Whoa! That dough felt good. Sure it was a bit sticky but it was also 'friendly'. It allowed me to just carress it into shape instead of fighting me back as have previous projects.

At this point, I just had the feeling that things were going to turn out ok. True enough, the tempreature in the house just seemed perfect and the dough doubled in size after a couple of hours of proving. I got the confidence to dare myself and eventually divided the dough into three and shaped them into a foccacia and two loaves.

One of the loaves had a parsley pesto swirled through it and then sprinkled with sesame seeds on top.

The foccacia was drizzled with brown butter and then sprinkled with rocksalt and sage leaves prior to baking.

Tanna chose a great recipe. This bread was wonderful. I loved how it was almost 'cakey' but not heavy. The foccacia was cut up into smaller squares and used in miniature salami and rocket sandwiches. The plain loaf tasted great toasted. It toasted nice and crisp outside and moist in the middle. The beautiful holes were perfect for the melting buter. As for the parsley loaf, I intended to have it with soup but we ended up eating the slices on their own.

There, my first challenge done. I am now an official 'Daring Baker'. Hurrah!

I have to say, though, that this bread was really baked by the collective virtual hands of the Daring Bakers. The convivial online exchange of tips and ideas on the DB blog was an inspiration. This group is not only daring but also helpful, fun and friendly. I am already looking forward to the December challenge.
In the meantime, I will be a bit busy checking out everyone else's take on this wonderful recipe.

The official posting date for the November challenge was supposed to be 26th Nov. Though I made the bread in November, I was not able to post about it until now as I was away on a beach holiday with the family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tropical White Chocolate Dessert

Folks have probably noticed a recurring theme when I blog of things baked and sweet. They are always tales of woe.
Successful dessert-making still eludes me. Might it have to do with the fact that I do not have a sweet tooth? Who knows. Beautiful dessert creations I've seen in books and other blogs constantly inspire and challenge me, though. I am also always on the look-out for something to appease the hubby's major love of sugar. So I persevere...

A kitchen tea was held at my house on the weekend and I had my heart set on making a tart. This was to be a good chance to practice making a crust, rolling it onto the tart pan and avoid shrinkage (which happens to me too often, even when I refrigerate the crust overnight prior to baking!). Anyhow, I find a decent (or so I thought) recipe for White Chocolate Mousse tart. I wanted to put my spin on it so I thought I'd throw in some dessicated coconut in the mix and then top it with mangoes.

The recipe for the filling called for thick cream, white chocolate and condensed milk. I had my reservations right from the start, wondering how the filling was supposed to set. I saw a few other similar recipes for mousse tart on the net which left me assured that mine should set after a four-hour stint in the fridge. Still, come the time when I made it, I actually used a teaspoon of gelatine just to be sure.

Everything was planned out for the day. I would make the crust first thing in the morning. By the time it has cooled down a bit, my filling should also be at room temperature and I could proceed to assembling my lovely dessert. This gives me five hours to let the tart set for a 2PM start.

2PM came and this is how the tart looked:
Ta dah!

Pretty heh?
Problem was, it couldn't be cut up. The filling was not set. A brave friend tried. Swoosh went the filling in every direction. 'Still tastes great', they said. 'We can eat it with a spoon', they tried to console. No, I wouldn't even touch it.
Still, after everyone has left, I didn't have the heart to throw it away.

The following day, my sister invites me to a small pool party at hers. What to bring, what to bring? I decided to scoop the filling out of the tart base. I cut up some mangoes, cubed some left-over madeira cake and threw everything into small tumblers. My sisters' guests enjoyed them, complete with oohs and aahs as they spoon the last of the 'custard' out of the glasses.

Now I'm going to be cheeky and still send this over to Cook Sister as my entry for this edition of Waiter, There's Something In My... . This popular food event's them for this month is 'tarts'.
Hey, this dessert started off as a tart. I hope they accept it.....
There might be a reader out there who'd like the idea and know exactly how to fix the non-set filling. I will certainly try it out again and add more gelatine next time.

Tropical White Chocolate Dessert

makes 8 portions

White Choc filling
2 c thick whipping cream
1 tsp gelatine granules
180 g white cooking chocolate, broken into small pieces
390g tin condensed milk
1/2 c toasted dessicated coconut

2 c madeira or pound cake, cut into 1cm cubes
2 c cubes of mangoes
zest from 2 limes
1 kiwi fruit for decoration

To make the cream filling, fill a metal bowl with 150ml of the cream. Sprinkle the gelatine over the cream.
Sit the bowl on top of a slowly-simmering pot of boiling water, stirring until the cream is hot (but do not let it boil). Take the bowl off the heat and add the chopped white chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate has been incorporated. Mix in the condensed milk and dessicated coconut. Let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, whip the remaining cream until stiff peaks form.
Slowly fold into the white chocolate mixture once it has cooled.

To assemble the dessert, spoon some of the filling into a cup or wine glass. Add a layer of madeira cake and then a layer of mango. Sprinkle zest of lime over the mangos and then top with a slice of kiwi fruit.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Roast Chicken and Vegetable Stuffed Mushrooms

A low- carb easy option for dinner during the week. These mushrooms were stuffed with left-over chicken and roasted vegetables. Any roasting vegetables would do, eg sweet potatoes, peppers, parsnips, carrots, etc.

Roast Chicken and Vegetable Stuffed Mushrooms
serves 2

2 large flat mushrooms
1/2 c shredded roasted chicken meat
1/2 c pumpkin, cut into 1cm cubes
1 small zucchini, sliced thinly
1/4 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
5 sage leaves
10g butter, cubed
1 Tbsp olive oil
oil spray
salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 180deg Celsius.

Carefully remove mushroom stems and chop finely.
In a small roasting pan, toss together the chopped mushroom stems,pumpkin, zuchinni, garlic and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are tender, around 15minutes.

Place mushroom caps on a baking tray greased with the oil spray.
Take the vegetables out of the oven and stuff into the mushrooms.
Top with cubes of butter, sage leaves and pine nuts. Return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes or until mushroom is tender.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

Warning: Do not involve any 2 1/2 year olds in making these biscuits.

I was trying to get into the Christmas spirit early by doing some trial runs on stuff that will go in this year's gift hampers. I thought 'Hmm, why not make some of my beloved 'Zimtsterne', haven't had them since leaving Zurich a couple of years ago and these biscuits definitely make the holidays worth celebrating. Little did I know that after this little practice, I would be tempted to gift tins of Spam instead in order to spare myself the trouble.

My friends at Google offered a few recipes. The main ingredients were consistent enough- egg whites, icing sugar, almond meal. However, the ratios were all over the place as were the baking temperature and durations. So of course, I do the sensible thing and 'fuse' together a few recipes based on those which came with the best-looking photos. I might add that a couple of these recipes were in German. My second mistake. I am still in denial about my suspect command of the language.

Anyhow, I contracted my daughter to be my assistant. Her enthusiasm to help almost melted my heart. The beautiful picture of mother and daughter, side by side in culinary bonding dissipated all too quickly when a cup of icing sugar was knocked off the table. Deep breaths, a broom and some rags, and we were on our way again.

Finally the dough was ready. One recipe actually warned that the dough is quite delicate and that the biscuits are quite messy to make. Major understatement (upon hindsight). So, although the dough looked quite runny, I foolishly tipped it out onto the table for kneading. Before I could even say anything, the little girl dove in there with both hands and started shrieking when she couldn't shake off the sticky mess that covered her up to the elbows. More deep breaths and mentally humming 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' got me thru somehow and after adding flour (which wasn't in any of the recipes), we managed to get a workable dough.
When the biscuits were finally in the oven, my husband, all too aware of all the prep and cleaning a couple of trays of these biscuits entailed, sensitively remarked 'Those biscuits are only like 2Francs ($2.50) a kilo from the shops'. Thanks, honey. You'll have to travel 10,000 miles now though to get to those shops. So hah!

He redeemed himself later on. After one bite of the fluffy and chewy gems that came out of the oven, he gingerly declared 'These are not bad'. Now, anyone who knows my darling boy will recognise this as a compliment of the highest order. Ah, bless his heart.

The biscuits were indeed delicious. The cinnamon and lemon zest are the perfect festive flavours for the nutty meringues.

Ok, maybe I won't be giving out Spams after all.

Cinnamon Stars (or Hearts, or Moons, etc)
makes around 40 biscuits

4 egg whites
a pinch of salt
300g icing sugar, sifted
200g ground almond
200g ground hazelnut *
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp cinnamon
1Tbsp lemon juice
1/2c to 3/4 c plain flour

Preheat oven to 220deg Celsius.

Whisk egg whites and salt until soft peaks form.

Slowly add the icing sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is quite stiff. Put aside half a cup of the meringue mix.

Add the ground nuts, lemon zest, cinnamon and juice. Carefully incorporate using a palette knife.

Add the flour in small amounts until you get a workable dough.

Turn out onto a floured surface and pat flat to around 8mm thick.

Cut shapes out of the dough using a cookie cutter and transfer biscuits onto a tray lined with baking paper.

Brush the biscuits with the reserved meringue mixture.

Bake in the oven for around 5minutes or until the icing just starts to colour.

The biscuits will be quite soft when they first come out so do not handle.
Leave to cool on the tray.

These will keep in an airtight container for around 2 weeks.

*The biscuits can be made with all ground almond instead of mixing with hazelnut.

Udated 24/12/2007- after experimenting a little bit more with these cookies, here's some tips:

1. Refrigerate the cookies for 30mins before baking. This prevents the
icing from browning too quickly
2. Bake at 150deg C for around 10-12 minutes. The icing stays white.

I do believe my friends would love these and they will certainly make a great addition to any Christmas hamper. I am sending this first batch of cookies over to Zlamushka for the fun 'A Spoonful of Christmas' event she is hosting. Be sure to check out the round up for lovely edible Christmas gift ideas.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WHB#108 - Beef and Pumpkin Stir-fry

Stir-fries are wonderful as one can be as creative as they wish with them. A change in the marinade flavours, in the combination of vegetables or vary the herbs and you need not make the exact same dish twice.

We do at least one stir-fry a week in our house. This time, it's beef with lots of vegetables , lifted by the sweet, anise flavour of Thai Basil.

Thai Basil (Bai Horapa in Thai) is extensively used in Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine for curries, stir-fries and salads. Just like the Meditteranean/Western Sweet Basil, this herb is best used fresh as cooking tends to destroy its flavour. When I buy these from the vegie shop, they always come in trays rather than in small bunches as do the other herbs. Apparently, this type of basil is more often used as a vegetable, rather than herb in Indochine cooking. They are thrown in with seafood, meat or in salads by the handful.

This herb is distinguished by its green leaves but purple stems and buds (which are also edible) . The leaves are smaller than those of Sweet Basil, are more pointy but narrower. They make quite a pretty potted plant. Last summer, I grew Thai Basil in one big pot along with the Sweet and Purple kind. The effect was quite lovely by mid-season.
Here's a picture of Thai Basil from a related article in Wikipedia:

Beef and Pumpkin Stir-Fry

300g Oyster Blade steak, cut into strips
200g pumpkin, cut into small pieces
1 medium red onion
1 bunch green asparagus, cut into 3cm pieces
1 red capsicum, cut into strips
1 c Thai Basil leaves
3 Tsp peanut oil

2Tbsp oyster sauce
1Tbsp soy sauce
2Tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Marinate the beef strips for at least one hour prior to cooking.

Steam or microwave the pumpkin pieces until tender, then pat dry with paper towels.

Heat up the oil in a wok or large non-stick pan. Toss beef into pan and stir-frequently until well browned and the marinade juices have dried up. Add the pumpkin and onion, stir around for two minutes. Add the asparagus and capsicum and stir around until vegetables are cooked but still crunchy.

Turn off the heat. Add the Thai Basil prior to serving.

*I quite liked this as a dry stir-fry. If you like yours 'saucy', double the marinade quantity, thicken with a bit of cornflour and add when the beef is cooked.

*The quantities served two adults and a toddler with a big appetite :-)

I am sharing this over at The Expatriate's Kitchen, who's hosting this week's round of Weekend Herb Blogging. Be sure to check out the round up for interesting ideas on using your favourite herbs, fruits and vegies!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lasang Pinoy 21- Atsara (Green Papaya Pickle)

Finally, a chance to join Lasang Pinoy, a food blog event dedicated to Filipino fare. I've been keeping an eye out for the latest round's announcement for the longest time. The anniversary theme 'Cooking for Heroes' inspired me to haul myself out of my sick bed, plied with endless cups of salabat and some serious antibiotics, I get on to work in the kitchen. We are talking about our Philippine national heroes here after all. In my own little way, from the heart of my own little kitchen,I shall honour them.

Admittedly, though, my knowledge of Philippine history is a tad rusty. I can rattle off names considered to be 'heroes' but hardly know their story in detail. General Emilio Aguinaldo's is one name I remember well from childhood visits to Biak na Bato, a series of caves in San Miguel ,Bulacan (where both of my parents were born) which the early revolutionaries against the Spaniards used as a place of refuge. The caves later on served as the headquarters of the Philippine revolutionary government. Emilio Aguinaldo became the president of the First Philippine Republic and continued to fight for Philippine independence through to the American occupation.

Thinking of a dish fit for a revolutionary and statesman, the best I thought I could offer is a bottle of atsara. During the days of the revolution, freshly-cooked meals would have been hard to come by. I imagined that dried meat or fish and the occasional produce foraged from the mountains would have been the staple. At Biak na Bato, one of the bigger caves, from memory, is called Bahay Paniki- for the millions of bats that used to inhabit the structure. I dread to think that barbecued 'panikis' were eaten regularly but they would have been a good source of protein for the freedom-fighters. A sweet, sour and refreshing helping of atsara would have made the fighters' meager meals a lot more enjoyable.

Personally, I believe atsara complements a LOT of dishes. From the humble tuyo (dried salted fish) to the special fiesta dishes like lechon (whole roasted pig) and anything fried in between. This relish of green papaya has many variations. When I researched recipes, I found that some people enjoy them as simple as possible with just papaya and carrots while some throw in pineapple or cabbage in the mix. My atsara is similar to those made by an aunt and what I've had from Bulacan- a mix of papaya, carrots, peppers and raisins.
I made half of the batch for immediate consumption, simply pouring the pickling solution over the vegetables in a jar and then refrigerating. The other half, I will be giving away as gifts so I 'pasteurised' in pickling jars with pop lids.


800 g green papaya, grated or julienned
2 medium carrots, grated
1 onion, grated
1 medium red capsicum (pepper), julienned
1 medium green capsicum, julienned
1 c raisins
2 Tbsp salt

2 1/2 c white vinegar
2 c sugar
1 inch piece ginger, julienned
2 cloves garlic sliced thinly
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, mix the grated green papaya with the salt. Cover with cling film and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
Meanwhile, the syrup can be prepared by boiling the vinegar and sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, mix in the ginger, garlic and black pepper and let simmer for a further 5 minutes.

When ready, rinse the papaya well. Squeeze as much of the water out as possible by placing the rinsed papaya in a large piece of muslin and wringing it hard. Mix in the rest of the vegetables.
Put the vegetable mix into sterilized jars. Pour in the syrup and remove bubbles by pushing the vegetables down with the back of a spoon. Put lid on jar.

If for immediate consumption, the jar can be put in the fridge and it should last for a week.

If 'preserving', put the jars in a cauldron of lukewarm water, making sure the water level is around 2cm above the jar lids. Bring to a boil and leave on a rolling boil for around 30minutes. Leave the bottles in the cauldron, with water, until completely cool. The pop lids should be flat, meaning a vacuum has been created. Otherwise, repeat the pasteurisation process. This pasteurised atsara should be good in the jar for a couple of months. Refrigerate upon opening.

*Updated 14 Nov
The batch of atsara was well-received by my first guinea pigs:-)
They will definitely make it to this year's Christmas hamper. I am sending this jar over to Zlamushka to put under her tree, as part of the festive event that is 'A Spoonful of Christmas'.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Banana and Jackfruit Slice (or Turon Saba...sort of)

Ahh, to feel healthy again and join the land of the living. Some nasty chest infection kept me out of action for a little while and it wasn't fun. Cooking and even eating were too much of an effort.

Now that the batteries are slowly getting recharged, food is again foremost on my mind. Curiously, I have been craving more Filipino food.

I have recently made kare kare, a rich peanut based beef stew, although we were having summer temperatures. As I type, there's some salted grated green papaya in the fridge waiting to be turned into a refreshing batch of relish (atsara/achara). And then there's this. Banana and Jackfruit in pastry. Technically, this is a 'deconstructed' version of one of my favourite Filipino snacks. Turon saging are bananas (saging, usually the saba variety), slivers of jackfruit and a sprinkling of brown sugar wrapped in spring roll pastry and then deep fried. Oooh, I remember when I used to burn my mouth as I bite into a hot turon, straight from the street vendor's wok. I never did learn my lesson- I could not muster the patience to wait for my turon to cool down.

Anyhow, I decided to experiment making a snack with the turon flavours in a form similar to baklava. In the end, I can't really say that this is a 'lower fat' version for all the butter and olive oil I used on the pastry. Not that I was too worried about that, you don't think of those things when trying to recreate childhood memories and sharing them with your own family. Hubby and the little girl loved these sweet and flaky slices. They were even good cold, staying crunchy after an overnight stint in the refrigerator. I could not find fresh jackfruit in the local Asian shop so I had to settle for the tinned variety, in light syrup.

Banana and Turon Slice

2 large bananas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 cup sliced jackfruit
5 phyllo pastry sheets
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp brown sugar
cooking oil spray

1 c sugar
1/2 c water
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180dec C.
Grease a cookie tray with the cooking oil spray.

Cut the phyllo sheets into four and cover with a cloth to prevent from drying out as you work.

Layer 6 sheets of pastry, brushing each thoroughly with the combined butter and oil.
Arrange the slices of banana to cover the top layer. Sprinkle with half of the sugar.

Layer another 8 sheets of greased pastry over the banana. Arrange the slices of jackfruit and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.

Top with the remaining 6 sheets of greased pastry. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining butter and oil.

With a very sharp knife, cut into 3 lengthways, but do not cut through the base.

Bake in the oven for around 40minutes.

Meanwhile, stir the syrup ingredients together in a pan over low heat until the mixture boils and the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pastry is cooked, pour the cooled syrup over the hot slice. When cold, cut into squares or diamonds.

Makes approx 12 pieces.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Endive Salad with Honey and Balsamic Onion

There are days when I feel so rushed off my feet, doing one chore after another, running from one errand to the next or constantly cooking but hardly having time to enjoy the meals, that I have to find ways to enjoy some 'me-time' in the simplest ways.

The other day, while the kids were down for a nap, I made myself a 'me-time' salad. It was the perfect midday wind-down meal -- simple, interesting and quite elegant. It's a 'grown-up' salad.

I've only had Belgian Endive leaves before as 'boats' for dips for appetizer. I remember enjoying the slight bitterness and thinking how it can be the perfect foil for a lot of different flavours.

This salad had a lot of interesting flavours I love- bitterness from the endive, sweetness from the caramelised onion, biting saltiness from the blue cheese and the unique taste of macadamia nuts.

Endive Salad with Honey and Balsamic Onion

1/4 c chopped macadamia nuts
1 medium sized onion, sliced into crescents
1Tbsp olive oil
2Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
250g Belgian Endive
crumbled blue cheese *

Heat up a non-stick pan and add the macadamia nuts. Swish around the pan until golden. Put aside.
Pour the olive oil into the pan and when hot, add the onion slices. Cook until well-caramelised, around 10 mins.
In the meantime, prepare the endive by chopping off around 1/2 cm from the stem end. Using the pointed end of a knife, cut a cone shape around 1cm deep from the stem end. Then, cut the 'bulbs' into halves lengthways. Peel off the leaves. The leaves can be cut into bite size pieces but I left mine as the bulbs were not too big. Arrange on a plate.
When the onion has softened considerably, add the balsamic vinegar and honey. Stir around until it has turned syrupy.
Pour the onion mixture over the endive (I liked it warm but I suppose this can be completely cooled down beforehand).
Sprinkle with macadamias and then top with crumbled blue cheese.

*I used King Island Endeavour Blue, which is similar in style to gorgonzola.

The whole lot was polished off by moi and when the kids got up from their nap, I was ready to greet them with a genuine smile.

I am submitting this recipe as a contribution to Coffee and Vanilla's event to celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month.
Our Mums were right, vegetables are good for us! Keep an eye out for the round up from Margot. It's bound to have a lot of nutritious and creative recipes for enjoying vegetables.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Spicy Eggplant Relish

Perhaps it's the indecisive Libran in me but I enjoy my food best when there is a melange of flavours competing for my attention in the same meal. This is why I love antipasto platters, mezze plates and going to Yum Cha.

It is a bonus then when a number of distinctive flavours sing so harmoniously together in the one dish, making every bite magic!
This is one such dish. I came across a recipe for Tunisian Eggplant one time but ended up with a completely different recipe using what ingredients I had at home. This is the result. Well, I should really say this is one version of the result. I have made this dish so many times, using different mixes of spices and I kept getting asked for the recipe. I have alternately used garam masala, chermoula and sometimes just cinnamon and cardamom- depending on what I have handy. Each time, the dish comes out tasty and I think this is all thanks to the humble eggplant. I just love this vegetable for being so accommodating of flavours one chooses to infuse it with. Whether it's just the delicate aroma of olive oil or a hodgepodge of robust spices, eggplants take them equally well.

Eggplants (or aubergines, as they are known in Europe) are from the same family as tomatoes and peppers. Though most of us are most familiar with the glossy, teardrop-shaped, purple-black variety, eggplants also come in striped and white varieties, and in various shapes like the lady's fingers or the perfectly round ones used in Thai cuisine. Eggplants are not particularly high in vitamins but rich in minerals like folate, potassium and also contain compounds which are good antioxidants. The plant has been cultivated for centuries and the fruit (which they are technically) are widely used in Indian and Meditterenean cooking.

This eggplant dish is quite rich in flavours but the freshness is lifted by the addition of mint. This is one useful and popular herb when you think of the products it lends it's flavour to- from toothpaste to room fresheners to mint jellies. Originally used for medicinal purposes, a potted mint is a handy plant to have on the kitchen window sill. It can be used infused in teas, in salads, stir-fries and much more.

I am submitting this recipe as my contribution for the second year anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging. This fun and informative event has reached yet another milestone and it's such fun to be participating. Don't forget to check out the round-up at Kalyn's Kitchen for fabulous recipes and congratulate Kalyn for starting a one-of-a-kind food blogging event.

*My favourite way to eat this dish is by mopping up the eggplant and juices with cut-up Lebanese or pita bread.

Spicy Eggplant Relish

1 large eggplant (around 400g)
1 red capsicum (sweet pepper, approx 250g)
1 large red onion (approx 250g), cut into crescents
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp dry chilli flakes (optional)
1tsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) root
1/2c chopped mint leaves
1/2 c chopped coriander leaves
150mL white vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
sesame seeds for garnishing
3 Tbsp olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 200dec C. Cut eggplant length ways, keeping the stem intact. Halve the red capsicum. Put the the eggplant and capsicum halves on an oiled baking tray, cut-side down. Bake for around 25mins or until soft. When cooled down, scrape the flesh from the eggplant halves. Discard the skin and chop the flesh into very small pieces. Peel the skin off the capsicums and also chop into small pieces.

In a saucepan, heat up the oil and add the onions. Stir around until very very soft, then add the spices (coriander, cumin,cinnamon and chilli flakes). Stir around, making sure they do not stick to the pan. Then add the coriander root, ginger and garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes.

Add the eggplant and capsicum. Stir around to coat with the oil and spices. Add the vinegar and sugar. Let simmer on low heat for around 30 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid sticking to the pan. If the mix seems too dry, add around 100mL of water.
Add half of the coriander leaves and half of the mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Leave to cook for a further 5 minutes.

Let cool (I like to serve this at room temperature). Just before serving, mix in the rest of the coriander leaves and mint leaves, reserving some to garnish on top. Sprinkle on some sesame seeds.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Midweek Quickie#2- Pesto-Crusted Salmon

This is a quick and tasty favourite, not a bad way to get our weekly dose of Omega 3. My little girl loves salmon and usually enjoys this dish with some sweet potato chips (baked in the oven) and broccoli florets.

This time around, I served the fish with some vine-ripened tomatoes which were baked alongside the salmon, and some boiled french beans.

The recipe was adapted from Delia Smith's How to Cook, Book 2. In the original recipe, pecorino cheese was used for the topping. I used the same parmesan that was also in the pesto.

Pesto-Crusted Salmon
serves 2

2 pcs salmon fillets (approx 150g each)
squeeze of lemon juice
2Tbsp basil pesto
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
oil spray

Pre-heat the oven to 220deg C.
Line a baking tray with foil and lightly spray with oil. Place the salmon fillets on the tray and season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Mix the pesto with 1Tbsp of breadcrumbs to form a paste. Spread this over the fish. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over the pesto paste. Lastly, scatter the parmesan over the breadcrumbs.
Cook the fish in the oven until the topping is golden, around 10minutes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

WTSIM.....Rhubarb and Pineapple Chutney

With the time I've been spending in the kitchen these days, I only need to be barefoot and pregnant to complete the picture of utter domesticity. Cue: little girl L screams and baby A cries simultaneously. There goes the idea of being pregnant again! At least the barefoot bit is not so improbable given that my shoe fetish has been usurped by produce mania. Now when the urge to shop hits, I come home with a basket full of fruit and vegetables instead of a pair or two of high heels. As is always the case with impulse buys, the loot then stares at me from the kitchen table and I'm left to wonder what to do with it.
It is very timely then that I came across the announcement for the latest round of 'Waiter! There's something in my...' event. The theme of savoury preserves gave me an idea before the pineapple and rhubarb in the fridge start feeling dejected.
That handsome hunk of a pineapple was winking at me at the fruit shop ( I swear!) and had to take it home, ignoring the fact that it made the pram basket drag on the floor from it sheer weight. Then some slender batons of rhubarb beckoned from a corner. Of course I had to pick up a few of these pretty little things. Half of the pineapple was eventually cut up and simply enjoyed. Then my sister comes around bearing gifts- a generous supply of vanilla eclairs from the Lindt coffee shop. The rest of the pineapple got banished to the back of the fridge and I knew that a rhubarb pie just won't get a look-in when these evil (and utterly delicious) eclairs are around.
So I made a chutney. A rhubarb and pineapple chutney. The left-over pineapple and few pieces of rhubarb only made a small bottle, which is a shame. This chutney turned out quite good and I can see such versatile uses for it. I've had it with curry, as a dip for pappadums and used it as a glaze for some oven-baked chicken. I believe it will also go well with cold meats in a sandwich, in place of mayo.

Rhubarb and Pineapple Chutney

200g rhubarb, cut into 1cm pieces
200g pineapple, cut into 1cm chunks
1tsp minced garlic
1tsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp black mustard seeds
150g brown sugar
250mL white vinegar
1tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Simmer in low heat, stirring frequently until that baby is thick and gooey, around 1hour. Put into a hot sterilised jar.

Can't wait for the WTSIM round-up by Johanna- thepassionatecook. I'm sure it will turn out a lot of delicious ideas to try next time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

HHDD#15 -, Tea for Two (Candied Lemon and Lime Tarts)

Motherhood, I'm finding, is all about taking in the simple moments and making them really special. Reading books together, singing along to tunes in the car, stopping to pick a flower during our walks-they're all little things that make the days I spend with my two babies precious.
A favourite activity with my little girl these days is to spread out a blanket on the deck and have mock picnics or morning tea. We enjoy pretending to be proper ladies, sipping from tea cups and eating tiny sandwiches or rice crackers. As a treat, we sometimes have proper 'tea' goodies like cupcakes and macaroons. Earlier this week, I made us some special tart-something citrusy to herald the definite arrival of sunshiny days.
This recipe for Candied Lemon and Lime Tarts is Donna Hay's as it appears in marie claire dining. The only change I made was in the size of the tarts. Instead of using 8x10cm tart tins, I made only two in that size. Then I made a large tart in a 20cm tin, to share with friends. The rest went into two muffin holes, producing tarts the perfect size for the little lady's tiny fingers.
For other tart recipes, be sure to watch out for the Hay Hay It's Donna Day#15 Round-up at TriniGourmet. Sarina's elegant Caramelised Onion and Ancovy Tart kicks-off this round of the fun and fabulous event started by the inspiring Barbara. Her blog, winosandfoodies is a treasure trove of information and recipes.
This is my first time submitting an entry to HHDD and I couldn't be more excited.

Candied Lemon and Lime Tarts
(original recipe)

1 quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (also made as per Donna Day's recipe)

2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c lemon juice
1/3 c lime juice
1 c caster (superfine) sugar
2c cream

2c sugar
1 c water
2 lemons, sliced
3 limes, sliced

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until it is 3mm thick. Cut pastry to fit eight 10cm deep tart tins. Prick pastry shells with a fork and line each with paper. Fill shells with rice or baking weights and bake in a preheated 200deg C(400deg F) oven for 5 minutes. Remove weights or rice and paper, and return shells to oven for 5 minutes or until pastry is light golden.
To make topping, place sugar and water in a large saucepan over low heat and stir gently until sugar has dissolved. Simmer the sugar syrup for 1 minute. Add lemon and lime slices to the pan in one layer. Cook over very low heat for 20 minutes or until rinds are soft. Do not boil. Place slices on non-stick paper, and allow them to cool and set.
To make filling, combine eggs, lemon and lime juice, sugar and cream. Pour mixture into pastry shells and bake at 160deg C (315deg F) for 10minutes or until filling is beginning to set. Top tarts with slices of candied lemon and lime, and return to the oven. Bake a further 10 minutes or until filling is just set.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Joy of Eating#1

Sometimes I wish that I could go back to the time when I first experienced certain tastes.
Not just the ones I enjoyed but even the ones I didn't quite like at first.
I know that I didn't always like cheese but over the 5 or so years that I lived in Switzerland, I must have eaten my weight in cheese (post baby weight, too!). What changed?
I detested vegetables as a child and now I absolutely love them. Looking back, how I wish I had made a diary of foods I ate and liked for each year of my life.

L at 6 months, not sure about her apple and bilberry puree

When I look at my children, I get so excited for them knowing there's a whole new frontier of taste, texture and colour of food they are yet to experience. I just hope they will be blessed with the same joy I get from eating and cooking with loved ones.

A at 6 months, licking the last of the pumpkin mash

L, at 18 months, enjoys an ice cream cone

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sauteed Chokos with Prawns

They are not the prettiest of vegetables but chokos once helped sustain a generation during the Depression. In the temperate zones of Australia, the plant is evergreen and can produce abundantly for most part of the year. Apparently, chokos became a staple when times were hard and this humble vegetable was served up in various guises. It was also mainly used to bulk up dishes when traditional ingredients were too scarce or expensive. This,perhaps, is partly responsible for it being seen as an 'old-fashioned' vegetable now. Granted, it's not the tastiest of vegetables either but its very subtle flavour makes it more amenable to the influence of herbs and spices. The choko can be used in curries, stir-fries, mash and even pies.
Interestingly, there was a rumour that went around in Sydney (not sure if this was Australia-wide) that the McDonald's apple pie fillings were actually made from chokos! Of course, the company has went on to refute it. It would also have been improbable given that chokos are normally more expensive than Granny Smith apples.
*Hmm, this gives me a little project- use chokos as pie filling and see how it turns out...*

I actually grew up in the Philippines knowing this vegetable as sayote. Alternate names for it include chayote, christophene and mirliton. This is one of the few vegetables I actually liked as a little girl as there was no bitterness in it at all compared to other greens. Belonging to the gourd family, it has a pretty bland taste similar to cucumber or some melons. My Mum would usually put it in nilaga (literally 'boiled' meat with lots of vegetables like onion, potato, cabbage, carrots, etc) or as a substitute for green papaya in tinola (a gingery soup with chicken and pepper leaves). Mum tells me that the shoots and leaves also make for a popular Filipino dish although I don't recall ever having tried it. I first saw a choko plant soon after we moved to Australia where the hardy vine commonly swamp fences and outhouses. My dad and aunts also started growing chokos in their backyards and there's always too big a harvest for the family to eat. Chokos are most abundant from late summer to early autumn but it is not unusual for vines to fruit for most part of the year especially in warmer climates. A single vine can produce bucketloads of vegetable but you'd be lucky to find neighbours who would actually be glad to partake a share of the harvest. Chokos seem out of favour these days, which is a shame. They are high in fibre and low in calories, an important consideration in food ingredients considering current nutritional concerns.

One of the dishes my Mum makes with chokos (and the only dish I know where this vegetable actually takes centre stage) is a simple sautee with garlic, onion and tomatoes. She would throw in some pork in there or sometimes, prawns. I tried recreating this dish with prawns, to coincide with this week's Weekend Herb Blogging. It is such a great event as it always proves to be a forum for discovering unusual ingredients. Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen started this event. You should check out her fabulous blog which highlights fresh, simple and healthy fare. This week's host is Myriam, owner of the creative apron behind Once Upon a Tart-home to decadent and delicious recipes.

Preparing the choko for cooking is easy. Cut the vegetable in half and then into segments. I use a potato peeler to take the skin and seed off. At this stage, I rinse the segments thoroughly as choko sap is quite slimey and tacky. Then cut up into desired size.

To make 2 servings of this dish, you will need:

1 large choko, cut into bite-size pieces
1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
1 medium red onion, cut into crescents
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
300g prawns, shelled and de-veined
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper

In a wok or fry pan, heat up the oil. Add the garlic and onion and mix around until the onion is transluscent. Add the tomatoes, stir and then cover for two minutes or until very soft and the juices have turned into a thickish sauce.
Add the chokos and let cook until tender. Toss in the prawns and stir around until they turn pink (probably needs only a minute). Season with salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Whitebait Tempura on Eggplant

Any sensible homemaker will tell you to always have a list when you go out to do your shopping in order to save money, time and avoid unnecessary purchases. Well, I do go to the shops always armed with a list but sticking to it is totally a different matter. Going to the butchers, greengrocers and seafood markets are always a gamble and an adventure. My weekly menus usually go out the window when I see what's on offer. There's always something to tempt, interest, challenge anyone who enjoys cooking.

I was at the seafood shop on the weekend for some prawns when a tray of the cutest, tiniest fish (sorry guys, I guess Nemo beat you at the auditions) caught my eyes. Hmm, it seems almost sick to think of them cute and then have the intention to eat them :-(
Anyhow, I had to forgo the prawns this time in favour of whitebait, which I knew straightaway will be battered crisp and deep-fried. Whitebait refers to the young or fry of various fish species. In Europe (specifically the UK), it refers to young herring while in Australia and New Zealand, it predominantly refers to the young of some species of the Galaxias family. The fish would be on average, around 20-50mm in size and is eaten whole- head, guts and all.
There are strict regulations that apply to whitebait fishing in Australia and NZ to help conservation of native species so that alleviates my guilt a bit for feasting on these cute little creatures.

Whitebait dishes appear on many Australian restaurant menus but I've really only had them deep-fried and served with aioli. I wanted to try them with an Asian slant.

This recipe produced a plateful of fritters, enough for 4 people as a starter.

You will need:

300g whitebait, thoroughly washed and pat-dried
1 large eggplant, cut into 1 cm slices crossways
oil spray
oil for deep frying
a few sprigs of Thai basil

for the batter:
1 1/4 c self-raising flour
1/4 c corn flour
1 1/2 c cold soda water
4 ice cubes

for the sauce:
6 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 red chili, sliced thinly
2Tbsp soy sauce
1Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c water
1tsp cornflour dissolved in 2Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 200deg C. Place eggplants on a lined baking tray and slightly coat with oil spray. Bake eggplant in the oven for around 10mins or until tender then set aside.

To make the batter, mix the flours together in a bowl with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Put the soda water in another bowl with the ice cubes. Tip the flour mix into the soda water in one go. Very lighty mix (I did this with a chopstick) leaving some lumps of flour (I believe this gives extra crunch). Drop the whitebait into the bowl and again, only lightly mix. If the batter is too runny, add a bit more self-raising flour.

Get the oil up to heat for deep-frying. Take spoonfuls of the battered whitebait and drop in the oil. Fry until golden.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by mixing all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Slowly bring to the boil and stir until the sauce is slightly thick.

To arrange the dish, take a piece of baked eggplant and drizzle with sauce. Stack 2 or 3 fritters on top. Garnish with a few leaves of Thai basil and enjoy.
Just don't think of Nemo while you eat;-)