Sunday, 30 September 2007

Cinnamon Buns



If you see a post around the 29th or 30th of every month, it can only mean one thing - it's Daring Bakers Challenge Time again!

This month's challenge was provided by the lovely and talented
Marce
and is nothing less than Cinnamon Buns and Sticky Buns (from Peter Reinhart´s The Bread Baker´s Apprentice).

Now I dont have a lot of experience baking bread or for that matter anything that uses yeast. Sure, I've taken the plunge and actually tried a Foccacia recipe that used yeast but the first time it turned out rock hard. Fortunately the second time produced a nice enough (read edible but not quite making the mark) Foccacia bread. So that's the extent of my bread baking endeavours and that was all I had to go on as far as experience is concerned.

One thing I hate about bread recipes is that they are never precise. I like precise - I'm an Engineer for goodness sakes. I'm used to getting down to decimal points and two decimal places just doesn't quite cut it. Pi may be 3.14 or 22/7 to the rest of you but to me its 3.141592 (and I even have a rhyme that can enumerate pi to 20 decimal places - so there!).

Why do I say brad recipes are not precise? Because EVERY and I mean EVERY bread recipe I have looked at says something to the effect of "More flour or water may be needed to get it to the right consistency". How is someone to know what the right consistency is? How would you like it if your car door was manufactured to "just about the right hardness - you may need to add some titanium to make it harder." Not so good now huh?

Yeah, so that's what I hate about bread recipes......

So anyway, the morning of the 15th, I decided to roll up my sleeves and try the Cinnamon Buns. We were given the choice of making Cinnamon Buns or Sticky Buns or even both if you wanted to. I decided to just stick to the Cinnamon Buns as I figured I would have enough trouble with the dough and wouldn't need to complicate things further. I also wasn't too keen on having to eat through a pile of sticky buns as my wife isn't really a fan of sweat breads. Give her savoury bread and she will wolf down the whole loaf - but not sweat breads. No.

So this is how it went...

Cinnamon and Sticky Buns
(from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)


Days to Make: One (1)
Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) - twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) - sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough

Ingredients:

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)
Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)



1. Cream together the sugar, salt, and butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand);

I don't have a paddle attachment so I proceeded to mix the whole thing by hand. It may have been easier to just use my mixer with the beaters but hey, lets try and follow the rules! Too my surprise, everything mixed together really well and quick too.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball.

Since it said whip in the egg and lemon extract, I decided to use my electric mixer. I whipped in the egg and extract and then added in the flour, yeast and milk. It all mixed up rather well but the dough didnt really form a ball. It was sort of cookie
dough like and rather soft. I was expecting it to be firm like a bread dough...

Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky.

I switched to the dough hook and let it mix. I still wasn't happy with the texture and wondered what SILKY and SUPPLE, TACKY but not STICKY is supposed to mean??!!! WHAT?? HOW?? And that's when the next line just send me spiralling into the stratosphere.

You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture.

Aaarrrgghh! What cant the recipe just say EXACTLY how much flour and or water is needed?? Why the subjectivity?? Anyway, I proceeded to add in some flour, and then some more and I think I added maybe a quarter to half a cup extra flour....

The dough was still softish and not at all what I expected - but as I said before, the only yardstick I had to measure it on was my prior Foccacia making experience.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

So I did just that. Rolled it around in an oiled bowl. I may have put in a little too much oil but I'm glad I used my common sense and used vegetable oil instead of Olive Oil. I'll admit that my hands sort of automatically reached for the Olive Oil but I quickly realised I didn't want olive tasting cinammon rolls! Covered the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit as the next step instructed.




2. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

After the first hour, the dough had increased in size


After two hours it had more than doubled!


3. Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. (B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns

I used baking spray to mist the countier and then rolled out the dough. The cinammon sugar was liberally sprinkled on and then I proceeded to roll up the dough. It didn't quite roll up as well as I wanted it to and the ends sort of bunched up. Nonetheless it rolled up fairly easily.

I then proceeded to cut the roll and this is where I wished I had one of those pastry cutters. The knife I use kind of flattened the slices in the sense that they became a little rectangular. But a quick squeeze and tuck put them back in shape.

4. For cinnamon buns, line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.

I liked how the cinnamon sugar showed up nicely on the cut rolls. It was starting to look like a plan coming together!




5. Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

The pieces doubled in size again and they were really starting to look like cinammon buns - or Cinammon Rolls as we are more used to calling them.

6. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.


7. Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.



8. For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving. For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.


White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns
Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.


Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.



When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)



The verdict?

I thought the buns were really soft and tasty although I think I'd have liked more cinnamon sugar in them. The icing was waaay too much and the recipe could be halved. However, the icing was Really tasty!! It had a nice lemon tang to it too that went so well with the buns.



My son enjoyed the buns tremendously and between the two of us, we polished most of them off! Here's to another succesful Daring Bakers Challenge and please visit the rest of the gang to see their creations

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Questions from a friend

As a result of my previous post, I received a comment / question from my friend Valli at More than Burnt Toast

I was going to reply to her as a comment but realised, that in my habit of going on an on about a subject, it might be better to post it as a post.

This is what Valli asked:

Hey Dharm..I was speaking with my dad on MSN and he wanted me to let you know he was in Port Dickson, KKB, Seremban, Penang and the Cameron Islands when he was in Malaysia.I'm sorry about my spelling. I hope you don't mind me asking you a few questions on your postings? Dad said he loved a Malaysian fruit that was as big as a plum ,with a sweet white interior ,that was a little bit chewy with a pit in the middle. He can't remember the name of it. Also a fruit like an orange but the size of a football. He says one segment would be plenty for 1 person. He also does not remember the name of that fruit as well.


Firstly Valli, you got all the spelling correct with the exception of Cameron Highlands! Yes, it's in the hills thus the name Highlands and not islands - but how were you supposed to know!

Anyway, Cameron Highlands is famous for its Tea plantations, Strawberry Farms and flower gardens. The tea and strawberries grom well because of the cool climate. Same goes for the flowers where you get different varieties that wouldnt grow otherwise in the lower land areas where temperatures are much, much hotter.

As for your fruits:

I would assume the plum like fruit your dad is talking about would be Rambutan. It's a red fruit, about the size of a plum, with many longish 'hairs' on it. Hence its name as Rambutan mean the 'hairy one'. The skin is broken to produce a white fleshy fruit inside that is a little juicy and has a large pith inside too. There is an excellent site with great pictures about this fruit rambutan.com

Next question was about a fruit like an orange but the size of a football. Cultural Problem now....!! When you say football, what shape are you referring to? Do you mean round as in what we call footballs here ( soccer balls) or do you mean ovalish as in what you call footballs in North America (American Football or Rugby style balls) *Cheeky Grin*

So.. I would presume you're referring to the oval shape and it would be a Papaya. But don't you get Papaya or Paw Paw in North America? Maybe a different variety perhaps. But I would think that is what your Dad was referring to.
If you are referring to the round shape, I would think it is what we call Honey Melon or a type of Canteloupe.

Hope that helps and that everyone reading has learnt a little something more. This is fun indeed!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Cultural Exchange

One of the things that I enjoy so much about blogging is the cross cultural exchange. "What the hell are you talking about", I hear you cry....

Well, let me try and explain. In the course of blogging, I have gained many new found friends and a vast majority of them come from different corners of the globe.
I'm sorry, I'm really trying not to but I'm going to have to digress here. I just have to!

How can a globe have corners? The globe is round! Well, spherical actually. So it definitely can't have any corners! There. I got that out of my system. Sorry.

So, as I was saying. Many of my new found friends come from different parts of the world and they may not be exposed to or may not even have heard of many things that I simply take for granted. By the same token, I have learnt many things from reading the posts of some of my blog friends.

For example, I learnt about Harissa from Jenn - the leftover queen. I have never, ever heard of Harissa before but now I know what it is. Same goes for Chipotle. I had heard that term bandied about before but always assumed it was a kind of sausage, something along the lines of a Chorizo.

Credit goes to Marye of Apron Strings and Simmering Things for educating me on Chipotle - after all, she is probably one of the world's greatest fans of Chipotle. But it's not just about learning new ingredients or recipes. It's about learning something about the other person, about the tradition's they are used to, about the way they go about their lives and about the love that goes into their cooking. And so much more!

That's what I mean by cross cultural exchange. There is so much you can learn from other people and I love learning and sharing - especially when it has to do with different cultures and involves food! *greedy grin*

This weekend (22nd Sept) we decided to pile into the car and take a drive down to Melaka (or Malacca). That brings up another grouse I have. Why are places called different names (or spelt differently) in different languages? Why cant Deutschland be known as Deutschland all over the world and not Germany to the English speaking world, Allemagne to the French and Jerman to the Malay's? You get my drift...

Anyway, so we went to Melaka, which is about a 2 hours drive south of Kuala Lumpur. Melaka is a historical city and was once a bustling port and very famous for its spice trade. It was colonised by the Portugese in 1511, then the Dutch in 1641 and then the British took over in 1824. The Japanese occupied Melaka during the 2nd World War and after the war, it went back to British control until together with the rest of the country declared its independence in 1957.

So much for the history lesson. Back to food now! Melaka is famous for its Gula Melaka or Malacca Sugar, otherwish known as Palm Sugar. Gula Melaka is made from the sap of the flower bud of the coconut tree. Some refer to Gula Melaka as Jaggery but technically, Jaggery is sugar made from the Palmyra Tree, so it IS different!

Gula Melaka is lovely, dark and sweet and is used to flavour and sweeten many desserts in South East Asia - primarily desserts made with Coconut Milk. It is sold in its' solidified form and to use it, you would melt it down to form a lovely thick syrup. The picture below shows Gula Melaka still in its plastic packing. I couldn't take it out as once it is exposed to the humidity, it starts to weep a little and can get rather messy.



Gula Melaka is also one of the main ingredients in Dodol.

You like how I led you to Dodol? Hehehehehe. My son loves this sticky sweet confection. Dodol is made from Coconut Milk, Gula Melaka and Glutinous Rice Flour. Sometimes it is flavoured with Durian, the King of fruits. Dodol takes an extremely long time to make and is a skill in itself. Some people make Dodol at home and sell it at the night market. The taste is definitely different from that which is commercially available. This is a picture of the homemade Dodol from the night market.



Melaka is famous for its Dodol and is sold commercially, nicely packed. We bought a whole heap of plain Dodol as well as Durian Dodol.



Finally, to stock up our pantry, we bought some Sambal Belacan. Belacan is basically a shrimp/prawn paste used to flavour many dishes. Sambal Belacan is basically Chilli pounded and mixed with Belacan to form a paste. Sambal Belacan is delicious fried with Kangkong (Water Convulvolus) or just eaten as a side dish.



The kids had fun visiting all the historical sites in Melaka and they will have fun finishing off the Dodol and other goodies too!

So this is my contribution to cross cultural exchange for this time and hopefully there'll me more!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Greek Salad and Stuffed Mushrooms

I know I've posted about my Stuffed Mushrooms before but I've never posted pictures of Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms. I made these for the starter for dinner last week. Portobello's are so much bigger and juicier then Swiss Browns or Buttons. This time, I stuffed the mushrooms with chopped chilli, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and garlic.

The pictures are also so much clearer thanks to my new DSLR. (I really don't know when I'll be able to stop harping on my new camera - the pictures are just sooo good! At least I think they are...)
After baking in the oven for about 20 minutes, all the flavours just combine beautifully and the mushroom gets tender and juicy,



And to complete the menu for the Dinner at Restaurant Dharm, we have the lovely wife making her signature Greek Salad. I've watched her make her salad dressing countless times but can never quite get it tasting the way she does it. She also somehow gets the right mix of greens, tomatoes, capsicum and feta cheese.

That is why, as far as possible, I leave the salads to her. Why mess around with a good thing? The salad was the perfect accompaniment to the Moussaka.

Toblerone Almondy Cake - or the Ikea Daim Cake attempt




How many if you have seen or tried the Daim Cake sold at Ikea? It has a lovely almond base and is filled with some sort of golden custard like substance and then topped of with luscious chocolate and chopped Daim. I like this cake and I thought I would attempt to make it. Looking around for a recipe on the web yielded zilch but what I did find was a link to the company that actually produces this cake.
The company website calls the yellow layers 'Golden Buttercream' and so I thought a custardy flavoured buttercream with do the trick. I also decided to use Toblerone as a replacement for Daim since the latter is so expensive. For the base, I decided to modify my almond meringue base by adding an extra egg white and baking it a little longer.
Sounded like a good plan but all good plans sometimes go awry....! The custard buttercream I made turned out too powdery so I thought I would cook it. That didnt turn out to be such a good idea since the butter melted and produced a sticky mass that although it tasted rather nice, refused to set and stayed as a sticky, gooey mass. That's the yellow bits you see leaking out of the cake!
So what I did was to scrape off as much of the goo as I could rescue and convert my Ikea Daim cake to a Chocolate Mousse Almondy Biscuit cake with Toblerone topping!
Turned out rather delicious even if I do say so myself and the guests that partook of this second dessert at the Dinner at Restaurant Dharm went home very satisfied.

UPDATE:
I tried to perfect the Ikea Daim Cake another TWO times and the results (together with the recipes) can be found at the links below. I think Take 3 is the best replication so far!!!
Ikea Daim Cake - Take Two (July 2008)
Ikea Daim Cake - Take 3 and Success (Feb 2009)

Friday, 14 September 2007

Moussaka


This was the main course that I prepared for the Dinner at Restaurant Dharm last Saturday(8 Sept).

Most of the dishes I make have some history to it - some sordid story involving hungry, drunken flatmates or some girl I was trying to impress in university or just simply a dish I experimented with. More often than not, it involves trying to recreate something my wife tasted elsewhere and raved and ranted about (she can get quite crazy in these rants and raves.....) However, I must admit and give credence to the fact that my cooking repertoire increased substantially, maybe even exponentially, after I got married.

Moussaka is typically a baked casserole with layers of minced lamb and eggplant covered with a layer of bechamel sauce. There are some variations on this theme and I generally like to add layers of potatoes as well. My moussaka doesn't really have a story other than the fact that I decided to make one an evening long, long ago. I looked at various recipes and decided to just whip up a bolognese style sauce, using lamb of course, and use layers of eggplant and potatoes.


This dish can be a little bit oily due in no small amount to the lamb as well as the fact that you are supposed to fry the eggplant and potato slices until they are tender. In an effort to be a litle bit more health conscious, I baked the eggplant slices this time but I think frying them makes them a whole lot more tender and the flavours tend to fuse and meld in better.

This is my recipe for Moussaka:

Meat Sauce
3 large round Eggplants (also known as Aubergines or Brinjals)
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
800g Minced Lamb
3 potatoes
4 Large Tomatoes
3 Tbsp Tomato paste
2 tsps Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Oil for frying


Bechamel sauce
500 ml milk
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 Slices Cheddar Cheese
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg Powder

Extra cheddar cheese for topping
Cut eggplant into thin slices. Degorge the eggplant by sprinkling with salt and placing in a colander for about 20 minutes. This removes the excess moisture.
Chop onion and garlic and set aside. Slice tomatoes into thin slices and set aside
Pare potatoes and slice into thin slices. Set aside.
Heat Oil and fry onion, garlic and pepper till fragrant. Add in lamb and cook well until meat is well browned. Add in tomatoes and cook till tomatoes break up. Add tomato paste and some water. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, pat eggplants dry. Heat oil in large frying pan. Be careful not to use too much oil as eggplant will soak a lot up. Fry eggplant until tender. Drain
Fry potato slices until tender. Drain
Prepare the Bechamel Sauce
Melt butter in heavy saucepan. Stir in flour and cook the flour in the butter. Add in milk and mix well ensuring that flour is incorporated. Cook on high heat stirring constantly till mixture thickens. Break cheese slices into mixture and stir well. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Assembling the Moussaka
Spread some of the meat sauce into a rectangular casserole dish.
Cover with a layer of eggplant slices then potato slices. Cover with another layer of meat sauce. Do this repeatedly finishing with a layer of meat sauce.
Cover top layer with Bechamel sauce. Sprinkle with chopped Cheddar cheese
Bake in 190C Oven for about 20 minutes or till top is lightly browned. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Tiramisu





This would rank as one of my favourite desserts to make, to serve and of course to eat! My wife loves this dessert as well and it is always a favourite whenever I make it. From my research, Tiramisu means 'pick me up' and legend has it that in Venice of old, there were a group of courtesans who worked in the brothel above the restaurant. According to legend, the ladies needed a "pick me up" to fortify themselves between amorous encounters. Nice story for a nice dessert!

My own story has a bit of romance in it. When my wife and I were dating, we would often have dinner dates and she always raved about Tiramisu. That was probably one of the earliest challenges she ever threw me and I responded with great flair to produce this recipe. It is loosely based on the recipe from All Time Favourites from The Australian Womens Weekly but since I have changed it quite a bit, I claim it as my own!

Tiramisu is supposed to be served scooped out of a dish or bowl. This is quite unlike what you find in some establishments where it is served in slices or squares.


The original recipe calls for Mascarpone but I substitute it with Philadelphia Cream Cheese mixed with whipped cream. This is far easier to handle as well as substantially cheaper. I also find that the taste difference is negligible. I also subsitute Kahlua and Rum for the Marsala Wine.

This is my modified recipe:

Ingredients
250 g Cream Cheese
400 ml Thickened Cream (Unsweetened)
2 tbsp Icing Sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 ½ Tbsp instant coffee powder
1 ½ tsp granulated Sugar
½ cup Kahlua
¼ cup Rum or Crème De Cacao
½ Cup cold water
Cocoa Powder for dusting
1 Packet Savoiardi (Sponge Fingers)

Method

Cream the cheese until soft.
Whip cream with icing sugar until stiff
Dissolve coffee and granulated sugar in boiling water. Let cool
Mix Liqueurs and cold water. Pour 2/3 of this mixture into coffee. Add in remaining liqueur mixture into creamed cheese. Mix well.
Fold in cream and mix well till incorporated
Line the bottom of a Pyrex loaf pan with Savoiardi. You may need to trim the edges of the sponge fingers to fit into the pan.
Soak the cake evenly with half the coffee mixture. Reserve the remaining coffee mixture.
Cover sponge fingers with half the cream mixture
Arrange another layer of cake on top of the cream mixture and then soak evenly with the remaining coffee mixture.
Cover with remaining cream mixture and smooth the top evenly.
Chill for at least 4 hours - preferably overnight
Dust Cocoa powder over the top of dessert before serving.

There is always just a little extra of everthing to make a small, individual serve of tiramisu. This time I layered it nicely in a wine glass, like the fancy restaurants do.


My coffee liqeuor mixture is rather strong, just the way I like it and the way a 'pick me up' should be - irrespective of there being a brothel or not....!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Dinner at Restaurant Dharm

One of my dreams is to open a restaurant. Or maybe a cafe or bistro. Actually, what are the real differences? I think they all mean the same thing but maybe size has something to do with it. I also reckon that they probably mean different things in different parts of the world. But why bother myself with semantics.....

What I have in mind is a small cozy little place somewhere, someplace. The menu won't be too extensive but it will be built around hearty favourites. Ever so often, a new dish would be introduced. Although the food will be delicious and wonderful, what everyone would come to this place somewhere, someplace would be for the Desserts.

I've always felt that the crowning glory to a good meal is an even better dessert. There is nothing quite so bad as being let down by a dessert. Then again, I'm probably biased because I have always loved desserts and consider myself a little bit of a Dessert King. For me, you can hate my cooking but don't ever think of complaining about my desserts! In fact, the greatest insult would be someone offering to bring dessert to a pot-luck or dinner invitation at my house.

My love affair with desserts started at a very young age. In fact, I first started to make desserts and bake before I started to cook. My dessert prowess is in no small way attributed to my Mother, my Aunty Julie and later on in life, my Lovely Wife. But that's an entirely different story for a different time.....

Last Saturday (8 Sept) my lovely wife invited a few of her friends over for dinner. As I always do, I pondered and agonised over what to make. It's even more complicated when you have a blog and you write about everything you cook every weekend......!

But this is exactly what I picture doing in my little restaurant - pondering and agonising over what to make so that the customers are happy. They should be served good food and enjoy their meal over good conversation while having a few good laughs with good friends. I had never had the pleasure of cooking for these friends of ours before and so for them, it was their first time at Restaurant Dharm.

My wife simply adores my Stuffed Mushrooms and although I've posted about it before, I managed to get Portobello Mushrooms this time and of course, since I got my new DSLR, that's always an excuse to take new pictures. My wife makes wonderful Salads and so she was tasked with that.

For the main course, I decided on a Moussaka. Lovely layers of aubergines, potato and minced lamb topped of with a thick Bechamel Sauce.

And finally, dessert. As I said earlier, dessert for me is probably the most important part of the meal. A bad dessert can spoil the whole dinner and if you pardon the pun, leave a bad taste in the mouth. A good dessert on the other hand, is the cream on the puff, the icing on the cake or in this case, the cocoa on the Tiramisu and the Toblerone Ganache on the Almond Chocolate Mousse Cake.

Yeah, I outdid myself and made two desserts. My wife had 'warned' me that her friends loved desserts but I knew that she wanted some Tiramisu while I wanted to try to make the Ikea Daim cake also known as the Almondy Cake. The Ikea Daim cake didnt turn out the way I envisaged it so I turned a potential disaster into a delicious new recipe that I will file as one of my favourites.

I'll post the write ups on each individual recipe together with photos in due course. Maintaining a blog is time consuming but it's still a lot of fun! So keep a look out for updates.

In the meantime, I'm going to return to my daydreams of opening a restaurant and as I do that, a familiar song rings in my ears that plays true to my dreams - Somewhere from West Side Story

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
Somehow,
Some day,
Somewhere!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Nutella Meringues



When I was younger,
so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in anyway


Actually what I meant to say before that Beatle's song jumped into my head and took over was that, when I was young, say about 9 or 10, I absolutely LOVED Nutella. I would happily slather it thickly on soft slices of white bread and make 3 tiered Nutella sandwhiches. You could say they were my very own Nutella Big Mac.

Now, that is not to say that I don't love Nutella anymore. I still do and whenever I buy it, I still make my 3 tiered sandwhiches. The reason I dont buy it is that it is just so sinfully delicious and fattening and generally bad for the general health and all things should be taken in moderation and too much of a good thing is bad for you, not to mention that my wife frowns when I overindulge in anything, which is what I generally do, and not just with Nutella. Yeah, I can be a bit of a porker and thats not good for the general health of things.... I think you get my drift. Which is all really quite sad really - Coz I REALLY love my Nutella!!!

Anyway, having got that little rant out of my system, I decided to make meringues for dessert to go with the Lasagne. My niece, who is also my Goddaughter, loves meringue. I thought the idea of slathering Nutella over the meringues would be particularly delicious too. AND... I would have leftover Nutella to slather on to slices of white bread and make my Triple Decker Nutella Sandwhiches!

BwwaaaaaHaHaHaHaHaHaHAHA! Was I brilliant or what!

So to make it, all you do is whisk 3 egg whites, 3/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar together until stiff. I use medium speed on my electric hand held mixer. Then you pipe out pretty litte shapes and bake in a preheated 160C oven for about an hour or till lightly browned. They may still feel a little spongy in the oven but will become crisp once cool.



Then, spread generously with Nutella and wolf them down!

The kids loved it and I reckon they taste a little like chocolate covered honeycomb, you know like Cadbury Crunchie or Violet Crumble. Very, very tasty indeed!

'Leftover Pasta' Lasagne



A quick Quiz.


  • How often have you made a pasta dish and not boiled all the dried, uncooked pasta?

  • Are you like me and often find heaps of leftover, uncooked pasta sitting in the pantry or cupboards?

  • Are you also like me who buys new packets of pasta each time and adds to the stock of uncooked leftover pasta in the cupboards?

  • Does your other half roll his/her eyes up in resignation when they find all the remnants of uncooked pasta left over?

  • Do you often find that you have to throw up leftover uncooked pasta, if at all just to make more space in the cupboards for, I don't know, maybe New packets of uncooked pasta?




If you answered yes to any one of those questions above, then Read On! This is also my contribution to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by my friend Ruth over at Onceuponafeast.

My niece and nephew spent the day with us after church on Sunday. Since pasta is a perennial favourite with the kids, I decided to make Lasagne. Now normally, if I don't have mushrooms on hand, I will refuse to make pasta - especially a pasta with a meaty base. I suppose I've matured a little though to realise that you can still get delicious flavours without mushrooms.

Having decided to make lasagne (albeit without mushrooms) I decided I'd add another twist to it. Along with some shells, tubes and curves. Yes! Instead of using lasagne sheets, I was going to use my leftover uncooked pasta.

And so I used a dash of Tri-Colore Fussili, a toss of tubed macaroni, a chuck of pasta shells and a flourish of curved macaroni. Boiled them all together and left it to drain while I made the pasta sauce.

This is how I made my lasagne this time although normally I would use mushrooms and celery as well:

For the Meat sauce
700g minced beef
5 cloves garlic - chopped
1 large onion - chopped
4 bay leaves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
4 large tomatoes - quartered
1 large capsicum - diced
2 large carrots - diced
1/2 can tomato puree
Salt
Black Pepper

For the Bechamel Sauce

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
400 ml milk
5 slices cheddar cheese
salt
pepper
nutmeg powder


Method
Sautee Bay Leaves, Oregano, Basil, Pepper, Onion and Garlic till fragrant. Add the minced meat and continue cooking till meat is well cooked. Add fresh tomatoes and continue cooking till tomatoes are soft. Add in Carrots. Mix well
Add salt to taste. Add in the tomato puree and Capsicum. Cover and Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add some water if sauce is too dry.

Meanwhile, prepare the Bechamel Sauce
Melt butter in heavy saucepan. Stir in flour and cook in the butter. Add in milk and mix well ensuring that flour is incorporated. Cook on high heat stirring constantly till mixture thickens. Break 3 cheese slices into mixture and stir well
Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Assembling the Lasagne
Spread some of the meat sauce into a rectangular lasagne or casserole dish. I used a loaf pan this time as the 'leftover pasta' would take up space. Cover with a layer of cooked pasta. Cover pasta with Bechamel sauce then with more meat sauce.
Cover with another layer of cooked pasta. Do this repeatedly finishing with a layer of Bechamel sauce on top. Cover top layer of Bechamel sauce with strips of the remaining w slices of cheddar cheese.
Bake in 190C Oven for about 15 minutes or till top is lightly browned. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes to allow lasagne to set further.




As my wife polished off her lasagne, she looked whimsically at me and said "Now I know what's missing - mushrooms."

Nothing gets past her....

Starfruit Juice



One of my favourite fruits is starfruit or Carambola if you want to get scientific. Aside from eating it, there is nothing quite so refreshing as a glass of freshly squeezed starfruit juice.



Last Saturday evening, after a run around in the nearby park, we all decided to indulge in some freshly squeezed starfruit. We had already bought a whole lot of starfruit that was going cheap at the market this morning. Out came the juicer and the kids with the wife supervising whizzed away to make a batch of yummy, freshly squeezed Starfruit juice.

The kids certainly enjoyed it!



Saturday, 1 September 2007

Saturday Feast and more fun with the Camera


Since Merdeka was on Friday, we had a long weekend. What better way to enjoy a 3 day weekend than to have a cookup! This time, the lovely wife did the honours while I supported her by clicking away with my new toy.

I've realised that it's far easier to capture nice photos when you can concentrate on taking the photos while someone else is doing the cooking, and not have to worry about wiping your hands before handling the camera or worrying about something burning. Yet, I have to admit, it's not as much fun as multi-tasking! But no complaints here as I really enjoyed playing around with the camera while my lovely wife cooked up a lip-smacking meal.

This is what she made
  • Spicy Fried Chicken which I have named Angelina's Spicy Fried Chicken

  • Yau Mak with Garlic and Oyster Sauce

  • Crispy Ladysfingers or Crispy Okra


  • My son also reminded her that "yesterday you promised to make me Honeydew and Sago" and so she made that for dessert.

    After all her hard work cooking, and mine taking photos, we both relaxed with a nice cool glass of Vodka and Cranberry Juice!

    Angelina's Spicy Fried Chicken


    I love fried chicken and I reckon the best Fried Chicken I've ever had is the one my Mother-in-Law makes. I guess the saying is true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree coz the Fried Chicken that my lovely wife makes is super good too.

    This time, she decided to spice it up a little more that usual and to also jazz it up with some curry leaves and shallots. It's actually quite amazing how a few fried leaves and shallots can add so much flavour to a dish.

    This is her recipe:

    Ingredients
    1 chicken
    2 inches ginger
    5 cloves garlic
    1 tsp chilli powder
    1/2 tsp turmeric powder
    4 tsp Tom Yam paste
    handful curry leaves
    10 shallots - sliced
    Salt

    Method
    Cut the chicken into medium sized pieces. Pound the ginger with the garlic. Combine with chilli powder, turmeric, tom yam paste and salt to taste. Marinade the chicken in this paste for about 3 hours or preferably overnight. Deep fry until well cooked.
    When ready to serve, fry the shallots


    and curry leaves


    until crispy. Drain the oil and toss with the chicken.


    'Yau Mak' with Garlic and Oyster Sauce



    This is a typical vegetable dish you get in many Chinese restaurants. Yau Mak is a version of the Romaine lettuce and is delicous stir fried with garlic and oyster sauce. However, to do it just right, you need a REALLY HOT wok and then you quickly fry the lettuce with garlic and oyster sauce so the vegetable is still crisp. This is difficult to do at home so the next best method is to Blanch the vegetable, fry the garlic separately and then toss it all together!

    Ingredients
    1 Bunch Yau Mak or Romaine Lettuce
    1 tsp sugar
    3 tbsp Oyster Sauce
    6 cloves garlic - chopped


    Method

    Boil a large pot of water with the sugar. Once boiling, blanch the vegetable for about a minute or two. Drain.


    Meanwhile sautee the garlic.
    Arrange the vege on a serving plate and dollop oyster sauce all over. Toss the vegetable to coat with the sauce and sprinkle with garlic.

    Cripsy Lady's fingers


    Lady's fingers. Otherwise known as Okra or in other parts of the world as Bhindi or Kacang Bendi. All the same thing and just as delicious in any language.

    And there is nothing quite so delicious, as crispy lady's fingers. It's really quite simple and easy to prepare. First, slice the lady's fingers thinly


    and then coat in a mixture of equal parts chick pea flour and rice flour. Season with salt and pepper


    and then fry the coated lady's fingers.

    See? Simple yet wonderfully tasty.

    Honeydew and Sago


    My son loves this dessert and when he reminded his mother that she had promised to make his some, how could she refuse? This dessert is served at quite a number of chinese restaurants and sometimes they add water chestnuts as well.
    This dessert also normally uses coconut milk or what we call santan in Malaysia. However, to make it less fattening, my wife uses fresh milk. It doesn't detract from the taste too much although it is nicer with coconut milk albeit more fattening!

    Ingredients

    100 gm sago
    4 large slices of honeydew - sliced thinly
    7 cups water
    4 pandan leaves (screwpine leaves)
    150 - 200 gm sugar (depending on taste)
    200 ml fresh milk or coconut milk
    pinch of salt

    Method
    First, cook the sago by boiling in a large saucepan until transparent. Drain and wash in cold water to remove the starch.

    While the sago is cooking, cut the honeydew into thin slices.


    Fill another saucepan with the 7 cups of water. Tie one end of each pandan leaf into a knot. This makes it easier to remove later.


    Add in the pandan leaves and honeydew and bring to a boil. Add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Keep boiling until the honeydew becomes tranparent.


    Remove the pandan leaves and then add in the milk. Leave on heat until mixture boils again. Add in a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and stir in the cooked sago.


    Allow to cool and then refrigerate. Serve cold. You can add some more slivers of honeydew and some water chestnuts if you'd like it more 'crunchy'

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