Friday, 29 February 2008

French Bread - Daring Bakers



It's the last day of February, and incidentally it's also the last day of February in a Leap Year! So what better date can there be for the blogosphere to be inundated with another Daring Bakers Challenge! YAY!

This months Daring Bakers challenge is hosted by two wonderful ladies - Mary, also known as the Breadchick and Sara. Now Breadchick is one of my Favourite DBs and being a Breadchick, it's no surprise that she tied up with Sara to pick a Bread challenge. The challenge is a French Bread recipe from Julia Child.

Umm.. Julia Who???



Okay, so hit me on the head and call me names. I'm sorry but before this I had NEVER heard of Julia Child. So knock me on the head again - hard!. For those of you that know me, whether in person or in cyberspace, you would know that whenever I don't know something, I NEED to find out - it's like a compulsion.

Thank Goodness for Google! A quick search and I proceeded to read about Julia Child and now I know something about her.

I can imagine all of you, especially in the USA gaping with your mouths wide open while reading this. In my defence, at least I know about the Galloping Gourmet! Ha! You've never heard of Graham Kerr? If you haven't, we'll just put that down to the era of pre-globalisation. If you DO know who good ol' Graham is, then bully for you!

Of course nowadays, everyone knows every other personality on either side of the Atlantic as well as the Pacific and all the crinkly bits in between as well. Just like most of us know that the answer to the Great Question of Life, The Universe and Everything is 42. And if you Don't know that, then I would seriously question your literary choices. And that would also mean you didn't get the aforementioned 'crinkly bits' joke...

Ah... But I digress. And for all of you that know me, you would know that digressing is what I do best...

So anyway. Julia Child eh. Apparently , before Julia became a chef, she was a little bit of an Agent 99. More specifically, she worked as a Research Assistant for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a newly formed government intelligence agency. She and her colleagues were sent on assignment to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she played a key role in the communication of top secret documents between U.S. government officials and Sri Lankan intelligence officers. Pretty Secret Agent kind of stuff if you ask me...

After getting married to Paul Child and moving to France, good old Julia developed a fancy for French Cuisine and went on to study at the famous Le Cordon Bleu Cooking school whilst she was in Paris way back in the late 1940's. Julia then started a series of cooking shows with the first one debuting on February 11, 1963. A little before my time so perhaps that explains why I never heard about her? Anyway, apparently Julia is THE person when it comes to cooking and without her, we wouldn't have Nigella or Jamie entertaining us - or Chef Wan (local Malaysian Celeb Chef!)for that matter.

Julia Child was also responsible (with two others) for the two-volume cookbook titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Published in the U.S., the 800-page book was considered a groundbreaking work and has since become a standard guide for the culinary community. The recipe for French Bread comes from Volume Two of this book.

So, enough about Julia Child and on to my experience with this Challenge.

Making bread is not my favourite thing in the world. I may have overcome my fear of yeast but bread still scares me. Reading the recipe (over, and over) I kept thinking that it was a Recipe for Disaster. These are some of the things that spooked me:
1. It was a Bread Recipe - scary in itself
2. 16 pages long - Yes! The recipe was that long
3. Recipe stated that it took about 9 hours to complete - if that's not scary I don't know what is!
4. The bread was supposed to be made in “free form” fashion. No loaf pans, bannetons, brotforms or baguette pans may be used.
5. Refer to the above, I didn't understand banneton or brotforms
6. We had the choice of making baguettes or batards; short loaves, ficelles; round loaves, boules; round or oval rolls, petits pains or large round or oval loaf, pain de menage or miche; pain boulot. All of which sounded very scary. Not to mention that I didn't know what to expect from any of them with the exception of a Baquette.
7. There was a complicated procedure in final proofing and shaping that involved flouring a piece of canvas or fabric and then using a piece of cardboard to move the dough from the cloth to the oven.

Enough things to worry about! So you can imagine that I was practically pissing in my pants when I decided to attempt this challenge. Unlike my usual attempts, this was on a Thursday morning as it was a Holiday here for Chinese New Year. I was up early and I used my new Kenwood mixer to do the mixing of dough and kneading.

Beautiful machine, my Kenwood!

The recipe is simply a mix of flour, a little salt, yeast and water. I used Instant Yeast but as the recipe states, you need to 'proof' the instant yeast in water till dissolved to improve the taste.

The dough came together fairly easily and I only had to add in maybe two handfuls of flour to get the right consistency. I was thrilled! This is how my dough looked.



Then of course it was time for the first rise and what a time it was!

The recipe said that the temperature needed to be 70F which is about 21C. I have a thermometer hanging in my kitchen that showed a temp of 27C (81F) so I decided to place the dough in the cooler living room. It took about 4 hours for the dough to rise to the required 10.5 cups.

I then did the folding of dough into a parcel trick. I couldn't figure out why that was needed but the recipe said to do it and so I did it. Then it was the second proof that took another 2 hours so we were about 6.5 hours into the recipe (including the measuring, mixing and kneading) No real problems so far.

Then it was time to do the forming of the loaves and the final rise. I opted to make 2 Batards (or maybe they were Ficelles) and about 6 rolls (petit pain). I had no problems forming the ovals but couldn't for the life of me figure out why you had to flip here and press there and use your thumbs with one but your heels with another. I followed the recipe diligently though.

Then it was time to place the dough on the floured fabric. I used an old cotton t-shirt of mine and floured it thoroughly. That was pretty fun actually! While waiting for the dough to rise (another 2 hours) I prepared the unmoulding board by coating it with cornmeal and also greased a baking tray.

The dough had risen beautifully and I regret not taking any pictures - its just that I was busy cooking other dishes as well. We were having some friends over for dinner and I was planning on serving the bread with the soup that The Lovely Wife was making.

Unmoulding was tricky but fun as well and then it was slashing time!! I felt like a professional Slasher! A nice slash here, another slash there. The dough splits and spreads... All quite exciting really...

Into the oven but not before a quick brush with cold water. Stared at my watch for 3 minutes and then quickly pulled the tray out, brushed the rising dough with cold water again then stared at my watch once again. Process repeated itself every three minutes and The Lovely Wife was getting irritated with me as she was trying to cook in the kitchen as well and SHE kept getting in MY way. Good thing I had put the razor blade away or else there may have been some other form of slashing going on...

Ding! 25 minutes in the oven and I pulled my bread out.



Boy o boy did it smell lovely! The Lovely Wife reached over greedily to test the bread and I slapped her wrists. "It's got to cool first!" I screamed almost demonically, my eyes wide while my fingers twitched wildly as I looked around for the razor... Not to worry, that was just a Hitchcock moment, no more slashing occurred.

It was nearing 6pm and I had been at this for more than 9 hours. Our guests were due at around 7.30 for dinner at 8 so I was hoping the bread would be cool by then. We only actually got round to dinner at 8.30 but I had sneaked a sample of one of the Petit Pain just a tad earlier...that's why there are only 5 buns in the picture below!



It was Delicious! The crust was crusty while the inside was soft, but not too soft. It had a lovely fresh taste and The Lovely Wife thought it was fantastic! First time - EVER - that she has thought my bread was any good!

The guests loved the bread as well and the true test was that my darling son enjoyed the bread. Whats so special about that? He usually doesn't like bread!!

So thank you Mary and Sara for this wonderful challenge and it was DEFINITELY something that I would not have made if not for the Daring Bakers. I doubt I would make this again, simply because it just takes too long but at least I know I CAN make it and that is something special for me. I also know that I can now act all cocky and 'condemn' French Bread from commercial bakery's - not that I WOULD do that, but knowing that I CAN is what I like!! :)



I also learnt a fair bit... and I really love learning new things! Not only did I learn about Julia Child, but I also picked up a little French and also enhanced my baking repertoire. Only problem is, I'm not sure if I made a Batard or a Ficelle. More troublesome than that is that I learnt that Batard means Bastard in French since the Batard is the bastardised form of a Baguette! Even MORE troubling is that when I was trying to find a picture of a Ficelle on Google Images, the search result for Ficelles (with an s, yes!) showed me pictures of scantily clad women!! Apparently Ficelle, aside from meaning a demi-baquette, or thin loaf; also means string - thus explaining the scantily clad women wearing strings as undergarments... all very interesting, really.

Finally, a quick check with the Breadchick (After I had completed the challenge) on the reason to fold the dough in such a specific manner led to this explanation. It seems that when you fold the dough in this manner, you are aligning the gluten strands so they build a really strong structure to support the formed bread during the rising and baking process. This is required since this type of bread is baked WITHOUT a loaf pan or support other than the dough itself. So the gluten needs to be really strong. Failure to align the gluten strands means that you wont get such a nicely shaped Baguette or loaf but rather a lumpy, mess.

You just keep learning new things!!

You can find the rest of the Daring Bakers at the Official Daring Bakers Blogroll so please visit them to see how they fared with this challenge.

Thanks again Mary and Sara for this wonderful challenge and this link takes you to the recipe over at Breadchick's!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Neccesity is the mother of Invention!


What do you do when the following hits you all at once:
- you haven't had time to replenish the groceries
- you've spent the better half of the morning playing with the kids
- everyone is hungry, including you!!
- you're contemplating getting some takeout (but thinking twice coz the wallet is empty too!)
- Your kids look at you with their darling puppy dog eyes and ask you oh so sweetly: "Daddy, can you make some of your creamy pasta?"

What to do? Well, like Thomas the Tank Engine, I thought I could.


I knew I had a little leftover cream in the fridge. I searched the cupboards and found some Fettucine. There were also some cans of tuna. What else did I have? I checked the fridge and there was some celery as well as broccoli. Not the ideal combination but at least there were some vegetables. No mushrooms either. I hate it when I don't have mushrooms in my creamy pasta.

Interesting combination and nothing I had ever made using these ingredients. But the kids wanted a creamy pasta and I had to pull something out of the hat.

Okay, so maybe a Pasta Alfredo with Tuna and Broccoli. Sounds interesting and not too difficult. So there it was, Necessity had made me invent this dish. But like all inventions, things had to go wrong. In this case, things didn't really go wrong. There was no plural - just one big, bad one! My cream had gone all sour on me! Rancid too. Bad, just all bad cream. Fortunately though, I checked it before pouring it in so not such a biggie really.

This is what I did:

2 cloves garlic - chopped
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp basil
1 stalk celery - chopped finely
2 cans of tuna (total 360g)
1 broccoli - cut into small florets
250 ml milk
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
2 slices cheddar cheese
salt
black pepper
Olive Oil


Sautee the garlic in a little olive oil. Add in black pepper, oregano and basil and cook till fragrant. Add in the celery, mixing well. Add in the tuna and break up while browning slightly. Add in some water and allow to simmer.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan and add in the flour. Stir quickly to blend the flour and cook till golden. Add in the milk and mix well to incorporate. Cook until mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Add sauce to tuna mixture and add in broccoli. Continue to simmer, mixing well. Break cheese slices into small pieces and add to mix, mixing well.


The kids loved the pasta and to add a little kick, I served it with some Chilli Flakes. Pretty good for something made out of the blue. I think this is another keeper!


I've also submitted this as an entry to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by my lovely friend Ruth over at Onceuponafeast.blogpsot.com. I think PPN just celebrated its 100th week!
Actually, Ruth has just advised me that it is 52 weeks of Presto Pasta Nights and NOT 100!! Sorry about the error on my part...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Rich Fruit Cake



When I posted about this Fruit Cake as part of my Christmas Traditions, little did I know that the post would generate so much interest! There have been many requests for the recipe and I must admit that the reason I didn't post the recipe originally was because
a) The Recipe is kind off long and somewhat unclear
b) My mother actually made the cake while The Lovely Wife and I only assisted
c) It was busy around Christmas time and I was just plain lazy to dig out the recipe...
So anyway, for all of you that requested for the recipe, for all those that didn't request for the recipe but who may be interested, for all those that really don't care one way or another... Here is the recipe for the famous Navaratnam Rich Fruit Cake!

As I mentioned in the story of this cake the measurements are not exact as they use 'archaic' measurements like 1 wine glass, 1/2 bottle etc. To aid you, the bottle for the essence are the small 2-3 inch high bottles - much like a miniature liquor bottle. Also the wine glasses are the kind my Grandmother had which are actually Sherry glasses. This would convert to about 2 -3 Tbsps. As for the spices, these are dependant on your taste and as such, no measurements are specified. I have left the original recipe intact.

Ingredients:
A.
1 lb sugar
1 lb butter
1 lb sujee (semolina)
24 eggs - separated
3/4 bottle Vanilla Essence
1/2 bottle Rose Essence
Almond Essence (optional)
1 wine glass Honey
1 wine glass Brandy
Ground Cinnamon
Ground nutmeg
Allspice
1-2 tbsps cornflour


B.
1 lb golden raisins
1 lb sultanas
1 lb cashew nuts
1 lb cherries
1 lb pumpkin preserve
1 lb ginger preserve
1/2 lb candied peel
200g slivered almonds
1 bottle plum jam or mixed fruit jam
4 tbsps Brandy

Method
1. Cut up all fruits and nuts and mix together with 1 teas vanilla essence, 1 teas rose essence, 1 tsp each of Cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice + 4 tbsps brandy. Cover tightly and let marinate overnight or for a few days until ready for step 2.

2. Cream butter and sugar. Add in the egg yolks one at a time. Continue to beat.
3. Warm the sujee in the oven or in a large pan or wok. Add the warmed sujee to the cream mixture. Mix well
4. Add the fruits a little at a time and mix well. Add in cornflour
5. Add essence (dependant on your taste), spices, honey and brandy
6. Finally whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add in about half the egg white - till you get the right consistency. This is when a spoonful of the mixture lifted up drops slowly.
7. Pour into a lined rectangular cake tin and bake in a preheated 180C oven for 40 mins. Then reduce temperature to 150C and bake for another 40 minutes till cake is done. If top of cake browns to fast, cover the top with a cardboard.

Note: Line tins with 3-4 layers of newspaper before lining with greaseproof paper.

So there you have it!

Good luck to everyone that tries to make this recipe. It is Definitely a lot of hard work but the resultant cake is really quite spectacular, and as its name suggests, it really is a Rich Fruit Cake!


Thursday, 21 February 2008

Baked Chocolate Mousse


This is an original creation that I came up with for my Daughter's 4th Birthday. I had been wondering for a while what would happen if I used Chocolate and used it to make a sort of Chocolate Pudding, much like how I would make a Creme Caramel - minus the caramel of course. I decided that I had just better stop wondering and try it out.

The more I thought about it and the more I ran the idea through my head, I figured that the recipe had all the ingredients for a Chocolate Mousse although I wouldnt separate the eggs. I also thought that I would probably need to add some flour into the mix to stabilise it. This is what I came up with.

Ingredients
200g Good Quality Dark Chocolate
4 eggs
200g Caster Sugar
300 ml Thickenend Cream
3 Tbsps Corn Flour

Method
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler and let cool. Meanwhile, beat eggs with sugar till nice and foamy. Add in the melted chocolate and continue beating till nicely incorporated. In a separate bowl, whip cream to soft peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture and then add in sifted corn flour. Mix well to incorporate. Pour into a 9" round pan and place in a water bath. Bake in 180C oven for about 30 minutes.

The top of the dessert formed a slight crust and then I let it cool before placing it in the fridge overnight. I didn't realise however that I could have a problem removing it from the pan to plate it!! In hindsight, it would have been better to use a springform pan. Nonetheless, I used a hairdryer to warm the sides and base of the pan and fortunately the dessert slipped out nicely.

I didnt have a flat enough plate so the dessert cracked a little and that is why I dusted it with some Snow Powder. I think it gave it a nice look anyway.




How did it taste? Heavenly! It was simply delicious and tasted like a mix between Rich Chocolate Ice Cream and a Mousse. The texture was velvety yet firm - almost like a cheesecake.


What I might do differently the next time is maybe add a teaspoon of baking powder to see if it becomes lighter. I'd also more than likely either line the pan with greaseproof paper or maybe make a base of biscuits. Whatever it is, this is simply a fantastic dessert for Chocolate Lovers!

The only thing that remained was what to call this. Since I went into it with just a foggy idea of what I wanted, I never bothered to think about what to call it - I wasn't even sure if it would turn out alright. Everyone loved it and they all wanted to know what it was called. So, since it tastes like a chocolate mousse, and since its baked what better name to call it than simply a Baked Chocolate Mousse! I think I have definitely hit on a winner here!



Monday, 18 February 2008

Pinata Birthday Cake




My little princess celebrated her 4th Birthday on the 17th! She likes Dora the Explorer but she wasn't sure what cake she wanted. I had practically decided on decorating a cake with Dora when The Lovely Wife reminded me of the Pinata Cake Idea that I had for my son's birthday last year. Since I made him a Pirate Cake instead of using the Pinata Cake idea last year, I decided that I would incorporate the Pinata idea into a Dora the Explorer theme for Sarah's cake!

This cake took a bit of planning. What I envisaged was a dome of chocolate that would act as a mountain. The dome would be filled with candies and chocolates. This would be placed in the centre of the cake and the lower half iced in green - as grass; and the top half iced in blue with white speckles - as the sky with clouds. I would then place a Dora toy on the cake as if Dora was really exploring!!

The Dora toy took a bit of finding. Sarah had a small Dora set but that was in a Cowgirl theme that didnt quite fit in with the overall scheme of things. After much searching, I finally found a Dora and Diego toy set - which was fortunate as Sarah likes Diego too! So with my props ready, I was now prepared to make the cake.

What I did first was to make the chocolate dome. This took a few tries as initially I just swirled melted chocolate into a steel mixing bowl. Problem was that the chocolate was too thin to unmould from the bowl. I tried to make it thicker with multiple coats but it just wouldn't unmould. So... I lined the bowl with Aluminium Foil, then swirled melted chocolate into it over and over and over again till I got a nice thick shell. While I was busy swirling, I was trying to figure out how to keep the goodies in and thought that I had best make a base for the dome. This was easily achieved by tracing the base of the bowl on to greaseproof paper and then spreading melted chocolate on the paper to harden. I then placed the dome and the base into the freezer to harden nicely.

With the dome all prepared, I then baked the cake and iced it as I had planned - green for the grass and blue with white for the sky. I left a spot in the middle of the cake bare as I knew that Chocolate dome would sit there.

When the dome was nice and hard, I peeled off the Aluminium foil and noticed that it gave a nice rippled effect. It was now time to fill the shell and I filled it with miniature chocolates, Smarties, Candies and chocolate coins. I then covered the dome with the base and piped in melted chocolate to seal the dome and cover any empty spaces between the base and the dome. The Pinata was now complete and I put it back in the freezer just to make sure it didnt soften in the hot weather.

Just before taking the cake out for the Birthday Girl, I arranged the dome on the cake together with the Dora and Diego toys. I also arranged some plastic trees around the dome/mountain.



Sarah was thrilled with the cake!



We sang Happy Birthday before she broke the Pinata Cake with a toy hammer from her brother's old Play-Doh set.


The 'mountain' was fairly hard to crack but after a few good whacks, Sarah managed to make the mountain come tumbling down!


All her cousins- and even her uncle (my eldest brother!) started grabbing for the 'treasure' that tumbled out of the Pinata.



After tidying up the 'treasure' we put some candles on the cake and sang Happy Birthday again!




This cake was a lot of fun to make and even better was seeing how much fun my little princess had with it! There was also a whole heap of other goodies like Chocolate Brownies, Currypuffs, Spicy Sausages and even an original recipe that I tried out just for her birthday - a special, special chocolate dessert - but I'll keep all that for future posts.

Happy Birthday Sarah!


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Daily Tiffin - Decorating Cakes


In this episode of the Daily Tiffin I try to explain how to decorate cakes - more specifically, Birthday Cakes!

I share with you my experiences in decorating the Birthday Cakes that I've made for my children together with photographs. It's really not all that difficult and once you've practiced a few times, you sort of get the hang of it!

Each cake in the montage above can be seen in more detail, complete with an explanation of how it was done, when you read the full article over at the Daily Tiffin!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Fish, Vegetable and Rice Casserole


I've often wondered what exactly constitutes a casserole. I was led to believe that a casserole was a meal that was fully cooked in an oven - that is with no precooking allowed. I've learnt over the years though, that a casserole is actually the name for the 'container' used to cook AND serve it in. It is also a most versatile dish - both as in dish the meal and dish the container (Ha Ha!)

You can make a casserole by pre-cooking some ingredients and then finish it off by baking or mix up all the raw ingredients and then cook it in the oven. So, really, anything and everything that is cooked and served in a casserole dish, qualifies as a casserole! I bet I've only served to confuse you more....

But hey, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "That which we call a casserole, by any other name would taste just as delicious!"


My first exposure to casserole was this fantastic Macaroni Tuna Pasta that my mother used to make. We all thought it was a pasta dish but Mom called it a Tuna Casserole. And that was when I first learnt of such a word.

I've learnt to make Mom's Tuna Casserole (I like to think I've improved on it!) and I'll probably post about it another time. This post though is about a Fish and Rice Casserole that I tried out for the very first time recently.

Often, I find that I need to come up with a new recipe simply because the kids are hungry and the fridge is not quite as well stocked as we thought it was. That was basically what happened recently!

I had some frozen Dory Fish and some carrots and broccoli. There was also some tomato and half a block of cheddar. So, I decided to throw them all together and make a Fish and Rice Casserole.

As usual, no real recipe but more of a guideline. That's how I like it as I think the best food is when you experiment and play around with the ingredients.

2 cups rice - washed
3 cups water - for cooking the rice
1 large onion - sliced
4 cloves garlic = chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sage
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
800g Dory Fish - cubed
1 small head of broccoli - cut into small florets
2 medium carrots - diced
2 large tomatoes - thinly sliced
200g Cheddar cheese - grated
Black Pepper
Salt

Method
Cook the rice in a rice cooker or in a pot over the stove.
Sautee the onions and garlic together with the Oregano, sage, rosemary leaves and Black Pepper. Add in the cubed Dory and season with some salt. Mix well and allow to simmer until Dory is cooked. Add in the carrots and simmer till carrots are soft then add in the broccoli. Mix well. Season with more salt and pepper as required.
Add the rice into the pan and mix well. Spoon into a rectangular casserole dish and press down, smoothening the top. Cover rice with half of the cheese and then cover with the sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle remaining cheese over tomatoes and bake in a preheated 190C oven for about 20 mins or till cheese is melted and tomatoes are slightly wrinkled.


The kids really enjoyed this dish (the food and not the container -Ha Ha!) and the Lovely Wife kept asking what I had done to make it so tasty. I think the secret is simply that the flavours from the vegetables and fish all meld together so nicely and it soaks into the rice as well.




Friday, 8 February 2008

Tiramisu - Take Two



Yes, yes, I know I've posted about my Tiramisu before but if you read carefully, it says Take Two! I've realised that life is a series of never ending quests to continuously improve. So, even if I think I have hit on the perfect recipe for something, there's no harm in trying to see if you can further improve on it or maybe just have a second or alternative recipe!




I personally think my Tiramisu recipe is superb. So what prompted me to try something new? I blame in on Anna Olson of the Sugar TV cooking show. There I was, just whiling away an uneventful evening when I stumbled upon Anna hosting the Sugar show. She was making a Tiramisu and I scoffed and was about to change the channel when I noticed she was mixing the cheese with Sabayon. That caught my attention and I decided to continue watching.

That night, I had to do a search to find out the difference between Sabayon and Zabaglione. Same thing I learnt, just different origins and language. One French the other Italian. To complicate things further, it is also known as Zabaione. So take your pick - they all refer to the same thing!

For those that have never heard of either, a Sabayon is basically egg yolks, sugar and some alcohol whipped over simmering water to produce a lovely custard like substance.

That was when I decided I would try to make some changes to my Tiramisu recipe. First, I was going to add some Sabayon to it. This also meant that I would have to adjust my liquor content as well as the sugar content. So I did.

I also decided I would change the presentation of my Tiramisu. Although I am a firm believer that Tiramisu MUST be served scooped out of the bowl, I just wanted to see what it would be like if I turned it out of the container and served it as a long rectangular cake - like some restaurants do.

This is my recipe for Tiramisu - Take Two

Ingredients
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup creme de Cacao (choc Liqueur)
5 tsps castor sugar
250 g Cream Cheese
400 ml Thickened Cream (Unsweetened)
1 tbsp Icing Sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 ½ Tbsp instant coffee powder
¼ cup Rum
½ Cup cold water
Cocoa Powder for dusting
1 Packet Savoiardi (Sponge Fingers)

Method

First make the Sabayon. Place the eggs, sugar and choc liqueur in a heatproof bowl. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water. Dont let the bottom of pan touch the water. Whisk with an electric beater till mixture is thick and pale, leaving a small trail when beaters are lifted. (about 10 mins)
Remove bowl from heat and continue whisking for another few minutes. Place in fridge.
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 into coffee.
Mix Sabayon with cream cheese till smooth. Fold in cream and mix well till incorporated.
Line a rectangular pan with plastic wrap (only do this if you are not planning to scoop out the dessert.)
Smoothen a thin layer of Cheese mixture on to the bottom of pan. Dip Savoiardi fingers in half the coffee mixture and place fingers over cheese 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
Turn the pan over on to a rectangular serving plate and then unmould. Remove plastic wrap carefully from cake.
Dust Cocoa powder over the top of dessert before serving.

The Lovely Wife loved it and so did the kids. But they also love the original version, so where does that leave me? Well, I think this version is slightly creamier and richer due in no small part to the eggs.

As for the presentation, I think it is best served Scooped out of the dish. Now where have I heard that from before? Oh, it's what I always insist on.....



Since this version is a little bit more complicated to make, I would probably stick to my usual recipe but may switch to this variation if I ever had to 'explain' my Tiramisu. I mean, "I make a Sabayon and then mix it with softened Cheese..." certainly has a much nicer ring to it. And of course, no one has to know that I don't use Mascarpone...!!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Fusion Beggar's Chicken


I somehow find that food that has a story to it not only makes it seem more interesting but it always seems to taste better too! Beggar's Chicken is a dish that is steeped in legend. I've got no idea if it is true or false but it makes for an interesting story if nothing else. It's also a rather spectacular dish to serve for a dinner party. It doesn't really look spectacular but it's special because of the way it is served and presented. You'll understand what I mean as you read on.

Legend has it that a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Oh Sorry. That's Star Wars. Let's try again. A long time ago in China, there was a beggar who was desperately hungry. He passed by a farm and stole a chicken. As he had no cooking pots or utensils, he wrapped the bird in lotus leaves. He then wrapped the package with mud and clay. By this stage the farm guards had been notified of the theft and were alerted by the nearby smoke from the open fire - a sure sign that someone was cooking the bird. The ingenious beggar buried the chicken in the earth under the fire. When the guards appeared, the beggar claimed innocence and with no chicken as evidence, they let the beggar go free.

When the coast was clear, the beggar unearthed the package and cracked open the hardened clay. To his delight, he was rewarded with a delectably tender chicken that, after hours of stewing inside the lotus leaves, was incredibly tasty.

I've tasted this dish many times at Chinese Restaurants and although I've always been fascinated with this dish, I've never quite liked how 'herby' the dish tastes. I also never thought that it was something that could be replicated at home.

I did some research on the web and found that instead of using clay, you could use a dough to simulate clay. I also learnt that some recipes advocate using parchment paper in the absence of lotus leaves. In retrospect, I would use Aluminium Foil

I decided to try to make Beggar's Chicken. This recipe is loosely based on various methods found on the web and with my own flavours.

My version is more of a Fusion Chicken as I stuffed my chicken with sausages, chopped apples, rosemary and red dates. The chicken itself is seasoned with a mixture of sesame oil, ground ginger, soy sauce and five spice powder.

This is my recipe with hindsight added!

Ingredients
1 large chicken (about 1.5kg)
2 tsps turmeric
1 inch ginger - pounded
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soya sauce
1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
4 sausages - sliced in rounds
1 large green apple - diced
5-6 dried red dates - cut in large pieces
2 tsp rosemary
Lotus Leaf (to wrap the chicken)
Aluminium Foil (to wrap the chicken too)
salt
black pepper

For the Dough
1kg plain flour
120g salt
3-4 cups Water

Method
Wash the chicken and then rub all over with turmeric before rinsing again. The turmeric helps to clean the chicken nicely. Mix together the oil, soy sauce, 5 spice powder and ginger. Spread this 'paste' liberally all over the chicken. Leave to rest for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, soak the red dates in hot water to rehydrate them. Lightly fry the sausages with rosemary and season with a little salt and pepper. Mix in the apples and dates and then stuff into the chicken. Close the cavity with some toothpicks.

If using Lotus Leaf, this is when you would wrap the chicken. Then cover the lotus leaf with Aluminium Foil, making sure it is properly sealed so no liquid leaks out. Let rest.

Now comes the fun part! Mix together the flour, salt and just enough water to make an elastic dough. You won't be eating the bread so don't worry too much about the consistency. Once you have a nice dough, roll it out to form a large square or rectangle. Again, don't worry too much about the shape. You can even divide the dough and roll out two pieces. Cover the package with the dough and seal the ends. Make sure ends are sealed.

You now have a large doughlike package. Place this into a large baking tray and bake in a preheated 220C oven for about 1 hour then reduce to 200C and bake for another 40 minutes. Remove the dough from the oven. It will be hard and crusty.



This is where it gets spectacular! The idea, at least in my mind, is to serve it like this and then to crack it open in front of your guests! Better still, get them involved in the opening of the package. My kids had the honour of cracking open the package and they had a whale of a time trying to do it!




The kids however didn’t quite manage to break open the crust and I had to cut it open with a knife. That's why you see a piece of the chicken with a hole in it!! This wouldn't have happened if I had used Aluminium Foil to wrap the chicken rather than just wax paper.



After removing all the crust, remove the package containing the chicken and place on to a serving dish. Open up the package carefully as there will be steam and enjoy the lovely aroma that bursts out.



The meat was delightfully tender and basically fell off the bone. As I mentioned, I made the mistake of wrapping it in parchment paper so a lot of the juices soaked through the dough and was wasted. Lesson learnt for next time!




Monday, 4 February 2008

The Apron Has Landed!

All Hail the Queen!


As most of you know, my lovely friend Jenn, the Leftover Queen hosts a monthly cooking challenge, called the Royal Foodie Joust, where 3 ingredients are chosen and you have to cook something that includes all three ingredients. The winner gets a personalised apron.

I was fortunate enough to win the January Joust with this entry and I eagerly awaited the apron. Since I live in Malaysia, Jenn had to get the apron sent to her first and then she forwarded it on to me. So much trouble for our beloved Queen. The apron is emblazoned with the winning logo for the month as well as the name of your blog and the winning dish.

I had asked Jenn to send the Apron to my Mom's address since there is always someone at home there. I was so excited to have won the Joust and everyone was eagerly waiting for the package to arrive. So when my mom called to say that the package had arrived, we didn't waste much time in hurrying over. It helps that my parents only live about 15 minutes away!

Jenn had not only sent the apron to me but a lovely handwritten note as well! Thanks Jenn! She specifically asked for some photos so I thought I'd better bow to her wishes lest I offend Her Royal Highness.

The apron is lovely and is fully length adjustable. It even has two pockets at the base of the apron to put things into - maybe some spoons, a towel or maybe even a hammer and some nails if you want to multi-task!

My Dad thought the apron was fantastic and he reckons I should just hang it up in the hall for everyone to admire or better yet to just frame it up!!! He thinks that I won some Big International Cooking Competition and of course I did nothing to set him straight!

I had planned to take a picture of me wearing the apron with my kids on either side of me, pointing to the logo but I think they make much better models! As you can see, they had a great time posing for the pictures and I'm hoping that this will just spur them on to take an even greater interest in food and cooking.



I have to apologise to The Queen for taking so long to post pictures but better late than never right!

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