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Saturday, 29 December 2007

Love Cake - Christmas Tradition 2

Yet another cake that surfaces at Christmas time is the Love Cake. This cake is basically a semolina cake with lots and lots of cashew nuts and spices thrown in together with rose essence and brandy. It is quite a lovely cake but is rather time consuming to make. Just like the Fruit Cake I have helped my mother make it many, many times but have never done it myself. The Lovely Wife of course has taken over this tradition and true to form, I still help in making the cake!

No one has been able to give me a sensible answer as to why it is called a Love Cake. It has its roots in Sri Lanka and is apparently adapted from Portugese cuisine. My family has had Love Cake for Christmas for as long as I can remember and I also recall that my mother used to cut it into small squares as it was best eaten in small pieces that you could readily pop into your mouth!

My mother's recipe uses a lot of Honey and results in a slightly stickier and moister cake. My wife favours the recipe that was passed down by my Paternal grandmother and we have all wised up on her measurements!

Aside from the differences in measuring cups (rememember my Grandmother used Non Standard Wine Glasses for her alcohol measures!), this recipe uses 'arbitary' measurements like 6 or more egg whites. Hmmm....

There is also a lot left out of the recipe such as the consistency required as the recipe, as given, simply says add egg whites. So, how many egg whites are you really supposed to use if the quantity specified is 6 or more? Maybe 22 egg whites?? Hehehehehe.

So anyway, since I have the benefit of having watched many, many Love Cakes being made over the years, I now reproduce for you my Grandmother's Love Cake Recipe - and simplified and explained as best I can:

1 lb semolina
1 lb Cashew nuts
1 1/2 lbs Caster Sugar
12 egg yolks
6-8 egg whites (see? I'm a bit more specific!)
3/4 lb butter
1/8 cup rose essence
1/8 cup brandy
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinammon
2 tsp vanilla essence

*Note, you can add in more brandy, essence and spices as your tastes dictate

Mince cashews or chop finely. Warm the semolina in the oven and them mix in the softened butter.
Cream sugarand egg yolks together until light and creamy. Add in chopped cashew nuts to the mixture. Add in the semolina mix and mix well. Add in the brandy, essence and spices.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and slowly add to the mixture, folding in gently. Add enough egg whites so the mixture gets to dropping consistency.
Double Line (use two sheets of greaseproff paper) and grease a 12x12" tin (or similar size). Pour and smoothen mixture into pan and bake in a preheated 180C oven for 1 to 1.5 hours or till done. The cake will have a crusty top and moist center.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Fruit Cake - a Christmas Tradition

At Christmas time, one of the cakes that we always look forward to is the Fruit Cake or as my aunts and my mother call it - Rich Cake - simply because it is quite decadent.

The recipes all come from my Grandmother but each of her four daughters and one daughter-in-law (my Mother of course!) somehow have made their own variations as they all turn out differently. I, of course, am partial to my Mother's Fruit Cake and swear it is the best.

The difference with this Fruit Cake, as compared to other kinds of Fruit Cake, is that it is made with Sujee (Semolina). Lots of fruits and nuts go into this cake as well as lots and lots of Brandy!

Now although I have helped my mother make this cake many, many, many (can I emphasise how often!!) times, I've never ever made it myself. And quite frankly, I don't ever intend to. It just takes too much blasted trouble!

The Lovely Wife however, HAS made this cake herself. In fact, the first Christmas after we were married, she decided she would take the plunge and make this cake. She obtained the recipe from my mother and proceeded to cut the fruits and nuts and marinate said fruits in alcohol for a few days.

One evening, as I walked in the door, the smell of Brandy cut through my perpetually clogged sinuses. My wife was busy mixing the cake mixture and I did a doouble take when I noticed my prized XO brandy was substantially reduced.

"How much brandy did you put into the cake?" I asked The Lovely Wife.
"Your Grandmother's recipe says two wine glasses so I used two wine glasses." she said, very confidently.

I couldn't help but burst out laughing (even though part of me was still crying at the drastic reduction in my Brandy supply). You see, my grandmother's recipes use traditional measurements like tea-cups and wine glasses, rather than the more precise measuring tools we use today. The so called wine glasses referred to in my Grandmother's recipe were actually Sherry or Port glasses - very small as compared to the TWO FULL RED WINE GLASSES The Lovely Wife had used!

Yes, the cake was a very, very tipsy cake that year!

This year, The Lovely Wife and I helped my Mother baked the Christmas Fruit Cake. We actually baked it early to coincide with my elder brother's wedding in early December. The cake keeps a remarkably long time due to the high sugar content as well as the high Brandy content.

A very special cake indeed and you can never stop at just one piece. It somehow keeps calling at you "I'm here, I'm here, have another piece..." And you usually have more than just two pieces.

Here's wishing each and everyone of you a very Blessed and Happy Christmas with lots of love from this part of the world!

Note: The Recipe was posted later.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Yule Log or Bûche de Noël

The Daring Bakers go all Christmasy this time around and the blogosphere will be inundated with Yule Logs! Our lovely hosts for this challenge are none other than the founders of the Daring Bakers themselves, so please, a big hand to the Fabulous Duo, Lis and Ivonne. Yaaayyy!

I've heard of a Yule Log before but have never attempted to make one. The closest I've come to a Yule Log previously is making my Chocolate Cake in the shape of a log. Not quite the same!

When I saw the recipe, I didn't worry too much. I mean the recipe looked fairly straightforward. Not simple, no, I never said that. I said straightforward. I mean the Bûche de Noël was really just made up of a few different components:
A filled and rolled Genoise (what we call a Swiss Roll over in these parts)
ButterCream Icing
Meringue Mushrooms.

The problem though was that I had never successfully baked a Swiss Roll. Then I read the recipe for the Buttercream Icing and noticed that it needed Egg Whites. Huh? The buttercream I was used to was just butter and icing sugar and maybe a little water or milk. Lis and Ivonne must SURELY have made a mistake somewhere. But no, there was no mistake. Apparently this kind of Buttercream is a Swiss Buttercream. Seems like the Swiss are everywhere in this recipe - what with the Swiss Roll and now the Swiss Buttercream.

The only part I was really sure of was the Meringue Mushrooms. I've made Meringues many, many times without any problems.

So anyway, I read and re-read the recipe and tried to find time to take up the challenge. December is always a busy, busy month and the fact that this month's post was going to be a week earlier than normal (due to Christmas, of course) meant there was even less time.

Thankfully I found time on the 20th which coincided with a Public Holiday in Malaysia. Just as well too because the Lovely Wife and I would have to start on the Cookies, Chocolate Cake and all the other cakes for Christmas.

I decided to make the Meringue Mushrooms the night before (19th) and my kids were around to help me beat the egg whites. They watched in amazement as I piped out little circles and then curly stems. In my mind I wanted curvy 'L' shaped mushroom stems to resemble Wild Mushrooms rather than the straight up kind you get from cultivated mushrooms.

To clarify a point, the kids were only amazed because I had explained I was making mushrooms and the two little darling couldn't quite fathom how these round shapes and squiggles that Daddy was piping out could turn into mushrooms.

When the meringues came out of the oven and I stuck the stems into the caps, my son exclaimed. "Ohh! You mix the long bits with the circles and get mushrooms! Now I understand."

But this is where I started to lose my own understanding! Every time I have made meringues before, I take them out of the oven and let them cool a little to get perfect, crispy meringues. This time, since we had to bake them again after fastening the stems into the caps, I noticed that they softened in the oven but quickly firmed up again once cool. It was also at this point that I realised that my meringues would probably not stay crispy as it is just too blasted HUMID in this country isn't it! See, further proof that if the apple had fallen on my head instead of Newton's, I'd have just eaten it.....and then wondered two years down the line why it had fallen. Oh well. I could always bake it and dry it out again the next day. No big drama though, the mushrooms looked really good!

The next morning, I woke up early and as per Helene's (Tartellete's) advice on the DB blog, I let my butter thaw till it was really soft and 'smooshy'. The Genoise went of surprisingly quick and as per the recipe, as soon as the Genoise was in the oven, I started on the Buttercream. I had pretty much decided earlier on that I would make a Chocolate-Coffee (Mocha)Buttercream. This turned out to be a good decision because in hindsight, I don't think I heated the eggwhite long enough. I didn't have any curdling problems but the icing was just a little runny.

Nothing that some melted chocolate mixed with coffee powder couldn't solve though! After adding the chocolate, the icing was still a little runny but I used some of it to fill the cake. Then I rolled the cake and stuck it in the fridge.

I was actually amazed how well the cake turned out and how nicely it rolled up. No cracks! Hooray for me! The Lovely Wife is especially happy that I can make Swiss Rolls now as she just loves them.

The icing was still runny so I stuck the bowl in an ice bath and after more whipping, the icing started to become thick and glossy and looked almost like a chocolate mousse. It was delicious too but I felt it was a little sweet! I pulled the cake out of the fridge and slathered the buttercream all over it. I was almost tempted to take a bite out of it, the log looked so good! I drew little bark lines using a fork and I thought the log looked pretty darn real! I only wish I had filled the inside of the cake with the thick, mousse like icing rather than the thin stuff. But that's okay, it gave a contrasting effect and seemed intended rather than just happening by chance!

While I left the icing to set on the cake, I put the meringue mushrooms back into the oven again and then once they were cool, I stuck them on the cake to take all my photos.

I let my kids polish off the mushrooms as I knew they would get soft again and wouldn't last till night when we had invited some friends and family over for a Christmas dessert night.

The verdict? The log was very tasty but I thinks that overall it was a tad too sweet.

I think it would have been even sweeter if I had left out the chocolate as I used dark chocolate in my buttercream . Nonetheless, it was still a very nice cake and I especially liked how it looked! The kids loved it and they were rather tickled by how realistic the log looked!

Merry Christmas everybody!

Check out the rest of the fabulous (and ever growing!) team at the Daring Bakers Blogroll

This is the recipe as given. (The only allowed change I made was to add some Chocolate into the buttercream):

Yule Log from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection

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 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.

Filling and frosting the 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.

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.
4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Chicken Pilaf / Briyani

Hail the Queen! Jenn, the Leftover Queen, organises a monthly Royal Foodie Joust where 3 ingredients are selected by the previous months winner. This month, the 3 ingredients were selected by last month's winner, Emeline of Sugar Plum. She chose to challenge us with :

Interesting choice of ingredients and something that me ponder long and hard over what to make. Should I go savoury or should I go sweet? I decided to take the path of a Savoury dish and made a Chicken Pilaf or some would call it a Chicken Briyani.
But first some history.....

What is the difference between a Briyani and a Pilaf. And for that matter, what's the difference between a Pilaf and a Pulao? Well firstly, Pulao is of Persian origin while Pilaf is the Indian name for the same type of dish. So basically, Pulao and Pilaf are the same thing.
Briyani (some spell it Biryani) and Pulao/Pilaf are a little different. Pulao is supposed to be where the meat and rice are stirred and cooked together. Briyani is supposedly where the rice and meat are layered and then baked in a special pot.
So, I'm not really sure what this dish should be because I cooked the rice and meat separately, but then stirred them together before baking it for a while. I guess that because I didn't the meat and rice, this would technically be a Pilaf.
Maybe I should just make it east and call it an Indian Paella!! Funny though isn't it how Pulao, Pilaf and Paella are all rice dishes with meat and cooked similarly (not the same, just similar).
So, how did I make this Chicken Pilaf? Well, having never attempted this dish before and faced with the challenge of using all the three different ingredients, as usual I winged it! This is what I did.

3 cups of basmati / fragrant rice
4.5 cups water
2 tsp turmeric
5 cloves
2 bay leaves
sprinkle of salt
3 handfuls of Fresh Pomegranate Seeds (1 fruit provides more than ample seeds)

1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1 inch ginger - ground into paste
500g Chicken Breast
3 tsp currypowder
1 tsp chilli powder
8 mint leaves - chopped
3 tsps yoghurt
1 large eggplant - cubed
150 gm brown mushrooms - sliced
100 gm Pistachios - chopped
Black Pepper

First, cut open the pomegranade and removed the seeds. Set aside. As you can see, my daughter was a real helper and she enjoyed removing the seeds!

wash the rice and then lightly fry the turmeric, cloves and bay leaves in some oil. Add in the rice and mix well till fragrant. Place rice in a rice-cooker or pot and add in two handfuls of pomegranate seeds. Cook the rice in a rice cooker (or stovetop) with the 4.5 cups water.

Cut chicken into large cubes. Season with salt, pepper and ground ginger paste. Sautee Onions and garlic and then add in curry powder and chilli powder and cook well being careful not to let it burn.

Add in sliced mushrooms and cook till tender then add in the eggplant. Continue to cook adding in some water if necessary. Add in 2/3 of the chopped mint leaves and continue to simmer.

Once rice is cooked, mix the rice together with the cooked chicken. Place chicken pilaf into a casserole dish and garnish with remaining mint leaves as well as chopped pistachios and another handful of pomegranade seeds. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 mins in a 180C oven

The result was a really tasty Chicken Pilaf that the kids and wife really enjoyed. The pomegranate gave the pilaf a light fruity taste every time you bit into one while the pistachios offered a lovely crunchiness. The mint had that nice subtle flavour that went really well with everything else.

I really enjoyed the Royal Joust this time around. Thanks to Emeline for the interesting choice of ingredients!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Oatmeal Biscuits / Oatmeal Cookies

Baking is always a lot of fun but baking with the Children is so much More Fun! The Lovely Wife is the Cookie expert in the house. Sure, I make cookies too but with far less frequency than the wife. This is partly due to my impatience with having to shape / drop the cookies on to the trays and then bake them in many batches. But I do so love to whip up a cookie mix and then leave the baking to someone else!!

Incidentally, did you know that in Commonwealth countries, cookies are actually known as biscuits while in the USA, biscuits refer to a type of bread - most commonly small breads made without yeast, also know as quickbreads. As language has evolved, cookie generally refers to the softer, chewy kind of biscuit.

In my home however, we use the term biscuit and cookie interchangeably whereas by right, it should be Biscuit, since we have a colonial past, speak English (rather than American!) use Metric measurements, drive on the left side of the road and spell using the British system( you know colour, organise, centre... to name just a few). Nonetheless with the influence of television, I can't very well tell my kids that the Cookie Monster should be the Biscuit Monster can I? Then it would have to be "B is for Biscuit, good enough for me.." rather than "C is for cookie, good enough for me...."

Heck! Even I grew up on Sesame Street and the Cookie Monster. I used to wonder from a very early age what the difference between cookies and biscuits are and coulnd't really accept that it was just a language/cultural thing. I then used to wonder why we eat Beef instead of Cow, Pork instead of Pig but we eat Lamb, Chicken and Duck.

This explains why I still spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the unnecessary. My friends and relatives still make fun of me for this reason but I see nothing wrong with an inquisitive mind and this inquisitiveness seems to have rubbed of a little on my two kids. I guess it's true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Anyway, getting back on track, these biscuits were made by my wife and kids back in November. My son loves taking biscuits for his snack time at kindergarten and he loves nothing better than Mummy's home made biscuits.

Interesting story. Early in the year, he took some of my Chocolate Brownies to kindergarten and shared some with his teacher and classmates. The teacher asked my son "The brownies are very nice, did Mummy make them?" My son replied that it was actually Daddy that made the brownies and that Daddy is the one that makes the cakes at home.

A few weeks later, my son started to take the Lovely Wifes home made biscuits to kindy for his snack time. The teacher then asked him "Did Daddy make these too?". My son explained that Mummy made the biscuits and not Daddy. The teacher then quipped "Oh, so Mummy has become clever now."

The story is much funnier when it's told in person and even more so when my son tells it......

Anyhoo. These are the Oatmeal Cookies the Lovely Wife likes to make and that the kids love to eat. This is the first time that they helped in the making of the biscuits and they had a lot of fun with it.

The recipe comes from Le Cordon Bleu Home Collection - Biscuits. The Lovely Wife loves the Cordon Bleu collection and the recipe is as follows:

125g plain flour
1/2 tsp sodium bicarbonate
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
100g brown sugar
125g castor sugar
125g unsalted butter
1 egg lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp grated orange rind
160g rolled oats
125g raisins

Preheat oven to 180C. Line baking trays with bakingpaper. Sift together flour, sodium bicarb, bakingpowder and salt.
Cream together the sugars and butter. Add the egg, vanilla and milk and beat till smooth. Sift in the sifted ingredients and mix well. Stir in grated orange rind, then the oats and raisins.
Scoop up balls of the dough with a tablespoon and drop on the prepared trays. Space them about 5cm apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until just brown.
Remove from baking trays and let cool on a wire rack.

The kids really enjoyed baking cookies and are now looking forward to helping to bake all the cakes and biscuits for Christmas!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Daily Tiffin - Welcoming in the New Year

It's my turn to post again at the Daily Tiffin!

This is my second contribution and this time I talk about Welcoming in the New Year. I've also given some ideas on what to cook for a New Years lunch or dinner together with some photos.

Lastly I've posted a recipe for a Chocolate Biscuit Pudding. This dessert was one of my favourite childhood desserts made by my wonderful Aunty Julie. Although I may have modified the recipe substantially over the years, and now claim it as my own, she really deserves the credit for this delightful dessert!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Baked Dory Fish with Oyster Mushroom

I felt like some fish the other day and to me there is no fish that is easier to make than Dory. I like Dory fillets not only becuase they are easy to cook but also because its the kind of fish I like - with no bones at all!

I decided to keep things very simple this time and just sprinkle a little salt and pepper as well as a little sage and oregano as seasoning. I then baked the fish, wrapped in aluminium foil to seal in the flavours.

I also wanted to try pairing the Dory with Oyster mushrooms so what I did was to stir fry some Oyster Mushrooms with garlic and then placed it on a plate to act as a 'bed' for the fish. This way, I wanted the mushrooms to be eaten together with the fish rather than as a side dish.

Finally, I used the juices that ran out from the fish to make a very light sauce. I just added in about a teaspoon of lemon juice and served this separately. The kids liked the lemon sauce but I dont think it was really needed as the fish paired very nicely with the mushrooms and was delicious on its own.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Beef Nachos

Aaah! Beef Nachos. One of my favourite appetizers to make. I just love the taste medley of corn chips, beef, capsicum and tomatoes all covered in cheese. Most restaurants serve their Nacho's individually meaning each corn chip is covered with meat and cheese while the tomatoes and in some cases avocado and sour cream are provided as condiments.

I prefer to throw mine all together and then scoop them out with a spoon and dump it on a plate. Then use your fingers to enjoy the goodness while licking your lips (and fingers!) after each mouthful.

My nachos are fairly easy to make and this is the recipe:
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
350g Minced Beef
1 large packet corn chips (In Malaysia, I use Chacho's Cheese flavoured)
250g block of Cheddar Cheese
1 green capsicum - diced
2 -3 tomatoes - diced
Black Pepper

Chop Onions and garlic. Heat oil and fry Oregano and Basil. Add in onions and garlic and fry well. Add in beef and cook till well browned
Layer baking pan with corn chips. Cover with a layer of shredded cheese
Cover with beef then with tomatoes and capsicum followed by cheese.
Repeat and Finish off with layer of shredded cheese
Bake in a 190 oven for 20 minutes of till cheese is melted

Very easy and the Lovely Wife together with kids just adore this! You can substitute the beef for chicken or even lamb. Experiment with different flavoured corn chips if you like or add some mozzarella cheese for more gooey goodness!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Rosemary Chicken Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

I've been putting on a bit of weight and since turning 40, have decided to look after my food intake a little bit more. That kind of implies that I used to look after it before, and that isn't very true! So, I'm going to try to start looking after my food intake and hopefully shed a few kilos in the process.
With that noble thought in mind, last weekend the Lovely Wife and I combined our talents to produce this wickedly delicious dish. We both love the salads that are served at Chillis Restaurants and so we decided to make our own version.

Often at restaurants, the chicken is fried in batter before being cut into strips. In an effort to try and be healthy, I decided I would roast the chicken strips instead. But how to give it lots of flavour?

This is when I decided to sautee some onions to caramelise them. I then threw in some garlic and lots of oregano and basil as well as black pepper. Then I tossed the chicken strips into this mixture, sprinkled it with some salt and layed it out in a baking tray to roast. I roasted the chicken till the juices that came out of the chicken had evaporated but the chicken was lovely, tender and juicy on the inside.

Once the chicken was cooked, the Lovely Wife prepared the salad leaves, capsicum and tomatoes and her lovely, lovely dressing. She has a knack for throwing together the most wonderful salad dressings and this time she didn't disappoint. Her Honey Mustard dressing was really wonderful. Not too thick or creamy either!

We really enjoyed this Chicken Salad and I was quite amazed at how quick and easy it was to throw together. The kids loved it too!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Wholemeal Bread Rolls

This Saturday, I woke up with the yearning to bake some bread. Yes, there's nothing wrong with your eyes and neither have you accidentally gone to another blog. It's true. I suddenly felt the need to bake some bread.
The need wasn't to just bake some bread, but to eat some home baked bread too. I think I am finally understanding that home baked bread tastes so much better, even though it takes a whole lot of work. I think all the recent breadmaking has made me yearn to make more bread and better bread.

So anyway, early Saturday morning, I decided I was going to use the leftover Wholemeal flour that I had from the Daring Bakers challenge to make some Wholemeal bread. I had been looking aroung for a few recipes and found one that didn't look too difficult over at cookitsimply.com.
I halved the recipe and decided to make some rolls rather than a full loaf. I must say that after baking bread a few times, I AM finally getting the hang of it and I do know, intuitively, when enough flour and/or water has been added. This time, I think I did a pretty good job and the rolls turned out rather delicious!
I think I may had added a little too much flour this time because the rolls were not as soft inside as I would have liked. Nonetheless, they were still very, very tasty. I paired the bread with some eggplant dip that I made and it was very well received. The eggplant dip was just two eggplants roasted in the oven and then pureed in the food processor with a little garlic, lemon juice, basil and cayenne pepper.

This is the recipe for the Wholemeal Rolls:

4 cups plain white flour
4 cups wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter

1. Blend the two flours and sift.
2. Add any grist left in sifter to flour.
3. Mix half the flour, the salt and sugar in a warm mixing bowl, stir in yeast.
4. Heat butter or lard with 1 cup water, add remaining water and cool to lukewarm.
5. Add to dry ingredients.
6. Beat 2 minutes on mixer or 300 strokes by hand.
7. Blend in remaining flour and knead to a soft, elastic dough.
8. Allow to double in size, knead, shape and prove a second time.
9. When loaves have risen brush tops with milk and sprinkle on cracked wheat if used.
10. Bake in a moderately hot oven 190-200°C (375-400°F) for 35 to 40 minutes.

Wholemeal bread rolls
1. Divide half the dough into 20 pieces after first proving.
2. Roll each into a ball and place on greased baking trays.
3. Cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
4. Brush with milk and sprinkle with cracked wheat.
5. Bake in a moderately hot oven 190-200°C (375-400°F) for 15 to 20 minutes.
serving amount - makes two loaves

Strangely enough, I had to bake my rolls for about 30 minutes as when I took one out after the allocated time, it was still uncooked inside.
So, it appears that just like with anything, a recipe is NOT foolproof. Oven temperatures differ, flour differs and even environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity seem to make a difference. And I suppose therein lies the secret to making good bread - experience.
I am proud to say that I think I am slowly getting the hang of bread making and am also actually starting to enjoy it.
The best part however was that for the very first time, the lovely wife truly enjoyed my bread. As she devoured the second roll, she smiled at me, battered her eyelids rather coyly and remarked that the rolls were of "restaurant standard!"

Ahhh. One reason less to go out for a meal....!

Friday, 30 November 2007

First Post at The Daily Tiffin

I have posted my first 'article' entitled The Joy of Christmas over at The Daily Tiffin. It's a writeup about Christmas and some ideas on how to get the kids involved at Christmas time as well as what to cook for Christmas Dinner. I also talk a little about the Christmas Traditions in my family over the years and now.

There's also a recipe for Chicken Pie and some pics of the other food ideas for Christmas. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

10,000 and counting!

Woo Hoo!!
This blog has reached 10,000 hits. Who would have thought?
Okay, so 10,000 is really not such a big number if you compare it to the Amazon.com and Martha Stewart or other famous websites/blogs.

But that's exaclty the point. I'm not famous and to me, 10,000 hits in just under a year is pretty special. So I hope you keep coming to visit, and I hope I can sustain your interest as well!

So thank you to everybody for your support thus far!!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes Indeed! It's my 40th Birthday today, the 29th of November 2007. I think it's kind of incredible to be turning 40 because in no way do I feel 40. Okay, Okay, so I've got some grey hairs and my stomach is getting bigger and I've got aches and pains here and there...which I suppose are signs of being 40!

But really, I don't feel 40 - at least not mentally! I kind of wonder where all the time has gone, but there is no denying it. I'm 40 and its great to be 40!

They say that life begins at 40 but I don't know about that. What I do know is that to coincide with my 40th Birthday, I have a few changes happening to my blogging life.

Firstly, you would have noticed the new "Read More...(Expand this post)" text in red. And if you are reading this, you would have figured out that I can now expand and collapse my posts so that I can fit more posts on the screen. And No, I'm not an IT genius. You too can get this widget for blogspot at hackosphere.blogspot.com.

Secondly, it gives me great pleasure to 'announce' that I have been asked to contribute to The Daily Tiffin as a co-administrator for the blog. The Daily Tiffin is the Brainchild of the dynamic Meeta K who is the founder of this blog. Its a blog about family life, food and fun as well as other issues relating to kids and families in general. At last count, there are 13 people that co-administer this blog with around 6 other regular contributors. So that puts me in the company of 18 women!! Now isn't that something special!! :) My very first post on The Daily Tiffin will be out on the 30th November, so please check it out.

Well, nothing major really, just some improvements and new things to write about. I'm quite excited about these changes just like I'm quite excited about turning 40 and hoping to see more improvements in my own life.

So Happy Birthday to me!

Monday, 26 November 2007

Tender Potato Bread

Welcome back folks to another exciting edition of the Daring Bakers....!

Having conquered my fear of yeast and bread, I was actually quite excited by this month's challenge hosted by the great Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups. She chose to challenge us with Tender Potato Bread, a recipe from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Now November was a particularly busy month for me. Very, very busy in fact that I ALMOST considered giving this months challenge a miss. Then, just this weekend I thought I'd give it a whirl and see if I could rise to the challenge.

We had all been warned that working with this dough was going to be different. First of all, it used potatoes. Now I've heard of potato bread that is sweet but the specific instructions here were that this recipe HAD to be savoury. I'd never used potato to make bread before so that was the first concern.

The second concern was that we were told that the amount of potato used could greatly affect the texture. We were told to use 8 ounces (for amateurs) and not more than 16 ounces (for experienced bread makers). I decided to go with 12 ounces but after washing and paring the potatoes, I weighed them again and they had lost 2 ounces. Now if only that would work for me, I could give up doing this Daring Baker stuff and open a Weight Loss Centre. First customer of course - ME!

Third concern, this dough was a soft dough and very, very sticky. Again, NO experience with soft, sticky dough. I would need to wing it. See, I always knew I should have gone to Flight school. So many things in life I seem to wing. Since I seem to wing thing so well, I should have just made it into a career. I blame my father for not letting me go to Flight school. I could be a professional Wing Man today....

And he digresses yet again!! Yes, Ladies and Gentleman, the man has a disease. He cannot stay on topic and true to form, he digresses....!

Anyway, Oh dear, I've actually lost track of what I wanted to say. Oh yes, 3 concerns and lastly, time. So much to do, so little time.

So, I washed the potatoes, peeled them, cut them, boiled them till very soft and everything looked like it was going well.

Then I mashed the potatoes, added in the potato water, let it rest added in the flour and yeast, let it rest, added in the butter and the whole wheat flour and another two cups of flour. Alls Quiet on the Western Front.

But I had forgotten that I was in the East and not the West. So perhaps all was NOT so quiet. The enemy was lurking just beyong the trenches.....

You see this is EXACTLY the point where I had to start to wing things. The recipe said "At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe." and I was supposed to "incorporae flour as needed to prevent sticking". But we had been told that the final dough was going to be sticky. So how? How now brown cow?

And so I kneaded and added flour and kneaded and added more flour and kneaded some more. It all started to come together and I thought it was all good. I had forgotten to measure how much flour I had incorporated but by the way I was adding flour, I put it at a total of about 7 cups.

Now it was time to proof it and I left it to sit while I went about my other business. After about 1.5 hours, it had more than doubled and I turned it out to knead again. The flour was extremely sticky and also rather moist. Very moist in fact. My fingers were sticky and gooey and so I decided to just plop 2/3 of the dough into a large pan and shape it into a Focaccia.

Then I tried to roll the remaining dough into rolls but the dough was just too darned sticky. This is where I started using expletives. Beep. Beeping Hell and Beep, Beep, Beep! I was Beeping so much I could have been the Beeping Roadrunner! I added more flour but it was still too Beeping sticky to roll. Beep. Beep. Beep!

Then a light bulb went off in my head! And I was no longer the Roadrunner but Wile E.Coyote (remember how he used to get an idea and a lightbulb would light up over his head? You dont remember? Am I than old???!) Anyway, the idea was to drop the dough on to the pan like drop biscuits. Very clever I thought to myself. Well done Agent 99.

So I left everything to proof again and went to clean up and found that my sink was clogged. Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!!! Beep. Beep! Beep!! BEEEEP!!!!

But that's another story and I don't think any of you are really interested in my clogged sink. Such uncaring people.... humph. That's another reason for the lack of in-progress photos. No silly. Not because you don't care about my sink but precisely Because of the clogged sink! I wasn't going to risk getting dough on my precious Digital SLR.

After half an hour, the dough had risen beautifully. I popped the Focaccia in the oven after seasoning it with oregano and seasoned salt. After baking it, it had risen very nicely and I popped it out and let it cool while I baked the rolls.

So! Daring Baker Challenge completed. Well almost, because the proof of the pudding is in the eating and in this case, the proof of the potato bread is in the eating. Pardon the pun about proofing there..... Yes, yes, I'm really in a funny mood tonight. Absolutely Bloody Hilarious!

The Focaccia was tasty. Very tasty indeed although I thought it may have been a little undercooked. However, it tasted a darn site better the next morning.

The rolls were nicer though. Very soft and with a nice crumb. Only problem though, the rolls tasted a little bland and this is where I realised I had forgotten the second tablespoon of salt. Actually, I added in another TEAspoon of salt rather than TABLEspoon. I.D.i.O.T. The small 'i' in the centre is just to emphasise how small I felt at my lack of cleverness. I always tell my children not to say 'stupid', so
just in case they read this in years to come.....

There was a LOT of bread so the next morning, which is this morning (at time of writing that is) unless you believe strongly in the Theory of Quantum Physics in which case Time can be manipulated but only if you really understand it and you cant really understand it if you claim to do so and I really dont know what I'm talking about so maybe I didnt even eat the potato bread this morning......or understand Quantum Physics for that matter. Which I dont. And never claimed to do.

So! Another succesful Daring Bakers Challenge. Well sort off, as I think I needed more flour and I should have added that tablespoon of salt. Nonetheless, I took the Focaccia to my parents house where they, along with my aunts who were there, were rather astounded at the Tender Potato Focaccia. My father asked if I had bought a breadmaker and I proudly puffed out my chest, sucked my stomach in and declared - "The only breadmaker I have are these hands."

Thanks Tanna for a great challenge although I seriously, seriously doubt I will ever make this again. But the thing is, now I know I CAN make it and that's all because of you...and of course, that in essence, is one of the reasons why I AM a Daring Baker!!!!

Check out the rest of the fabulous team at the Daring Bakers Blogroll

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Fruit Tarts

One of my son's favourites is Fruit Tarts. So when he asked for fruit tarts for his birthday, we couldn't well refuse could we?

The Fruit Tarts are basically a shortcrust shell filled with custard and then topped with sliced fruits before being covered in a thin apricot jam glaze.

Fruit Tarts are really a team effort in my home. I dont have the patience to make tart shells but The Lovely Wife does. She makes the dough herself and then patiently presses the dough into the moulds. I dont mind helping with this, just as long as I don't have to do too many! She however, doesnt quite have the confidence to make custard, even the Birds Custard Powder variety - so that is my department. This time, even Sarah jumped on the bandwagon and helped to make the tart shells!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Stuffed Lumaconi

Michael's birthday this year fell on a Thursday and the previous night we had a conversation that went something like this.

Mike: "Dads, can we go out for dinner tomorrow?"
"Sure! Where would you like to go?"
Mike: "I don't know. I don't know all the names of the places"
"Well, what would you like to eat?"
Mike: "..errr.... Can we have pasta?"
"Tell you what Mike. Instead of going out for Pasta, why don't I make you some pasta instead?"
Mike: "Can you? I like Daddy's pasta better!"
"Sure boy, I'll try and get home a little early and I'll make you dinner. What kind of pasta would you like?"
Mike: "I think I like Daddy's creamy pasta..oh! no, no.. I think the tomatoey pasta is better."
"Why don't I make you a special pasta. Something you've never had before?"
Mike: "Like what Dads?"
"Like a pasta tube filled with meat, spinach and cheese all covered in tomato sauce"
Mike: "Mmmmmm! That sounds yummy" (as he rubbed his tummy)

And so I planned to make my son a Cannelloni dish although I've never made Cannelloni before. The plan was to make the filling out of beef with some spinach thrown in and then some cheese sauce mixed in. I would then bake the whole thing in a tomato based sauce infused with loads of mushrooms.

Since the Lovely Wife had taken the day off from work, I asked her to get me the pasta and the ingredients I would need. Unfortunately, she couldn't find Cannelloni anywhere and so she bought some large shells, otherwise known as Lumaconi. I'd never seen nor used Lumaconi before so a quick Internet search revealed that Lumaconi are also known as Snail Shell pasta. That would make absolute sense since aside from looking very much like snail shells, Lumaca actually means snails.

You'd have gathered by now that I don't have specific recipes for anything and it's all just a smidgen of this and a dash of that but I'll try and reproduce it as accurately as possible! This is quite a large recipe and I managed to get two and a half baking trays worth of Stuffed Lumaconi!

For the meat filling:
500g Minced Beef
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
250 g chopped spinach (I use fresh spinach that is blanched and then chopped)
200 g cheddar cheese
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
300 g milk

For the tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic
400 g button mushrooms
3 bay leaves
4 large tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
Black Pepper

Fry the garlic and onions till soft. Add in the ground beef and cook well. Add in the cooked chopped spinach. Mix well. Set aside. Make the cheese sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan. Add in the flour cook till smooth. Add in the milk. Bring mixture to the boil. Sauce will thicken. Add in cheese and season with salt. Add cheese sauce into the beef. Set aside.

Slice mushrooms thinly. Sautee garlic and bay leaves till fragrant. Add in mushrooms and cook till juices come out. Add in fresh tomatoes and cook till soft. Add in stewed tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer till sauce thickens.

Cook the Lumaconi till al dente. Rinse with cool water and drain. Place meat mixture into a piping bag or other piping device and pipe into the cooked shells.

Place a thin layer of sauce on a baking dish and arrange the shells in the dish. Cover the shells with remaining sauce and bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 30 minutes. I covered the dish with some foil as I felt there wasn't enough sauce to completely cover the Lumaconi and I was afraid the pasta would be crusty.

The Lumaconi turned out fantastic. It was very tasty albeit a little bit rich. The combination of flavours was just right and after eating 5 shells, I was stuffed! My mother joined us for dinner that night and she enjoyed the Stuffed Lumaconi too.

As for the birthday boy, he thoroughly enjoyed this 'new pasta'. He managed to finish 6 shells all by himself! A rather mean feat considering how filling this dish was.

I worry sometimes that I might be spoiling the kids as far as food goes coz I never had any 'gourmet' pasta for my sixth birthday! Then again, there's nothing wrong with being exposed to good food at a young age and developing a 'refined palate'....!

I've also submitted this as an entry to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by my lovely friend Ruth over at Onceuponafeast.blogpsot.com. It's my EIGHTH entry Ruth!!

Note: Incidentally, for all you English and grammar purists out there (I'm normally one of them!) my kids call me Dads (Yes. with an 's') intentionally. Sometimes even Mum or Mummy becomes Mums. Don't ask me why - but it's kinda cute, so I let it be!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Pirate Ship Birthday Cake

My son Michael turned 6 on the 15th of November. We had decided that we weren't going to have a birthday party this year for Michael but that didn't mean that he wouldn't get a Birthday Cake to cut!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made brownies for him to take to Kindergarten on Tuesday 13 November for a Fancy Dress party the school was hosting. Then on his actual birthday, Thursday 15 November I made a chocolate cake to cut at school. On Saturday, 17 November, I made the cake for him to cut as his 'official' Birthday Cake. So regardless of having a party or not, he still had a fancy cake to cut.

In any case, with his cousins, uncles and aunts, granparents and godparents visiting, there were still enough people to make up a party. It was a lot easier having a much smaller crowd though and we didn't have to cook a whole lot of food.

But as usual, I digress. This is about his Birthday Cake - Not his birthday party, or lack of one!

Unlike previous years, Michael didn't really know what cake he wanted this time around. He left the decision to me and so I decided on a Pirate Cake. He is into Pirates (among a whole slew of other things) at the moment and he even dressed up as a pirate for the abovementioned Fancy Dress party.

The cake really wasn't all that difficult to make. What I did was to make two round chocolate cakes. I'm going to try and explain this with the aid of some graphics too so that it becomes clearer to everyone. No one seemed to understand my verbal description of how I assembled the cake!!

First, bake two round cakes. I used a 10" springform pan. After the cakes are baked and cooled, stack both rounds on top of each other. This is simply to make it easier to cut and also to ensure symmetry.

Cut the cakes in half horizontally and also the top ends as the above dots show.

You will be left with a trapezoidal-like shape as above. The top ends are cut to enable the cake to stand vertically on the board. The next step is to stack each trapezoidal together, shorter end on the botton. Use some drinking straws passed through all 4 'slices' of cake to secure it. The top flat part now forms the deck of your cake. Using 2 of the 4 remaining arcs, position them to form the bow or front of the ship, as below.

Then fill the empty part with the remaining cake. You now have your ship! If you want to be a bit more creative (I thought of this AFTER making the cake) cut out a 'valley' or depression in the middle of the cake, something like this \_________/ so that you have a raised bow and stern (front and back of ship).

Next step is to ice the cake. I used a light colour for the top of the cake as the deck and darker chocolate icing all around the whole cake. I then used a triangle icing comb to create grooves all around the iced cake.

Now for the masts and the Bowsprit (this is the long piece in front that sticks out of the boat) I printed out red stripes on to white paper and used that for the sails. I cut them out into different sizes for the main sail, main top sail and foresail. This would be a good time to teach your child about what the parts of the ship are called too!!

Wooden skewers acted as the mast for the sails. Simply poke the skewers through the tops of the paper and curve the paper slightly in the shape of sails. Then secure the sails to the skeweres with some sticky tape. This is simply to ensure that the sails don't slip down. Then poke the skewers into the cake. For the Bowsprit, I simply taped together a bunch of skewers with masking tape and then poked it into the front of the cake. There you have it - a lovely sailing ship.

I finished off the cake by attaching a printed out Jolly Roger to a straw and placing the straw over the Mainmast skewer. I intentionally let the pirate flag hang in a sloping manner as pirates are supposed to be untidy and reckless. Then I tied some twine to each mast as a form of rigging.

Finally, I used some of Michael's toy cannons and treasure chest to place on the cake. I even added some Kit Kat Bites as cannon balls!

But.... when it was time to cut the cake, I realised there was no place to put the candles!!! I couldn't very well put them on top for fear of the sails catching fire.

What I did was to place the candles horizontally on the side of the ship, a little like mini cannons!!

Yes! Another succesful project and another very happy Birthday Boy. Aaaarrrhhggg! Avast ye mateys!!


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