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Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Goodbye 2008...with some soul searching

Can you believe it's already the last day of 2008? I certainly can't. The years seem to go so much quicker nowadays. I'm not sure if that's such a good thing. I'm getting older quicker and the kids are growing up fast too. I'm not sure it that's a good thing either...

There's a lot to be thankful for, not just this past year but all the years gone by. I contemplated listing down some of the things that I am thankful for and some of the things I Should be thankful for. I decided against it simply because I think I should be thankful for everything that I have, even if I still haven't learnt to be as thankful nor as grateful as I should be for what I have.

Sounds like a riddle or a tongue twister, I know. Really though, all I am trying to say is that even though I may not have everything that I want, (e.g a million dollars in my bank account, a shiny, black sports car, a private jet, a pilot's licence to fly my private jet, etc, etc...), I think I have everything I NEED and in fact much more than I actually need. And so I am grateful and thankful that I am not wanting for anything that I really need.

Most importantly, I am thankful for The Lovely Wife, the wonderful kids, the loving family I have and my friends who have all helped shape who I am. I am thankful for the new friends I have made through blogging who continue to inspire me and help in shaping this blog and enriching my life.

I'm not one for New Years Resolutions but if I had to, I would simply resolve to try and be a better person, a person that realises that happiness is what you make out of life and that material possessions or material goods are not important. Easy to say but when our lives are so focused on what we have and with material comforts, it can get difficult.

So with that in mind, here's wishing You and Yours a Blessed 2009 filled with Peace, Happiness and above all, Love.


Sunday, 28 December 2008

French Yule Log

Firstly, here's wishing everyone a Blessed Christmas Season and a Happy New Year!

Secondly, as per the new rules of the Daring Bakers, this particular sentence is a requirement for some new fangled, high tech web checking programme to 'gain credit' for completing a challenge. I do hope my embedded links are allowed. So here goes...

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

I must say that this is one of the most delicious desserts I have ever, ever made. It's not something that I would normally have attempted simply becuase it looks and sounds so complicated. Then again, after more than a year with this illustriuos group of Daring Bakers, nothing much scares me anymore!

The Hosts for this month explained that in France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type (DB Challenge December 2007), or what is more commonly purchased which is a frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert.

The Challenge Rule this time around was that we were required to MAKE ALL 6 ELEMENTS for the log that are made up of the following:
1) Dacquoise Biscuit
2) Mousse
3) Ganache Insert
4) Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
5) Creme Brulee Insert
6) Icing
The assembly will essentially be a Dacquoise Biscuit at the bottom, and the inserts inter-layered with mousse, with an icing finish. All very complicated if you ask me!

With the Christmas Season being as busy as it is, I was kind of worried I might not be able to fit this in. However, I set aside the weekend of the 20th to do this dessert in between having the contractor over to fix some leaking pipes. Talk about multi-tasking huh!

I'll give you my experience with each element...

Creme Brulee Insert
I reckon the recipe should be rewritten to mention that this element should be made first. I actually started on the dessert on the Friday night and chose to make the brulee first. I whisked up the Creme Brulee and the first sign of potential disaster was that the custard seeped under the parchment paper. Good thing I was watching it though so I quikly just removed the paper. Second sign of potential disaster was actually due to my stupidity. I've used a water bath many times and I know that you are supposed to pour in hot water. For some reason though, I used room temperature water. Yes, I did! Don't ask me why, I guess I'm just Stupid, stupid, stupid!

This was probably one reason why the creme brulee just REFUSED to set up. one hour at 100C and it was still very wobbly. Another half hour at 125C and still no good. Finally another 30 mins at 140C and the Creme Brulee finally set up. I also think another reason the creme brulee took a long time to set was that the pan I baked the brulee in was rather deep. Anyway, I let it cool and then chucked it in the freezer to firm up.

Dacquoise Biscuit
Next morning, I started on the Dacquoise. No problems there although because I didnt spread the batter evenly enough, I wasnt able to fully line my Log and ended up with Dacquoise on the top and bottom of the log but not on the sides. Small issue really.

Before making the mousse, I was tempted to just use my tried and tested method of making a whipped ganache - as this was one of the options allowed. The pate-a-bomb piqued my interest however and I reckoned that this was one of the reasons of being a Daring Baker - stretching your comfort zones and trying things never done before. I heated up the sugar to the desired temperature but somehow while adding it into the egg yolks, the sugar seemed to seize up a little. It didnt hep that I used a large mixing bowl either. Once again a little stupid! Nonetheless, constant beating seemed to break the sugar crystals down again and the egg yolks turned nice and thick. Next time I'm using a small mixing bowl for such a small quantity of yolks...

Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
My son has learnt how to say Feuillete! Although I'm not quite sure if he is pronouncing it right. The Crisp was rather easy to make as well and turned out very crunchy and tasty. Strangely enough, Gavottes ARE Available in Malaysia although they are bloody expensive. So I used Corn Flakes instead and mixed them with melted milk chocolate. To get a smooth and level crisp, I rolled the chocolate covered corn flakes between two sheets of wax paper. I cant help thinking that this would be a lovely base for a cheesecake or similar dessert!

Ganache Insert
I've never had problems with caramel and so using caramel for the Ganache was not an issue at all. The ganache came together very nicely and it was fun pouring it on as the last layer before sealing it with the cake.

Assembling the log was pretty fun too and I only wish I wasn't in such a rush that I wasn't able to take step by step pictures.

Finally it was time to unmould the log and then ice it. This was the first time I made an icing using gelatine but it turned out well. I had read some other DBs saying that their icing turned out rubbery but it turned out fine for me.

All in all, everything was pretty straight forward and not that complicated to do. It was just very time consuming especially when I had to multi-task with supervising the contractor!

I served this dessert for dinner the next day when my cousin Sasha, from Melbourne, came over. It was simply De-Li-Cious! It was a little frozen as we were all impatient to cut into it, but after realising that it needed to thaw out a bit, we enjoyed it immensely.

The next day, we invited a friend over for tea to spread the cheer with her and as The Lovely Wife said, "to spread the pounds around!" She enjoyed the Yule Log immensely and since we had learnt to thaw the log longer, it was simply divine. My son actually had another two pieces.

No pics of the kids enjoying this dessert though simply because time didn't warrant it. I was also too busy enjoying this dessert...

I DO need to mention though that my son and daughter helped to decorate the cake, placing the sugarpaste holly on top!

This is the recipe I chose to follow since the Hosts gave us so many options and variations. Thanks for a great, great challenge!

FRENCH YULE LOG OR ENTREMETS RECIPE by Flore of Florilège Gourmand

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. Special note: If you use one of the substitutes for the gavottes, you should halve the quantity stated, as in use 1oz of any of these cereals instead of 2.1oz.

Chocolate Crisp Insert
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter
1 oz. (25g) lace crepes or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log :

2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

O Holy Night, The stars are brightly shining...

It's just past 5pm and I'm kinda, sorta, finished with the Christmas cooking and baking. Well finished with the baking at least!! Yes, I've finished baking and icing 4 measures of Chocolate Cake and now I'm taking a break before we head out to a good friends house for a quick Christmas drink and then come back home to host my Mom, Dad, Mom-in-law and Father-in-Law for Christmas Eve dinner.
The menu for tonight is something fairly simple since we have been gouging ourselves at Christmas parties the last few days. I'm making Chicken Vol-au Vents and I've already prepared the chicken filling and also prepared and baked the vol-au-vents. Then, we are having spicy meatball pasta and also steamed vegetables tossed in butter. Thats the plan anyway!
So, since it's already Christmas tomorrow, here's wishing all of my dear friends and everyone out there a Very Blessed and Happy Christmas!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Murgh Masala or Fiery Chicken Curry

This is a fiery Chicken Curry fashioned in the North Indian style. Murgh is the Hindi word for Chicken and Massala basically means spices. I first had this dish as a Uni student in Melbourne, Australia. One of my two flatmates used to work part-time in an Indian Restaurant on Tuesday nights. He would often bring home some of the leftover curries from the restaurant. We used to look forward to this and would sometimes stay up past midnight to partake of the food he'd bring home.

One night he brought home this fiery chicken curry and we all enjoyed it immensely. I tried on numerous occasions to get the same flavours and finally got the approval from my flatmates after about a year!

500g Boneless Chicken Breast
250g Plain Yoghurt
2 Gloves Garlic
1 inch Ginger
1 tbsp curry powder
½ tbsp chilli powder

2 Tbsp Curry Powder
1 Tbsp Chilli Powder
3 Dried Red Chillies
1 Large Onion
1 clove Garlic
2-3 pods Cardamom
5 Tomatoes
2 Tbsp Cooking Oil

Chop Garlic and Ginger finely. Slice Chicken into thin strips. Marinate Chicken with Ingredients A and let rest in fridge for at least ½ hour. Meanwhile, cut dried chillies into four pieces each. Slice Tomatoes thinly. Slice Onions and chop garlic. Heat oil in a wok or non stick pan and fry Chillies, Onion and Garlic till soft. Add in Curry Powder, Chilli Powder and Cardamom and fry lightly till fragrant
Add in tomatoes and cook till a nice paste is formed. Add some water if necessary. Add in marinated chicken mixture. Cook well. Add in ½ cup of water into marinade bowl, scrape the sides and pour into the cooking chicken. Simmer for 20 minutes or until curry becomes thick

You may notice some white flecks appearing when the chicken and yoghurt are first cooked. This is perfectly normal and is caused by the acidic tomatoes separating the yoghurt.

This Murgh Masala remains one of my favourite dishes to serve, especially when entertaining. I served this when my friend Naomi came down from Japan for a visit bakc in August. I paired it with Sambar as well as a few other dishes. But we'll leave those dishes for another day!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Taufoo with Minced Meat inspired by Joe Tata

When I was young, my mom's uncle used to stay with us from time to time. We used to call him Joe Tata. See, Tata is the tamil word for Grandfather and for many years, I simply thought his name was Joe. Even my friends used to call him Uncle Joe. Much later, I found out that he actually hailed from Johor. My eldest brother, when he was but a wee lad, couldn't say Johor Tata - which is what he should have been referred to and he ended up calling him Jo Tata. Hence the name!

He was a lovely albeit strange fellow. He would read the newspapers - the front page, page two, then the back page, then the inner back page. He would then promptly peel off the first sheet and pass it to you to read. He'd then repeat this exercise with the remaining sheets. The most amazing thing though was that he would then reassemble the paper and it would be as good as when before he began reading it. I kid you not.
He was also a fabulous cook. He may have been vegetarian, but the dishes he cooked were just delightful. He was meticulous about his cooking too. Each bean would be cut the exact same length. When he diced tomatoes, each would be the same size. Amazing chap really. There are a lot more stories that I fondly remember about Jo Tata but suffice to say that he inspired this dish and also this post.

This dish is a take on something he used to do with beancurd or taufoo as we call it. Granted he used to make this pure vege but I added some chicken to it. He used to squeeze the bean curd in his hands to crumble it up and this is exactly how I made it too! This is what i did:

2 cloves garlic
1 large onion
300g minced chicken
5 tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp chilli sauce
2 tsp worcesthershire sauce
4 bean curd squares

Chop garlic and slice onions finely. Sautee in a little oil till soft. Add in roughly cut tomatoes and cook till soft. Add in the minced chicken and cook till meat is well done. Add in the sauces and then with your hand, crumble the bean curd in and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

This dish is perfect eaten with rice. I had my parents over for dinner and I asked my Mom if the dish reminded her of anything. At first she said it reminded her of a mince Taufoo dish from a chinese restuarant. When I told her that it was just like
the dish Joe Tata used to make, she smiled and remarked. "He was a strict vegetarian, he never used chicken in his cooking - but I guess if you took the chicken out, it is like his taufoo dish."

There's just no fooling Mom is there...!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Daily Tiffin - Christmas Gift Ideas

With Christmas fast approacing and with no idea what to get your kids or loved ones, why not have a look at my ideas for toys and games for you children in my article over at the Daily Tiffin?.
I'd love to hear some of your gift ideas too!

Friday, 12 December 2008

How to make a Difference - Roast Lamb with an Asian Twist

Before I start on this post, I just want to say that no matter how lucky we are to have access to so much good food, there are a host of people in other parts of the country not to mention the rest of the world that are NOT so lucky. Some dont even have access to a decent meal much less decent water supply. So spare a thought for them and remember that awareness can be one of the greatest weapons to solve any problem.

I am submitting this dish to the BloggerAid: Because We Can Help event hosted by my good friends and two of the creators of BloggerAid - the duo of Psychgrad and Giz. They strongly believe that they can make a difference and I do to! Now on to the post...

Roast Lamb is a favourite with most people no matter how it's made. Everyone in my family enjoys a good Roast Lamb and when I say everyone, I mean my parents, brothers, sis-in-laws, parents-in-law, brothers-in-law - you get the idea. Roast Lamb is a definite favourite.

Problem is, getting a good leg of lamb is expensive over here and so Roast Lamb is hardly made at home. Usually, we enjoy our Roast Lamb at functions where a nice big leg of lamb is roasted over the spit by the caterers. Sometimes, my brother will make a Roast Lamb at home for a special occasion too. I've never made a roast leg of lamb before. I much prefer Roast Beef.

Neverthelss, when The Lovely Wife's aunt came down from Australia for a visit and brought along a leg of lamb, my Mom-in-Law asked if I could cook it. I decided to do something a little different since I reckon just roasting the lamb with garlic and then eating it with mint sauce can be kind of boring. Tasty sure, but still boring...

I decided to throw in an Asian Twist to the Roast Lamb and this is what I did:

12 gloves garlic - sliced
2 1/2 Tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
12 Dry Chillies - cut into large pieces
2 eggplants - diced
1 inch ginger - sliced thinly
1 onion - diced
4 tomatoes - quarterd
3 tbsp oregano
Black Pepper

Pierce holes in the lamb with a knife and stuff the holes with the sliced garlic. Leave to marinate. Meanwhile, sautee the oregano with black pepper. Add in the ginger and onions and cook till fragrant. Add in the chillies and fry well. Add in the egglplant and tomatoes and cook till soft. Add in the dark soy sauce and mix well. Rub this all over the lamb and then bake in a preheated 200C oven for about 45 mins then reduce heat to 160C and roast for another 2-3 hours, covered, till lamb is cooked through and tender.

The lamb was lovely and tender and had a nice spiciness to it. The family enjoyed it immensely and I personally thought that this was a much better way to enjoy a good leg of lamb!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sometimes Size Does Matter... Baked Prawn with Lemon Butter

I know I've said this before, but I love Prawns. Matter of fact, I love all kinds of shellfish. So when I saw how huge these fellows were, I just HAD to have some!

I got these huge Salt water prawns fresh from the market at Kota Kinabalu when I was there recently. I had planned on making them earlier but one thing let to another and they stayed in the freezer for a little while longer than I planned.

See how huge they are? I place a ruler next to it just to show you the size and that's more than 6 inches long! Only problem is that the head is really huge too and I'm really not into eating the head. Seems like a waste sometimes, especially when Prawns are sold by weight...

Anyway, part of the reason I kept the prawns for a while was that The Lovely Wife has a tad of an allergy when it comes to shellfish. I had wanted to keep the prawns all to myself (and maybe share it with the kids) but there were just a few too many to eat alone. Also, theres just so much more fun in sharing!

So anyway, when we had a few friends over for dinner recently, I decided to serve these prawns. I considered various ways of cooking them and finally decided to bake them with Lemon Butter.

I cut the prawns in half, made up a little lemon butter and then popped them in the over for about 10 minutes.

How did I make the lemon butter? Just melted about 80g of butter, added in some lemon rind and juice of 1 lemon. Then just to add some colour, I chopped a little coriander and sprinkled it on top.

Very easy and oh so delightful!

Friday, 5 December 2008

A Tale of Two Cakes - my birthday story...

Most of you know that I recently celebrated my 41st Birthday on the 29th November. That date coincided with the posting date for the Daring Bakers Caramel Cake and so a lot of you thought that I had made that cake for my Birthday.

No.... I would never bake my own cake. Oh okay, so Never is a rather strong word. I have YET to ever bake my own cake - unless helping Mum make my 18th birthday cake counts? Don't think it does.

For my Birthday this year, I got TWO Cakes! Yes two cakes for the price of one. Well, actually, two cakes for the price of half. But not really two full cakes since one was returned. I do have a habit of complicating things dont I!
Anyway, this is what happened.

The Lovely Wife and kids surprised me on the morning of the 29th with a little hamper full of my favourite things. There was a jar of Nutella, a loaf of White Bread (to eat the Nutella with, you cant eat it with Wholemeal bread can you!!) a bottle of Ribena, a Bar of 70% Dark Chocolate, a bag of Geneva biscuits and even the CD to Heroes Season 3! The wonderful kids also got me a pair of shorts emblazoned with Homer Simpson messing about with a lot of tools. The kids do know I like the Simpson's a lot!

We had planned on spending the day out with the kids so before heading out, The Lovely Wife surprised me with a cake she had bought the night before and hidden in the depths of the fridge!

Only problem was, after cutting it and eating the cake, we realised that it was a tad rubbery and I reckoned it was probably slightly stale. Now my wife, Lovely as she is, can also be a bit of a fighter. She insisted on taking the cake back and complaining as she had been told that "the cake was freshly made." The shop was gracious enough to exchange the cake and we got a different type of cake. The second cake was much, much, much nicer too!

Now the reason we got two cakes for the price of half is becuase The Lovely Wife bought the first cake after 8pm where the cakes go for half price!

Later that afternoon, The Lovely Wife took me to a camera shop to get me a Diffuser for my flash - a Demb-Flip to be exact.

She had even called up one of my 'camera addict' friends at work to find out more about diffusers and where to get them. Now if that isnt a Lovely Wife, then I dont know what is!

So all in all, a wonderful birthday with many presents and most of all, Lots and Lots of Love!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

BloggerAid - let's make a difference

One of the things I love about blogging is the people you meet. I have met so many wonderful people through Food Blogging and made some great friends. It doesnt matter that we have never met in person, we have become a part of each other's lives and we look forward to their posts, leaving comments on their blogs and receiving comments too.

You realise after a while that some of these friends are extra special. They go the extra mile and try to make things right in the world. This is what my friends Giz and Psychgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen,
Val of More than Burnt Toast
and Ivy of Kopiaste have done. They've created a network of bloggers to try and help alleviate world hunger. This network is called BloggerAid, and has a tagline of Bloggers Uniting to Aid in the Alleviation of Hunger.

In a nutshell, this is what BloggerAid is about:

We are a growing group of international food bloggers determined to make a difference in aid of world famine. The love of food and community that brings us together drives the compassion of its members to reach out to our world to help those less fortunate than we are. Banded by a mission of helping to make a change in a world where starvation affects such a profound number of people, we will raise money and awareness for the hungry in communities both at home and abroad.

Indeed a very noble cause and I am so very honoured that they asked me to join this group. This post is long overdue but today, I start to wear my BloggerAid badge with pride...

Saturday, 29 November 2008

James Bond Returns - Quantum of Caramel

Firstly, I'm sorry I had to miss last month's Pizza Toss but October was just to busy for me.

Secondly, This post is extra special because not only am I a November Baby, but TODAY is my actual Birthday. So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Me!!

Now on to the Bond Story.....but not without the required warning:

The following story is Rated PG - Parental Guidance is Suggested.
Some material may not be suitable for Children, Prudes or Fuddy-Duddies.
[With Apologies to Ian Fleming - once again!]

“This just came in M.” The handsome young man, (playing a bit part that required no name) handed a document over to the head of MI6.

M took a look at the document and frowned. Pressing a button on the red telephone she barked into the phone. “Moneypenny, get me Bond. Yes! Double O Seven - On the double.” She smiled to herself at her little play on words. Its no wonder she was the head of MI6.

Bond quickly grabbed his beeping wrist watch as he glanced quickly at the lovely woman lying naked beside him. Good, she was still asleep. He pressed a few buttons on his watch to decode his secret message.

007 summoned by M - OTD

Bond sighed and started to get dressed. OTD meant On The Double which meant that he couldn’t have his way with the woman again. At least he was thankful that in all his years with MI6, he had never had to leave a naked woman in bed that was still awake. Dead maybe, but never awake. Quietly he snuck out the door, regretting for a brief moment his dedication to the job. Not to mention to Queen and country.

** *** **

“About bloody time Bond!” M said as she gave Bond a cursory glance. “We’ve been issued a challenge. The other agencies seem to want to pit their best against ours. Sad to say that You… seem to be our best.”

“But of course M, however, I’m not quite sure I follow you.”

“It’s quite simple really Bond. The Mossad and KGB have issued a challenge that the CIA have taken up. Matter of fact, the Americans have thrown in their FBI and Secret Service into the fray as well. More chances of them winning you see.” M explained.

“Yes, I see. Everyone wants to win. I saw a movie recently where there was this song, something from Abba – The winner takes it all – I think it was.”

“Mamma Mia, Bond.” M replied

“What’s wrong with your mother M?”

“The name of the movie Bond! Mamma Mia! That’s the name of the movie, but stop digressing. You seem to have an awful habit of doing that off late!” M rolled her eyes upward.

“Ah yes. Sorry. So please. Tell me more about this challenge.”

“It’s all here in this dossier Bond. Read it well. Suffice to say that it involves baking a cake. You just need to make the cake and ice it successfully. It seems to be a rather complicated recipe and one that is prone to failure. Apparently the KGB, the Mossad and all those American agencies have got some very talented, not to mention gorgeous, women to do the baking and you are up against them. The pride of Britain and of HRH the Queen is at stake here.” M said.

“Hmmm.” Bond exhaled deeply while rubbing his chin. “Baking eh? Competing with gorgeous women eh? This just might be fun.”

“Well just make sure you don’t fail. And keep your fingers to yourself Bond, as well as your other appendages. We all know your reputation. Now go and get this done. Dismissed.”

Bond left the office and boarded the subway. With the economy the way it was, his Aston Martin had been taken back. He read and re-read the recipe on his way home. It seemed fairly straightforward although the notes said that this was quite a difficult cake to make. There was something in the notes that said getting this cake to bake is about balancing fat with acid and protein JUST RIGHT.

Well, Bond had a degree in Engineering so he Should know something about incorporating his technical knowledge into baking a cake. Bond decided that he would jump straight into it. Well, tomorrow morning anyway.

** **** **

Since Bond decided he worked best in the early hours of the morning, he woke early and checked his recipe once again. He decided he would start on the caramel first simply because the caramel needed to be cooled and also due to the fact that there were no eggs in the house…

Bond heated the sugar and water carefully, cooking it till it became a lovely dark amber. He smiled to himself as he thought of Amber, the lovely Australian girl. He then poured in the cup of water, quickly stepping back as he gleefully watched it sputter and spatter while making loud gurgling noises. The spluttering and splattering reminded him of the Russian Submarine he had blown up during the days of the Cold War while the gurgling reminded him of that lovely Russian scientist … ah, such fond memories.

James Bond whisked the mixture over medium heat till it thickened slightly. As he left it to cool, the Lovely Woman he had spent the night with came down the stairs. Bond gave her a quick once over. She looked so much better in lingerie but he had to admit she still looked stunning in just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

“I need some eggs.” Bond said matter of factly as he eyed her bosom under the tight t-shirt.
“Well, why don’t you come to the market with me?” she said with a slight pout of her lips. “After all, we do need some groceries and I am staying over for a few days.”

Bond followed the lithesome woman out the door, appreciating the swell of her buttocks and the sensual sway of her hips. He winced at how times had changed though. He much preferred the days of old where women would do the marketing and the cleaning and well, just everything. Now there was even a Female head of MI6 and he – James Bond, Agent 007, the finest Britain had to offer – was forced to take part in a challenge. A Baking Challenge at that. To add insult to injury, he had to go to the market as well. How Shocking!

In hindsight though, it was a good thing that Bond went along to the market too. He had forgotten that he was out of Vanilla Extract as well. On their return from the market, James was ready to begin making the cake. He decided that since getting the proper amount of air into the batter seemed to be critical, he would use his trusted Hand Mixer instead of the hi-tech Kenwood mixer. There was somehow so much more control with a hand mixer. The batter whipped up beautifully and Bond used his spatula to give the batter a few folds. He poured it into the prepared tin and left it to bake – noting that he would need to turn the pan after a while. The cake rose very well and Bond felt a surge of pride as he took the cake out of the oven to allow it to cool.

“There’s a reason I’m the best of Britain.” He thought to himself rather smugly as he did his oft repeated trick of posing with his pretend gun formed out of his thumb and forefinger.

While wating for the cake to cool. Bond made the icing or, as he noted, ‘frosting’ as the Americans called it. First thing to do was to ‘brown the butter’. That sounded rather racist to Bond. Even his travels to far and exotic places and his many encounters with women of - how should he put it - various degrees of tan, he had never seen brown butter. He smiled and almost laughed aloud as he suddenly remembered this one lovely woman he had met at an embassy function. She was an operative from Kenya with the Codename ‘Butter’. Now that would give Brown Butter a whole new meaning…

“Concentrate Bond.” He reminded himself as he watched the butter bubbling in the pan. He quickly took it off the fire and strained it into a bowl to stop the cooking process. Indeed, the butter had turned a lovely brown and had a wonderful nutty fragrance. The fragrance surprisingly reminded him of Butter – the lovely operative from Kenya.

While waiting for the butter to cool, Bond sifted out the icing sugar, noting once again that the American’s called it Confectionary Sugar. “Why oh why did Britain ever give up America”, he thought to himself rather sadly. “The whole world would be so much simpler. Everyone would use Icing sugar to make Icing rather than some parts of the world using Confectionary Sugar to make Frosting.”

Bond suddenly realised that M was right. He did have a habit of digressing. Must be his old age. Getting back to the icing, he poured the butter into a mixing bowl and then added the icing sugar a little at a time till the mixture was really chunky. Then he added some caramel, more sugar and then more caramel together with a dash of cream till all the sugar was used up.

He tasted the icing and although it was delicious, is was rather sweet. A tad too sweet for Bond’s liking. “Perhaps it will taste better once it’s combined with the cake,” he thought to himself.

Bond proceeded to ice the cake and for a brief moment he considered decorating it. Actually he had planned to use sliced canned pears to decorate the cake but since he found the icing too sweet, he decided against it. He was tempted to taste the cake but decided it would be prudent to take it back to M and let her have first pickings.

** **** **

“Remarkable cake Bond. You;’ve done well.” Said M. “It would have been better if you had decorated it somewhat but never mind. Lets see how it looks inside. We’ll let our official tasters cut the cake and taste it. We’ll try it too.”

The Officials cut the cake and proceeded to test it. M took a slice too as did Moneypenny and Q.

“Its rather sweet Bond.” M remarked

“I”d have to agree M. In my defence, I followed the recipe, just as I was supposed to.” Bond replied, stuffing his face with cake

“Let me have a look Bond. There, you see? There’s a variable for how much caramel you need to put into the icing. Pay attention Bond, after all, its simply a matter of the Quantum of Caramel…..”

I hope you enjoyed my little Bond story - the second time Bond has appeared in the Daring Bakers. This month, the challenge was hosted by my good friend Dolores from Culinary Curiosity ably assisted by her co-hosts
Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo ) and
Jenny of Foray into Food
As usual, for alternative baking help, Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go provided support.

The recipe is an original from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater with her signature caramel cake.

Like Bond and M, we all found the cake a tad too sweet. I took some in to work as well and my colleagues also said that although delicious, it was certainly on the sweet side. Nonetheless, it was an amazing cake as the texture was just lovely. I think if I make it again, I will not ice it or maybe try an icing that is less sweet.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Explanation for the silence...

It's been a week since my last post and I've been meaning to get some writing done but just haven't had the time. I DO have a good excuse though. We've had an old friend staying with us this past week and that simply meant I had more important things to do!

I'm trying to catch up on my writing and realise I have a whole bunch of stuff that I never got round to posting - so I need to regroup and reorganise my pictures and posts. So please bear with me.

I've also been working on my Daring Baker's post where Bond makes a return once again! So look out for that this Saturday!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

More Birthday pics and Sausage Rolls

As I said in my previous post, my son turned 7 on the 15th. I posted about his cake before the rest of the family came over and before he cut the cake. The Lovely Wife made Sausage Rolls as well as some Fried Noodles but we'll save the noodles for another post. This post will focus on the Sausage Rolls as well as pictures of the 'Cake Cutting Ceremony'.
We normally dont have the time to take a nice family picture with the cake but this time we made sure we did.

Sometimes, you overlook the minor details and this is what happened. I forgot to check for birthday candles but fortunately there was one left so Michael had to make do with one candle rather than the seven that should hve been on the cake!

I had expected him to want to cut right through the 'faces' of the Transformers but he surprised me by cutting his cake on one corner instead. He did make many cuts though...!

Now on to the sausage rolls. To say they were a hit would be a slight understatement. Everyone loved them, most of all my little princess!

The rolls are based on the recipe from Taste.com.au with very minor changes. The Lovely Wife increased the breadcrumbs a little and used pork sausages only. She also precooked the sausages before hand just to make sure the meat would be properly cooked. This is the recipe as stated in Taste.com.au:

1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
80ml (1/3 cup) milk
500g pork and veal or chicken and herb sausages
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 egg, plus 1 egg extra, lightly beaten
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, just thawed
Sesame seeds, to sprinkle
Tomato sauce (ketchup), to serve

Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a bowl and set aside until milk is absorbed. Remove casings from sausages and place in a food processor with crumbs, onion and egg. Process until well combined, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to chill.
Place a sheet of pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut horizontally into two. Spoon a quarter of the mixture along the centre of each piece of pastry. Fold over a long side of pastry, brush with egg, then fold other side over to enclose, slightly overlapping in the centre, and make a long sausage shape. Repeat with remaining pastry and filling to make 4 rolls.
Place rolls, seam side down, on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and refrigerate for 1/2 hour until firm.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a large baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Carefully diagonally cut each roll into seven. Brush with remaining egg and place on baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to make 2 small slits on top of each roll (to prevent rolls from splitting) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and puffed. Serve warm with the tomato sauce.

This is definitely something we would make again. Very simple to do and yet somthing that seemed to impress everyone. No one expected these lovely rolls to be homemade - and that made The Lovely wife extremely happy!!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Seven Years Old Today!

Today is my son Michael's Seventh Birthday. How time flies. This year, we decided to keep thing simple and are not overdoing things like we usually do - we're not even inviting anyone although his grandparents and cousins will probably drop by later this evening. Making cake is a must though and this year he asked for a chocolate cake. He wanted a Transformers theme and initially I thought I'd do a design of one of the Transformers. However, since the icing for the cake would be chocolate as well, I thought that it may ruin the taste by using butter icing on top of the chocolate icing.

I then hit upon the idea of using the Transformer logo's for the design but rather than icing the design on, I would make my own stencil and then use dusting powder over the stencil to create the pattern.

I made the cake yesterday and since I am so used to my chocolate cake, the cake itself was a breeze. Decorating it is always the challenge and this is what I did.

First was to source for the logos from the internet. I then sized them both to the equal sizes and then printed it out. Fastening the paper to a piece of thick cardboard, I used a pen knife to cut out the pattern.

This took a lot longer and was a bit more cumbersome than I expected. I should have prepared the stencil ahead of time but as usual, I always think I am too clever for my own good!

The stencil was then placed on top of the cake and dusted with yellow dusting powder for the Decepticon logo and Blue for the Autobot. Some of the icing stuck on to the stencil and I had to touch it up. I had planned to make the icing thicker than normal but I thought it would firm up enough as it was - another case of thinking I'm too clever... Will I ever learn??!! :)
Nonetheless, I think the cake turned out pretty well.

My little princess, Sarah, had her paedetrician's appointment yesterday morning for her checkup. Michael had started a fever the night before that and so we decided that both of them should go and see the doctor. He said that Sarah was fine and that we should watch Michael. He prescribed some antibiotics for him but said to watch the fever for three days before starting on the antibiotics. Fortunately the fever is not as high as Sarah's was so we will just have to monitor the situation.

Michael slept with The Lovely Wife last night while I was relegated to his room! See, Fathers make sacrifices too!! :)
This morning we all wished him Happy Birthday in Mummy's room rather than in his own room like we usually do. We even hid his present under Mummy's bed! (I've always wondered why its Mummy's room and Mummy's bed and not Daddy's... or even Mummy and Daddy. Oh well.)

Happy Birthday Michael!!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

When a Child is Sick...

In my latest contribution over at The Daily Tiffin, I talk about a very recent experience of my daughter being in hospital. It was certainly not a fun time either especially when she was down with a bacterial infection called Myco Plasma. What's that? I didn't know either...

Read the full article over at the Daily Tiffin

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sarah's BBQ - Homemade Satay and Kuah Kacang (Peanut Sauce also known as Satay Sauce)

Continuing on with the story of Sarah's BBQ...
She wanted Satay and so The Lovely Wife and I decided that we would try and make our own. We've never made satay before but we thought this would be as good a time as any to try.

The recipe is based on a mixture of various recipes to 'create' our own. This is what we did although in hindsight, we should have halved the ingredients!!

3 kg chicken breast - diced
2 stalks lemongrass - bruised and pounded
1 inch ginger - ground
4 cloves garlic - ground
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp oil
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp turmeric
Black pepper
Bamboo skewers

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours. Meanwhile soak bamboo skewers in water for at least an hour. This prevents the sticks from burning once on the fire. Thread the marinated chicken on to the skewers. Grill/cook the meat on the barbecue basting it with a little oil as you do so.

Not so difficult really but a little time consuming. We got the kids involved in threading the meat on the skewers but since I was so busy with everything, I didnt get any pics. I also reckon that we should have barbecued the meat a little bit more as although it was nicely cooked, it didnt have that little bit of charred meat that makes satay all the more delicious.

Satay is also never complete without Ketupat. Fortunately, you can get the 'instant' variety where the rice comes pre-packed in heat resistant plastic bags. You just need to boil it and then let it cool before cutting it up.

As for the Kuah Kacang, my wife based it on a recipe from Amy Beh, one of Malaysia's well known chefs. Again in retrospect, we should reduce the chillies as although it was delicious, it was also very, very spicy!

This is how it goes:

Kuah Kacang

15-16 dried chillies
2 fresh red chillies
12 small onions
2 cloves garlic
4 candlenuts (buak keras)
1 stalk lemon grass
1 tsp fennel powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 slices galangal
6-7 black peppercorns

200g roasted peanuts, coarsely ground.
1 grated coconut, squeezed for 250ml thick coconut milk
1 tbsp tamarind paste, mixed with 100ml water and squeezed for tamarind juice.
1 ½ - 2 tbsp sugar or to taste
1 tsp salt or to taste
5 - 6 tbsp oil

Grind together all the spices to make a paste. Heat oil in a wok and fry ground spices for 2-3 minutes. Add 1-2 tablespoons coconut milk and simmer until oil rises and is fragrant. Pour in a little water and tamarind juice. Continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Add the ground peanuts and remaining coconut milk. Simmer for 2-3 minutes over low heat. Add sugar and salt to taste. Bring to a boil for 3- 4 minutes.

Indeed a most succesful Satay, Kuah Kacang and Ketupat endeavour! My son loves his Ketupat and Kuah Kacang and he was certainly very happy with this! I have to admit the Satay and Kuah Kacaing is not as good as the ones you get at the local food stalls but for a home made effort, I have to say it was pretty darned super!


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