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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Bond in the Land of St Honore

I am no stranger to Vols-au-Vent although I know them as them Vol-au-Vents. In fact I've posted about them before. So when I saw that the Challenge for September was Vols-au-Vent, I laughed a little....

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

My laugh took on a look of disbelief as I read on that we were to make our own Puff Pastry. Oh Dear! So much for my laughter. Anyway, my dear friend Elle over at Feeding my Enthusiasms had once remarked that she enjoyed my Daring Baker Bond and suggested that I should do a combo of Bond and her St Honore stories, so this is my attempt...

"Just who does this Stephanie person think she is?" M screeched. "I swear we should never have started that colony on that blasted Island in the first place."

"Errr.. What Island M?"

"Australia you bloody oaf!" M shouted back. "New Bloody South Wales to be precise. It would be a different matter is she was from Victoria, but New South Wales?! She thinks by waving her whisk and spoon about she can do whatever she pleases?"

"Sorry to contradict M, but my research shows that Stephanie, actually hails from New York. That would make her American and not Australian." Bond corrected his superior.

"Well then, thats another colony we should never have let go of." M muttered, obviously distressed that Bond had corrected her.

"Umm...what's got your knickers in a knot M anyway?". Bond asked somewhat sheepishly.

"Puff Pastry James!" M spat out. "Puff bloody Pastry!"

"Errr... I never knew you were so homophobic M. That's quite unbecoming in this day and age."

"Puff, Bond, Puff! Not Poof! What the hell is wrong with you?" M was furious.

Bond had difficulty distinguishing her Puff from her poof. M's accent was kind of strong and it was a little bit unrefined. Unlike his of course.

"Here. Go make this Puff Pastry and this time, you have to travel to some place called the Land of St Honore." M dismissed Bond with a wave of her hand.

Bond smiled at the Stewardess as she glanced down at his crotch. "Just making sure your seatbelt is fastened Commander." She whispered in his ear. Bond had heard that line so often. Every time he flew actually. As if they really cared if his seatbelt was fastened. He was Bond, James Bond. What did it matter if his seat belt was fastened or not. Surely it was all just an excuse to look at his crotch and use another oft used line - "Is that a weapon or are you just happy to see me?"

Bond laughed quietly at his own joke. It was getting harder and harder to get the girls to laugh with him now so he might as well enjoy his own jokes.

"We will be landing shortly at St Honore International Airport, Honour thy Saint."

Bond quickly made the sign of the cross and then realised, rather sheepishly that Honour thy Saint was the name of the St Honore Airport. He looked up to find the stewardess laughing at him from her crew seat. She was such a pretty little thing too. He could see a little bit of her lace bra peeking out from the low cut uniform that she was wearing. Perhaps he might get her number before disembarking.

Bond disembarked and headed out to immigration - sans the stewardesses number. She seemed to have disappeared as soon as the plane had parked at the terminal gate. Bond walked briskly, noticing that all the shops in the airport sold nothing but cakes and pastries. Not a sign of liqour, cigars or other Duty Free items. Just cakes and pastries - and lovely looking ones at that too.

Bonds heart skipped a beat as he noticed that all the women manning the shops (or would that be womanning the shops?) wore nothing but Aprons. Aprons of all colours and designs imaginable but Aprons nonetheless - concealing little and causing his libido to run sky high.

"I think I might like this place." Bond murmured to himself. He reached immigration and this time all the counters were manned by men. Thankfully they weren't wearing aprons but rather full chefs uniforms - complete with the white hat.

"Welcome to St Honore Mr Bond. As you are not a citizen you will only be allowed to go to the hotel and no where else." The immigration chef stated in monosyllables.

After checking in to the hotel, Bond asked if he might be allowed the use of the kitchen. Bond was led into a large room where he was given a chefs uniform. He slipped out of his Armani suit and into the stiff, starched white uniform. The kitchen was white and shiny and Bond noted that it was almost 8pm at night. Bond wasnt used to making pastry or cakes at night but duty called and he was the sole representative of HRH The Queen. Bond clicked his heels, gave himself a little salute and set to work.

First, he decided he was going to only make half a measure. Butter was so expensive these days and although he wouldnt admit it in public, he was fearful that he may actually fail this challenge. Vols-au-vent he could do with no problem but making his own Puff Pastry was a totally different matter altogether.

James bashed the 8oz butter slab into a nice rectangle. It was only after he had bashed it into a rectangle that he realised he was supposed to make it into a one inch square. The distracting memory of nubile women in aprons was taking its toll on James.

He then measured out the flours and whizzed it in the food processor together with the water. Aaarrrggg.. he was supposed to have whizzed the flours together first before adding the water. Curse those apron clad hips he thought to himself.

The dough came together rather well although he had to add a little more water than was stated. After letting it rest in the fridge for a while, James started to roll out the dough. He pushed the butter to the furthest corners of the dough and then folded it over. That was the first turn. He let the dough rest in the fridge before repeating the exercise. Some butter started to break out of the dough and James dusted it with flour. He was getting more confident as he rolled but his arms were beginning to tire.

He wiped his brow, unsure if it was due to the exertion of rolling the pastry of due to the memory (or was that mammary) of jiggling bosoms all around him at the airport.

It was getting late as James finished turn number 6. He placed the dough, covered in plastic wrap and went up to his room. Bond had trouble falling asleep as he wondered how his Puff Pastry would turn out. He regretted not having spent more time with Jacquilynne, the French Pastry Chef cum spy, who would have taught him a thing or two about Puff Pastry. Still, she had taught him a thing or two about various other things that had come in useful in many a bedroom - with many a woman. He smiled to himself at the memory of Jacquilynne. He loved her name. He would call her Jacqui and sometimes even Lynne. More often than not though, she was simply Cheri - the French word for darling. How he had loved her. He had vowed that he would name his firstborn daughter after her but such foolish ideas as a young man seldom bear fruition. Bond soon fell asleep with his mind filled with pictures of Jacqui, mon cheri.

Bond awoke with a start. He grabbed the pistol under his pillow and jumped beside the window. It was only a backfiring bread van - filled with nothing but bread, cakes and pastrie. He remembered that he was in St Honore. The place where bread is not just a loaf and cake means having your cake AND eating it too. The women are to die for and no criminals exist.

Bond put on his chefs clothing and made his way down to the kitchen. His arms were sore but his shoulders hurt more. He wasn't sure if his shoulders hurt because of the rolling of the dough or because he had hurt his neck - dreaming while he slept that he was sleeping on Jacquilynne's ample bosom.

Bond pulled out the chilled dough and let it thaw a little while he heated the oven. He rolled out the dough and cut out circles and rounds and stacked them on top of each other. Two a piece. He didnt want to stack them up in multiples although the rules said he could.

25 minutes later and Bond gave a triumphant shout as he saw that his pastry had risen into perfect vol-au-vent shells. He had managed the unthinkable. He had made his own pastry that rose in all its glory - powered by nothing but steam and butter!

Bond did a jig around the kitchen, singing 'Hail Britannia' raucously. As he finished the last verse, an Immigration Chef came in and stared at Bond.

"Mr Bond, due to your success on this challenge, you have been granted Honorery (spelling pun intended) Citizenship."

Bond lay back on the reclining chair, overlooking the sea, as five buxom beauties approached him. Giggling, they knelt down and bending forward almost in adoration, they each offered him a martini - shaken not stirred. He diverted his attention to the magnificent view of their cleavage and this time when the women peered at his crotch, no one wanted to know if he was wearing a seatbelt...

*** *******

I filled the pastry with a creamy Mushroom and Spinach filling and topped it off with a prawn. Very tasty, even if I do say so myself!

The kids were happy to pose for a picture of the Vols-au-Vent just before I served it for lunch.

This was an amazing challenge and one that I really had doubts on whether I could pull it off. I turned out well though and I am really pleased to know that I can make my own puff pastry! I doubt I would make it again though as it is just far easier to buy the ready made stuff. Having said that, I find that although the ready made stuff rises far better the home made pastry tastes far superior. The most telling part is that the home made variant doesn't have that waxy taste or texture.

My official taste testers Loved the Vols-au-Vent - especially my little princess! She had three Vols-au-Vent and kept asking: "Can I have another thingame what do you call it?"

The Filling:
4 gloves garlic - chopped
300g button mushrooms - sliced
100g spinach - blanched and chopped
Handful of Sunflower seeds
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
100 ml milk
Black Pepper

Sautee the garlic and then add in the mushrooms and cook until tender. Add in the blanced and chopped spinach and mix well. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and add in the flour. Mix well and let cook for a while. Add in the milk and stir until mixture thickens. Add creamy roux to the mushroom mixture. Mix well and then add in sunflower seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Once shells are baked, spoon in filling and then warm the vols-au-vent in a 200C oven for 10 minutes.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book. http://video.pbs.org/video/1174110297/search/Pastry

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Steamed Prawns with Marie Rose Sauce

My Kids love prawns. Both of them do. I love prawns too but I try not to eat too many of them - cholesterol you know. Anyway, when The Lovely Wife and I were at the market the other day, I felt like pleasing the kids - so i bought prawns.

When I bought the prawns, I didnt really know what I was going to do with them. I just bought the prawns as I knew the kids would like it - and give me an excuse to east some too!

My kids are also sauce merchants - meaning they love all kids of sauces - tomato sauce, thousand island dressing, soy sauce, honey mustard sauce. You name it, they like it. Give them anything with sauce on it and they are happier than happy.

I like prawns any which way they are cooked but sometimes it is best to just enjoy their natural flavour. So I decided to steam them and serve them with a dipping sauce - a Marie Rose sauce to be precise.

Marie Rose sauce is the one that you often find served with a prawn cocktail. It goes really well with any kind of seafood too and is really easy to make. Basically its a 'guess-timate' kind of recipe where you mix mayonaisse and tomato sauce together (ratio of about 3:1) with a dash of tabasco and worcestershire sauce, adjusting it to your own taste.

1 part Tomato Sauce
3 parts Mayonnaise
dash Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco Sauce

Shell and devein the prawns - leaving shell intact.
Place the prawns in a steamer and steam for a few minutes till pink.

Make the sauce by combining the tomato sauce and mayonnaise. Add in a dash of tabasco and worcestershire sauce. Adjust to your taste.

To make the dish look nice, I garnished it with with japanese cucumbers and also to give the kids something more to eat with the sauce. They loved the prawns but I'm not sure if they loved the sauce more...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Curry Leaf Chicken and more Cultural Exchange

With a name like Curry Leaf Chicken, you would automatically assume this is an Indian Dish. However, you would never, ever find this dish in an Indian shop or restaurant. You WOULD however, find it in a CHINESE Restaurant! This is how Malaysian food has evolved with Chinese Cuisine borrowing from Indian as well as Malay cuisine - giving you a dish that is authentically and uniquely Malaysian.

The Lovely Wife and I both enjoy this dish and we order it rather often whenever we go out with family and friends for Chinese Food. Regular readers of my blog would know that The Lovely Wife has caught my disease of trying to replicate food that we have eaten outside in our own kitchen. She has become very succesful in not only replicating dishes without the aid of a cookbook, but doing even better than what we eat outside.

Getting Chinese Food to taste as good as you get outside is particularly difficult du to the high heat used and the heavy wok that distributes the heat so well - thus enabling the food to be cooked so fast. Most chinese shops also love to use MSG - Monosodium Glutamate - that although makes the food taste good, leaves a drying feeling in the mouth long after the meal has been consumed. That's another reason why home cooked food is always better!

This chicken dish is spicy, with loads of chilli padi (birds eye chilli) and even dried prawns to give it an added crunch and flavour!

This is what she did:

1 inch ginger
6 cloves garlic
2 big onion - sliced
400g Chicken Fillet - cut into strips
5 stalks curry leaves
10 birds eye chillis (chilli padi) - chopped finely
1 tsp chilli powder
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 Tbsp Dark Soya Sauce
25 g dried prawns - soaked and pounded
1 Tbsp Honey (if needed)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Marinate chicken with salt and pepper. Blend together ginger and garlic then Sautee
in a little oil. Add onions, chilli powder, curry powder and cook well till fragrant. Add in curry leaves, chillies and prawns. Cook well and then add in chicken. Add a little water if needed. Keep stirring until chicken is cooked through and liquid is reduced. When half dry, add soya sauce and continue cooking till mixture is dry and the chicken is well coated. Add the honey if too spicy!

This dish goes really well with rice. She also served it with some Yau Mak that also happens to be my son's favourite vegetable dish. The Yau Mak goes really well as the oyster sauce and crunchy greens help to tone down the spiciness, or rather piquancy (is there such a word?) from the chillis.

A highly tasty and succesful replicating endeavour from The Lovely Wife. As has become the case of late when either one of us replicates something succesfully, the kids will pipe up - "Another dish that we dont have to eat outside anymore!"

Friday, 11 September 2009

Better than or at least as good as Chilli's

A close friend, Lynn, remarked the other day that I am a 'kill-joy' because I always want to try and make something that the kids like at restaurants. She says that if I keep doing this, the kids will never want to eat out anymore and will never enjoy food outside. I replied that it wasn't actually a 'want' but more of a 'need' - I need to know that I can do it better or at the very least, as good as what you get outside!

I kind of see her point though, but at the same time I dont see any reason why they shouldn't realise that Daddy (and Mummy) make food that is just as tasty, if not better, than what they would get at eateries outside. Furthermore, at least we know what goes into homecooked food, it is definitely more wholesome and also cheaper.

One of our favourite places to eat out is Chilli's Grill and Bar I find it rather interesting that this American Food chain is almost a worldwide name now as they have outlets all over the world. There are Four outlets in Kuala Lumpur alone and I believe one in Penang.

We love going to Chilli's as not only is the food good, it is value for money as Kids eat Free with every Adult Meal, How's that for Free Advertising for Chillis!! I also love the Bottomless drinks, otherwise known as unlimited refills, that you can order there. I usually make sure I finish at least 5 glasses of Coke when I order the bottomless drinks - much to The Lovely Wifes disenchantment! These days though, I try and stick to just water.

When the kids were younger, they would be happy with their own kids meals but nowadays they enjoy sharing the food we order as well. We all enjoy the salads at Chilli's as not only are they tasty, the portions are large and salads are always best eaten shared!

So since we all enjoy the salads there, can you really blame me for trying to make something similar at home? I think not! This is what I did.

Crispy Chicken Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

4 chicken breasts
1 egg
1 Tbsp Honey
6 Tbsp Corn Flour
3 Tbsp Plain flour

Salad Leaves
Cherry Tomatoes
Japanese Cucumber

2 Tbsp Mayonnaise
Splash of lemon juice
1 chopped Gherkin
1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 tsp yellow Mustard (English if you want it a bit piquant)
2 Tbsp Honey

Mix the flour, salt, pepper, oregano and basil together. Set aside. Beat the egg with the honey and set aside. Dip the chicken into the egg mixture then into the flour mixture and fry till well cooked. Cut the breasts into pieces.

To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients together till smooth. Adjust it to your taste.

On a serving platter, arrange the salad leaves, cut Carrots, Cherry Tomatoes, Capsicum and Japanese Cucumber. Place the chicken over it and serve with the dressing

This salad not only looked like the real thing, it also tasted like the real thing - perhaps even better. The Chicken came out a lot better than I expected. It wasnt as cruncy as the chicken you get at Chillis, but it was certainly very tasty.

What I really like about this Salad is how you can customise it with whatever vegetables you like. Add more salad leaves or more tomatoes - just the way you like it!

The kids loved it and both The Lovely Wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A Simple, Tasty and Healthy dish - what more could you ask for! My son and daughter both remarked that although they still like Chillis, what we cook at home is just as good!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

How to get more Choc Fudge from McDonalds...

This afternoon, we all went out to one of the large shopping centres - just to window shop and have an outing. After walking into one shop after the other and the length and breath of the shopping centre, the kids started to get hungry. We decided to have lunch at McDonalds - good value now with meals (including coke and fries) starting from RM5.95.

After we all wolfed down our lunch, TLW enquired why I had ordered 4 meals since there were so many fries left over. I worked on the presumption that the meals were only 1 ringgit more than the burger so it was worth it. TLW pointed out that if I had ordered only 2 meals and 2 ala carte burgers, I could have saved 2 bucks and then she could have a Sundae. She was just trying to make a point and being difficult. She got her Sundae anyway!

The kids, who at first declined the offer of the Sundae, proceeded to devour it with great abandon. So much so that after the Sundae was half eaten, there was NO MORE Choc Fudge left! How do you eat a Choc Fudge Sundae without anymore Choc Fudge?

I hit upon a plan. I sent my son and daughter to the counter to ask for more Hot Fudge. I figured that if I went, they may not have entertained me but who can resist two childred 'pleading' for more Choc Fudge?

They both ran back to the table in delight with a WHOLE LOT MORE Choc Sauce than we actually started off with!

I guess the secret in getting things done is to send your kids to do it? Does that make me a bad Daddy for sending my children to get more Choc Sauce?


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