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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Christmas Dinner 2012 - Slow Roasted Lamb and some other stuff

As we have done for the last few years we hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our place. This year was a little different though as my In-laws only came after dinner as they wanted to have something on at their own place. No issue as that meant more food for those that did come!

This year was also a bit different in the sense that I had to prepare EVERYTHING on the 24th itself - including the chocolate cakes that I take to my parents house every year for Xmas day itself. We had spend 3 days in Langkawi celebrating my Mom-in-laws 70th birthday and only got back late on the 23rd.

No grocery shopping of any kind had been done either so early on the morning of the 24th, The Lovely Wife and I went down to the local supermarket and purchased a Leg of Lamb. She then dropped me home to start on the cakes while she went to get more groceries. We had decided to try and keep things simple and so went down the route of Roast Lamb. I wanted to roast the lamb with some mushrooms but the only mushrooms The Lovely Wife could get a hold of were these awesomely huge Portobellos so I stuffed some with Minced Beef and sliced the rest to make a Garlic Mushroom dish.

We also bought lots of bread from the local bakery and served it with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar much like they do in Italian restaurants. For the appetiser, my Mom had given us some Proscuitto and we paired that with some Honeydew.

Shaken not Stirred...

For Christmas this year I got a whole lot of cool gifts from The Lovely Wife and kids. High on the list was a brand spanking new Roasting Pan. Pity it only came out on Christmas Eve as it would have helped immensely with roasting the Leg of Lamb. No matter, coz I used another pan that was given to me for some other occasion.

Another gift I got was this lovely shaker. The kids bought me this so that I could make their favourite Iced Milo. I 'complained' that most of the gifts revolved around things that I would use to Make foodstuff for THEM to eat - so was it a gift for me or for THEM?

The answer - "But Dads, you love making things for us!" Not far from the truth at all and in all seriousness, if it makes them happy then I am happy indeed!

The shaker was really fabulous and it churned out a great Iced Milo. The kids loved it and proclaimed it one of the best Milo I have ever made for them. I've made milo in shakers before but the shaker I have for Milo is a small plastic one that still needs some stirring in another cup. This one allows the milo, hot water, milk and ice to be mixed together. The best Milo is Shaken not Stirred - much like a Bond martini!

Happy New Year Everyone!!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

11 Years old today with a Chocolate Awesomeness Cake

I know its been a while since I updated this blog with any recipes so I suppose it's kind of fitting that this latest update is about my son's 11th Birthday! It was kinda fortunate that his birthday fell on a Public Holiday today so we were able to stay at home with him and also invited the family over for a Birthday Lunch. My parents were away in Melbourne while my brother and his daughters were in Gold Coast so that meant slightly fewer people. Still, there were about 15 odd people invited!

As per the tradition in this household, we woke my son up after hiding his presents under the bed. My little princess had 'camped' on the floor in his room the previous night too!

For his birthday this year, he got a replica Chelsea jersey and also a table football game - Subbuteo - something that Dads had always wanted when he was young as well! It didnt take long for both the kids to test out the game.

The Lovely Wife, together with help from her Mom, did their magic and whipped up the lunch spread. For lunch there was Stewed Pork (Tau Yew Bak) with Man Tau buns;

Fried Prawns, Chicken Curry,

Yoghurt Curry (Mohr Curry) Mixed Vegetables,

Vegetable Accar (Pickles) and Onion Rice.

Quite a fancy little spread if you ask me! My contribution as usual was dessert and the Birthday Cake.

My son had asked for a different cake, something that would be really nice but also chocolatey. He especially liked the Chocolate Truffle Torte that I had made for Christmas last year so I decided to adapt that recipe and make something completely new.

Actually, for this cake, I adapted various different recipes and components that I had made before to assemble this cake. I used the tried and tested Cake Boss Sponge recipe that I have grown to love as the base. I modified my Tiramisu soaking syrup to make it less coffee flavoured. I used the Praline Feulletine component of the Le Kit Kat cake inspired by Michel Richard and adapted the Truffle from the Chocolate Truffle Torte to assemble this cake.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Second Article in New Sunday Times

This is the second article from me for The New Sunday Times. The articles focus on Cooking at Home and involving the family.

This is the link for the article: Sunday - Life and Times - FAMILY: Somethings Stewing

The tagline reads:
Dharm Navaratnam, engineer by day and a closet chef at other times, offers more comfort recipes you can try out with the family.

A Closet chef! LOL, I quite like that description!!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Featured in New Sunday Times

I was commissioned by The New Straits Times to write a few articles on Cooking at Home and focusing on involving the family. The first article appeared today in the New Sunday Times.

This is the link for the article: Sunday - Life and Times - FAMILY: Family affair

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Spaghetti ei Gamberi

You do know that a name for a pasta dish in Italian always sounds better right? Doesn't Pasta Gamberi sound so much better than Prawn Pasta with Roasted Garlic and Mushroom Sauce? I think it does!

So anyway, you'd have figured out that I made a Prawn Pasta in a Roasted Garlic and Mushroom Sauce. The Lovely Wife had bought some prawns from the market and had planned to fry them up as the kids just love fried prawns.

Since I haven't made any new pasta for a while, I decided to make a meal out of the prawns and came up with the quick yet very tasty dish. I had originally planned to just make my aglio olio and then stir fry the prawns and add it in. However, seeing that there were mushrooms available as well, I decided to use mushrooms together with the prawns for a nice mix of earthiness and sea produce!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Brownie Throwdown - Gary Mehigan

All of us are big fans of Junior MasterChef Australia so it was no surprise that on a recent quick trip to Sydney on work, The Lovely Wife bought me a copy of Gary Mehigan's cookbook. Over the weekend, I was in the mood to bake something and was rifling through Gary's book. I came across his Brownies and although I have my own tried and tested recipe, I thought why not try his out and see how it compares?
The kids also love watching Bobby Flay's 'throwdown' and so when I suggested that I make the Mehigan Brownie, the kids were game and likened it to a 'throwdown'! Okay, not quite the same as a real throwdown but it would be a fun thing to do. In any case, I really wanted to see how Gary's brownies would turn out.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies - a recipe vs a packet!

For those of you that follow this blog, you would know that I am not really a biscuit/cookie person. Sure, I love to eat them but I dont often have the patience to make them preferring to bake cakes anytime.

That is not to say that I have never baked cookies/biscuits. I have and I will continue to do so. My two darling kids love chocolate chip cookies and they love the ready-mix Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip cookies. I'm usually very against using ready-mixed anything but somehow the Betty Crocker ones turn out really well and are really very tasty. It's getting harder to find the Betty Crocker premixes here but we had two packets on hand not too long ago when some of Michael's friends came over for a school project.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Boozy Cheesy Cherry Cake

Many weeks ago - in January - one of our good friends, Elison, celebrated her birthday and we invited her over for dinner together with another good friend, Lynn. I've mentioned before that Eli is a great cook who also has very high standards so I'm always a bit nervous when baking a cake for her - especially her birthday cake!

The Lovely Wife suggested that I do something different instead of always going down the route of chocolate. I considered making her my Chocolate Trifle that she adores but then decided to try and dazzle her with something new.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Salmon with Cream Cheese rollups

I'm still very late and trying to play catch up! It's a good thing that I haven't been that busy in the kitchen so I don't have a whole lot of backlog as catching up is bad enough as it is!

So, what do you make for an appetiser when you have some smoked salmon in your fridge? I got a package of smoked salmon from my mom. Someone had given it to her and she thought I would put it to better use as well as enjoy it more. The Lovely Wife and the kids enjoyed one package with some Pasta I threw together and then I used the next package for this appetiser when Lynn and Ms Lor Siak Por came over for dinner back in January (Yes, I'm that Late! Late I tell you, Late! )

Ms LSP had heard about the Roast Pork I made for Christmas and 'demanded' that I make her the same. Now Ms LSP makes a wicked Roast Pork herself albeit the Chinese type (Siew Yoke) so I had to make sure that at least the appetiser would be something special. Smoked Salmon is always special in itself but when rolled with cream cheese and dill - ah, even more special!

This appetiser is really easy to do although the rolling can be a little cumbersome. Not that difficult really. This is what I did:

200g Smoked Salmon slices
125g Cream Cheese
75ml Whipping Cream
Two large handfulls Dill
Black Pepper
Whip Cheese till soft. Add in the whipping cream and continue beating till light and fluffy. Season with dill and black pepper. Spread the salmon with the cheese mix and then roll up. Cut into bit size pieces and place on a plate. Pipe in remaining cheese mixture into the salmon rollups till full. Place a caper on top. Sprinkle with more black pepper and keep in fridge till ready to serve.

Once cut, plated and sprinkled with pepper, the Salmon Rolls actually looked very presentable. They were bite size and very easy to eat and the creamy cheese offset the smoked saltiness of the Salmon.

As I said, a very easy yet delicious dessert and something that tastes as good as it looks!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Almond Choc Chip Chinese New Year Cake

I'm late
I'm late
For a very important date.
No time to say "Hello, Goodbye".
I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.

Yes, Late, Late, Late! Chinese New Year has come and gone and I'm only now posting about the cake I made for Ms Lor Siak Porfor Chinese New Year 2012!

Taking a cake over to Ms LSP's for her Chinese New Year parties has become something of a tradition. It's the least we can do since Ms LSP always feeds us with some awesome food! This year, I fell in love with her Abacus Yam dish. The dish is basically yam shaped into abacus like discs and then cooked with minced meat and all sorts of other stuff. I dont know how to make it nor what goes into the dish but is really yummy. You'll have to ask her how it's made but trust me when I say it's delicious.

I always feel I need to make something different to tantalise Ms LSP's taste buds. She is one person that I really enjoy baking for as she is honest and will tell you if the cake doesn't meet up to her expectations. She also doesn't ooh and ahh for the sake of oohing and aahing but will tell you what she really thinks.

So for this year, I decided I would make a Choc Chip Almond cake topped with my usual Chocolate Ganache. This being the year of the dragon I piped out a dragon on top of the cake.

No, I dont have good piping skills, what I did was to make a royal icing and pipe it over a printed out picture of a dragon. Then I carefully moved it over to the cake. Rather clever of me I thought!

For the cake, I flirted with the idea of making a blondie - the vanilla version of a Brownie. What I did was meld the method of a brownie with my butter cake recipe and this is what I came up with.

250g Butter
230g Brown Sugar
4 Eggs
230g Flour
2.5 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Vanilla
100g Choc Chips
100g Almonds (nibs or chopped)

Chocolate Ganache
150g Dark Chocolate
200ml Cream
Sugar to taste

Melt the butter and let cool. Beat in sugar. Add in eggs one at a time till creamy. Sift flour together with baking powder and fold into the mixture. Add in vanilla, nuts and choc chips. Mix well. Spread into a lined baking pan and bake in a preheated 170C oven for about 40 minutes or till done.

For the topping, heat the cream and then pour over the chocolate. Mix well and add sugar to taste. Allow to cool slightly then spread over top and sides of cake.

My kids reckoned that the dragon looked a little bit like a prawn but fortunately Ms LSP and her guests all knew it was a Dragon!

I think the cake turned out pretty well and Ms LSP gave me the thumbs up. Thanks for a great lunch Ms LSP and here's a belated wish to everyone for a Very Happy Chinese New Year! May the year of the Dragon bring you lots of peace, love and prosperity. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Truffle Torte - Christmas 2011

This post finishes off the Christmas 2011 Meal...

Choosing the dessert for Christmas took quite some time and was a choice between going down the route of a tried and tested or doing something new. As I usually do when deciding on a dessert, I leafed through my numerous cookbooks. My son sat with me as I was rifling through pages and pages when his eyes fell on the Truffle Torte from my Le Cordon Bleu cookbook. "Dads, can you make that for dessert?" he asked as he tapped his finger on the page.

I had often wanted to try out this cake but the amount of chocolate it required coupled with the fact that it required a very thin sponge to be made had always deterred me. Not this time however. I scanned the recipe, smiled up at my boy and promptly declared that this would be dessert for Christmas Eve dinner.

This recipe is interesting in that it calls for a little bit of gelatine and liquid glucose to thicken the chocolate. I decided to substitute Honey for liquid glucose. I also decided that since I was using dark chocolate for the filling, I would use some milk chocolate for the chocolate pieces that would go around the cake. The final modification that I did was to top the cake with caramelised almonds for that extra crunch rather than to dust the top with cocoa as the recipe called for.

The sponge was fairly easy to whip up especially since the eggs are beaten over a pot of simmering water. The eggs fluffed up really nicely and didnt deflate too much once the flour was folded in. The cake was nice and soft and in fact bits of the top stuck to the cooling rack as I left it to cool a tad too long. Next time I should place some non-stick paper over the cooling rack.

This is my modified recipe based on the one from Le Cordon Bleu Home Collection - Chocolate.

2 eggs
2 1/2 Tbsp Caster Sugar
4 Tbsp Plain Flour
1 Tbps Cocoa

30ml rum
330g Good Quality Dark Chocolate
200g bar of milk chocolate
1 tsp gelatine powder
1 Tbsp honey
500ml Whipping Cream

To make the sponge: preheat the oven to 170C. Butter and flour a 8 inch springform pan. Half fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Remove from heat. Put the eggs and sugar into a large heatproof bowl and place over the saucepan making sure it is not touching the water. Using electric beaters, whisk for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is thick and light, has doubled in volume and leaves a trail as it falls from the beaters. The temperature of the mixture should never be hot, only warm. Remove the bowl from the pan of water and continue to beat until cold. Sift the flour and cocoa together and carefully fold into the whisked mixture with a large metal spoon or plastic spatula until just combined. Pour the mixture into the tin and gently smooth the top with the back of the spoon. Bake for about 15 minutes or until springy and shrinking from the sides of the tin. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Clean the cake tin so it is ready to use later.

Trim the top crust from the sponge using a long serrated knife. Cut the cake into a disc no more that 1.5cm thick and to just fit inside the tin. Place on a 8 inch cake card inside the tin or directly on the base of the tin. (I used a cake ring placed over a square cake board). Brush the sponge with the rum.

Put the chocolate into a bowl. Half fill a saucepan with water and bring the the boil. Remove from the heat and place the bowl of chocolate over the pan making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Leave the chocolate to melt slowly, then remove the bowl from the pan. Stir the gelatine powder and 1 Tbsp water over a pan of simmering water until dissolved. Add in the honey and stir well. Pour onto the melted chocolate mixing thoroughly. If mixture turns lumpy, heat very gently over a pan of simmering water until smooth. Let cool.

Whip the cream till soft peaks form and then fold into the cooled chocolate mixture. Do not overmix. Fill the tin to the top with the truffle mixture and level with a pallete knife. Refrigerate for a few hours, preferable overnight.

For the sides, melt the bar of milk chocolate and spread onto a sheet of non-stick paper and spread to a thickness of 2mm. Refrigerate until set then break off large pieces and stick on the side of the torte. Dust the torte with cocoa powder (I used caramelised almonds instead)

So yes, a rather long and tedious recipe but when you actually make it, it really doesn't seem that long nor tedious.

After brushing the cake with rum I used my dessert ring to surround the cake rather than a springform as I wanted the cake to sit on a cake board instead of the springform base. Making the truffle filling was very easy too. As I mentioned, I substituted the Liquid glucose for honey and I'm still wondering why there was a need for gelatine as I am sure the truffle filling would have held up on its own. I think I scrimped a bit on the chocolate for the pieces surrounding the cake as I didnt get a large enough bar! So when I tried sticking the pieces on, they were rather thin and the heat of the kitchen and my hands started to melt the pieces rather quickly.

I think the addition of the caramelised almonds really made a difference as the crunchy, nutty, sweetness complemented the taste of the dark chocolate really well. The truffle filling actually resembled a really thick mousse and it was very chocolatey and flavourful. The thin layer of cake offset the creaminess of the truffle filling and provided a nice change in texture. The cake practcally melts in your mouth and my son came running up to me for seconds even before I had finished serving the rest of the guests! I told him to wait his turn while everone else had a slice first then proceeded to give him a larger piece that he devoured just as quickly!

I was actually a little surprised at how easy this cake is to make especially since it produces such sensational results. My darling boy certainly loved this cake and my little Princess quickly agreed. I would have to agree with them that the cake was really pretty amazing. Definitely something I want to make again and I'm so glad my son spotted this and asked me to make it as I would probably have just left it as one of my 'want to makes' instead of actually making it!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Caramel & Chocolate Double Mousse Cake - A Princess Birthday Cake

My little princess turned 8 on the 17th of February and both The Lovely Wife and I too the day off. As usual, we woke her up early in the morning and she looked under the bed for her presents. She got quite a stack of pressies that included a 'sew by yourself' Teddy Bear kit, Paint It Magnetic Fridge Tiles, a Lego Mini Figure display box, a small zipper chain that says 'Little Princess', a Lego Mini Figure and a Magic Twisty - a small furry worm like thing that you pull along with a string, also known as a Squirmle. She also got a tiny mini stapler and a set of coloured staples. She likes these kind of things my princess does! We also got her a set of batteries as both she and her brother always run out of batteries for their toy cars and other battery operated toys. I always joke that they'll make me bankrupt from the number of batteries I need to buy!

Like her brother, she has decided she wants dessert cakes for her birthday cake instead of the traditional decorated cakes. She also asked if I could make something new, something that I had never done before and something that would be special. Ah, children these days are so demanding!

Although her birthday fell on a Friday and even though we had taken the day off to celebrate with her, we only held her party on Sunday evening. The reason for this was that her brother, Michael, had to go for a school prefects camp at some place near Morib by the sea. He would be away for two nights and would only be back on Sunday evening. We couldn't very well hold a party for our little princess without Michael could we? So that's why we held the party on Sunday.

Each birthday, for each child, we try and outdo our menu - or at least match the previous year's menu. That simply means that you are always assured of lots of food! This year, we tried to tone it down a little but as usual went slightly overboard.

The menu this year was Barbequed Chicken using the BBQ Ribs recipe, Savoury glutinous rice - otherwise known as Lo Ma Kai, Vegetable Pasties, Spicy Fried Sausages with Anchovies as well as a Guacamole dip with corn chips. I also whipped up a batch of my Brownies which everyone always loves.

For the cake, I made an original Dharm creation. I recently stumbled on to the recipe for a sponge cake from Cakeboss and I had really liked how that turned out. Very spongy and airy and yet fairly dense without holes. This is probably the best sponge cake recipe that I have ever come across and its really quite easy too. I decided I would use a sponge as the base and sandwhich chocolate mousse and caramel mousse in between. Since there were two types of mousse and also double layers of mousse, I decided to call the cake a Chocolate and Caramel Double Mousse Cake!

As I said earlier, the cake itself was quite easy to whip up. The only issue I have with this recipe is that they dont specify the timing. I put it to about 40mins but this would depend a lot on the size of your eggs and well as the pans. This time I baked it in two 9" pans so that I could use my cake ring mould. One of the pans was slightly smaller though so two of the cake layers were smaller. After baking the cakes, I used my cake leveller to cut the cakes into layers but I didn't quite get equal layers as I trimmed the top off the cake too.

The caramel mousse was a first for me but it turned out just as I wanted. Slightly burned flavour of the caramel enhanced with a little dark chocolate to thicken it and then emulsified with cream. The cream was then whipped up to a nice moussey texture.

For the chocolate, I added in a little gelatine to thicken it together with some honey. I usually add egg yolks into my mousse but since I didnt want to have any leftover egg whites, I did it this way instead.

After layering the cake and mousse, I found that I had enough chocolate mousse to cover the sides as well and the mousse seemed to hold enough to swirl round the sides so thats what I did. In total there were 8 layers of cake and mousse!

Cake Base
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup butter (lightly salted)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Caramel Mousse
1/2 cup granulated sugar
50 g salted butter
300ml whipping cream
2oz Dark Chocolate

Chocolate Mousse
300g Whipping Cream
250g Dark Chocolate
1 Tbsp Honey
1 tsp Gelatine
1Tbsp water

Sponge Cake
1. Beat eggs in large mixing bowl with paddle attachment for 4 minutes. Do not skip this step!
2. Add sugar, and continue beating for another 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and stir on low until just combined.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to eggs and sugar on low speed until just combined.
4. In a saucepan, heat milk and butter on low heat just until butter is melted. Add to batter, beat just until combined.
5. Pour into two greased and floured 8" round cake pans.
6. Bake at 160C for about 40mins until the middle springs back when touched, or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let stand in pans for 10 minutes. Then turn out onto wire cooling racks and cool completely.

Hint: Cakes are close to being done when you start to smell them.

Caramel Mousse
Melt sugar to make caramel (either dry method or wet method). Add in butter. Then add in the cream a little at a time. Mixture will splatter. Cook till fully incorporate with the cream. Let cool. Whip cream till stiff.

Chocolate Mousse
Heat cream till almost to the boil. Pour over chocolate and mix well till incorporated. Mix Gelatine with 1 Tbsp Water and hydrate. Place over a bowl of simmering water and dissolve. Add into the cream mixture together with the honey and allow to cool a little. Whip till thick and creamy.

Using a cake leveller, cut each cake into two layers. Place the bottom into a ring mould. Cover with half the caramel mousse. Place another layer of cake over the caramel mousse and then place in freezer for a short while to firm up. Spread with half the chocolate mousse then cover with another layer of cake. Repeat so that you have cake - caramel mousse-cake - chocolate mousse - cake - caramel mousse - cake chocolate mousse. Remove cake from ring mould and use remaining mousse to cover sides as well. Chill for at least 6 hours but preferably overnight.

Garnish with sliced almonds.

The results were pretty damned astounding! The flavour of the caramel complemented the chocolate really, really well. The cake was soft and light and I think if I were to improve on this, I would soak the cake with either a sugar syrup or maybe some alcohol or even some coffee.

Most of the guests had two helpings as did my Little Princess. She gave the cake a super rating and claimed it as one of my finest. The best review however came from The Lovely Wife. She's normally not a mousse cake kind of gal but she simply Loved this cake! She had the leftovers two nights in a row and each time she kept saying how much she enjoyed the cake. My Darling Boy also gave it a thumbs up and proclaimed it one of his favourites!

Not bad at all for an original Dharm creation and for a first try. As I said, the sponge recipe is really my favourite sponge base and I will now use this most of the time for any recipe requiring a sponge cake.

So, another succesful birthday party and another delicious cake to add to my repertoire!

My little Princess was really happy and whenever she is happy, I am happy!
Happy Birthday my Darling Princess!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Corn Muffins - Christmas 2011

Although I've made a sweet version of corn muffins before, I wanted this to complement the pork and chicken - kind of like a bread to go with the main meal. It sounded like a good plan and the pictures in my Le Cordon Bleu muffin cookbook looked really good too. I especially liked the fact that the recipe called for lots and lots of corn kernels. I could just imagine biting into soft muffins filled with corn.

Alas, this wasn't to be as I made one error. Not a terribly fatal error but an error nonetheless and an error that caused the muffins to be a little dry and not as delicious as it should have been. The error? Well the recipe called for Self Raising flour and since I didn't have any, I did my usual 'make your own' by adding baking powder to plain flour.

This is the recipe from Le Cordon Bleu Muffins. The original recipe also has a pinch of cayenne pepper but I left that out.

225g Self Raising Flour
150g Cornmeal (polenta)
60g Cheddar (grated)
240g frozen corn kernels
250ml milk
2 eggs
100g butter, melted

Preheat oven 20 210C. Brush a 12 hole muffin pan with melted butter or oil.
Sift flour into a large bowl. Stir in Cornmeal, cheese and corn. Make a well in the centre.
Whisk milk and eggs together and then pour into the well in the dry ingredients together with the butter. Stir with a metal spoon till just combined. Do not overmix as the mixture should be lumpy
Fill muffin pans three quarters full and bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in centre of muffin
Leave muffins in tin for 5 minutes before lifting out to wire rack to cool

In the heat of the kitchen and the rush for time however, I miscalculated the measurements and added in half of what I should have. The result - not a well risen, rather dense and semi dry muffin. It still tasted good although it didn't have the correct texture. Still, it was passable and eatable and my son even asked for one the next morning for breakfast.

I just wonder how delicious the muffins would have been if I didn't screw up...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Crostini - Christmas 2011

Carrying on with my posts on Christmas Eve dinner 2011....

Whoever said appetisers had to be complicated? I wanted something simple, tasty and easy to make and their is nothing simpler and tasty than crostini.

Crostini, which actually means "little toasts" in Italian is an Italian appetizer consisting of small slices of grilled or toasted bread and toppings. The best thing with crostini is that you can use whatever topping you want.

I had some Mozzarella cheese in the freezer that was nearing its use by date and that was what prompted me to use it for this appetizer. I decided to keep it simple although The Lovely Wife suggested a variety of toppings. I got some nice baquettes from our local bakery and cut it up into slices. Then I fried up some bacon and mushrooms, topped it with mozzarrella cheese and then placed a sliced tomato on top. This was then grilled in the oven till the bread was slightly crisp and the cheese had melted. Simple but very tasty. My parents enjoyed this very much as a starter coupled with some crisp white wine while the kids wanted seconds.

Me? I could eat these all day long.....

Monday, 6 February 2012

Slow Roasted Pork - Christmas 2011

So this post is really late. We've already finished one month of 2012 and I still haven't updated my Christmas Dinner post - so here goes.

Christmas Eve was held at our place this year and my Parents, my Brother and his two daughters and my Brother in Law, wife and son came over. Mom in law was in Australia with my niece so they couldn't make it while my eldest brother and his wife had another function on. So all in all, including the four of us, I had to make dinner for 12 people.

You've already seen the menu that I put up in my last post but as usual, planning the menu wasn't an easy task. The Lovely Wife and I spent many an hour pondering what to make. I wanted to go with something tried and tested as, after all, there were 12 people to cook for and I couldn't very well afford a disaster.

Funnily enough though, what we finally decided upon included quite a few new dishes - or at least new recipes. First up on the decision tree was Roast Pork. The Lovely Wife and I figured that we wanted something that could stand up on its own as a main meal. Now I've never made Roast Pork in my life before but as they say, there's always a first time for everything.

To complement the Pork and to cater for anyone that may have wanted something else as well as a safeguard in case the pork went awry, I decided to make my Chicken Cacciatore - very delicious and something tried and tested.

So the two main meals were chosen. Mashed Potatoes would go with both the chicken and the pork so the potatoes would be the carbohydrates. The Lovely Wife would make a nice salad and it looked like we were done.

However, I felt that there wasn't enough food to serve. It was Christmas after all! That's when I decided on Crostini and also Corn Muffins. I've made corn muffins before but those were sweetish muffins. I wanted these to be savoury to complement the pork and/or chicken.

Finally, Dessert was chosen and the menu was complete.

So lets start with the Slow Roasted Pork.

As I said before, I've never made Roast Pork before. In deciding how to make the pork, I remembered an episode of Jamie Oliver where he made this Pork Roast with crackling. I did a search on the web and found his recipe for Slow Roasted Pork. The recipe looked just great and I decided I would serve it with my own Applesauce recipe.

The more I looked at the recipe though, the more I got intimidated. I worried that the pork wouldn't be tender or that it would be undercooked. The most intimidating part was not knowing what cut of pork to use. A quick trip to my Pork Butcher quickly solved that.

Now allow me to digress a little. When I was young, and I mean really young, I used to follow Mom to the market in town - the Central Market. In those days, the Central Market was really quite a mess - all wet and smelly. These days, the Central Market has been transformed into an Art and Craft centre and has become a tourist attraction.

So anyway, back in those days, each section of the market had a whole range of different vendors and Mom had her favourites. The Chicken Lady was the second stall on the left in the chicken area while her Vegetable Man was on the third or fourth row of vegetable sellers.

And then there was Jimmy. He was her Pork Man and he was a really friendly chap. Sometimes, Mom would preorder pork from him and send me in to pick up the meat while she waited outside in the car. He would always smile when he saw me and call out in a loud jovial voice "Ah! Teacher's Son!"

Once the Central Market closed down, Jimmy moved to the Taman Tun Market and I have paid him a visit there every once in a while over the years. So that is where I went, one week before Christmas, to make an order for the pork.

Just like days of yore, I waited in line but this time with my son in tow. When I reached the head of the line, I smiled at the bubbly pork seller in front of me. "Jimmy. Remember me?"
His eyes scanned my face and then the face of my son. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he yelled out. "Ah! Teacher's Son! How's your mother? What you want? What you want to make?"

I explained to him that I wanted to do a Roast Pork - western style and that I wanted a loin or shoulder. Jimmy proceeded to explain that the best part would be the shoulder - deboned and tied up as the shoulder had a lot of fat. "When you want it? You want it now?"

I arranged to pick it up from him on Christmas Eve and when I did, it was a lovely cut, just under 2kg and with the skin scored nicely. I was beginning to get really excited about the Roast Pork.

about 2kg shoulder of pork, skin on
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Large onion, halved
2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthways
1 bulb of garlic, skin on, broken into cloves
4-6 fresh bay leaves
600ml water or vegetable stock

4 Granny Smith apples, pared and cubed
2 tbsp brown sugar
1-2 cinnamon stems (or 1-2 tsp cinammon powder)

Preheat your oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7.

Place your pork on a clean work surface, skin-side up. Get yourself a small sharp knife and make scores about a centimetre apart through the skin into the fat, but not so deep that you cut into the meat. If the joint is tied, try not to cut through the string. Rub salt right into all the scores you’ve just made, pulling the skin apart a little if you need to.

Brush any excess salt off the surface then turn it over. Season the underside of the meat with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Place your pork, skin-side up, in a roasting tray and pop in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes, until the skin of the pork has started to puff up and you can see it turning into crackling. At this point, turn the heat down to 170°C/325 F/gas 3, cover the pork snugly with a double layer of tinfoil, pop back in the oven and roast for a further 4 and a half hours.

Take out of the oven, take the foil off, and baste the meat with the fat in the bottom of the tray. Carefully lift the pork up and transfer to a chopping board. Spoon all but a couple of tablespoons of fat out (save it for roast potatoes!).

Add all the veg, garlic and bay leaves to the tray and stir them into the fat. Place the pork back on top of everything and return to the stove without the foil to roast for another hour. By this time the meat should be meltingly soft and tender.

Carefully move the meat to a serving dish, cover again with tinfoil and leave to rest while you make your gravy. Spoon away any fat in the tray, then add the water or stock and place the tray on the hob. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to scrape up all those lovely sticky tasty bits on the bottom of the tray. When you’ve got a nice, dark gravy, pour it through a sieve into a bowl or gravy boat, using your spoon to really push all the goodness of the veg through the sieve. Add a little more salt and pepper if it needs it.

Serve the pork and crackling with your jug of gravy

Combine the apples, sugar, cinammon and 1 cup water in a heavy saucepan.
Cook for 20 minutes until apples are soft. Mash up or process the apples in food processor till smooth. Set aside. Add more sugar or cinnamon as needed.

Now the beauty about this recipe is that there really isn't a whole lot for you to do. You season the underside with salt and pepper and then rub the skin generously with salt before throwing it in the oven. One key factor is to make sure the skin is dried properly after washing and before seasoning.

The pork sits in the oven for an hour on high, high heat. I expected to see the skin crackling at this point but it just kind of dries out and puffs up a little. The heat is then reduced to 170C and the pork covered with foil. The meat is left to slow cook now for around four hours. Then the foil is removed and the pork is basted with its own juices. You throw in some vegetables at this point and place the pork on top of all the veges. It's then returned to the oven without the foil to roast for another hour.

When I took the roast out, it was just amazing. The skin was nice and crackly and almost separated from the meat as the layer of fat underneath the skin was all gooey and melted goodness. I let the meat rest and made a gravy like the recipe said - adding water to the juices and vegetables and then reducing it. The whole kitchen was filled with the lovely aroma of roasted meat.

When I served the pork roast, the meat was very, very tender and fell away with the slightest of prodding. Fabulous, simply fabulous! It went really, really well with mustard and the applesauce that I made and to say that the Roast Pork was a hit would be an understatement. It was simply sensational! The gravy was very tasty as well and not at all overpowering like some gravy can be.

This is definitely something that I would make again especially when there are a lot of mouths to feed. Thankyou Jamie Oliver for this lovely recipe!


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