Sunday, January 31, 2010

A rise

Sorry for the slow update in posts.

To tell you the truth, I  have been kind of stuck lately. Firstly, it was hard to find the time to bake. I get off late from work and by the time I reach home, I'm so tired that all I want to do is hit the bed and relax. Secondly, I feel that my baking is stagnating. There were a few other things I tried to make in the first several weeks here that either ended up burnt at the sides, or tasting less than good. I know, it's supposed to be the oven right? It could even be the ingredients. I'm not the only one noticing that the same ingredients here - the flour, sugar, butter, and eggs - do not produce the same texture and taste as the baking back in Melbourne. But what's worse, I might be losing my touch...Now that is scary.

Thankfully, this weekend something happened and gave me hope. I baked my first white bread. It was not perfect...but it was the best new baking that I did in a while. It gave me hope that I am still able to bake something unfamiliar that did not end up disastrous.

I found Richard Bertinet's book Dough in the local bookstore and it inspired me to venture beyond my comfort zone. I've always played it safe by trying out recipes with baking powder, baking soda or eggs as the leavening agent (making pizza was once-off as it was a group occasion). Yeast is a very tricky thing. A change in humidity, a change in temperature, can make it act differently. I have also heard stories of bread making. If you're not careful, they'll turn out as hard as rocks.

One thing I learnt is to be prepared. What I like about the book is that Richard explains the ingredients, the tools and the way to properly treat the dough. He even included a demonstration CD. It was very satisfying to see the bread coming out of the oven fragrant, golden and singing :)

If you want to learn more about baking bread, I really recommend this book. Below is just an outline of the ingredients and the steps. White bread dough can be turned to a whole range of breads, one of which is a fougasse.

Cheese Fougasse
adapted from Dough
makes 6

500g bread flour
10g yeast (instant dried/fresh)
10g salt
350ml water
parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 250C.
  2. Rub the yeast into the flour until they disappear.
  3. Add in the salt and mix well.
  4. Pour in the water and using a dough scraper, mix the ingredients until they form a sticky dough.
  5. Turn out onto the work surface and knead until the dough looks smooth and silky.
  6. Rest the dough in a bowl covered with a tea towel/clingwrap until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
  7. Carefully remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface and cut into two rectangular shapes.
  8. Cut each rectangles into three more.
  9. Make a slit in the centre and two diagonal slits on each side.
  10. Be sure to pull the dough (gently, without deflating) and widen the slits to prevent them from closing while baking.
  11. Place on an oven tray, sprinkle with the grated cheese and slide them into the oven.
  12. Reduce the temperature to 230C and bake until golden for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Orders up

A friend of mine once told me this.

"The best way to test your baking or cooking is to give them to little children. They are usually more honest in their opinions."

Well, sometimes that's true...Kids will tell it straight to your face whether they like what you made. If they like it, they'll eat it and ask for seconds. If they don't, they'll voice their reasons. On other times, however, kids won't have enough experience to judge the food's texture or the good taste from the better. Furthermore, if your dish is 99% right but it doesn't suit their preferences...let's just say you'll have to swallow your pride and find another judge.

But one thing I noticed is that children know what food they want and when they want it. This week, my 7-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister requested for a batch of brownies and a lunch serving of meatballs spaghetti. It's pretty surprising to find that my younger siblings are more aware of food than I was when I was their age.

I'm still in search of a brownies recipe as the ones I tried was too sweet for my taste. But Jamie Oliver's meatballs spaghetti recipe is a keeper. His use of Jacob cream crackers instead of breadcrumbs especially intrigued me and I'm glad to find that they did not affect the taste of the meat.

The verdict? My brother and sister preferred the thicker, richer tomato sauce that I made last month but this dish was a winner among my parents and my teenage sisters :D I've put up the recipe for both sauces. Enjoy~

Jamie Oliver's
Meatballs Spaghetti
adapted from here
serves 4-6

For the Meatballs
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1/2 an onion
12 Jacob's cream crackers
2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
500g minced beef
1 heaped tbsp dried oregano
1 large egg
sea salt and black pepper

  1. Pick the rosemary leaves off the woody stalks and finely chop them.
  2. Place the crackers into a plastic bag and smash them up until fine.
  3. Add to a large bowl along with the meat, mustard, onion, rosemary and oregano.
  4. Crack an egg and add a good pinch of salt and pepper.
  5. Mix them up well and roll into 24 balls.
For the sauce
a bunch of fresh basil
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 x 400g tins of whole peeled tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
seasoning: salt, black pepper, sugar, dried oregano+parsley

300g spaghetti
parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Pick the basil leaves and reserve the smaller ones for ganish.
  2. Finely chop the onions and garlic.
  3. Heat a large frying pan on medium heat and add 2 tbsp of olive oil.
  4. Add the onions to the pan and cook until they are golden and wilted, around 7 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic, and as soon as it starts to brown, stir in the large basil leaves.
  6. Add the canned+fresh tomatoes and balsamic vinegar
  7. Bring to a boil and season to taste with salt, black pepper, sugar and dried herbs.
Bringing it all together
  1. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
  2. Heat oil in another frying pan and add the meatballs.
  3. Stir and cook them until they are golden, around 8-10 minutes.
  4. Add the meatballs into the sauce and simmer until the pasta is ready.
  5. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.
  6. Sprinkle the reserved basil leaves and some grated parmesan.

Tomato Sauce II

olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
150g tomato paste
4 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp each dried basil+parsley
1 tbsp sugar
salt & black pepper, to taste 

  1. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry onions until golden and wilted.
  2. Add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes.
  3. Add the dried herbs, sugar, salt and black pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil and simmer until sauce thickens.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

kickstart your day: orange and almond friands

The meal that I always can't go without is breakfast. I need to have that slice of bread, a muffin or a croissant before the start of the day. Many of my friends are often surprised when I tell them that I daily set aside a few minutes in the morning before even the earliest class to prepare food. They prefer to save the hours for sleep and make it up with a hearty lunch (or dinner :D). Breakfast is the key to concentration for the day.

And after you have started working, it helps a lot. One week has gone by and I survived my work :) I gotta say, the hours demanded were WAY more than university. It's close to 10 hours a day, 5 days a week vs 12 hours a week. Even though I was still in training, each hour needed my full attention. I made these orange and almond friands to help me start the day.

Before going to Australia, I have never heard or seen these cakes. Although friands are similar to light teacakes and madeleines, they're mostly eaten for breakfast back in Melbourne. What differentiate them from muffins are the large content of almond meal and denser texture. After trying a lemon and a pistachio one, I fell in love. I baked this batch to fill in the shortfall in the shops here. Enjoy~

Orange and Almond Friands
adapted from here
makes 12 muffin-sized friands

1 1/4 cup pure icing sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup almond meal
6 egg whites
185g butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp grated orange rind
Juice of half an orange 

  1. Preheat oven to 200C and butter a muffin tray.
  2. Sift icing sugar and flour into a large bowl.
  3. Add the almond meal and whisk to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy.
  5. Fold in the egg whites followed by the melted butter, rind and juice.
  6. Pour the mixture into the muffin moulds until they are 3/4 full.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden and springy to the touch.
  8. Cool before unmoulding.
The friands can last up to 3 days if stored in an airtight container or up to 2 months if frozen. Dust with icing sugar to serve or make the syrup from the original recipe.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Party recipes

As promised, here are the recipes from last new year's eve dinner. Enjoy :)

I. Bacon, leek and onion tart
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine Issue 32
makes 70 mini-muffin sized or 18 standard-muffin sized tarts 

1 1/2 quantities of savoury shortcrust pastry
1 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
1 leek, diced
9 eggs
1 1/2 cup single or pouring cream
2/3 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese, and extra to serve
sea salt and cracked black pepper
100g ricotta cheese
8 slices of bacon, chopped 

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. 
  2. Cook the chopped bacon in a frying pan. 
  3. Reserve the bacon oil and use it to fry the onions and leeks until soft (around 5 mins). If there isn't enough oil, add the olive oil. 
  4. Place the eggs, cream, parmesan, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine. 
  5. Add the cooked bacon, onions and leeks into the egg mixture. 
  6. Grease a muffin tray and cut rounds of the shortcrust pastry that will fit the muffin molds. 
  7. Gently press the pastry to fit the mold. Butter the underside of a piece of aluminium foil and gently press against the pastry. 
  8. Bake the crust for 5 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue baking for 4-5 minutes until the crust is slightly golden and dry. 
  9. Pour over the egg mixture. 
  10. Top with the ricotta cheese and sprinkle more parmesan if desired. 
  11. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until the egg is set and the top is golden.

II. Smoked Salmon Crostini
makes 40

1 loaf of french bread
400g smoked salmon
200g creme fraiche
100g ricotta cheese
salt and pepper

  1. Cut the french bread into slices and toast until dry but not brown. Divide bigger slices into two. 
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the creme fraiche and ricotta cheese. 
  3. Add salt, pepper, sugar and a squirt of lemon juice to taste. 
  4. Spread the creme fraiche mixture onto the toasted bread. 
  5. Top with a slice of smoked salmon and garnish with dill

III. Apple Pie
adapted from here
makes a 9.5 inch apple pie 

For a double crust pie dough:
3 cups of plain flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
183g unsalted butter, very cold and cut into cubes
1/3 cup of vegetable shortening, very cold and cut into cubes
1/2 cup ice water 

  1. Put the flour, sugar, salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse just to combine. 
  2. Drop in the butter and shortening and pulse only until the 2 ingredients are cut into the flour (it's okay to have some butter pieces the size of peas and others barley). 
  3. Pulsing the machine on and off, gradually add about 6 tablespoons of water. 
  4. Use a few long pulses to get the water into the flour and a moist/soft dough forms. 
  5. Scrape the dough out and onto a work surface. Divide the dough in half. 
  6. Gather each half into a ball, flatten each ball into a disk and wrap each half in plastic. 
  7. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
For the apple filling:
6 very large apples
3/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp quick cooking tapioca
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

  1. Butter a 9/9.5 inch pie plate. 
  2. Roll one pie dough to a thickness of about 3mm. 
  3. Fit the dough into the buttered pie plate and trim the edges to a 2.5cm overhang 
  4. Roll the other dough into a 3mm-thick circle and slip it onto a baking sheet. 
  5. Cover both the circle and crust in the pie plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. 
  6. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 210C. 
  7. Peel, core and slice apples into 3-mm thick slices. 
  8. Put the apples in a large bowl and add the sugar, lemon zest, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. 
  9. Toss everything and let the mix sit for 5 minutes, or until juice starts to accumulate in the bottom of the bowl. 
  10. Remove the pie plate and top crust from the fridge. 
  11. Sprinkle the bottom crush with biscuit crumbs and then turn the apples and their juices into the crust. 
  12. Pat the apples into an even mound and dot with bits of butter. 
  13. Moisten the rim of the bottom crust with water and center the top crust over the apples. 
  14. Either fold the overhang from the top crust under the bottom or trim the overhang. 
  15. Use a sharp knife and cut about 6 slits at the top crust. 
  16. Bake for 15 minutes. 
  17. Lower temperature to 190C and bake for a further 50-60 minutes (if the top crust is browning too quickly after 40 minutes, cover the pie loosely with a foil). 
  18. Transfer the pie to a rack and let it rest until just warm or it reaches room temperature

Friday, January 1, 2010

All things new

My family did something new for new year's eve this year. In the past, we either went out for dinner together or attended someone else's new year party. This year (or last year I should say), for the first time, we were home. We invited a few of our family friends and cooked our own feast :)

And what a feast! The centerpiece of the dinner were the roast turkeys. One of my dad's friends volunteered to cook them and they were delicious! I received the opportunity to see and assist the cooking process. I've always wanted to learn how holiday roast turkeys are made, but never had a chance because no one I know does it. Turkey isn't a common ingredient in Asian cultures. Excited, I saved whatever information and images I could of the cooking from start to finish. Sadly, I had my hands too full that I couldn't capture them with a camera. But, here's a brief summary of what happened.

Roasting the Turkeys 

Step 1: Wash the inside, neck cavity and the whole of the turkey. Drain excess water.

Step 2: Use the neck and gizzards to make turkey stock. They come in handy for the stuffing and gravy.

Step 3: Flavour the turkey. Turkeys on their own are bland so it's important that they're seasoned well. We used lemon juice, parsley, celery (leaves and bulbs) and onions to stuff the inside and the neck. After that the turkeys were rubbed with olive oil, salt and seasoned salt. The neck cavity and insides were then sewed so that the flavour stays inside.

Step 4: Bake the turkey. We calculated the baking time by converting the kilos into pounds and assigning 15 minutes per pound. Timing is crucial because an extra 15 minutes can easily overcook the turkeys.

Preparing the Sides 
Step 5: While the turkey is cooking, prepare the stuffing. My dad's friend recommended a recipe from here.He likes using French bread for the stuffing because the crust adds extra texture and prevents them from being too soggy. That's the last thing that you want.

Step 6: Use the rest of the turkey stock to make the gravy.

Step 7: Make your desired side dish. My dad's friend wanted to test an idea he had and that was to make a potato casserole. I had to prepare the appetisers so I didn't get to see how he made it, but here's how it looked like.

One good thing about hosting your own dinner party is that you get to choose the menu. Seizing this chance, I asked my parents whether I could prepare the appetizers and one of the desserts.

Here are snapshots of what I made. Recipes to come soon :)

So meanwhile, hope you all are enjoying the holiday, having a good time with your loved ones, but also savouring plenty of good food! Happy 2010 everyone :)


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