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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ye merry gentlemen. 

(Christmas Tree Biscuits)

Clean-out-the-pantry pie

Friday, December 24, 2010

¾ cup cookie dough, approximate
1 egg
3 tablespoons condensed milk
1 lemon
1 425g tin pitted dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup

This is a list of leftovers and items I had in the fridge and kitchen cupboard. The cookie dough was left over from the Daring Bakers sugar cookie challenge in September (it was kept in the freezer); the condensed milk was the last bit from yesterday after making the macaroon cookies; the lemon was skinless after I used the rind together with corn chips to coat some fish fillets (the recipe will be in a future post); and the tin of cherries I had bought a few months ago thinking I would make something but it ended up in the back of the cupboard until I discovered it a couple of days ago.

With nothing but the desire to use all of these items up before the end of the year, I turned them into a pie big enough for two or three servings. Here's what I did:
  1. Spread cookie dough in base and up the sides of a 15cm fluted pie dish. Prick base and bake for 5 minutes in an oven preheated at 175°C. Cool.
  2. Separate egg. Beat yolk with condensed milk and juice of half the lemon until frothy.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat egg white with juice of other half of the lemon and 1 tablespoon sugar until soft peaks form.
  4. Fold ⅔ of the egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Pour into pastry case until three-quarters full (there will be some left over).
  5. Open tin of cherries. Arrange as many cherries as possible (I managed 21) on the egg mixture.
  6. Spread remaining meringue (egg white) on top of cherries and make ripples and swirls. Bake in a 175°C oven for 20 minutes or until top is golden.
I think this pie is best eaten cold. Here's a quarter of it:

Dust with icing sugar and serve
What to do with the leftover egg mixture: Place a few cherries in the base of a ramekin; spread the egg mixture over the top and bake along with the pie. Remove from oven when top of custard is firm and light golden, 10-12 minutes.

Dig in for the cherries
So that's what I did with leftovers and items that have been sitting around for a while. I gave some to Veggie Chick and Mz M to try and they seemed to like it so I guess I didn't too badly. Cheers, here's to more surprises next year!

Christmas macaroons

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Everything I wrote in my post on Macaroon Pyramids from Jan 7, 2010, has gone missing ("Keeping in shape [and we're not talking exercise]" ­­– and I liked that headline too). Only the link to the printable recipe in pdf is available. Odd.

At least the picture is still in Blogger/Picasa (right).

That was the last time I made macaroons actually, and since I had a tin of condensed milk my sister sent me from the US, this was a good time as any to make some. I saw this recipe for Outrageous Macaroons on cooking,com, in which cranberries and pistachios provide the traditional red and green colour of Christmas. These would be perfect on the snack table at the family Christmas gathering ­­– although with six children under the age of 12 present, I might be the bad aunty that day for getting them more hyper than usual.

But after scrutinising the recipe, I decided not to follow it, and instead used the one I had for Macaroon Pyramids with a few changes. For the red, I kept the cranberries but opted for green pumpkin seeds because the price of pistachios over here has gone up tremendously. Pumpkin seeds don't have the same nuttiness or buttery creaminess of pistachios, but they do have an appeal all their own.

The Outrageous recipe garnishes the cookies with melted chocolate and more nuts and fruit. I had some chocolate ganache leftover from the Banana Split I made last week and sandwiched a couple of cookies together instead. That's entirely optional, of course. These cookies don't need extra adornment.

Makes 3 dozen cookies

⅓ cup plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 cups dessicated or shredded coconut (or a combination of both)
1 cup ground almonds
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup green pumpkin seeds
1 cup sweetened condensed milk (if using sweetened creamer instead, cut down a little)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Sift flour and salt together in a bowl and stir in coconut and ground almonds. Mix in the other ingredients to form a soft dough. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  • In the meantime, preheat oven to 175°C. If using baking sheets, line with ungreased baking/parchment paper. Pinch off pieces of dough, about 1 rounded tablespoon each, and shape into balls. Place on the tray, spacing them about 3cm apart, and press down with a bottom of a glass until 4cm wide and 1cm thick. Bake 15-20 minutes until coconut is toasted.
  • Remove from oven and leave for 2 minutes before placing each macaroon on a wire rack to cool.

    Olé mole

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Even if I were given an authentic recipe for a mole and the secret ingredient was whispered to me by a doña from Mexico, I don't know if I would call my red sauce a mole.

    That's moot anyway since I didn't get the recipe for the mole sauce below in any secret meeting; I simply adapted one from a book. The chocolate in it has always fascinated me, and I thought it would be a good time to try it with the can of chipotle in adobo sauce my sister had brought from America when she was here on her last visit.

    I have to admit, after I made the sauce, I wasn't impressed. It had an insipid colour – not a fiery red as I assumed it would be. It tasted fine, but fine doesn't wow me. I added more of the hot chilli and adobo sauce but it still seemed bland. But I put it into a container and refrigerated it after it cooled.

    The next day, it looked like it had thickened but was still as unimpressive as the day before. I went ahead and prepared the chicken thighs I was slow-cooking and then added some of the sauce to the crockpot with the chicken and an onion cut into wedges. I switched on the cooker, and got ready for bed (I don't know why I started cooking this so late at night).

    The next morning, through the bedroom door came an aroma that got me straight out of bed. Out in the kitchen/living room, it was more intense. In the crockpot, the sauce had become a glaze around the chicken thighs. Bits of it were dark and caramelised, and sticking to the inside of the pot. The top layer was still bubbling. The meat of the chicken fell off the bone as I picked a thigh up with tongs.

    I spooned out some sauce and tasted it. The creaminess of the nuts came through and had intensified, and so had the heat from the chilli. There was a certain sweetness to it although as you can see from the recipe, there is no sugar in it, so I can't explain that.

    This sauce completely changed from the time it was made to the time it came out of the crockpot. Fantastic.

    Doesn't look like much, does it? 
    (Adapted from 500 Mexican Dishes)
    Makes about 475ml

    1 large thick slice of stale bread, cubed
    150ml milk
    170g blanched almonds
    2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, toasted
    2-2½ tablespoons chipotle in adobo sauce
    1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
    30g dark chocolate
    1 rib celery, finely diced
    1 medium onion, finely diced
    100ml chicken stock
    1 400g tin tomatoes, with juice
    Salt to taste
    Cooking oil
    • Place bread cubes in a small bowl and add the milk. Leave aside to soak until bread is soft.
    • Blend bread and milk with almonds, pumpkin seeds, chipotle, cinnamon and chocolate using a food processor or hand blender until puréed but grainy.
    • Heat a little oil in a large deep skillet and sweat celery and onions. Add puréed ingredients, stock and tinned tomatoes, and simmer, stirring, over medium heat, until chocolate melts and the flavours have blended, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. If not hot enough, add more of the adobo sauce.
    • Take sauce off heat and blend in a food processor or using a hand blender until smooth. Return to heat and cook, stirring, until it starts to bubble again, about 5 minutes.
    To make Slow-cooked Chicken in Red Sauce for two, heat some oil in a pan, and brown four chicken drumsticks, about 5 minutes. Place chicken, 1 medium onion cut into wedges and about ¾ cup mole sauce in the crockpot. Add enough water to just cover the chicken pieces and stir gently to mix. Cook on low for 6 hours.

    The chicken can also be cooked in the oven. Preheat oven to 170°C. After browning chicken in an oven-proof skillet or pan with a lid, stir in red sauce and water, cover and place in the oven and cook chicken until tender, 3-4 hours.

    If you can't get chipotle in adobo sauce, any kind of hot chilli could work although I haven't tried that. I would grind/pound the chilli and fry it in a little oil before using.


    And the beet goes on

    Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    So what do you do with stale leftover bread? You could feed it to the birds, but of course, there are less wasteful uses: you could process slices down into breadcrumbs; there's panzanella, the Italian bread salad; you could make croutons; semmelknödel (bread dumplings); or use it in a stuffing.

    There's also bread and butter pudding, a traditional British favourite but also found elsewhere in other variations.You could also flavour the pudding with chocolate, or make it savoury with ham and cheese. Here's a recipe for a Caribbean-inspired bread pudding with lime curd and cranberries. (These three recipes come from the BBC Food site and it has a dozen others.) Someone may want to come up with a kaya (coconut egg jam) and coconut milk version in Malaysia.

    White bread is normally used ­­and an eggy bread, like brioche or challah, or a fruit bread makes a more luscious pudding. Stale croissants are good too. Whatever it is, the bread needs to be of good quality; your ordinary sliced bread tends to go claggy when it soaks up the milk.

    Some recipes call for the custard ingredients to be partly cooked first; others simply mix them together. Some use a lot of custard so that the bread slices are completely submerged; others have the points sticking out. Some people like the crust of the bread off, others keep it on.

    I mixed the milk, cream and eggs together with the fruit and flavourings, the crust stays on and the custard only comes halfway up the sides of the bread slices so that there is a crisper top. I decided to use the beetroot bread I made this past week for my pudding. It makes a rosy dessert, doesn't it?

    This one is going to YeastSpotting.

    TOMORROW: Olé mole!

    Beetroot loaf
    Serves 4-5

    60g mixed raisins and diced apricots
    2 tablespoons rum
    30g butter, plus extra for greasing, softened
    4 medium-thick slices beetroot bread or good-quality white bread
    2 eggs
    60g caster sugar
    350ml whole milk
    60ml cream
    ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
    ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    Nutmeg, grated, to taste
    1 tablespoon demerara sugar
    • Grease a 1-litre shallow ovenproof dish. Soak the raisins and apricots in the rum for 30 minutes. Butter the slices of bread and cut each piece into 4 triangles. Arrange the slices in the greased dish.
    • Beat the eggs, sugar, milk, cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Add the dried fruit and any liquid, and mix well.
    • Pour the custard over the bread. Make sure the fruit is spread evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
    • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Sprinkle the pudding with the nutmeg and demerara sugar. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top is crunchy and golden.

    Get with the beet

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    The first time I ate beetroot, it was pickled and came in a jar. Many people apparently don't like pickled beetroot. I happened to like the taste and how it tinted everything in my salad bowl pink.

    But then I started eating it fresh, mostly in Indian dishes, and became even more fond of it. This, however, is the first time I had ever tried preparing and cooking it myself.

    As you can see from the picture above, the ones that I got were already "mature" beetroot. After I roasted them, I started using gloves when I was removing the skin because that is what many recipes advise to keep your hands from turning red. But that just didn't feel right – how can you not touch your food when preparing it? There needs to be a connection.

    Too red?
    I used the beets in a vegetable tagine with chickpeas, dates and a mixture of 32 spices that I got from Morocco. I made it for a family lunch as a side dish to my sister's chicken briyani, and even though they thought it tasted good, I think they were a little put off by the bright red colour. What do you think? (see right)

    I had to know, however, if I could use beetroot in a bread and searched for recipes online. There are many but most are for quick breads, and then I came upon this recipe at Sunday Hotpants (isn't that just a great name?! Go check out the blog; it has some great stories and recipes). I just could not take my eyes off the picture of the pink dough ­­– it's so enticing! This meant that a beetroot yeasted bread was possible, and I got on with the task.

    I used a simple bread recipe that I was familiar with, but have to admit that this was probably not the best recipe  to use. I  made a little loaf in a half-pound pan and that turned out fine, and a boule, which I decided bake using the Dutch oven method (from Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread recipe). Instead of preheating the pot, I used Michael Ruhlman's suggestion in Ratio (p.14) to simply proof the boule in the Dutch oven. This, he says, doesn't disturb the structure that you've created in the final rise and "it results in bread with a light, airy crumb". However, that's not how my bread turned out and I put it down to not getting the right consistency with the dough. I ended up adding more than enough flour and the boule turned out crumbly.

    TOMORROW: Beetroot bread makes a rosy dish

    Not shocking, is it?
    Makes 1 standard boule
    (+ a little one)

    3-4 cups strong white bread flour
    3 tablespoons full-cream milk powder
    3 teaspoons salt
    4 tablespoons butter
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 medium beetroot coarsely grated
    1½ teaspoons active dried yeast
    250ml warm water, approximate
    Seeds (optional)
    • Cook the beetroot (either steam or roast). When cool, peel and coarsely grate. Mix 3 cups of flour, milk powder and salt together in a large bowl. Rub in the butter and honey until combined. Stir in the beetroot. Sprinkle the yeast onto the mixture and stir to incorporate. Stir in the water until the mixture comes together.
    • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough, adding more flour a little at a time if necessary, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed and it passes the windowpane test, 10-15 minutes. Return to the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to proof  until doubled in size, about 1 hour. To test for proofness, poke the dough with a finger and the dent should remain. 
    • Deflate the dough and remove from the mixing bowl. Shape as desired and place on a baking tray/loaf pan that has been lightly greased and sprinkled with flour/cornmeal. Paint the top of the dough with water and slice an X into the top or make long diagonal scores. Sprinkle with flour or seeds. Cover and set aside to rise until doubled in size.
    • 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to maximum (most domestic ovens go up to 250°C). Place risen dough in oven and bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 190°C and continue baking until done, 40-50 minutes.
    The process
    Tickled pink with the colour


    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Please do not judge the recipe for The Best Banana Split Ever from Ratio: The Simple Code Behind Everyday Cooking by the picture. Michael Ruhlman is not to blame. Put it down to my incompetence at styling and photographing the dish.

    My review of his book appeared today in print and after toiling away with my usual breads for the review, I thought I would post on a simple dish here: an ice cream. Although Ruhlman makes the ice cream for his Banana Split using a crème anglaise recipe, I have decided to use store-bought. With the many varieties available, there will be one to suit every taste. If you do want to make your own ice cream though, I suggest this recipe. It is one of the creamiest and most delicious I have ever tasted ­­– and it doesn't require an ice cream maker!

    My intention in this post is to highlight the recipe for the Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Sauce, which is a component in the ice cream that Ruhlman presents in his book. The other saucy component, a chocolate ganache, is easy enough to make and just requires the same proportions of cream and very good chocolate, while the ice cream itself is a simple assembly.

    The butterscotch sauce, though, requires some care; first of all, because you're melting sugar and that always comes with some risks (especially if you're as accident-prone as I am) and also since timing is important. Leave the caramelising sugar just a few seconds too long on the heat and it burns and is ruined. When made right, it is a wonderful sauce and I am already planning to drizzle it on some pancakes tomorrow morning.

    A classic banana split comes with three scoops of ice cream ­­– vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ­­– in a long dish, with three types of toppings as well as nuts, whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Ruhlman makes his own version with the butterscotch and chocolate sauces, and I have opted for coconut ice cream (Bounty, actually) and a piece of glacé pineapple for garnish. Very tropical. All it needs is a little paper umbrella.

    From Michael Ruhlman's Ratio
    Makes about 1½ cups

    125g unsalted butter
    250g dark brown sugar
    250ml cream
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
    ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
    • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or an enamelled cast iron pot, combine the butter and sugar over medium heat and cook until sugar has melted completely and the mixture has taken on a thick frothy appearance (lava-like), 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Whisk in the cream until it is thoroughly  incorporated. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
    The Best Banana Split Ever
    Serves 4-8

    2 cups ice cream of preferred flavour(s)
    4 ripe bananas
    1 recipe butterscotch, warm (recipe above)
    1 recipe ganache, warm  (recipe follows)
    125ml cream, whipped to stiff peaks with 2 tablespoons sugar
    4-8 maraschino cherries
    • Scoop portions of ice cream into 4 bowls (or 6 or 8). Split the bananas down the middle (and halve them if you wish) and arrange half to 1 banana per bowl. Pour about 55g each of the butterscotch and chocolate sauce over the bananas and ice cream. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry (or a piece of glacé pineapple, as I've used here),
    Basic Ganache
    Makes about 2 cups

    250ml cream
    250g delicious bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • Bring the cream just to a simmer, pour it over the chocolate, wait 5 minutes for the chocolate to soften, then whisk the cream and chocolate until they're completely combined. Serve immediately or chill until you're ready to serve.

    Tiffin moments*

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Sweet potato-onion pizza
    Raja Zarida was my best friend in Standard One. She used to bring a meal to school every day and her mother was a fantastic cook. I remember sitting under a table during one recess, sharing her nasi goreng with her, and it was good ­­– both the fried rice and the time we spent together. (Raja Zarida moved away to Kuala Lumpur after Standard One. I only saw her once more after that a few years later when my family visited hers during Hari Raya, and until today, I can still remember the delicious chicken rendang her mother served us.)

    I never really had the chance to take packed meals to school when I was growing up. In primary school, I lived in the school compound so I used to go home for a snack during recess. Then I attended a fully residential school in my secondary years, so again, I had all meals at the dining hall.

    Nowadays, I tote a packed lunch to work almost every day, but I'm not a three- or four-tier tiffin person. It takes too much effort to cook rice and side dishes to go with it. And that kind of meal would just slow me down in the afternoons, anyway. Most days, it's one-dish meals ­­– a hearty serving of salad with a few pieces of leftover meat or a few strands of pasta; very often, it's soup; and stuffed bread rolls are a favourite too.

    I have two bread dishes here and they both start with sweet potato pâté ­­– I know, fancy name for mash potatoes, but what the hey? Chefs give fancy names to common dishes all the time and hike the price up 150%; at least we're not fooling anyone. I did say in my last post that I would be making something with sweet potato and here are two.

    The pizza is inspired by a recipe from an old Australian Women's Weekly Potato Cookbook, and the mushroom braid is just something I thought up because I had some nice portobello mushrooms and a little bag of dried porcini. (I should have taken pictures of the braiding process but only remembered after the fact.) Pack either of these breads, along with a leafy salad and maybe some pieces of fruit, and you're good to go.

    I am submitting this to YeastSpotting.

    * December's Don't Call Me Chef (out in print today; a link will be provided soon here's the link) is about memorable tiffin moments. The theme is in conjunction with a contest we ran with Tupperware. We co-producers of the monthly column (Veggie Chick, Hungry Caterpillar and I) decided to give up our space in the newspaper so we could publish the stories of the three contest winners.

    180g sweet potatoes (any colour), peeled
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 small onion, chopped
    1 small clove garlic, crushed
    125ml chicken or vegetable stock
    • Cut potatoes into 1cm cubes. Heat oil in a pan, add potatoes, onion and garlic; cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add stock, simmer, covered, over low heat, 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are very soft. Blend or process potato mixture until smooth; cool.
    Serves 2-3

    1 quantity sweet potato pâté
    1 small onion, sliced thinly
    50g grated Parmesan cheese

    Pizza dough
    150g all-purpose flour
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon white sugar
    1 teaspoon dried yeast
    90ml warm water
    • Combine all the dry ingredients for the pizza dough in a large bowl. Add water and mix to a firm dough. Turn into a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Set aside to proof until doubled in size.
    • Grease a medium pizza pan or two small ones. Preheat oven to 200°C. Knock down dough and roll out to fit prepared pan(s).
    • To make pizza, spread sweet potato pâté onto dough. Sprinkle evenly with the onion slices and then with Parmesan. Bake until edges are brown and onion is golden.

    Lunch is up
    Makes 2 rolls

    1 quantity pizza dough (from recipe above)
    1 quantity sweet potato pâté
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 shallot, chopped
    1 clove garlic, minced
    100g mixed mushrooms, sliced
    Salt and black pepper to taste
    50g grated Parmesan cheese
    • In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the shallots and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper, and keep on cooking until the mushrooms are soft and any liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
    • Preheat the oven to 200°C. Divide the pizza dough into two. Roll out each one to a rough 15cm square. Make cuts into the sides of the square about 3cm long and at a diagonal.
    • Divide the sweet potato into two portions and spread in the centre of the dough between the cuts. Place half the mushrooms on the potato layer. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.
    • Alternating between the left and right, fold the cuts over each other so they overlap in the centre. Press the ends into the sides. Brush with water and sprinkle with seeds. Place rolls on a greased baking sheet and leave to rise, about 10 minutes.
    • Place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes until tops are golden.