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Ave Caesar

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I may be a masochist. I realised this while watching Masterchef Australia Season 2 recently.

The amateur cooks on the show are fantastic. In one challenge, they're given 45 minutes to come up with their own dish, and they do so brilliantly ­­– it would take me that long just to think of what to make. They know how to cook something off the top of their head ­­– I would be frantically looking through recipes for how long to boil an egg!

It pains me to know I could never do what they do and yet I get pleasure out of watching them show me exactly what I am incapable of. Traits of a masochist? Ouch, big time.

Of course, I am not incapable of learning. And there is so much that the show teaches. Gosh, the contestants who stay as long as they can get so much out of being there; the time spent on Masterchef (and that can be up to six months, apparently) is surely as good as being in culinary school.

In one episode, Donna Hay shows her take on Caesar Salad, that dish that every restaurant serves and yet you find unsatisfactory in every one because you probably have your own idea of how it should be made. Well, Donna Hay's salad looked really good on the plate and I had to try it. The components are half a head of baby cos/romaine lettuce, croutons made from thin slices of baguette, a soft-boiled egg, maple syrup-baked bacon and homemade mayonnaise with anchovies.

History tells us that the Caesar was a dish thrown together using whatever was available at the time it was created. Well, that's the way a lot of salads are made, and mine was no different. I used cos, although the one I had was a full-size head, and I made the mayo from scratch, so I got two of the components called for. But I didn't have maple syrup and glazed the bacon with pomegranate molasses instead, I accidentally overcooked the eggs, my croutons were made from soda bread, and I forgot the sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Purists would have had a field day taking every component of this salad apart and criticising it.

But I didn't make it for a purist. I fed myself and I liked the way it tasted. It just shows that if you put enough effort into a dish (and taste as you go along, as the Masterchef contestants are constantly reminded), it will be presentable and not bad to eat, even if you don't follow every single instruction or use only the ingredients called for.

Was it better or could it even compare with anything the Masterchef cooks would have made? I don't know. But I am painfully aware that it's a pleasure not knowing.

Daring Bakers: Fresh Fraisier

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make Fresh Fraisiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

Now, my confection isn't actually a fraisier. A Fresh Fraisier is a layer cake with fresh strawberries (strawberry in French is la fraise). But since I didn't use strawberries, it's not a fraisier.

And so, taking the liberty, I shall call it Ananasier, after l'ananas, the French word for pineapple. In fact, the Malay word for pineapple is nanas so it's quite appropriate.

Jana did an excellent job with her well-articulated instructions. They were easy to follow and the components were not difficult to make. It takes a little time, mostly due to the refrigeration, but it makes an impressive confection. Here are her instructions. For a slide show of the Daring Bakers' cakes, go to the website.

This is the Ananasier's makeup:
Sweet and high. It's heavy too... Lots to enjoy
The pineapple started out as rings, and then were cut in half and arranged end to end to make that wave pattern. I had some leftover jelly from a series of failures from another project, and cut out pieces to decorate in between the pineapple as well as to use inside the cake (with the pastry cream filling). The cake is flavoured with the juice of pandan leaves (chop them up, pound them in a mortar and pestle and use the green juice).
Cake, cream, fruit, almond paste – a good combination

I really like the disc of almond paste that tops the cake. When eaten together, there's a nice chewy bite to the cake combined with the soft, billowy pastry cream ­­– another component with an easy-to-manage recipe. As a filling, I might add a touch more gelling agent (I used agar-agar instead of gelatin) as the cake got somewhat squashed when I sliced into it. But then, that may just be the fault of  my heavy hand.

Those leaves that I used to decorate the plate, by the way, are edible. They are fuzzy and I am told they are lemon thyme. The bush is growing wild in a pot on my balcony.

My initial plan was to make two individual-size servings by cutting out discs from a sheet cake made in a Swiss roll pan and using a large biscuit cutter to act as the collar to mould the cakes. Obviously, that didn't happen. Maybe the next time I make the cake. And maybe next time, it'll actually be a Fraisier.

Never too many biccies

Monday, July 25, 2011

This article on The Guardian's Money Blog on the sort of biscuits (cookies) readers of various British newspapers like made me think about my own preference.

The post states:
"Britons munched, dunked and dipped their way through 141 million packets of biscuits in the past year, equivalent to 2.7 million packs a week or 22,596 every hour... The figures, crunched by Sainbury's using Nectar data from 12 million shoppers, show that UK consumers spent £123m on biscuits since July 2010 with cookies, jam rings, chocolate fingers and Rich Teas following digestives in the biscuit popularity contest."
One hundred and forty-one million packets! One hundred and twenty-three million pounds! Britons like their biscuits, eh? You don't say.

Many things are better homemade, but for me, biscuits are not one of them. I like commercially made ones so much I can sit down and eat a whole packet of Ginger Nuts or Mint Slices or Milanos or Hobnobs or Fig Newtons and not even realise it until I'm picking at the last crumb. No matter how good homemade biscuits are, and how much healthier they can be, I am never tempted to have more than two.

But reading about biscuits has made me want to bake some. I like so many mentioned in the article and here are some I am planning to make:
  • Garibaldis
  • Ginger crunch
  • Fig rolls
  • Coconut creams
  • Oat
Actually, as I write this, I have already made two types. One is a sandwich cookie with all the main components in it ­­– by sheer coincidence (and I have just realised this!) ­­– starting with the letter "C". More on them in upcoming posts.

There aren't any real Malaysian equivalents of British newspapers so I can't tell whether my taste in biscuits reflects the kind of newspaper I prefer. I do know, however, that I can eat practically any biscuit and keep it down, but the way the government-controlled media over here covers the news makes me sick.

Soda pops

Friday, July 22, 2011

I buy baking soda by the half-kilo bagfuls. Sure I use it in cooking but the huge amount that I have in store is mostly for cleaning my home. That and vinegar, often together, are my favourite cleaning agents... even if cleaning isn't always my favourite thing to do.

But back to cooking. Bicarbonate of soda, a name some of us may be more familiar with, enhances the colour of vegetables, keeps them crisp, and rids dried beans of their gassiness. But baking is where I like using sodium bicarbonate or to get technical, NaHCO3 (okay, now I'm just showing off; don't know why since my Chemistry grades in high school were abysmal). It make cookies, biscuits and muffins tender and high, and gives that reddish-brown colour to devil's food cake.

Lately, I've been making hand pies for a project using a buttermilk dough, which contains bicarb of soda. Here's the basic recipe: 

250g bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoon butter or shortening
175ml buttermilk (see note below)
  • Sift flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Rub in the butter or shortening. Stir in the buttermilk, bringing the ingredients together with a fork to form a soft rough dough. Cover the bowl and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. 
  • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough gently for 10 seconds and form a smooth ball. Set aside for 30 minutes before using. 
Note: Use buttermilk from the packet or make your own by mixing together 2 teaspoons vinegar (apple cider or white) and enough milk to make 175ml; set aside for about 10 minutes for the mixture to curdle before using.
Braided hand pies: Like a papoose swaddled in its blanket
The dough is sufficient for four large hand pies (these are actually as big as my open hand). They are formed, brushed with beaten egg and baked for about 30 minutes.

The basic dough takes well to modifications as well. Since making Dan Lepard's Sour Cream Sandwich Bread and using it for a grilled cheese and chutney sandwich, I find myself putting sour cream in everything. Sure, I know sour cream isn't the healthiest thing to consume all the time with its high fat content (full-fat, of course, for the taste) but it is natural animal fat and not trans fat. It's not as if it's as unhealthy as mayonnaise, I tell myself as I scoop another dollop of sour cream onto my baked potato.

All things in moderation is advice that goes unheeded when something is this delicious.

I use the basic recipe above but substitute 50g of sour cream for 50ml of buttermilk. Stir the two together before adding to the dry ingredients. Both the flat bread at the top of the post and the quick soda bread below are made with sour cream dough. The flat bread is rolled out and cooked in a griddle on the stove. It tastes like naan and has the same puffiness. It also stays soft even from the fridge.

Quick soda bread
For the soda bread, I also substituted half the white bread flour with wholewheat flour, hence the lovely brownish orange colour (although that could just be because I took the picture in the natural light of dusk). Thirty minutes before baking, place a lidded pot in a 220°C oven. The dough, once mixed, does not need to be kneaded until smooth or rested; form it into a rough ball with floured hands. Carefully take the hot pot out of the oven and sprinkle the bottom of the inside generously with flour. Place the ball of dough in the pot and cut a cross on top; sprinkle with flour, replace the lid and return the pot to the oven. Bake the loaf for about 25 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Best eaten warm.

English gourd? Oh, chayote!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I didn't know what it was I looking at. English gourd? What the heck is that?

Turns out the green gourd-like vegetable that I was holding in my palm was a chayote (pronounced CHA-yo-tay). I was familiar with the name as I have seen it mentioned in many Mexican recipes, but I had never seen one until that moment in the supermarket aisle.

Why English gourd? Well, like many names we use for foreign products (and I'm sure this doesn't just happen in Malaysia), it is easy to tag on the name of a country or nationality to the generic name to identify them even if their provenance is elsewhere. Off the top of my head, there's turkey, which is ayam belanda (Dutch chicken) in Malay, and... that's all I can think of now, but I'm sure more will come to me later.

Apparently, the chayote is also known as labu Siam (Siamese gourd – ah, again with the country tag) in Indonesia and Buddha's Fist/Hand among the Chinese. I don't know what the connection is with the spiritual teacher since I think the fist could look like anyone's. But then, Chinese dishes are often given such poetic names so it may be the case with vegetables too.

Chayote is said to be nutritious. However, I can't say much about the taste. It seemed to be a bit bland. Or perhaps, I just didn't buy the right one. The gourd can help bulk up a dish and here I have added it to a sausage stew.

Serves 4

1 chayote (about 250g)
Vegetable oil
1 medium onion
4 sausages, thickly sliced*
1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped
200g tinned tomatoes, crushed
½ cup water
1 teaspoon stock powder, or to taste
½ cup vegetables (mangetout, frozen corn)
2 tablespoons finely grated cheese
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • Cut the chayote in half and remove the seed. Cut into short, 1cm-thick pieces. Heat a little vegetable oil, add the sausage pieces and cook until nicely browned. Remove from pan. Add the onion to the pan and fry until translucent. Add the jalapeño, tomatoes, water and chayote slices and return the sausages to the pan. Stir in stock powder and simmer, covered, until chayote is tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Add vegetables and check seasoning. When vegetables are tender, spoon into bowls and serve garnished with grated cheese and chopped coriander.
* To make this dish vegetarian, replace the sausages with chickpeas or another bean, or use vegetarian sausages.

Chutney, oh ya!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Take two thick slices of good quality bread, spread one slice with mango chutney, grate cheese over it, cover with the other slice and grill in a ridged griddle pan until cheese is melted.

I like it when instructions for a meal can be given in one sentence.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are always good snacks. But of course, good bread is absolutely necessary. The loaf is Dan Lepard's Sour Cream Sandwich Bread. I was looking for a way to use up about half a tub of sour cream that already had one foot in the side of no-good, but it returned to the light with its role in this bread. My only regret is that I didn't have enough sour cream to make a full loaf and had to settle for a smaller one. I polished the loaf off in just two days.

A perfect combination of tastes 
I used Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese but I think a light Cheddar would have been a better complement. You want the chutney to be the star of the show, not have something else fight it for the spotlight.

Happy uncle on the chutney label
Mr NoTime got the chutney for me. Not because he knew I would like them, mind you. He was out running some errands and an elderly gentleman stopped him in front of one of the shops to show him his homemade chutney. The gentleman had a sweet, friendly face and looked not unlike the "Uncle Vince" on the label, and Mr NoTime was reeled in quite easily. The chutney, notwithstanding the grammatical mistakes and incorrect use of punctuation in the tagline, "We didn't say it's Great! People Did.", really does live up to its claims on the jar. It's sweet-sour, salty, hot and with the right type and balance of spices. Dee-lee-cious!

I haven't seen Uncle Vince's chutney in the shops. Mr NoTime had better be on the lookout.

Bread bulletin: Poor Man's Brioche

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I was shocked to learn that very rich brioche has more butter than flour. According to the magisterial Penguin Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, brioche princière (princely) can be made with 625g  butter to 500g flour. If I've done my math correctly, that's 1¼ times more butter than flour. I don't know, I think that would be quite cloying.

At the other end of the brioche butter scale is brioche très commune (very common). This bread contains only 25% butter. I came upon Flour, Water and Yeast (I think this is an excellent blog about breadmaking) and blogger Nina also finds the liberal use of butter in brioche too much. (Gosh, it's weird to see myself write that something has too much butter.) She uses this recipe for a poor man's version of brioche. I tried the recipe, with some modifications.

I made brioche à tête (or Parisian brioche) as I recently got a set of individual fluted loaf tins. It has that classic topknot that looks like a head. Brioche de Nanterre (a city west of Paris) is another classic form. The dough is rolled into small balls and arranged in two rows in a loaf tin. This is termed as (wait for it...) parallelepipedic (another snippet courtesy of the late great Alan Davidson).

This brioche dough is not only soft but buttery as well, even with the reduced amount of butter in this recipe. Now, I am no expert in kneading but I have developed my own techniques, and the pictures below show how I knead soft dough. I don't know if this is the correct way to do it, but it works for me. A stand mixer and dough hook would do the job for a large amount of dough, but I usually only make small batches which means it's a waste of time and effort to get the machine out.

For the poor man's brioche, I start out by combining the dry ingredients:
250g all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons full-cream milk powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast, and
1 teaspoon caster sugar.

Then I add:
1 medium egg plus 1 egg white (reserve the yolk for glazing the brioche before baking)
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and 
enough tepid water (about 90ml) to combine the dry and wet ingredients to form a soft, but clumpy dough.

I then place the dough on the work surface, cover it with a mixing bowl and leave for 10 minutes to rest.

A note on the vanilla extract: If I didn't have pure vanilla extract, I would just leave it out. Imitation vanilla essence is just not worth it. I used a Mexican variety, which is quite lovely. Inhaling the aroma during the kneading process was wonderful. Very calming!

After the dough has had a brief sitting time, it needs to be kneaded before butter is added. I try not to add any extra flour as that would ruin the balance. Instead, I use a plastic dough scraper to stretch and fold the dough, and this is best done on a marble surface. Here's the process in pictures:
S-t-r-e-t-c-h the dough...
...and fold it over itself several times with a plastic scraper until smooth
After the dough is stretched and folded for 10 minutes and is smooth, I let it rest again for about 15 minutes to proof a little. Then I deflate it and spread it with 65g very soft butter (not melted). Work the butter into the dough with both hands until fully incorporated, about 5 minutes. When the butter is first added, the dough will be stringy, like an old rag that is full of holes. It will be squelchy and the butter will spread all over the marble work surface. Keep on squeezing and stretching the dough ­­– I use The River Cottage Bread Handbook's tip to wring the dough as one would a wet towel; it will eventually come together into a smooth, elastic ball. (This time I couldn't record the kneading in pictures as both my hands were greasy with butter.)

Place the ball in a bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rest for 30 minutes, or until slightly puffy, then refrigerate overnight. Note that the resting time is, of course, based on room temperature. At a temperature of 28°C (82°F), it takes 10-15 minutes to start rising.

The next day, deflate the dough. Divide the dough into 100g portions and pinch a quarter off each portion for the head. Roll the larger portion into a ball and the smaller portion into a teardrop (or elongated egg). With a flour-dusted finger, poke a hole in the centre of the larger portion to form a doughnut and place into the mould. Insert the tapered end of the smaller portion into the hole. Egg wash the brioche with the reserved egg yolk, and set aside to double in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C. When the brioche have risen, bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool, 5 minutes, then remove from moulds.

The verdict: The egg wash produces a crisp crust. The crumb is tight but springy. I think a good brioche should be lighter. In terms of richness, it is as expected. The small amount of egg and butter make it a good white bread, but it certainly wouldn't pass muster with any prince. This is definitely a poor man's brioche. 

Actually, I think spreading butter on the less rich brioche is a better use of butter. As a spread, I can use best-quality butter (always more expensive), something I wouldn't use for the dough.

Bread bulletin: Red quinoa ring

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Up until a few years ago, many of us in Malaysia were not even aware of quinoa, a super crop that has been around for thousands of years (the Incas called it "the mother of all grains"). I'm so happy we can get this seed (it's not a grain, as I first thought) so easily nowadays.

Because quinoa is so nutritious, people find ways of putting it into everything, from breakfast dishes to desserts. Bread is, of course, a good place for it. There are loads of quinoa bread recipes online, and here are the ones I looked into:
The Single Girl's Kitchen: Honey Quinoa Bread
The New York Times: Whole-Wheat Quinoa Bread
Chef In You: Quinoa Dinner Rolls

However, I went ahead and did my own thing. Actually, it was a combination of all three recipes ­­– only thing is, I threw things together in a bowl, literally. No measuring, no weighing, just a bunch of this and a scoop of that. All I went on was a famililar feel ­­– a texture that felt right, a

I had to be one lucky person because the bread was not a mess. It had a moist, slightly open crumb and the crust was chewy (it's brushed with egg). It wasn't the best bread I have made, but it was edible. I don't have another quinoa bread to compare it to so in a competition of one, this one did okay.

I believe this was a fluke though and won't be throwing things together again.

Puffed up and ready for baking (left); and just out of the oven
White quinoa is more common and tastes good, but the red quinoa that I used was excellent. It seems to have an even nuttier flavour. (Black quinoa is also available, and I will try that soon.) I should remember in the future to stop cooking it as soon as it plumps up and becomes tender. Recipes say to cook it in water/stock in a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid, but I would cook it in a little less liquid. As soon as the quinoa is tender, take the pot off the heat. If there is still liquid in the pot, drain the quinoa. The seeds should still be whole and not split open.

I've only used quinoa for "western" type dishes so far so maybe I should try it, instead of rice, with curry. I wonder if it'll feel strange eating it with my fingers...

Bread bulletin: Peynirli Pide

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sometimes, it's nice to simply open a page in any cookbook and try whatever recipe is on the page. You're only challenging yourself, so you can always close the book and open it at another page if you don't like the recipe, but lucky for me, most of the cookbooks I consult are for bread, so I know I will get something that I would want to make.

My latest crack-the-book-and-cook recipe was Peynirli Pide from Linda Collister's Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye (2005; pp. 110-111). Peynirli, I am informed, translates as "with cheese" and pide is a thick pita bread (though pocket-less). The dough is shaped into an oval, or more accurately, a boat shape and it has a thick rim to hold in the filling in the centre. I found this out after I made the recipe from the book, but in the future, my pide will look like a boat (very much like a sampan, actually).

From what I gather through various online comments, likening the pide to a pizza isn't accurate as it is much more than that. Linda Collister says it's a cross between a quiche and a pizza, because the filling contains eggs as well as cheese, typically Mozzarella on an Italian pizza, but in her recipe, feta is used. Kaseri is often the cheese of choice in Turkish and Greek pides.

Six-strand braid using leftover pide dough
The dough contains eggs and butter, which makes it extra delicious and moist. When the butter is first kneaded with the dough, it may be a bit worrying because in the beginning, the ingredients don't seem to want to gel (like oil and water, right?). But keep at it (and I would recommend kneading by hand) and everything comes together beautifully.

I think the dough is perfect as a loaf as well. I actually made only four pide and used the remaining dough for a six-strand braid  (right; here's a tutorial on braiding). I just got some small fluted baking tins and with the addition of a little more butter to the dough, it could make some presentable brioche à tête, I think. Hmm, definitely an attempt for the future...

I am submitting this to YeastSpotting.

From Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye
Makes 6 large pides

350g unbleached strong white bread flour
7g easy blend dry yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons tepid water
100ml tepid milk
2 medium eggs, beaten
30g unsalted butter, very soft

Cheese Filling
175g feta cheese, crumbled
1 medium egg, beaten
Several grinds of black pepper
1 rounded tablespoon chopped, flat leaf parsley
Several dashes of Tabasco
About 20g butter, for dotting
  • Grease several baking sheets.
  • To make the dough, put  the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the water, milk and eggs and work in the flour to make a soft dough.
  • Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead thoroughly for 5 minutes. Work in the soft butter and knead again for 1 minute until evenly distributed. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and punch down to deflate. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into balls using well-floured hands. Pat or roll out the balls to ovals, about 15cm long. Pinch and crimp the rim of each oval to prevent the filling spilling over the edge. Arrange well apart on the prepared sheets.
  • To make the filling, put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork. Spread the filling in the centre of each oval, then dot with little flakes of butter. Let rise for 20-30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C.
  • Transfer the baking sheets to the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Eat while still warm.

Jelly wobbles

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Persian proverb "When fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth" was never more true than when I made jelly; in one case, the meaning was almost literal.

To beat the heat, the theme of the Don't Call Me Chef column this month (out in print today) was jellies. Refreshing, cool and very popular in Malaysia, this dessert would go down a treat.

And everyone says it is easy to do. Dried agar-agar strips were traditionally used but nowadays, there's agar-agar powder and instructions on how to make jelly on the back of the packet. All you need to think about is the flavour. That shouldn't be too difficult.

Well, easier said than done. This is my journey down the road to ruin...

Having proper equipment doesn't guarantee success 
Ambition is a good thing but if you just don't have the talent, it's okay to give up, move on, do something else. I should have told myself that long before that fourth attempt at making jelly babies (or gumdrops).

I used several recipes.

Round 1: A simple recipe that uses powdered agar-agar and also corn syrup. It came out no different than normal jelly, except a little harder. Not chewy or springy at all. It was nice as a jelly, but it was no jelly baby.

Round 2: This recipe required heating sugar, corn syrup and gelatin up to 140°C, cooling it down and blending with flavourings. It was supposed to have been firm enough that it could be piped out. All I got was a thick but still fluid mixture. And when it set, the texture was all wrong. It was sort of chalky and not very pleasant. In the picture, it's the brownish cube in the background. I tried covering it with chocolate (foreground), but that's didn't help.

Round 3: I consulted Candy Making for Dummies, and since this is an informative and non-threatening series of books, and the recipe is called "Easy Raspberry Fruit Jellies", I thought I couldn't go wrong with it. While the instructions are precise and easy to follow (this time, the syrup needs to be heated to 110°C) and the gelatin can be substituted with agar-agar, again the texture was all wrong.

Round 4: Finally, I just went with the instructions on a packet of agar-agar powder but used less water. I didn't have human-shape moulds, but I had some nifty ice-cube trays with numbers and the alphabet that could make cute shapes. After the pieces come out of the mould, ideally they should be dried under the sun over a day or two so the moisture completely evaporates. That wasn't practical so I left the pieces on the kitchen counter. But that was like putting a feast out for the ants... and they came a-calling!

Verdict: I failed with every recipe. But I am determined to get this right, although it will probably be a while before I attempt this again.

Pretty but so rubbery
Konnyaku jelly powder sure works fast! The sugar syrup started to thicken almost as soon as I stirred in the powder. I think left it a tad long on the heat and it was quite hard and chewy ­­– like biting into the rubber sole of a shoe! I have a feeling konnyaku may work better than agar-agar if I tried to make the jelly babies again.

The jelly was moulded both in the skins of the dragonfruit as well as in a ramekin (above, right).

Fruit and cake soup - not a winning combination
This was the WORST of all attempts (yes, the capital letters are a necessary emphasis). If the jelly doesn't firm up, fine, I still had a fruit soup, but this had soggy sponge fingers in it. No good.

I saw this recipe on China Daily and it had been sliced into a lovely looking bar. Instead of agar-agar, I used vegetarian gelatin, which hardly gelled. It must have expired. Or perhaps I didn't use enough.

The parfait may look palatable in the mould, but the sponge fingers disintegrated when I scooped some out into a bowl (see inset). But disgusting as it looked, I had to try it... It. Is. Not. Good. The fruit saves it in terms of taste, but the mushy texture is awful. I salvaged it by separating as much of the fruit from the sponge as I could.

The one that worked... second time round
Finally, the jelly dish that I featured in Don't Call Me Chef. I had to make it twice. The first time (pictured above, right), I didn't chill the wine enough and I was a little heavy-handed with blending the wine and jelly syrup so there were no bubbles. I was more gentle the second time round and followed the instructions faithfully. Here's the link to the recipe.

Making these jellies in wine or cocktail glasses would have made a better picture and the bubbles would have been more visible, but I only had these glass bowls. Maybe it's time I took up wine-drinking.