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Beef up a curry

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yesterday, I took part in a "gourmet" street food market event called "Food Bites" with my partners Indra and Sree (our enterprise is called Crazy Juliet, a story for another time). Our menu consisted of four types of Mediterranean-inspired sliders, which we described like this:
Pollo alla Parmigiana: Minced chicken breast flavoured with garlic, herbs and parmesan cheese bathed in a marinara sauce. Topped off with mozzarella and a sprinkling of fresh basil.
Lamb Casablanca: Rock the Casbah with this aromatic lamb patty. Served on a bed of luscious hummus and topped with sage-infused caramelized onions.
Soy Nut Wonder (V): The patty is a combination of soy, nuts, mushrooms, herbs and spices. Served with a curry apple sauce and crispy fried mushrooms.
Aubergine Delight (V): Oven-roasted aubergines are the star of this patty. It’s also packed with ingredients like (yellow) capsicum, chilli, lemon and pumpkin seeds. Served with pesto.
All the sliders come in a hand-made soft bun enriched with butter and egg, and topped with a variety of seeds.
Here's a picture of the mini burgers we put together for the food tasting a couple of weeks before the actual event (and before our final tweaking).
Crazy Juliet sliders for Food Bites  photo by Indra
Indra and Sree made all the patties and condiments, and I made all the buns. On the day of the sale, Indra and I assembled the sliders to order and Sree explained the flavours on offer and took care of the money. We started at 11am, the meat sliders were sold out by 2pm (the lamb first), and our last item was gone at 4.03pm.
Man, I don't know how people sell food for a living. It is so much hard work! I was on my feet practically the entire five hours and at the end of it, I was drenched in sweat. We didn't do too badly in terms of profit, though. And we were even asked if we catered for children's parties!
But it's not something I would do very often. Two or three times a year is probably all I can manage. Especially with a full-time job and other interests besides making food.
I was talking to my sister Joyce, who lives in California, about Food Bites. She would have loved to have participated and we would probably have partnered up if she was here. We may have considered making her beef curry puffs. It is the last recipe she posted at her blog WokTales two years ago (being a mum to two small girls is a lot of work and she's put the blog on hold). The curry puffs are similar to what our mother has been making since we were children. They won Joyce first prize at her husband Keith's office baking contest!
I used the minced beef curry as a filling in some bread snacks. I was inspired by the last Daring Baker's challenge to make empanadas, and used one of the dough recipes provided by the host, Patri.
Baked empanada (back) and layered bread cooked on the stove-top
Minced Beef Curry
From my sister, Joyce

2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated
5cm ginger, finely chopped or grated
6 pips garlic, finely chopped or grated
6-7 curry leaves, finely sliced
675g minced beef
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
3 tbsp meat curry powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tbsp beef stock granules
Salt to taste
½ cup water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Heat oil and cook onions until translucent, then add ginger, garlic and curry leaves; cook another 1 minute. Add beef and cook until beef is browned.
Add potatoes, curry powder, cinnamon powder, beef stock granules and salt to taste. Add water, cover and cook for about 15 minutes until potatoes are cooked.
Add lemon juice, stir and leave to cool before using.

Daring Bakers: Empanadas

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family’s favourite recipes for Empanadas! We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our Empanadas as creatively as we wished!
Patri's recipes and instructions were certainly helpful, as were her filling suggestions. But most importantly, I learnt from her that empanadas aren't formed only as individual hand pies, as I thought, but can also be made family-size!
For a slide show of some of the empanadas made by the Daring Bakers, go to the homepage of The Daring Kitchen.
I was very curious about the cornmeal dough that Patri provided, especially after I saw the picture she posted. She had cautioned that the dough is difficult to spread and you need a little patience rolling it out. The dough doesn't come together like a yeasted bread dough. It's grainy and reminds me of a sandy cookie dough. However, it is soft and does rise.
I have no idea if the dough turned out the way it was supposed to but this is how I would describe it: after it bakes, it is slightly crumbly and similar to a buttery shortcrust pastry. Perhaps the picture above shows what I mean. The taste is good. Patri recommends a filling of fish or seafood for this dough and I can see why. Because the dough is biscuity, it works better with a delicate filling. However, I think the empanada has to be served immediately  once the base gets soggy, it is no longer as delightful.
I chose tuna and egg as the filling. I don't know if it's available elsewhere, but here in Malaysia, we have a tinned tuna in oil that is already mixed with herbs and spices and has two or three little bird's eye chillies in the tin as well! I didn't have to do anything else but cook a hard-boiled egg, which is put in the centre of the tuna in the empanada case.
I made only half the dough, enough for two small individual empanadas. I also tweaked the recipe slightly. As cornmeal is low-gluten, I added some wheat gluten to the dough.
The chilli tuna comes with a few bird's eye chillies in the tin!
Chilli Tuna & Egg Empanada
Serves 2

1 tin (250g) chilli tuna
1 hard-boiled egg, halved
1 egg, beaten (optional)

Cornmeal Dough
200g cornmeal
50g all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp wheat gluten
½ tsp salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
125ml warm water + extra
60g butter, softened

Combine the corn meal, all-purpose flour, wheat gluten and salt together in a mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Stir in the dry yeast. Make a well in the middle and add the water; stir well to moisten all the dry ingredients. If there are stll dry bits of flour, add extra water, a few drops at a time, so that everything is moistened. Form into a rough ball and set aside for 5 minutes.
Spread the butter on the dough, and then knead it into the dough. Place dough on the work surface and keep on kneading until you have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Form a ball and return to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Divide the dough into 4 portions. Lightly oil 2 (8m) deep pie tins. Pat a portion of dough out with your hands to fit a pie tin. This dough is very difficult to spread, so push it gently against the base and sides to thinly cover the inside. Do the same with another portion of dough.
Fill the empanada with half the chilli tuna and embed half a hard-boiled egg in the centre.
Pat out the other two pieces of dough thinly to form lids for the pies. Press the edges together to seal. Use leftover dough to make a design on the top. Cut an 'X' in the centre of the lid. Brush with egg wash if desired and bake until the bottom is cooked and the top is golden, 20-25 minutes.

Anything for my little dumpling

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I like soup – it may even be my favourite type of food. It's a meal that comes in one dish and to eat it, all I need is a spoon. Sometimes, not even that – just the bowl at my lips, but that's only for when no one's watching.
The ethnic Chinese know all about having soup at almost every meal as an accompaniment to the rice and other dishes. Although they do have some chowder-like soups that often come as the second course in a Chinese banquet, their everyday soups are usually light and clear – perhaps made with root vegetables or flavoured with a bone. The soups are sipped throughout the meal, as one would sip water, and sometimes spooned onto the rice to moisten it.
I don't really like thin soups that serve simply as a side dish. To me, soup is always the meal. I like it chunky and thick or creamy and have never seen the appeal of a light soup on its own. Although, I have to admit that once I had this steaming bowl of beef consomme in Speyside, Scotland, and it was one of the best meals ever. Perhaps the rainy day at the end of November and my frozen fingers and toes also had something to do with how much I savoured that clear soup.
I don't have to ward off that level of cold over here, of course, but a bowl of hot soup makes a comforting meal nonetheless. Here's one with cornmeal dumplings. And it's in a clear-ish broth, which is simply water seasoned with stock powder and bits of vegetables thrown in. Nothing fancy, but oh so comforting.
Dumplings, you float my boat
Cornmeal Dumplings
Makes 16-20 dumplings

½ cup plain flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tbsp cornstarch
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg

Combine the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and garlic powder. Pour in the oil and work it into the flour until small crumbs form. Stir in the egg and 2-3 tbsp water (*the water can be replaced with an equal amount of another beaten egg) and mix until a thick rough batter forms. Set aside for 5 minutes.
After resting, the batter will have firmed up a little into a sticky dough. With wet hands, form 16-20 dumplings (remember, they will expand when cooked). Drop them into about 4 cups of boiling stock. The dumplings are cooked when they float, 5-7 minutes.
Other ingredients like shredded chicken or short lengths of cooked vermicelli pasta can be added to the soup, if desired.

Sourdough Surprises: English Muffins

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I wish all my first attempts turned out the way these sourdough English muffins did. I could not be happier with them.
I worked with this recipe chosen by Sourdough Surprises, only I halved it. The starter is mixed with some flour and water and left overnight, and the next day, baking soda, salt, sugar and extra flour are added and the whole thing is mixed into a soft dough.
What I got after the muffins came off the griddle were thick spongy rounds with crisp tops and bottoms. I used a fork to make perforations around the edge before I split the rounds with my hands, as is the norm. On the inside were nooks and crannies – maybe not as many as traditional English muffins, but I was happy with the crumb.
Split English muffins with a fork
On went lashings of salted butter. I think I had that muffin in three bites!
Later, I turned one into a sandwich with a filling of grilled marinated tempeh, fried onions and shredded cabbage.
See the teeth marks from the fork? They were replaced with mine a few seconds later!
But this happy tale has a bit of a downer.
I made the muffins a second time the next day. Only this time, like many Hollywood sequels, the batch bombed! These muffins were like a dog's chew toy. They hardly rose and had undercooked centres.
I remember doing everything the same way as the first time, so I can't figure out the problem.
Maybe I'll be successful again the third time.
Check out how other bakers did:

Herbed cheese rolls

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I have been elbow-deep in bread dough for the past two weeks. I am taking part in a food fair at the end of the month, and am providing 300 mini buns for the event. And so I have been making, baking and freezing buns as I go along 
Now, the thing is, when I excitedly signed up to do this, I did not imagine what 300 mini buns look like. When the picture (a really big one!) finally came to my mind, I realised the enormity of the task for a home baker and a domestic oven, and so I have been making a few batches a week and freezing the buns. (And begging relatives to lend me space in their freezers!) So far, I've made 184 buns. Another seven batches to go. More on this in upcoming posts.
You would think that being immersed in bread dough for the past two weeks, I would stay away from it for my own personal consumption. But when I thought of making some cheese and herb pastries recently, I decided to go with a yeasted dough which was inspired by the Nazook from the April 2012 Daring Baker's challenge.
The original dough is made with sour cream and has a sweet filling, but for this pastry, I went with strained yoghurt and a savoury filling.

Herbed Cheese Pastries
Makes 12-16 pieces

Yoghurt Dough
200g all-purpose flour, sifted
4g active dry yeast
110g strained or Greek yoghurt
110g softened butter, at room temperature

Filling (combined)
125g grated cheddar
3-4 tbsp medium-fine chopped fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, daun saderi [celery leaves])

1 egg yolk 

Mix the sifted flour and yeast in a large bowl. Add the yoghurt and mix to form a rough dough. Set aside for 10 minutes for the flour to absorb the liquid. Spread the softened butter on the dough and knead in until well incorporated. Continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 175°C. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Place one portion on a lightly floured work surface. If making crescents, roll or pat the dough out thinly into a 22cm circle; if making scrolls, form into a rectangle. 
For crescents, spread ½ the cheese-herb filling on the circle. Cut the circle into 8 wedges and roll up from the wide end to the point. Brush with egg wash. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
For the scrolls, spread ½ the filling over the rectangle. Roll up like a Swiss roll from one of the long sides. Pat down the roll gently to flatten slightly. Cut into short logs, 4-5cm long, on a slant. Use a crinkle cutter, if desired. Brush with egg wash. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
Place pastries on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Larb-ly Lao

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The first time I had larb  a minced meat salad with loads of herbs  was in Laos years ago when the husband and I spent a lovely, but brief, week in the capital, Vientiane.
We had the dish for dinner practically every night we were there. Each eatery we went to had a slightly different version, and all of them were good. The food would always be served with a fiery Lao chilli paste, and this condiment went very well with the larb. I would mix the chilli sambal into my rice as if it were a pasta sauce, while my dining companion with the more delicate palate would have a timid dab of it on the side of his plate.
Larb is considered the national dish of Laos, although it is also a popular dish in the northeast  region of Thailand called Isan (also famous for it fermented sausages). Various kinds of meat are used for larb, and much as I loved it, I never found out how it was made or an English recipe book in Vientiane, so I never tried cooking the dish when we got back home. 
But that was 13 years ago when the Internet was still new  and terribly slow  in Malaysia and searching for recipes online would have got me nowhere. Type in "larb recipes" now and in 0.26 seconds, there are 83,300 results. 
With its complex flavours, I always thought larb was a difficult dish to make. It's not, but there's an essential ingredient that every good recipe says never to omit: toasted glutinous rice powder. In countries with large Lao or Thai communities, it is easily available in sundry shops selling ethnic goods, but I've never seen it in Malaysia. 
Not too fine: Homemade ground toasted glutinous rice
I thought at first that the ingredient referred to was glutinous rice flour  that's easy to get here. But that's actually plain ground glutinous rice. This toasted variety is easy enough to make at home though. Toasting the rice first gives it a nutty flavour so that besides acting as a thickener, it also adds flavour to the final dish.
The recipe for larb calls for minced meat. Here I've used chicken which I minced by hand. I find that the meat isn't completely pulverised and I can control how fine or coarse I want it. And I think not too fine is better for this dish. 
In Laos, the larb we ate came with plain boiled white rice or steamed glutinous rice. Individual portions would be served in cute lidded baskets such as the one pictured below. You pinch off a little of the glutinous rice with your fingers and scoop/dip it into the larb, then into the mouth. Oh, not forgetting the fiery chilli paste, of course! I had the dish with some pineapple fried rice instead, which I think is more Thai than Lao.
Serving basket for steamed (glutinous) rice and Lao sarong
Lao Spicy Minced Chicken Salad (Larb Gai)
Based on the recipe at SheSimmers. Makes 2 servings

300g chicken fillet, minced by hand (or use ready mince)
1 tbsp ground toasted glutinous rice (or store-bought powder), recipe below
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
Fish sauce, to taste
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Grated palm sugar, to taste (optional)
1 fresh long red chilli, finely chopped (leave seeds in if desired)
Small handful fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
Small handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly torn

Heat a medium skillet/frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken fillet and flatten it into a thin patty. Press down to cook the bottom, but do not let the meat brown too much. Flip the chicken patty over to cook the other side, then gently break up the meat into small chunks. Toss around until chicken is completely cooked. There should be some liquid at the bottom of the pan. If it looks dry, add a little water and bring to the boil.
Turn off the heat and add ½ the ground toasted glutinous rice. Stir into the liquid. Add shallots.
Combine fish sauce and lime juice to taste, plus some palm sugar for a little sweetness, if desired. Add dressing to the chicken with the chilli. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add more ground glutinous rice if there is too much liquid.
Add mint and coriander and toss together. Serve with plain rice or glutinous rice.

To make ground toasted glutinous rice, put a handful of glutinous rice into a dry skillet/frying pan and toast over medium heat, tossing constantly, until the grains are golden brown. This may take 20-30 minutes. Pound or grind the rice until fine. I like it slightly grainy and that's what it looks like in the picture. Store in an air-tight container and use whenever a thickener is needed.