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Perfect coupling: Chocorange

Friday, March 30, 2012

I don't think I am alone in my affinity for ring-shaped foods: Doughnuts (who can resist them?); Polo Mints (I believe they're the British version of the American candy, Lifesavers); streusel-topped coffee cakes (usually made in a plain or fluted ring pan); pineapple rings (so pretty); the Indian savoury "bangle" called ulunthu vadai, made with black gram; another South Indian sweet snack called athirasam – my favourite, which is made with raw rice and jaggery; and cheese-flavoured snack Cheezels.
Food with holes simply say fun to me, but some can look elegant too. Bundt cakes, for example, need no creamy topping to look classy. It's all down to the mould that is used. Some have elaborate designs but even the ordinary fluted ones add interest to cakes.
I thank whoever thought of shrinking bundt cake tins into mini ones. They produce delightful looking cakes that can beat the pants off cupcakes anytime! My pan is actually for 12 little cakes but I didn't want so many and made just six quarter-cup servings. 
The recipe I've provided here is in no way original many cooking sites/blogs have something similar for marmalade cake. I simply used the baker's percentage of equal amounts by weight of flour, butter and eggs, but made adjustments with the sugar since I was adding marmalade to the cake mix.
I admit the chocolate glaze was an afterthought. The cakes looked a little pale with just a sugar glaze and I thought they needed some extra dressing. Well, chocolate and orange go well together but all I had was Nutella so that is what's on top of the mini cakes. An inspired choice if I do say so myself.
Chocolate and orange go well together
Mini Marmalade Bundt Cakes with Chocolate Glaze
Makes 6 (¼ cup) cakes

60g cake flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp table salt
60g unsalted butter, softened
40g caster sugar
1 medium egg
60g marmalade (store-bought or homemade)
½ tsp vanilla extract
60g icing sugar, sifted
1-1½ tbsp milk
3 tbsp Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 6 mini bundt moulds well. 
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
Cream butter and sugar together until pale and light. 
Add egg and beat until well combined. 
Beat in the marmalade and vanilla extract.
Fold in the flour mixture.
Spoon batter into the bundt pan. Each mould will be about ¾ full. Bake until golden and springy, 18-22 minutes. The cakes should just be coming away from the sides of the moulds.
Remove from the oven and leave bundt cakes in the pan for 5 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a wire rack. 
Stir milk a little at a time into icing sugar. Use just enough to get a thick and smooth but pourable glaze. Mix Nutella with a few drops of hot water so that it is pourable. Drizzle the mini bundt cakes with sugar glaze and then with the Nutella glaze. Fish out a strip or two of orange rind from the marmalade, snip into pieces and garnish the top of the mini cakes.
Recipes using cooking kits

Daring Bakers: Dutch Crunch Bread

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!
I am so glad for this challenge. I have tried making the Dutch Crunch topping several times since I first enjoyed the bread last October when I was visiting my sister in California, but it's never come out right. I used recipes I found online, but it was only after reading the discussion on The Daring Bakers' forum that I found out the paste I was making all along was too runny. Thank you DBs! 
My heart goes out to all the Daring Bakers who found it difficult to find rice flour and had to make their own. Even then they did a wonderful job. See how they fared in the slideshow at The Daring Kitchen.
First batch (burnt) and second batch (pale)
Living in Malaysia, I didn't have that problem, but there were others. I left my first batch too long in the oven and it burnt. The second batch was a little pale and although my Dutch Crunch topping wasn't as vivid as I would have liked -- no tiger stripes or leopard spots or giraffe blotches :-( -- the crunch was certainly there. It tops off the soft and fluffy bread very well. I used some of the dough from the Hunger Games-inspired "fish bread”, which I posted on yesterday.
I had read somewhere that sesame oil is sometimes included in the mixture for the Dutch Crunch topping, so I added a few drops. The flavour was not intense, but I thought the aroma was rather nice.
My sandwich was made with tempeh, which I marinated overnight in a mixture comprising nine ingredients, not including salt and pepper. I can't say how much of each I put into the marinade because I simply adjusted the taste as I went along, and they are really random ingredientsbut I liked how it all turned out. I started with hoisin sauce. Then there was ginger paste, soya sauce, chillies in adobo sauce, chilli oil, Indonesian kecap manis, palm sugar, jalapeño sauce, and finally honey. The marinade went on rather thick, but the next day, most of it must have been absorbed into the tempeh because there was only a thin layer of it left on the slices. The tempeh was then pan-fried, and layered in the Dutch Crunch rolls with Japanese sandwich spread, lettuce and a caramelised pineapple ring. 
What to top the spiced tempeh with but more chilli! 
The condiment was more chilli of course: jalapeño sauce and Sriracha chilli sauce with a little mayo. One can never have too much chilli. 

Hunger Games fish bread

Monday, March 26, 2012

In my job on the newspaper I work for, I sometimes source for stories on our newswire services. Today, we ran a story from San Jose Mercury News which featured recipes from readers who were asked to deconstruct signature dishes from the movie Hunger Games (based on Suzanne Collins' novel), which was released a few days ago. (Get the story and recipes for all the winning dishes at
I haven't read the book or watched the film, but I thought the recipes were quite interesting, especially since they featured several for breads.
I made the District 4's Salty Seaweed Panem. What's unusual about this bread, besides the fish shape, is that it is green from food dye and there's the inclusion of nori (dried seaweed). I only made one piece of dough green just to see what it would look like. Other than fruit and vegetables, I don't think I want any of my other food to be that colour. But it actually turned out okay since I didn't knead in the colouring completely, and the mottled look was quite appealing. Matcha (green tea) powder would be a good alternative to the artificial stuff. I was apprehensive about how the nori would taste, but I could hardly taste it in the baked loaf. The green specks are pretty though.
Fishy tails
I shaped the bread based on the instructions provided in that recipe, but also made fish shapes from the other District 4 bread recipe that's featured. I think I'll do this again for the little nephews and nieces when we have our Easter Sunday lunch. They are going to find the bread quite amusing.

Some 'unusual' recipes

Sweet interlude: Tapioca pearl pudding

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The fact that I can walk out of my flat or office and find good local snacks and desserts makes me a lazy cook. Granted, some of these desserts are not easy to make and are best left to the people who have been making them all their lives. But there are some desserts that I like to eat and are easy to make that I should really try to prepare at home.
Sago Gula Melaka (many recipes online) is one of those easy desserts. However, I don’t find hawkers selling it very often so it’s the perfect dish to try at home.
There are only a few components: sago pearls, coconut sauce, palm sugar syrup. But I had a couple of bananas in the fridge that were already starting to speckle, so I decided to include them as well. I sliced them and cooked ithem in the coconut milk which makes it a pengat pisang – a banana porridge-like pudding.
I actually used tapioca pearls instead of sago pearls but there is little difference in the taste or texture.
Tapioca pearls: (from left) raw; partially cooked; and fully cooked - they turn translucent 
Boil the tapioca pearls in at least twice the amount of water with a pinch of salt. When they pearls turn translucent, they're done. Drain them and rinse out some of the excess starch (they will still be gummy and stick together) and then use them loose or mould them into shapes. Some recipes call for combining the pearls with sugar to taste, but I think the finished pudding is sweet enough from the palm sugar.
To assemble, put the banana pudding in a small dish or ice cream glass, put one of the tapioca pearl mould on top and drizzle with palm syrup. Black-and-white layers will form.
Every layer is delicious
The pearls can also be cooked in coconut milk just like the bananas. Cook them first in water and then combine them with coconut milk. Instead of cooking the bananas in the coconut milk, fry slices in a little butter and palm sugar to caramelise them and then add them to the tapioca pearl mixture.
Loose tapioca pearls combined with the coconut milk and served with caramelised banana

Tapioca Pearl Pudding with Coconut Cream Bananas
Serves 2-3

½ cup tapioca pearls
2 large bananas
1 cup coconut milk
1-2 tbsp caster sugar
¼ cup palm sugar
2 tbsp hot water

Tapioca pearl moulds: Bring about 3 cups of water to the boil in a large pot of water. Add a pinch of salt and the tapioca pearls, stir and leave to simmer until tapioca pearls turn translucent. Drain into a sieve and put under running water to wash off excess starch. Place into moulds and chill.
Banana pudding: Slice the bananas on the diagonal. Place them in a pan with the coconut milk and caster sugar. Cook over high heat and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and cook a further 2-3 minutes.
Palm sugar syrup: Dissolve the palm sugar in the hot water.
To serve: Divide the banana pudding in individual serving dishes, top with a tapioca pearl mould and drizzle with palm sugar syrup.

British invasion: Leek and potato pie

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I cannot remember what it was about leeks that I didn't like before and I cannot imagine not being a fan of the vegetable but I only started using it in my cooking a couple of years ago.
The first dish I cooked with the vegetable was a leek and potato soup. I figured if the taste was so bad, at least the potatoes in the dish would save it from the bin.
It was rather good if I do say so myself and since then I've cooked with leeks many times.
To continue my exploration of lunchtime dishes from around the world, I've headed to the UK today and made a leek and potato pie. Now, I don't know if leek and potato pie has British origins, but the first time I saw a picture and recipe for the pie, it was in a British cooking magazine against a setting that had the look of the English countryside and so I have always thought of it as British. I've promised myself to look it up.

Leek and Potato Pie
Makes 2

2 medium new potatoes
Vegetable oil
1 large leek, sliced on the diagonal and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tbsp grated cheese
2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 (10cm) pieces ready-rolled puff pastry squares
1 egg, beaten
Garnish (optional): poppy, sesame or black onion seeds

Wash the potatoes, but leave the skins on. Boil, steam or microwave until half cooked. Slice into 3mm pieces.
In a frying pan, heat a little oil and add the sliced leeks and garlic. Saute until the leeks are wilted. Remove from heat and place in a bowl with the potato slices. Add cheese and cream, if using. Season to taste. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Lay down 2 puff pastry squares on a clean work surface. Brush the edges with beaten egg and divide potato and leek filling between them. Top with the other 2 pieces of pastry and crimp the edges to seal.
Place pies on a greased baking pan. Poke air vents in the top with a knife or fork and brush with more egg. Sprinkle on seeds, if using. Bake until pastry is crisp and top is golden, 20-25 minutes.

More to fill and roll
Sweet Potato Mushroom Braid
Spring Onion Pancake
Date Pillows

Down Mexico way: Brown rice and bean burrito

Monday, March 12, 2012

A burrito is one of those lunches I often bring to work. There's a lot in this one in terms of ingredients, but except for the rice and beans, it doesn't involve a lot of preparation. The components all add layers and textures that complement each other, resulting in a very pleasant tasting wrap.
I might have added a little too much heat to the rice and beans from the chillies in adobo sauce, but the sweet pineapple salsa, tangy cabbage slaw and velvety avocado are the perfect foil.
I thought the pack of tortillas I got was a little crumbly and when I wrapped the burrito, it tore a little. But that could also be because I put in too much filling. I get a little greedy sometimes.
Layer the components, but be careful not to overfill
Brown Rice and Bean Toasted Burrito
Makes 2-3 burritos

Rice and Beans
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp chillies in adobo sauce or to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup cooked brown rice
½ cup cooked black beans or beans from a can
½ cup frozen corn kernels
¼ cup stock or water
Salt to taste
2-3 large tortillas
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
Coarsely grated cheese

In a frying pan, heat the vegetable oil and add the red onion. When the onion turns translucent, add the chillies in adobo sauce and ground cumin; stir to mix well. Add the rice, black beans and corn kernels. Stir to combine. Add the stock or water and cover the pan to steam for a few minutes. Uncover the pan, add salt to taste and stir occasionally until the liquid is evaporated. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove from pan and set aside to cool slightly.

Pineapple salsa
½ tbsp brown sugar
½ tbsp soy sauce
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
¼ cup diced green capsicum (bell pepper)
¼ cup diced tomatoes
1 red onion, sliced thinly

Mix the brown sugar and soy sauce together – it will be like a paste. Combine with the other ingredients. Set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Cabbage slaw
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup finely shredded cabbage

Mix the lime juice, oil and salt and pepper together. Toss with the cabbage.

To assemble the burritos
Place tortillas on a clean work surface. Spoon the rice and beans into the centre of the tortillas. Top with slaw, avocado, salsa, and cheese. Fold up the tortilla like an envelope.
Toasting the burrito is optional. Heat a large frying pan and place burrito in the pan, seam side down. Press down with a metal spatula occasionally. When bottom is browned, flip over and toast the other side. Cool before wrapping.

Mexican-inspired dishes
Chicken Enchiladas
'Mole-inspired' Red Sauce

Eating in blocks

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Zits comic strip always makes me laugh and after reading this one from March 5, 2012, I thought about what it would be like if we actually followed such a diet: vegan one week, carnivore the next and ... well, not candy but perhaps, a juice diet for the week after.
Eating only vegetables wouldn't be a problem, I think, but being a carnivore might be. Unlike Pierce's colon, I don't think mine would be very strong if only meat went through it for a week. I'd probably be lying down all day like a python after swallowing its prey.
I'm not eating in blocks, but starting tomorrow for four days, I will taking homemade lunches from around the world to work. They'll all be vegetarian since I'm abstaining from meat during Lent, and there won't be a dish on Friday because I fast on that day until Easter Sunday on April 8.
As I write this, on the stove is a big pot of simmering vegetable stock which I shall be using for various dishes. I'm already planning some wantan soup (Hong Kong), and rice and beans (Mexico), and who knows what else I'll take a fancy to.
Vegetable pasta squares and shiitake mushroom soup
For today, though, a handful of dried vegetable pasta squares cooked in a ladle or two of the stock along with the mirepoix of leek, carrot and celery used to flavour the stock.

More filling bowls:
Pasta with Mushroom and Beans
Beef with Stout and Juniper Berries
Pea Soup (Green)

TV characters take the cake

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I wrote a story on what TV characters eat for the cookery column in the newspaper recently. It meant I was forced to watch television on the job – awful, isn't it?
I prepared two dishes for the article  Orange Chicken and Blueberry Pancakes – and then I had to eat them afterwards. I'm sure everyone sympathises with me.
Kidding aside, I have wanted to make this item from the TV character diet for a while now: those chocolate-covered cream-filled snack cakes that The Closer, Brenda Leigh Johnson, keeps in her desk drawer in case of emergencies. They are Hostess Ding Dongs, of course. Brenda Leigh is always so delighted to open the foil-wrapped package and looks so fulfilled when she bites into one of those snacks. Every time I see her eating one, I want one too. It's not sold here though, so it has to be homemade.
It starts off with chocolate cake. I used the Best-Ever Chocolate Sandwich recipe from Martha Day's Baking but scaled the ingredients by half and made the cake in a sheet pan. The cake is spongy but firm enough to hold a filling – I'm sure everyone has their own chocolate cake recipe that they like. I flavoured my cake with some coffee essence. Why? Because I'm an adult and I like chocolate cake with a kick.
Cut out rounds from the cake (the lines are from the cooling rack) and a little hole in the centre of each one
After chilling the cake for a bit so that it could be cut cleanly, I trimmed a little from the edges (they were a little thinner, and they're the cook's treat anyway delicious, but the jeans have become a little snug...) and cut out 6cm rounds with a plain cookie cutter. Use a smaller cutter to carve out another round from the centre and an offset spatula to pry it out. Keep this piece of cake for later.
Put in the filling, plug the hole and chill the cakes
Put a little white cream frosting in the centre – many recipes call for a seven-minute frosting, made with raw egg whites, but since I already had some leftover cream cheese frosting from a banana walnut cake recipe that I made in January (I saved it in the freezer), I used that instead. Plug the hole with the saved piece of cake and push down lightly to level the top. Freeze the cakes.
Spread chocolate over the top and sides and chill until set
Some people like to cover the cakes with chocolate ganache (heavy cream plus chocolate), but I just used melted chocolate. Spoon it over the filled cakes and use a spatula to spread it over the top and sides. Chill until set and then wrap the snack cakes in foil.
* * *
These are the two dishes that I made for the article.
Chinese Takeout Orange Chicken
In Malaysia, we don't have the kind of Chinese takeout restaurants that you find on TV (i.e. in America or Britain). There are caterers who take orders for a whole month (usually for a whole family) and give you whatever they're cooking that day, but the takeout most people order and have delivered come from fast food chains.
I myself would use chicken on the bone but for this takeout, I used chicken breast. It's not the most flavourful cut but from what I know, boneless breast is usually used by Chinese takeout restaurants since it cooks the fastest and customers find it easiest to eat from the takeout container while sitting in front of their TV sets. Just keeping it real.
Slices of chicken are coated in cornflour, egg and plain flour and deep-fried. The sauce ingredients are orange juice, brown sugar, soy sauce and hot chilli sauce. It is cooked and thickened with a cornflour slurry and then combined with the fried chicken pieces. Sprinkle on some chopped green leaves and serve with rice. It's one of the dishes that the brains and the bombshell from The Big Bang Theory always get when they order Chinese food.
Walter Bishop Blueberry Pancakes
These blueberry pancakes are a speciality of Walter Bishop from the show Fringe. It was one of those foods he craved when he was institutionalised for 17 years. The recipe makes sixteen 10cm pancakes, but there are only 11 in the picture, so you know where the other five went before I took the photo! Couldn't help myself.
For the full recipes, see this pdf document.
I'll be making Dexter's favourite sandwich, the Medianoche, soon. But for now, some TV...