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The prawns go pop

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's been hectic for a while now and so cooking has been... well, on the back burner. But I recently had to make a dish for a cooking column I contribute to in the newspapers and came up with these popcorn prawns. Only, the column was shelved for a week and I had second thoughts about featuring the dish there after all, so I have something to post about over here.
I'm not very good at deep-frying and I actually only shallow-fried these but I'm happy with how they turned out. One of the nice things about it is that the batter stayed crisp for quite a while.

Popcorn Prawns with Dips
Serves 4

600g unshelled medium white prawns
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup potato flour
1 tsp baking powder
1½ cups water, approximate
Oil for frying

Have the dips ready (two recipes follow) before cooking the prawns as this dish should be served immediately.
Clean, peel and devein the prawns. Their shelled weight should be around 480g, so get already peeled prawns if desired. Season the prawns with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flours and baking powder. Add 1 cup of water to the mixture and stir together, then gradually add more water until a thin crepe-like batter forms. Add the prawns to the batter and stir them around.
Heat about 5cm of oil in a wok or deep pan. Have a large plate lined with kitchen paper ready on the side of the stove.
When the oil is hot, fry the prawns in batches until they are golden brown, three to four minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon or spider onto the paper-lined plate.
The leftover batter can be fried into crisp strings. Using one hand, drizzle the batter into the hot oil. They will puff up immediately. This batter remains crisp for quite a long time.
When the prawns are all done, sprinkle salt and pepper over them and serve with the dips and lime wedges.

Chilli Jam
Heat some oil in a pan and sauté one small chopped onion. When translucent, add two chopped red chillies, two large chopped tomatoes, one minced garlic clove, two tablespoons of sugar and half a cup of apple cider or wine vinegar. If it is too sour, add a little water. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened. Season with salt. Pureé the chilli jam with a hand blender or food processor.

Lime Yoghurt Dip
Combine two to three tablespoons each of yoghurt and salad cream. Add the zest and juice of one lime. Season with salt.

Sourdough Surprises: Mad for brownies

Monday, May 20, 2013

We've all been there. We get an idea for a dish in our head and we keep smelling and tasting it in our minds. We plan how to prepare it and what would go into it. And then we just have to run with it.
For me, it was coconut. I couldn't stop thinking of coconut and just had to use it in every way possible when Sourdough Surprises came up with the idea of brownies.
Since I've used the suggested recipe for sourdough brownies elsewhere with slight modifications, this time, I adapted a cocoa brownie recipe that I've been using for a long time because it is so good (adapted from Mad About Brownies by Barbara Albright and Leslie Weiner). I cut down on the flour and liquids to make up for what is already in the starter and then piled in the coconut elements by substituting them for ingredients in the original recipe: vegetable oil --> coconut oil; walnuts --> fresh coconut meat; buttermilk --> coconut cream; and almond essence --> coconut essence.
After tasting a few brownies, I decided there still wasn't enough coconut and made a coconut marshmallow frosting to add on top. In the end though, I have to admit the brownies were all right but not outstanding. They turned out cakey rather than with that desirable chewy crumb and crackled top. I've put down the recipe below but I will be tweaking it.
Check out what other brownies the Sourdough Surprises group made (new links will appear as posts are uploaded).

Have these brownies with a drink of cold coconut water straight from the shell
Coconut Nut Sourdough Brownies
Makes 16

25g unfed leaven
55g bread flour
45g tepid water

Mix all the ingredients together, cover and set aside until slighly bubbly, 2-3 hours.

Final batter
25g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp table salt
90g fresh coconut meat, roughly chopped
160g caster sugar
75ml coconut oil
1 egg
All the preferment (about 110g)
80ml coconut cream
1 tsp coconut essence
50g unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm square baking tin and line the base and sides with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Toss the coconut meat with the flour mixture. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, oil and egg until pale.
Beat in the preferment, coconut cream and coconut essence until just mixed.
Fold in the cocoa powder, followed by the flour-coconut meat mixture.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs sticking to it.
Cool in tin on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from tin to cool completely. Best cut and served after storing overnight.
Take these brownies over the top with a coconut marshmallow frosting
Coconut Marshmallow Frosting
Makes about 1 cup

½ cup milk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup mini marshmallows
½ cup dessicated coconut

Place all the ingredients except the coconut in a small saucepan and heat gently until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the coconut. Spread while still warm on top of the brownies.

    Fasta sourdough pasta

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    When Sourdough Surprises chose to make sourdough pasta for April, I was excited. I have a hand-crank pasta machine that rolls (and kneads) the dough and cuts the noodles, and I try to use it as often as I can, but to be honest, the machine only makes an appearance three or four times a year. A shame really, because although I like dried pasta and use it all the time, pasta made from scratch is a notch above.
    I actually made three flavours of dough and used them for various pasta dishes, but the posting date of April 20 came and went without a word from me. I'll get to the reason in a minute.
    I had made two of the sourdough pasta doughs with semolina (durum) flour and egg – one of plain, the other flecked with Thai basil. The third one, I thought I would like to try making my version of soba noodles and combined all-purpose and buckwheat flours with the addition of bamboo charcoal powder (no egg this time).
    Three flavours of sourdough pasta dough
    The egg doughs came together well, but not the black buckwheat noodles, possible because of the lack of eggs. The noodles broke up into little bits (they looked like orzo) almost as soon as they hit the boiling water.
    However, I realised something when I tasted all three noodles: they were extremely sour! Which meant there was a problem with my sourdough starter.
    I'm sure some people like that level of sourness, and in fact, it isn't extreme in a loaf of bread, but for the pasta dough that I made, it was almost like biting into a lemon.
    Anyway, the reason I didn't post on April 20 was because I was really busy and didn't have time to write up a post (we had our country's General Election on May 5 and there was a lot of activity before and after the date). But that gave me time to come up with a better tasting sourdough pasta. 
    I discarded over half the starter I have tended to for over two years, and fed the remainder every day for a few days. Maybe I'm just imagining it, but the bread dough I made recently appeared stronger and was more flavourful. I've also made sourdough cakes with the "new" starter, and the chocolate ones have been very good.
    So then, on to the sourdough revamp. I mixed the dough by hand, like I've illustrated here. For my vegetable strata (pan-fried courgette, eggplant and mushrooms, mustard cheese sauce and tomato sauce), I made just a plain egg (sour)dough, again with semolina, and the flavour of the pasta was at just the right level of sourness for me. I'll add flavourings next time.
    Cubed gouda cheese and breadcrumbs for the topping
    Fresh Egg Sourdough Pasta (Dough)
    Makes about 240g

    120g (about ¾ cup) semolina durum
    Large pinch of salt
    70g (a bit more than ¼ cup) unfed starter
    1 medium egg

    Flavourings (and colours)*
    2-3 tsp tomato paste (red)
    1 tbsp finely chopped basil (speckled)
    1½ tbsp puree of cooked spinach (green)
    A pinch of saffron threads mixed with 1 tbsp warm water (bright yellow)

    Place the semolina on a work surface. Sprinkle the salt on top and stir together with your fingers. Bring the semolina together into a mound, then make a hole in the centre. Place the starter and egg* into the hole and then gradually stir in the semolina with your fingers or a fork. Incorporate the mixture until no dry bits remain. 
    Knead the mixture; it will be crumbly at first but the semolina will soon absorb the liquids and the mixture will come together into a smooth ball. Leave in the work surface and cover with a clean tea towel. Set aside for 1 hour before rolling out and cutting into shapes by hand or a pasta machine.
    * If including flavourings, add with the liquids.

    Want to go blondie?

    Saturday, May 11, 2013

    I'm a little mad about brownies at the moment. I made some coconut ones last week and nutty chocolate ones yesterday (recipes to be posted at another time). I will be feeding the nut ones to the family when we meet tomorrow for Mother's Day.
    Because I had some leftover condensed milk, I thought I would turn that into dulce de leche and then use it in another sweet. But chocolate brownies again? No, with the dulce de leche, I decided to go with blondies.
    I've made coconut dulce de leche before in a microwave oven, which really cuts down on the time. But since I don't have a microwave anymore, I used the stovetop method this time, which took me 35 minutes. Just pour the condensed milk into a saucepan and simmer it over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the milk is reduced and thick. However, there is a fine line between oozy dulce de leche and hard toffee so it is important not to let the milk thicken more than it should. This site, which instructs on various methods, provides some guidance.
    To all mothers, 
    Brown Butter Dulce de Leche Blondies
    Makes 16
    Dulce de leche

    150g flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    110g butter (if using salted butter, omit salt below)
    75-90g brown sugar
    Large pinch of salt
    2 medium eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    140-150g dulce de leche

    Line the base and sides of a 20cm square tin with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
    Sift flour and baking powder together. Set aside.
    Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Simmer the butter until it turns a golden brown, about 10 minutes.
    Whisk the sugar and salt into the brown butter. Set aside to cool until just warm, five to 10 minutes.
    Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract.
    Stir in the flour mixture until incorporated.
    Spoon two-thirds of the blondie batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Scoop little dollops of dulce de leche all over the batter. Scrape the remaining batter on top and smooth it out (no need to be precise).
    Run a butter knife through all the layers in swirls (just six or seven swirls will do so that there will still be pockets of the dulce de leche).
    Bake until the top is light brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out without any wet crumbs sticking to it, 20 to 25 minutes. Leave in the tin until just warm, then use the paper to remove the slab from the tin. Cut into 16 pieces.

    Plum chutney is a good sidekick

    Monday, May 6, 2013

    Chutney, relish, pickle, achar... whatever you call it, a preserved condiment is a good partner to have when it comes to eating.
    Of course, not all preserves are made alike.  Some are sweet, others are hot, and some are sweet and hot. There are also sour preserves and salty ones too.
    I keep quite a few varieties on hand. Some can be kept in the store cupboard, others have to be refrigerated. I've recently been enjoying some kumquat pickles my mother made and salted fish achar from a home-based business, both of which I've been having with my rice and curry dishes.
    But chutneys, relishes, pickles and achar don't always have to play sidekick: How about a tamarind and date chutney baked into a cake or a sour masala jam of chillies, pineapple and cucumber which can hold its own against meats? And a good mango achar takes centre stage in a grilled cheese and chutney sandwich or sabich, an eggplant sandwich with hard-boiled eggs.
    Recently, I got a bag of purple plums and ate most of it fresh. But I got down to the last three and thought I would turn them into a hot and sweet spiced chutney. After pitting the plums, they weighed close to 250g, which made hardly enough chutney to fill a Chinese soup bowl. But I tend to forget what I have in the fridge so if I have too much, it might just go to waste if I didn't finish it. Anyway, the chutney doesn't take long to make (though it needs to sit at least a day before eating), so I can always make more.
    I don't have a precise recipe for this plum chutney. The ingredients are all to taste, but here's a rough guide.

    Hot Spiced Plum Chutney
    Makes ¾ cup

    250g purple plums (about 3 medium)
    ½ tbsp neutral-flavoured oil
    1 tsp black mustard seeds
    1 small red onion, diced
    2 tbsp sambal oelek (red chilli paste)
    100ml (scant ½ cup) white vinegar (white wine or rice)
    1½ tbsp brown sugar
    1 tsp cayenne pepper
    ¼ tsp each ground cinnamon, ground allspice and asafoetida
    Salt to taste

    Pit the plums and chop them up into medium-sized chunks.
    Heat the oil in a saucepan and toss in the mustard seeds. Stir them around until they start to pop.
    Add diced onion and sauté till translucent.
    Add sambal oelek (chilli paste) and sauté briefly. Add brown vinegar, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil, then add the chopped plums. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until fruit is soft. Use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to break up some of the fruit. Stir occasionally until the mixture has thickened. Add more water if it looks dry.  
    Stir in the cayenne pepper and spices. Add salt to taste. Simmer a while longer. Spoon into clean air-tight bottles and store in the refrigerator. Best left a day before consuming.