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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Almond-Orange Biscotti

The weekend plan to toil away the whole Saturday was foiled due to an incorrect interpretation of the weather forecast (didn't know "occasional rain" meant "rain at most times of the day"). So it was pretty much a day of finishing off chores and a nice little window to bake some treats.

Seeking for some inspiration, I turn to some of the food related blogs that I read through (like this) and there it was, a biscotti. Biscotti (meaning "twice baked") is an Italian biscuit, quite hard and dry, and is really baked twice (hence the name). I haven't made one before so no harm trying this one out!

I followed the recipe from this site except that I decreased the sugar by 1/4 cup, and I did not measure the orange zest, just added all the zest from one orange, baked at 165C all the time, didn't have the patience to let the thing cool completely before cutting it, and added a handful of chopped peanuts because the stash of almonds I had was not enough to my liking!

The kitchen smelled heavenly, and this recipe will definitely be repeated!

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
zest of 1 orange
1 cup whole almonds
handful of chopped peanuts

Preheat oven to 165C. Line baking sheet with parchment.
Chop the almonds (I used a mezzaluna).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another, combine the eggs and sugar and beat by hand until light in color. Add the extracts, zest, nuts and flour mixture.

On a lightly floured board, divide the dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a long, flat slab the length of the sheet pan, set about two inches apart.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the loaves are golden and slightly cracked. You're supposed to cool completely on a rack (but I didn't!!!). Slice the biscotti intodesired sizes with a serrated knife, lay them out on sheet pans with cut side up, and bake another 20 minutes, until crisp and dried up.

It's not meant to be browned after the second baking session.

Serve with coffee or tea, for a lazy rainy afternoon - a perfect accompaniment with a book - Stephanie Meyer's Twilight - both book and biscotti were demolished in one sitting!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chicago the Musical

...and all...


The song never left my brain the day I watched Chicago the movie, so after realizing that the Musical was in town, I knew I had to get tickets. Good thing there were several other ladies interested (no chance with the blokes, I didn’t even bother asking).

I truly admired Catherine Zeta Jones (Velma Kelly) and Renee Zellweger (Roxy Hart) in the movie (it won an Best Picture, and I’m sure they paid a lot of money to whoever choreographed the whole gig so I was curious to see what the difference in approach would be if done in a theater setting. It was entitled Chicago because this was where these two ladies have committed crimes that sent them both to Cook County Jail around the 1920’s – Velma killed her husband and her sister when she caught the two of them, and Roxie for killing a man she had an affair with thinking he was going to make her famous – but eventually confirmed that he only wanted her for sex.

So Her Majesty’s Theater stage was installed with a backdrop of musicians (as opposed to being ‘under the stage’) and it also provided the overall stage ‘d├ęcor’, and had participated beyond the music that they provide – there were flashes of humor and unexpected bits and pieces from the musicians (even the female music conductor was sporting a nifty black outfit). This minimal setup provided more room for dancing, which is obviously a critical requirement. “Cell Block Tango” still remained to be a personal favorite – it tells the stories of the women and the ‘crimes of passion’ they have (or have not) done.

Great performance from the ladies and gentlemen of the Melbourne show. Quite inspiring for those who would love to be back in theater (cough!), highly entertaining without being over the top, and you definitely get your money’s worth. And all that jazz.

Other details here and the Chicago website here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flax Seed Wholemeal Loaf

The tiny yet mighty flax seed - a great source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acid, low-carb phytochemical-rich awesome little thing was something I had picked up from the market one day out of curiosity. Little did I know that I had actually stumbled upon a seed that is 'most useful' - as it species name "Linum usitatissimum" means!

This would have been typically added into oats and homemade power bars, but because the weekend weather promised a bit of sun despite all the gusts of wind, I figured that it was time to make some bread - the heat would facilitate the rising of the yeast, which would otherwise feel like forever during winter (after further research I would learn that slow rising is also a technique - so I suppose I'll try that next winter then!)

I probably won't recommend this recipe yet as I am a newbie in bread making myself (newbie i.e. have not made a lot of leavened bread so far!) but anyway just to remind myself later in hindsight :

for the pre-ferment I used
1 3/4 cups plain wholemeal flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 cup water
mixed together and kneaded for just a couple of minutes until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and leave to rise slowly in the fridge overnight.

the soaker was made of
1 1/3 cups plain wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tbsps flax seeds
1 1/3 cup water
1 tsp salt
mixed together and left covered, unrefrigerated, for at least 12 hours (can prep in advance)

After the dough has risen and the soaker soaked for quite some time, mix them altogether with
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsps caster sugar
2 tsps instant yeast
1 tbsp olive oil

Knead for around 12 minutes, let rest for around 5 minutes, then knead again for a 2-3 more minutes to strengthen the gluten. Place in lightly oiled bowl and cover, leave to rise until 1 1/2 times its original size.

it's alive!

I used two smaller size bread loaf tins ( i have to measure the tins...!) for this. After dividing the dough into 2 and made into sandwich loaf shapes, the dough is left to proof in the tin for another hour or so.

Pre-heat oven to 220C, then slash the dough just as you are about to bake it. After placing the loaves into the oven, immediately reduce to 180C, and bake for around 25 minutes.

seedy little thing

Badger Creek Blueberry Farm and Winery

There are heaps of wineries around - but to stumble upon a blueberry winery was new to me (although I know of a strawberry wine that was quite yummy somewhere up in the mountain ranges of Northern Philippines!)

Badger Creek Blueberry Farm and Winery at Healesville is family owned and run, and perhaps one of the warm charms that the place has to offer other than scrumptious breakfast for sharing! Just take a bit over an hour drive away from Melbourne CBD it is close to other wineries in the Yarra Valley region but offers a different variety of wine - blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, some sparklings - pretty amazing actually!

Having planned for breakfast, an early morning berry wine tasting was also a different Sunday morning adventure!

smoked salmon with capers, yea cheddar, terrine, poached pear, mayo and toasted bread
for $20, to share, was very tasty.

long black with what we thought was cheese (which would have been another first!)
but turned out to be sweet stuff :)

some sights along the way - wineries prepping up for new life from the crops

the day's loot - blueberry sparkling wine, raspberry nectar and a 'hot blueberry salsa' - it was not too spicy, but different and quite tasty
apparently great in pizza topped with cheese!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Singapore Style Chili Crab

I was just after some fish for the weekend, but today I saw some blue swimmer crabs staring back at me... and there it was, a vision of Singapore Style Chili Crabs appeared somewhere in the depths of my brain, reminiscent of visits to the Lion City, sticky fingers and fried Chinese white buns called man tao (little white bread rolls).

Typically mud crabs would be used for this dish but for a sudden craving like this, surely this blue-tinged crustacean would do!

got 4 of them

Thoroughly clean the crabs and chop into sections (the cleaver only found its way midway these babies though)

Other Stuff You Would Need :
2 (brown) onions, peeled and roughly chopped
9 red chillies + 3 green bird's eye chillies (decrease according to taste - I only added the 3 green chilies because I knew the red ones I had were not very hot but had a great chili flavor)
3 cloves garlic
1 small tin of tomato paste (140g)
2 tbsp vinegar
a good glug of light soy sauce
salt to taste
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch mixed in ½ cup of water
1 egg, beaten
a couple of cups of water
3 tbsp oil
some use belachan (dried shrimp paste) to season it as well, but I used a teaspoon of Filipino style bagoong alamang (something like this)
Coriander leaves, to garnish

In a food processor or using a hand mixer, blitz together onions, garlic and chilies.

you make me cry!

In a separate bowl, combine tomato paste, vinegar, soy sauce, salt and sugar. Season to taste. Add a cup and half of water (or more depending on how much sauce you would like). Some use tomato puree, or tomato ketchup (or a combination of both) for this. I used tomato paste because that's what I had!

Heat wok and oil, dump in onion mix and stir until the moisture from the onions have evaporated. Add belacan (or alamang), stir fry for about a minute or two. Add tomato mixture, let simmer for a couple of minutes. Mix crabs in, and cook til crabs are red. Add cornstarch mixture and mix until slightly thickened. The finishing touch is the beaten egg to further thicken the sauce - make sure to mix promptly after adding so it doesn't clump up, you want to see those wonderful yellowish-white swirls of yumminess thoroughly incorporated in the sauce.

Serve immediately and garnish with coriander leaves.

I would have loved to eat this with man tao (crisp on the outside but soft inside - perfect for wiping the plate clean) but it requires some time to let the dough rise - so the next best bet was long grained rice to absorb all that wonderful sauce. yum.

And there is no other way to dig into that crab but to use your hands!

Pretty happy with how it turned out, it was almost the real deal back in Sgp (or so I thought!)


Monday, August 17, 2009

Sugar Art

Produced during the spun sugar session

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Poached Pear Cake

I'm an avid fan for trying things out in the kitchen, and one of the things that I actually have not before was to poach a pear (can you believe that) and to play with sugar.

A couple of minutes of research and I found a recipe for a cake with poached pear, decorated with spun sugar - jackpot!

The basic components of the cake were a cake base, poached pears and spun sugar. Once you put all these things together, it would create one of the best cakes ever.

Inspired by the Poached Pear Halo Cake from The Home Guide to Cake Decorating by Jane Price.

For the poached pear :
5-6 beurre bosc pears (depending on how big or small they are)
1 liter water
peel and juice of 1 small lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 1/2 cups caster sugar

Combine all ingredients except the pears in a pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and let simmer.

Meanwhile peel the pears, leaving the stem intact, and slice a piece off the bottom so that it stands upright. Using a melon baller, remove the core and seeds from the underside.

Poach the pears in liquid for around 10 minutes or until you can poke it with a no need to fully at this stage as will be baked later. Turn heat off and let cool in the poaching liquid.

After around 5min (or until just soft enough that it can poked by a fork), drain and set aside. (no need to fully cook them at this stage since they will be baked later.)

For the cake
200g softened butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
4 whole eggs
100g self raising flour
100g all purpose flour
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp orange marmalade
½ cup lightly toasted roughly chopped

You would need an 18cm springform cake tin. Line bottom sides greaseproof paper.
Pre-heat oven to 150C. Sift flours together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, ensuring that it has been well incorporated before adding another. Add vanilla extract and mix.

manual labor - in the absence of a hand mixer I manually creamed the butter and sugar and didn't bother changing my weapon to a whisk afterwards. hehe.

Fold flours, stir, add milk and mix until batter is smooth. Pour into the cake tin. Take the pears and gently push each pear around until reaches the bottom of the tin.

Bake for around 90 minutes or until a skewer poked in the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, heat marmalade until it looks slightly watery. Spread on top of the cake and sprinkle with almonds.

For the spun sugar :

Spun sugar is basically sugar boiled to hard crack temperature (146-154C). A bit messy to make but it does provide an extra wow factor into the cake, as well as extra sweet crunchiness. A step by step procedure is found here

I had fun making this :) I used oiled wooden spoons to catch the threads.

sweet cobwebs

A detailed procedure on how to make spun sugar here

To assemble, take some spun sugar and arrange it around the edges of the cake

...and some in the middle, if you want!

The result is a moist, light cake, not too sweet, with hints of crunchiness from the nuts and the spun sugar.

Pears Poached in Spiced Red Wine

In my other post I mentioned that I had not poached pears before, so when I had the chance I doubled up on the effort and made this other poached pear recipe. Honestly, i love the way fresh pear is crunchy and juicy, but done this way is an entirely different level of yumminess.

And yes some of the spun sugar was used here too :)

The poaching liquid was made of half a bottle of red wine, 1/3 cup caster sugar, 1 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves, 1 bay leaf, fresh lemon peel and 2 green cardamoms (smashed lightly to release the seeds). The pears were poached for around 45 minutes, and the liquid left to reduce further until it is syrupy. A great looking dessert if served on a nest of spun sugar and that star anise somewhere on the side :)

sweet, soft and yummy

Homemade Ricotta

Cheesemaking! As most culinary endeavors there is an art and science to it. I found a site that simplifies making this wonderful dairy delight, and thought I'd give the recipe for whole milk ricotta a go!

Just to make sure I don't spoil too much milk in case something I did goes wrong - i only used 1 liter of milk. There were also some cute lemons harvested from the tree, so this was the souring agent used to curdle the milk. The plain whole milk was brought to a temperature of 200F, then a bit of lemon juice was added, and the temperature raised back up to 200F. Then it was taken off the heat, covered, and left to sit for around 15 minutes. Then the white bits floating were strained in muslin, and left to hang and drain for around an hour.

Enjoy with plain crackers for afternoon tea!

Those Who Stopped By

Scribe's Notes

This pitstop is where incoherent ramblings seem to have meaning, where things or events are thought of and assessed, where great things are documented and perhaps any not-so-good happenings are written down in attempt to be forgotten!

So from the diversely abstract to the intensely specific, it's off to making tracks, and it is here where it stops for a thought or two.

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