Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I am looking forward to settling into our new home - yes, we've FINALLY moved in. There's a lot of cleaning up and unpacking to do and once that is done, I'll definitely be full of mojo to put the new oven to the test.
See y'all soon.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Some months ago I bought a pack of Chocolate Crinkles from the local bakery. Etienne and I decided we needed a piece each before we drove off. As we bit into it, we both looked at each other and laughed. It was hard as rock! It looked pretty enough, though. Since then I've been meaning make some myself. With a bit of time to spare over the weekend, I set out to make some. This recipe yields a cake-like cookie. Nice and crusty on the outside but cakey on the inside. So now I'm confused – what's a Chocolate Crinkle really supposed to taste like? I had cut down the sugar by half, but I could've done with a bit more sweetness. And more cocoa. Definitely more cocoa.
I know I have another recipe somewhere in my library of cookbooks and will give this another shot. I can see this cookie becoming a favourite – once I get the recipe I like. Still, I will post this recipe. It's perfect for when you need a quick treat. It's a 'dump-in-and-mix' method and the dough, when chilled properly, behaves well in little hands, so the kids can participate in the making.
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup cocoa powder (I'd up this to 1/3 cup)
4 tbsp oil
1 cup sugar (I'd up this to 1 ½ cups)
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 cups flour
Dump all the ingredients except icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix till well combined and no traces of butter are left. (It's important that the butter be softened. If not, it will take a long time to be incorporated into the dough and prolonged mixing will 'toughen' the flour, resulting in a very dense and chewy cookie). Chill the dough for an hour for easier handling. (Of if temperatures are low, like it is now, you can go right ahead and roll it). Drop spoonfuls into a plate of icing sugar (I used my trusty ice-cream scoop), roll and generously coat with the sugar. Place on a baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool for 1-2 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack. Store in airtight containers.
Christmas is a time I look forward to. As a child, Christmas was extremely enjoyable. Then again, isn't it for every kid? I now realise that Christmas for adults is a whole different ball game. Yes, it's enjoyable. Yes, it's festive. But it does take a lot of effort on the part of the adult to make Christmas enjoyable for the kids – buy and decorate the tree, buy the presents, make the food.... Since Christmas is usually very low key for us, we do try to keep the spirit alive by doing stuff with the kids. I realised a long time ago that Christmas is what you make of it, and I want to create traditions, sights, sounds and memories for them to remember what Christmas is, and hopefully pass on to their own kids.
For Ewen, this was a great opportunity for me to get involved with his school. Ewen's kindy teachers were very supportive when I asked if they'd like me to conduct a Christmas activity for the class. We decided on a Christmas story and cookie decorating. The kids were enthralled with the Nativity Story but really got excited when it came to the decorating. All sorts of colours and designs, some neat, some messy. For some, the lure of the cookies was too great and was promptly bitten into. Others decided to save it for mom.
I used this simple recipe from Betty Yew's Kitchen Secrets.
225g self raising flour
1 ½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
125g brown sugar
1 small egg, lightly beaten
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, Rub in butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar. Add egg and a little milk to make a stiff dough. Knead till smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour. Roll out the dough a little at a time and stamp out with cookie cutter. Place on greased baking trays and bake in preheated 190C oven for 10-12 minutes (depending on thickness and size of cookie). Allow to cool slightly on tray and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Decorate with your favourite buttercream, glaze icing or royal icing recipes.
Etienne loves creating things – robots and machine out of Lego, drawing 'blueprints' of creative machines, making a 'house' out of my sofa cushions. He wants to create a cafe for me out of recycled chopsticks. Thumbs up for wanting to save the planet and for and originality. Double thumbs up for wanting to do something nice for Mom! Practicality – that's another thing... He does also sometimes come into the kitchen and suggest a flavour for a cookie or cupcake, or things we can make with that leftover fruit. Again, creativity rules and practicality usually takes a back seat.
However, he seemed very inspired one day and asked me to shop for some ingredients he wanted to 'cook' for dinner. I could not deny the enthusiasm. We went to the market together and he shopped (I paid). Come dinner time, I merely followed his instruction but was careful to pepper it with practicality. The dish turned out rather nice. With a little tweaking, it's a promising dish. I have to say, I'm surprised and proud of his little dish and who knows, he might be a chef one day.
See you all at 'Chez Etienne'. :)
Pork and Vegetables with Orange Sauce
250g lean pork, cut into bite size pieces
1 zucchini, cut into fingers
1 green chilli, cut into fingers
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Juice of 1 orange
2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
Heat some oil in a pan. Stir fry the pork pieces. Remove to a serving dish. To the pan, add the zucchini, chilli and garlic. Fry briskly till cooked through. Add the orange juice. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the cornstarch thickening. Transfer to the serving dish alongside the pork. Serve hot with rice.
It's CS' birthday. I mulled over for weeks what to buy him. Would I throw him a party? Every year he insists he doesn't want any kind of party. “It's just another day” says he. So, to honour his wishes, I keep it low key. We do, however, throw in a present, a special dinner (pizza!) and a specially made cake. Looking back the past few years, there's always a specially made cake for birthdays. Did we just 'slide' into this tradition? I'd like to think that I made an effort on these 4 very special days in the year and it will be a family tradition. In the years to come, I hope my children will have memories of the tastes and scents of a very special birthday cake, and pass that on to their kids.
On to the cake. Rum & Raisin Cheesecake – an 'adult' cake and had decadence written all over it. Perfect for CS' birthday and if it turned out as well as it sounded, he'd be bowled over. He admires a well made cheesecake. Ingredients were simple, easy to make and took much less time than I had anticipated.
Rum & Raisin Cheesecake (adapted from Ultimate Cheesecakes)
1 cup oats
¼ cup chopped nuts (I used macadamia)
3 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 packages Philly cream cheesecake
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp rum (increase to 3 tbsp if not serving children!)
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup minus 2 tbsp flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup raisins
¼ chopped nuts (again, macadamia)
2 tb oats
Combine base ingredients and press onto bottom of a 9” springform pan. Bake at 180C for 10 minutes.
Combine cream cheese, granulated sugar and flour in a mixing bowl. Mix on medium till well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Blend in rum. Pour over base.
Cut butter into flour till it resembles coarse oatmeal. Add in sugar and stir. Stir in raisins, nuts and oats. Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture. Bake at 180C for 45 minutes. Loosen cake from pan and cool completely in pan. Chill overnight (or at least a few hours) before serving.
The result, to be honest, was good, but certainly below expectation. Next time, I shall make the following changes :
Soak the raisins in the rum and dump the whole lot in the cheesecake batter. By sprinkling over the cake, the raisins dried out.
Use 3 tbsp rum!!!
Chop up the nuts into finer pieces, or grind them. The chunkier nuts got a little bit more burnt than I would've liked. Would probably change from macadamia to almonds or walnuts. The high oil content in macadamia's could've been another reason why they got burnt.
And definitely chill the cake before serving. Tastes so much better.
And so, even after all that technical discussion on how to make the cheesecake better, Etienne gave it a thumbs up and the birthday boy ate every last morsel on his plate. Happy Birthday darling. I love you!
Another one of my plum experiments. While shopping at Auchan, I saw these purple plums again. They were on sale, so what's a girl to do? I grabbed (and I go mean it literally. Have you been to the fruits and vege section at Auchan during peak time?) a few, shoved them into a plastic bag and plonked it on the weighing scale at the weighing station. (If you wait for the staff to politely take the bag from you and weigh it, you will be standing there, with a bag of plums in your hand all morning).
Two days later and they were still sitting around the kitchen, and so I dug up an old recipe and turned them into a crumble. (If this recipe sounds like something you had posted before, I apologise for not giving credit. I printed this a long time ago and can't remember where I found it). It was lovely, but I should have added more sugar as the plums were a bit sour. Very eye appealing – the rich red-purple oozing out from under the golden crust was a sight to behold.
500g plums, stoned and cut into 6-8
½ cup brown sugar – add more if the plums are sour
1 ½ tbsp flour
½ cup flour
6 tbsp butter
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup oatmeal
¼ cup sliced almonds
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 190C. Toss the fruit with the sugar and flour until well mixed. Pour into a 9” ovenproof dish.
Rub the butter into the flour till it resembles coarse meal. Add the sugar and salt and toss. Finally add the oatmeal and almonds. Mix well and pour over the filling. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes.
All psyched up after yet another jam success, I experimented with Apple Jam. It is, after all, apple season. I love the local apples – juicy, slightly tart and very crunchy. I found a recipe for Caramel Apple Jam on the internet. Some people had left comments about the recipe, saying it was too sweet, while most found it delicious. Just looking at the recipe, I decided there was way too much sugar. I cut it down to half, but the jam was still way,way too sweet. I can't imagine how the creator of this recipe could claim it to be good, and others too. The only other thing I can think of is that the covertor system is faulty.
While working in cup measures is convenient, I sometimes find it subjective. But, a kilo of sugar is a kilo of sugar everywhere. So I decided to click the button which said 'Metric' and voila, the recipe in grams. The conversion to grams couldn't have been too far off its equivalent in cups, but perhaps I should have left well enough alone, and gone ahead in cups. The recipe is, after all, American, and their measurements are usually in cups.
So I ended up with sweet, sweet jam, with a hint of apple. Not great. I could see CS and the kids not eating it. I really didn't want to throw it out, and so in a moment of inspiration, I decided to throw it into my standard Wholemeal Muffin recipe. I merely substituted the sugar and honey with the Apple Jam. Result? Fantastic. Just perfectly sweet with a hint of the apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. Here's what I did:
Wholemeal Muffins (adapted from Betty Yew's Kitchen Secrets)
120g wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup oatmeal
2 tbsp wheat germ
1 cup milk
1 large egg
3 tbsp corn oil
4-5 tbsp Apple Jam
Sift the wholemeal flour with baking powder and return husks to bowl. Add the salt and oatmeal and wheatgerm. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg, add the milk and jam. Stir until well combined. Quickly stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Don't be tempted to overmix. Pour into baking cups or paper lines in a muffin tray. Bake in preheated 220C oven for 20 minutes, or till skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool and serve. Best eaten fresh from the oven.
If by some strange chance you don't have overly sweet jam in your fridge ;), use 1 tbsp sugar and 3 tbsp honey.
Mid Autumn treats - mooncake, chestnuts, horn nuts (I don't really know what it's called) and small yams.
Over the recent Chinese National Day holidays, a bunch of us drove up to Lian Yun Gang, a port town north of Jiangsu Province. Having seen very little of China, despite being here for 10 years, I decided to join this trip. And since it was with a group of very very good friends, it made the trip all the more enjoyable. So, off we went – 10 adults and 9 children packed into 4 cars.
The drive to Lian Yun Gang took approximately 4 hours. The expressway was excellent, dotted with rest stops. It provided a great view of the countryside. (I enjoyed it more on the way back to Suzhou as I was plagued with car-sickness on the drive to the port). The hotel we booked into was easy to find.
As a courtesy, CS called a colleague, whose hometown is Lian Yun Gang. He was home for the holidays too. In typical Chinese fashion, he was extremely hospitable and insisted on taking us for a seafood dinner. It is, after all, what the town is famous for. We drove not far from the hotel, and along a narrow street, flanked on both sides by small seafood restaurants. It was typical small Chinese town restaurant, and one could be forgiven for doubting the hygiene of the place. I wasn't sure about the others, but I have eaten in such places before and not once did I suffer from any kind of tummy trouble. I did, however, suffer after dining at a 5-star hotel several years ago.
Our host, Mr Chen ordered quite a meal. I lost count of the number of dishes. There were fish, crabs, octopus, mantis prawns, regular prawns, mussels, scallops, clams of various varieties, eel, and a few vegetable dishes to balance the menu out. Each dish prepared in a different way and each gravy or sauce complemented the seafood. I have to admit I was a little cautious when he said the octopus was only 80% cooked. If cooked all the way, the flesh would be rubbery. Still, I did not have any tummy troubles.
But, among all the eye catching dishes that was served to us, the humble dumpling had the most meaning. There is a saying “Qing chi jiao zi, qian chi mian”. To welcome we eat dumplings, to bid farewell, we eat noodles. Sealed within the plain white wrapper was minced seafood. A symbol of the simplicity of Chinese food of days of yore. Simple, yet held a special meaning.
Since the objective was to have a relaxing trip, we didn't bother with back to back sightseeing. We did conquer the Hua Guo Shan – home of the famed Monkey God or Xun Wu Kong. Along the way we munched on roasted chestnuts plucked from the area. Later in the day we went to the beach and sampled dried cuttlefish. It's much sweeter than the kind we get in Malaysia, but yummy all the same.
While it was a wonderful trip, I would strongly caution against unscrupulous traders preying on the unsuspecting tourist. Having a friend familiar with the area paved the way for a smooth trip, but those relying on the 'let's see when we get there' method could very well fall into tourist traps, which I could see, were laid everywhere.