Saturday, January 31, 2009

And I'm leaving... TOMORROW

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but WOOHOO for the tennis final before that!


It's just past midnight on Saturday now. Meaning, it's actually Sunday. I'm flying out for Shanghai way early on Monday morning and so the countdown begins.

Friday night I nearly had a heart attack watching the tennis (Men's singles semi-final Nadal vs Verdasco). Was that a freaking awesome match or what? At some crucial moment in the 5th set, a friend of mine told me he already knew the outcome because his girlfriend in Melbourne already saw the finish. This was the FIRST TIME I even CONSIDERED the match was not live. WHAT THE HELL????

There's only 1 hr time difference! What is so difficult about making it live? It's super lucky for me because it occurred to me that maybe I should hop online to read what other people thought of the amazing shots. However, I use my phone to surf the net and it out of battery so I couldn't go online. If I HAD done so, I would have accidentally stumbled across the result and would still be kicking myself right now.

Needless to say I will be watching tonight very intently. I made a special request to my parents that for my last night in Australia, I want to munch on Pizza Hut's new baked pasta. Nothing posh but sounds like perfect TV food. I'll report back on that...



By the way, as epic as I'm making it sound, I'm online going overseas for 2 weeks. In that time, there'll be many awesome food experiences, all of which will be documented on here at a later date.

For today...



I'll finish this blog off for now with some pretty photos from around our backyard (already scattered throughout this post) and also, the cheese and chocolate I found today at Chalk n Cheese, Milton. We had a midnight snack of cheese and crackers today and will be breakfasting at lunch time in Gunshop tomorrow. I mean, today (Sunday).

BEST Chewy & Oozy Chocolate Cookies

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Chewy & Oozy Chocolate Cookies
Home Cooking


Yes I know it's impossible to REALLY claim a cookie recipe as 'the best'. Everyone is so varied in their preference for flavors, textures, size and whatnot. I like most cookies... be it soft or chunky or crumbly or crisp. Given all that, I still totally dig this recipe because it is soooo easy and fool proof.

With cakes, I feel reluctant to repeat a recipe more than once because there are so many out there to try out. The same principle applies to cookie recipes... I mean, I've literally bookmarked dozens of them thinking to myself "I HAVE to give this a go" but somehow, when I find myself craving home-baked cookies, I return to this recipe.

To give you an idea of the final product, the title really tells all. The cookies are soft and chewy in texture. I actually found the recipe when searching for a replica of the Subway cookies. If you like those ones, you'll like these more.

Freshly baked, the chocolate chunks are molten and the cookie is slightly crisp on the outside but sticky and soft on the inside.

Chewy & Oozy Chocolate Cookies

Makes 9 large cookies

Ingredients:
  • 90g butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/6 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup self-raising flour
  • addition: chocolate chunks (I used whole squares of Cadbury Dream chocolate. Try using nuts, mixture of chocolate chips, peanut M&Ms etc)
  • topping: chocolate & milk (approx 7:1 ratio. I used Lindt milk chocolate)
Procedure:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a biscuit tray with non-stick paper.
2. Combine butter, condensed milk, sugar and self-raising flour in a bowl until the mixture is even. I just used a fork and mashed everything together bit by bit. Easiest thing EVER. Let your boyfriend do this if you don't trust him with anything else :).3. Add your extra nice bits. I just mixed in my white chocolate squares.
4. Use a tbsp and spoon round mounds of the cookie dough onto the baking tray, approx 2-3cm apart (they expand when baking). Make sure you incorporate a bit of chocolate (or whatever it is you chose to add) in each blob and keep it evenly distributed or you might create a bit of jealousy.
5. Squish the mounds down a bit. Bake for approx 15min until the cookies are slightly golden.
6. Cool on a rack for about 10min. While this was happening, I made my chocolate drizzle by melting together the milk and chocolate (I did this in the microwave but you may use a saucepan). Once the cookies are adequately cooled (no longer steaming hot), drizzle the chocolate on. This stage is obviously optional and open to adaptation.7. Let the cookies cool for a bit more. Don't try to pry them from the tray before they're allowed to cool for at least 15min because they'll be too soft and crumble everywhere.
8. Serve while they're still slightly warm but hardened enough to keep their shape.

It's pretty clear from the ingredients list that this is about as far from health food as you can get... WELL all I have to say is that if these cookies are bad for your body, they're good for your soul. There's no egg in the recipe so the raw dough would be good for mixing into fresh home ice-cream. In moderation, this is ultimate comfort food. Just be careful because they're so speedy to whip up that you'll find it hard to talk yourself out of making batches spontaneously.

Chicken Thai Red Curry

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Chicken Thai Red Curry
Home Cooking


It might seem like I'm on a bit of a Thai food phase but the truth is, I've been planning to make this dish for a long time now. I was going to do it with fish (based on the recipe I have that inspired me to try home-made curry) but changed my mind and went for chicken.

I find that curry, particularly Indian curry is almost intimidating to make if you don't have a complete selection of spices and herbs at your disposal. I suppose this curry is sort of half-way there in terms of how much it is your OWN curry. It's true that you do use a pre-bought red curry paste but it's far from warming up supermarket curry sauce and mixing it with rice. At least, that's what I like to tell myself! Once I bought a supermarket brand Rogan Josh sauce and had unrealistically high hopes... it was pretty abysmal and since then, I've been getting my fix for Indian curry from restaurants.

This chicken curry came turned out pretty damn good. Remembering that I just had Thai food at a supposedly 'top' restaurant, I'm inclined to think mine is much better. I can't vouch for authenticity but taste-wise and texture-wise, it's more to my own preference.

That's the good thing about these half-way preparations. You don't have the hassle of buying all these spices and things to start up a curry flavor from scratch but you have enough freedom to customize the dish to your liking.

Chicken Thai Red Curry
Serves 2-3 (with rice)

Ingredients:
  • 400g chicken in bite-sized pieces (I used 1/2 a small chicken cut up on the bone)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil,
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 knob ginger (about 1 cm long), grated
  • 1 sml red chili, sliced [optional]
  • 2 tbsp ready-made Thai red curry paste
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 1 capsicum, seeds removed and chopped
  • 2 sml potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
  • For marinade: 2 tbsp ready-made Thai red curry paste, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp fish sauce
Procedure:

1. Make the marinade by mixing up the ingredients together in a bowl. Add the chicken pieces and coat completely. Cover with cling-wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hrs.
2. Once the chicken is fully marinated, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large wok. Seal the chicken in the oil by tossing it in high heat for 2min (make sure all surfaces are sealed). Transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
3. Add remaining oil to wok and add the garlic, shallots, ginger and chilli. Stir and let the flavors infuse into the oil (cook for a few min).
4. Add the curry paste and cook for a few seconds. Lower the heat and add the palm sugar, fish sauce, salt and 1/2 the coconut milk.5. Now, add the potatoes and capsicum and pop on the lid. Let the veggies simmer in the curry for about 10min.
6. Return the chicken to the wok, stir to combine everything evenly and cover for another 10-15min.7. Check to see that chicken is cooked (chopstick should be able to poke through the meat) and that potatoes are tender. If everything's good, add more coconut milk until the consistency is to your liking. Adjust the taste with seasoning, sugar or more curry paste if required. Simmer for another 2min or so for the sauce to thicken slightly.
8. Serve immediately with rice.
Like I already said, this curry turned out beautifully. I made a bit too much (it's hard to know just how huge your serving is when it's in the wok) but we had no problems polishing off every last bit. The curry perfectly compliments rice and the flavors are just wonderful. I like potatoes with curry but you can feel free to use whatever vegetables you like - just keep in mind that they have different cooking times.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bow Thai - Fortitude Valley

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Bow Thai
http://www.bowthai.com.au/


The story I heard about Bow Thai (uncertain about the truth behind it) goes something like this:

The Thai government was getting concerned at the sheer amount of Thai restaurants popping up in western countries like Australia. The problem was that poor quality, inferior Thai food may mislead potential overseas tourists to think that Thai food less than worth going to Thailand for. So, a few select culinary ambassadors were sent to Australia to taste test the variety of so called 'Thai food' on offer and give an official seal of approval for what they deemed authentic.

What I heard is that Queensland only had THREE Thai restaurants that passed the ultimate test. Bow Thai was one of them. Their website does not mention anything about the above story but they do claim they were awarded Australia's top 8th Thai restaurant award by the Thai Restaurant Association in 2000.

I have no recollection about where I heard this story from - be it TV or a more obscure source like Vogue Forums but it did make me absolutely itching to go and see for myself. I also read other positive reviews online.

It's not easy for me to have opportunity to go to an Asian-style restaurant. If I'm just eating with Charlie, I feel like we're missing out because we can order a maximum of 2 main dishes before it becomes too much. Asian food like this is best eaten with a group so that you can order a whole selection of dishes and share. Luckily, the occasion came about so we got together with 2 other buddies and met at Bow Thai to see if the hype was well-founded.

To be honest, I started having doubts when I called to make a booking and a bored-sounding woman said we could just show up. As expected, when we got there the place was practically empty, bar one other table of guests. For a top-notch Thai restaurant, I expected it to be buzzing with people. Sure, we did go on a weekday at lunch time but I thought business clientele would keep them busy.
Nice details in the decor

The service was fast and consistent but not overly friendly or standout. There was one waitress that attended to us and some other staff or members of the family or something that just stood around and chatted in their own group. The layout was pleasant and clean but the vibe was sort of depressive... maybe just because it was so quiet and the staff were unenthused.

The menu is extremely extensive and there was a large selection of starters, curries, soups, stir-fries and salads. I'm not interested in vegetarian food but from what I could see, the vegetarian menu had quite a bit of content too. You can preview their menu for dine in or takeaway here.

I thought we should get the 4 person banquet to save us the effort of ordering. In hindsight, maybe that wasn't the best option for seeing what Bow Thai has to offer. I know that banquets tend to be very standard items and maybe we would have been more impressed if we customized our meal selection instead.

The banquet consisted of an entree platter, 4 mains, small dessert and coffee/tea.

Charlie and I chose coffee, which came in a cute set. The coffee was passable but our friends were disappointed that their tea was tea-bag tea rather than loose-leaf tea. I agree that this is unsuitable for an Asian restaurant. Tea bags do not only seem cheap but also don't compliment your food that much. Fragrant Jasmine tea would have been much better.
Coffee set

Another sign that the restaurant concentrated on a western market was the fact that we were given spoons and forks instead of chop-sticks. The other guys didn't mind that much but I thought it was weird trying to scoop up single bits of capsicum with a spoon. One of my friends pointed out that South-East Asian countries traditionally DO use spoons rather than chopsticks so maybe I'm just uninformed here.

The entrees came pretty soon after we were all seated. I thought this mini-platter was well presented and the offerings were quite tasty. I'm not going to say the spring rolls are on par with what we had at Bretts Wharf because that's an unfair comparison (completely different standards and prices) but they were passable. There were 3 different starters and 3 dips to compliment.
Spring rolls, chicken skewers and prawns in fried wonton skin

Peanut dipping sauce, sweet chili sauce and something sweet (& unidentified)

After we were done, the mains came roughly all at once. I found that the beef and pork dishes looked and tasted similar. Serving sizes were a bit small. Everyone claimed to be full afterward but I think that banquets at other Asian restaurants tend to be bigger. Small servings are good if you're watching your weight but... that's about it.
Beef & vegetables sauteed in oyster sauce

Pork sauteed with ginger and shallot

I stopped eating the stir-fries after a taste each but I couldn't stop at one taste of the curries. I normally order lamb massaman curry when I get Thai food - indeed it is one of my favorite curries (any ethnicity). The chicken massaman from Bow Thai was sweeter than I expected but it was nice. The seafood 'Bow Thai classic curry' had a light, coconut flavor and was well received all round. It all went down well with the rice that came with our meals. Good news is that there are free rice refills.
Massaman chicken curry

Seafood and vegetables sauteed in Bow Thai classic curry

After our meals came our dessert. The dessert was just plain single scoops of vanilla ice-cream with a topping of choice (standard chocolate, caramel or strawberry). Hey, it's ice-cream with topping... what more can I say? It came with a cherry on top.
Vanilla ice-cream with chocolate topping

My overall feeling after trying Bow Thai is sadly, disappointment. I was expecting a lot based on a possibly-fabricated story. Maybe my experience was hindered by how quiet the restaurant was and I would have enjoyed it more if it was bustling, at night. Similarly, it's possible that I didn't order the best they have to offer. On the flip side, you'd think that if a restaurant has a banquet, they will use that to showcase their top dishes to the best of their ability.

Taste-wise, 2 out of 4 dishes were bordering on home-style and the curries were only good because I find it hard to dislike curry. As our friend commented 'I can do this at home'. The presentation, taste and serving sizes were nothing to write home about. Prices are similar to other Thai restaurants so considering that this is in a prime location, you could call it 'cheap'. If that's the case, price may be its only merit. One day I might just move to the valley and if I want Thai food, Bow Thai would be amongst my considerations for take-away. The massaman curry is greatly substandard when compared to the one from Thai Orchid Square in Market Square, Sunnybank. Unimpressive food paired with a deserted atmosphere and basic service standards means that I won't be going back.

Bow Thai on Urbanspoon

Lime White Chocolate Mud Cake

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Lime White Chocolate Mud Cake
with Candied Lime Slices
Home Cooking

This cake matches my blog color scheme... no it wasn't intentional

I promise I'm not pulling your leg when I saw I've literally been dreaming about this cake for at least a week. The thing is, I don't even like lime-flavored things that much but somehow, got into my head that what I REALLY needed to do was make a mud-cake that wasn't chocolate, white chocolate or caramel. When I looked online, I couldn't find any recipes for fruity mud-cakes but I did find see that you could buy them from professional cake stores.

Now... that is VERY unfair and I convinced myself that surely it can't be that difficult. A bit of research lead me to understand that you need chocolate in mud cake to get the characteristic dense texture. Even caramel mud cake contains white chocolate. Another bonus about using white chocolate is that your batter is uncolored so you can do whatever you like with it.

I wanted to make a swirly mud cake with a plain white chocolate component and a lime-flavored component. Many sleepless nights were spend fantasizing about how I would set up the color layers.

The white chocolate base recipe is from The Australian Women's Weekly's "Best Food: desserts" cookbook. I divided the recipe by 4 (didn't want a whole cake) and also, modified a portion of that to get the lime cake batter. I wanted the cake to be whimsical in appearance and slightly eccentric so I made some candied lime slices to use for decoration. The procedure for candying these slices is inspired from "The Perfect Scoop".

Lime White Chocolate Mud Cake with Candied Lime Slices
Makes 1 mini-loaf sized cake

Ingredients:

For white chocolate base
  • 60g butter, chopped
  • 45g white eating chocolate, chopped coarsely (I used Cadbury Dream)
  • Bit more than 1/3 cup (80g) caster sugar
  • 45ml milk
  • 55g plain flour
  • 20g self-raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 egg, lightly beaten (beat 1 egg and use 1/2 the liquid)
For lime mud cake layer
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • zest of 1 small lime
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • green food dye [optional]
For candied lime slices
  • a few slices of lime (as thin as you can get it without compromising the shape) - you can do as many slices as fits in one layer in your frying pan
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • lime juice (from the small lime above)
  • green food dye [optional]
For white chocolate ganache
  • 130g white chocolate, chopped finely
  • 40ml thickened cream
  • green food dye [optional]
Procedure:

For white chocolate base
1. Grease and line a mini loaf pan. You might be able to use this recipe in a small cake tin or muffin tins too but I haven't tried that myself. If you do this, the cooking temperature and time will probably have to be adjusted so keep that in mind.
2. Combine butter, chocolate, sugar and milk in a medium saucepan; stir over low heat until melted. Transfer mixture to large bowl; cool for 15min.
3. Stir in sifted flours, vanilla extract and 1/2 egg until the batter is smooth and evenly combined.
4. Pour 2/3 of the mix into the prepared pan. This will be the plain white chocolate component. Obviously, if you want more lime and less white chocolate in the cake, you'll leave more batter behind (but the next few steps involving the lime flavoring may not be accurate so you'll have to alter the quantities accordingly).
5. The batter should be reasonably runny so the surface in the pan is nice and even. You put this in the freezer while you prepare the lime component so that the batter solidifies slightly and makes it easier for you to pour on the lime portion over the top without messing everything up.

For the lime mud cake layer
1. Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius.
2. Get your 1/3 of white chocolate mud cake batter that wasn't poured into your pan. Add the lime juice and lime zest. You need more sugar to counter the sourness of the lime juice - put more or less in depending on your own taste.
3. For aesthetic reasons, I added 2 drops of green food die to make a pretty pastel green shade.4. When you've got this all ready, remove the cake pan from the freezer and very gently (trying not to disturb the lower layer), pour the lime batter on top. You don't want to go overboard smoothing things out because that may mix the 2 layers. Just be gentle.5. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hr 15min. The surface of the cake should be evenly golden brown. The cake is ready when an inserted skewer or toothpick comes out clean. I was surprised to read the cooking time was so long but it really did take me that long. I lost track of time after a while which is why I gave you an estimate. You'll want to check on it after an hr by periodically sticking a skewer in (having said that, you don't do it ever 5 sec because that will lower the oven temperature too substantially).
6. Once all ready, remove from oven and let it cook in the pan for 10min. Remove from pan and let it cool on a rack until it's at room temperature. When it's cooled down, you can ice and decorate.While you're waiting impatiently for your cake to bake...

For the candied lime slices
Note: This is pretty time consuming so it's a good idea to tackle it before the ganache. You can use other citrus slices too in the same manner.
1. Put lime slices in your pan and add enough water to cover them by a few inches. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a low boil and cook for 15min, turning the slices occasionally.
2. Drain the lime, return them to the pan, add more water and blanch them again for 15min.
3. Drain the lime again. Return them to the pan and add 1/2 cup of water, sugar and lime juice. Bring to a boil and then, turn down the heat to reduce to a very low boil and cook for about 20min, or until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup.
4. If you can't tell what's going on underneath all the froth, remove the pan from the heat for a few seconds and observe. When ready, the limes should be translucent and the syrup should be thick and shiny.
5. Remove from the heat and let lime slices cool in their syrup. I also dotted on a bit of food dye to stain them with a tie-dye effect. They slices were then transferred to non-stick paper and kept in the fridge.For the white chocolate ganache
1. Very easy here - bring the cream to the boil in a small saucepan and then, add the chocolate.
2. Lower the heat and constantly stir until chocolate has melted.
3. You can remove saucepan from heat and wait for it to cool to room temperature.
4. Cover and refrigerate until it's a nice spreadable consistency.
To assemble the cake
1. When I've made mud cake in the past, I trimmed the sides to make a nice, even cake. I didn't do that for this cake because I predicted that if I trimmed away the mound across the top, I'd be getting rid of the lime layer (which was, after all, the whole point of this cake).
2. I spread the ganache over the whole cake, trying to keep it as even as possible (wasn't easy - maybe because I was naughty and didn't measure out the quantities for my ganache or put it in the fridge... resulting in an overly translucent ganache).
3. Time to get creative... you don't have to follow what I did. I got a bit trigger-happy with the food dye and I know that's not up everyone's alley. If you are open to this style of decoration though, what I did was put aside one small portion of the ganache and added green dye (tiny bit at a time) till I got a soft, pastel green shade. The smallest amount of yellow was needed too to make it less HI I'M ARTIFICIAL.
4. Finally, I swirled the green onto the white and tried to make it pretty. This is what I had been thinking about non-stop for many nights but of course, when it came to actually doing it, the result was nothing like what I expected. I think these extravagent decorative techniques are better applied to cupcakes.
5. I topped the cake with a couple of my lime slices to finish it up.

VERY IMPORTANT ADVICE.
  • Mud cake ALWAYS tastes better the next day. You really need to let it get more dense overnight. After you've decorated your cake, put in a airtight container (be sure not to wreck your icing efforts!) and then, in the fridge.
  • When you're ready to serve, bring it back to room temperature. You'll find that the slices have a gorgeous split color effect (if you used the food dye) which looks a lot fancier than the effort it took to achieve it.
Pretty layers
Tasty close-up shot

I didn't think the white chocolate portion of the mud cake was as good as another white chocolate mud cake recipe I've tried but I can confidently claim success on my lime modification. It turned out much better than I expected and contrary to common instinct, a fruit mud cake really works. The lime zest gives an extra bite and the flavor, in combination with the white chocolate, is a definite winner. For someone who doesn't usually like lime products, this cake has really turned things around. Although the outcome wasn't visually the same as what I'd dreamt up, it tastes fantastic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It doesn't make me like cleaning but it helps...

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Things I like

Against strict instructions, Charlie bought Windex spray and wipe instead of a Pine-O-Clean branded one. It's not like I'm bent on using Pine-O-Clean... I guess all those adds emphasizing that it's not clean unless it's Pine-O-Clean has drilled into my mind.


We wanted to use a spray so that after wiping the bench, the cloths wouldn't breed bacteria and smell bad, needing to be thrown out after 2-3 uses. I was fine with the Windex spray so long as it did the job.

What surprised me was how it smelt. You get cleaning products that smell like nothing, smell really awful and smell 'OK' without being pleasant.

In my opinion (and Charlie's too), this yellow Windex actually smells REALLY good. There's no where on the packaging that announces this fact so it was really by luck that we chose it. After some discussion, we concluded that the smell was candy-like. Charlie was a bit more specific and narrowed it down to 'Whizz Fizz'.

This isn't a fragrance like those orange/citrus cleaning smells that just mask the chemical odor underneath... the candy scent is truly delightful. If you need that extra motivation to get you spraying and wiping around your house, give this a try.

Cheat's Cherry Chocolate Tartlets

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Cheat's Cherry Chocolate Tartlets
Home Cooking

Horray for cool circle tricks with the icing sugar

(Once again, I managed to sneak some poetry into the post title). This was ultimate speed cooking for me. I basically whipped up these mini tarts using whatever I had left over in the fridge.

The tart casings are pre-bought (hence the 'cheat' part). The cherries are the last of my stash - I stewed them in a brandy sugar syrup. The chocolate component of the tart is a reworked version of my Ben & Jerry chocolate fudge. I didn't just do that on a whim... I compared recipes once again and came to the conclusion that the chocolate in chocolate tarts is basically comprised of the same ingredients as the fudge. It worked better than expected - in fact the chocolate in my tarts are absolutely delicious.

I would repeat this exercise but instead, make my own chocolate shortcrust pastry to emphasize the chocolatiness of the fudge filling. The cherries worked well too. I'm just ecstatic at how easy it is to make tasty tarts! My fondest memory of a chocolate tart was at Mecca Bah and even then, the first few bites were heavenly but then it got tiresome and weird-tasting. That kick-started a chocolate tart obsession phase for me though and I ordered a raspberry chocolate tart at TSB in Carindale. This was definite win for me and now that I've given them a go myself, I'm eager to try and replicate.

The tarts I made today aren't the world's best by far but they are SO easy. If you made the fudge for whatever reason and have some spare, why NOT throw it in a tart case with whatever fruit you have lying around? I'm just giving ideas here. You can use supermarket tarlet casings or shape some shortcrust into tart molds. Of course you can make your own but that defies the point of this post... I'll post my own PROPER pastry-making stories when I decide to do it for real in the future.

Cheat's Chocolate and Cherry Tartlets

Makes 4 small tarts about 10cm across

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half
  • Approx 1/4-1/2 cup of Ben and Jerry's hot fudge (depends how bit/deep your tart cases are)
  • 4 small pre-made tart cases
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp brandy (I only had imitation Brandy, unfortunately)
Procedure:

1. Heat the water, sugar and brandy in a small saucepan (I used a frying pan) till it's bubbling.2. Lower the heat and add the cherries. Pop on a lid and let it reduce to a syrup (about 15min).
3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, re-heat the fudge. Constantly whisk it and if it's too solid, add some milk until it is a nice, smooth thick consistency.
4. Get your tart cases ready. 5. Once everything else is ready, you can assemble. Line the bottom of each tart case with syrupy cherries. 6. Pour the chocolate over the top till it reaches the top of the tart case. Smooth out a knife if you like... I did a swirly pattern.7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees Celsius for about 10min. You want the case to cook through properly (lightly brown on the top) and the chocolate to be very hot. I waited a bit too long and my chocolate bubbled which is why the surface is unattractive.
8. Cool the tartlets completely on a rack before letting them set in the fridge.

I was pleasantly surprised at how yummy these were. Because they were so easy to make and I honestly just mucked around without any instructions, I thought they'd be passably edible but nothing more. Fresh out of the fridge, they're really tasty.
My chocolate-only tart

Cherries are good but I preferred the tart I made with JUST chocolate (I ran out of cherries). I also personally would have liked the addition of nuts.

If you're in need of a quick sweet snack, whip up a few tarts with pantry supplies and you're all good to go. This is an excellent idea for entertaining too - make a whole batch for your guests to grab.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cherry and Almond Scones

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Cherry and Almond Scones
Home Cooking


I whip up scones almost on a regular basis and I've thought about writing up a post about them. You have to agree though that stock standard scones are so straight forward that there's really no bragging rights (not that I keep this blog for that reason :D ).

When I was brainstorming what to do with my last supply of cherries, I came up with the idea of adding them to my scones. Sure, there are date scones, sultana scones and whatnot so a cherry scone made perfect sense to me. I found a recipe online for using almond meal in conjunction with plain flour for the scones so I thought maybe a cherry almond scone could work. In truth, I can't vouch for what the almond meal added to the scones other than making them a bit denser than usual.

This is my OWN experimental recipe so please, if you decide to go for it, take into heed my advice and apply your personal experience too.

The problems with the first batch using my own recipe was:
  • Bit too dense
  • Not sweet enough
  • No almond flavor in the dough
Alterations I'll try in the future:
  • Buttermilk instead of skim milk
  • Higher moisture content
  • Addition of sugar (maybe soak cherries in syrup before adding them in)
  • Bit more rising agent
  • Use of almond extract for extra flavor
  • It might work equally well without almond meal
  • In a review of the almond meal scone recipe, someone suggested increasing the butter content and also sprinkling sugar on the scones before baking. I think that would have helped with the lack of sweetness and moisture (this reviewer also added cherries and almond flakes, which is what I did!)
Cherry and Almond Scones
Makes 3 med-sized scones

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used skim milk but I recommend buttermilk)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cherries
  • scant handful of almond flakes or slivers
Procedure:

1. I knew the water content of the cherry would affect the dough. Rather than throwing them in the end as is usual for the addition of fruit, I combined the dry ingredients and added the cherries. I mashed the cherries in with the flour so release their juices so I could better judge how much milk to add.2. I poured in the butter and combined evenly.
3. Finally, I added the milk until it was a sticky dough that still held its shape and added in the almond flakes (I think an ideal dough should be wetter than I what I had). BE GENTLE WHEN MIXING SCONES, especially if using buttermilk or yogurt as part of your wet ingredients.4. Shape into round blobs on a baking paper-lined tray.
I floured the paper but that was completely unnecessary and just burnt the flour

5. Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees Celsius until swollen and slightly golden on the outside but cooked inside. As you know, scones are still moist and soft inside so a skewer test won't help you here. I baked mine for about 10-15min.

Blue babies - very exotic in appearance

The end result was beautiful to look at. The plum purple cherries somehow gave the scones an unreal blue hue so that when you serve the scones, they are golden and blue. Very pretty. As for taste, the almond flakes and cherries brought a nice extra omph to the table without being overwhelming. This was still a scone that tasted best when eaten with butter and jam. If you want it to be more stand-alone, you'll need to take some of my advice at the start of this post which is to add sugar, vanilla or almond extract and use buttermilk to improve the texture. I'll update this post if I repeat my experiment and come up with a superior recipe.

Chinese Spicy Eggplant & Pork Mince

4 comments:
Spicy Eggplant & Pork Mince
Home Cooking


I really dig eggplant when it's oozy and mushy and full of flavor. Plain grilled eggplants in antipasto sort of bore me but when paired with meat in Asian dishes, I think it's a fabulous plant. When I discovered I had pork mince in my freezer, I thought "why not?"

This is my own take on the dish. With Chinese food, you'll find that everyone makes it a bit differently and the tastes also vary so rather than having specific quantities or rules, you mix and match to cater for your own preferences.

I looked around for recipes online and found this. I also got some advice from mum about how to cook. My fridge didn't contain any spicy bean sauce as I recalled so I just mixed up some bean sauce and chilli sauce. The end result was quite good. My pork mince was too salty but would taste alright if stirred through some rice. The eggplant was perfect for me: mushy and tender plus it had soaked up all the juices so it was far from plain.

Spicy Eggplant & Pork Mince
1 plate

Ingredients:
  • 1-2 small eggplants, cut into fingers
For pork
  • 150g pork mince
  • salt and white pepper powder to taste
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (you can use finely chopped fresh ginger if you like but I don't like finding bits of ginger in my food)
For sauce
  • Combination of: bean paste, chilli sauce, soy sauce and sugar to taste. You can pre-mix your sauce or add the flavors in at the end
Note: I found eggplant super hard to cut. My mum commented on the fact that I didn't peel mine. From what I remember, eggplant skin is edible? It didn't ruin the texture or taste that's for sure and I think the skin looks nice :). At first, I blamed my knife for not being able to cut through the eggplant but then, a slight slip lead to my finger nearly being KO'd so I'm quite sure my knife is sharp. Be careful cutting those things! Once you're into the flesh, it's smooth sailing but the skin is tricky.

Procedure:

1. Combine the ingredients for the pork mince and set aside.2. Put some mild-flavored vegetable oil in a wok and heat on high.
3. Throw the eggplant pieces into the wok until lightly browned. Lower the heat and pop on the lid - let it sit there, stirring once or twice to distribute heat, until it's all softened. Transfer the eggplant into a plate.
4. You can prepare the sauce flavoring by mixing to your taste in a separate bowl.
5. Cook the mince in the wok until well browned and broken up. Add your sauce. If you're just going to wing it, add the different sauces bit by bit and have taste tests to ensure you're on the right track.My arsenal of sauces

6. Lower the heat, add about 1/2 cup of water and leave the lid on to simmer. You may want to thicken the sauce by sprinkling on some cornstarch.7. Finally, add the eggplant back into the wok and toss it all around. Make some last-moment adjustments to the dish if necessary. I found that adding sugar really brings it all together. If the sauce consistency isn't to your liking, add water/cornstarch to thicken or make it runnier.
I only have the one photo of this dish so I'm repeating the one at the start of this post...

Serve your eggplant and pork mince with rice. I didn't have rice so I had it with noodles - not the best mix but that doesn't change the fact that it's a wonderful, staple Chinese dish.