Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Almond Praline

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Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Almond Praline
Home Cooking

Yes, this is another MasterChef recipe but this was one I HAD TO DO. Sticky date pudding has been one of my favorite desserts since I was a wee little kiddie. When I used to go to sizzlers, I'd head straight for the dessert bar and load the little frilly plates with sticky date pudding, custard and soft serve. That was my idea of a REALLY good time.

When I saw that they were doing sticky date on the show, my ears pricked up and I thought: will DEFINITELY be making this. I had most of the ingredients at home too, bar the dates themselves.

I thought about just making the pudding and whipping up some home made custard to serve it with but since the recipe was 'there', I ended up following the whole thing from start to finish. I made the accompanying butterscotch sauce and almond praline.

A few things: I didn't have the little metal moulds they used in MasterChef so I buttered some dome-shaped ramekins and prayed for the best. They are large compared to the moulds used on the show so this probably affected my cooking time. Secondly, I made a fatal, stupid error and started my oven up at 200 degrees. No idea where I got this figure from, it just happened. Consequently, the top (which, when turned up-side-down became bottom) of my puddings are a bit dark.

The original recipe suggests an oven temperature of 180 degrees Celsius. My oven is small and my moulds are big. I chose to lower the heat to around 150 degrees Celsius so that I could potentially cook for longer without burning. With small ovens, I find that the same temperature ends up being 'hotter' because there's less area in the oven for the heat to circulate.

You can find the original MasterChef recipe here. I divided the quantities by 2 when making mine.

Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Almond Praline
Makes 2


For the pudding

  • 90g dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/4 tsp of sodium bicarbonate
  • 130g firmly packed brown sugar (about 1 quarter cup + 1/2 a quarter cup)
  • 30g butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup self raising flour, sifted
For the praline (I didn't really use measurements, if you want to - go on their recipe)
  • approx 1/3 cup of white sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup of almond flakes
For the butterscotch sauce
  • 25g butter
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

For the pudding...

1. Pop the dates in a small saucepan and add the water. Put this on a hot stove (on high) and bring to the boil. Take this off the heat, add the bicarb and stir. Let it cool down a bit while you follow the next steps, remembering to stir every now and again.2. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
3. Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy.
4. Mix in the dates.
5. Gently fold in the sifted flour.
6. Grease your moulds and place them in a deep baking tray. Pour the batter into the moulds to about 2/3 of the volume. Pour water into the baking tray till it comes up to a third of the height of the mould.
7. Stick this in the oven and bake for around 30min till the top is golden and an inserted skewer/knife comes out clean.

For the almond praline...

1. Line the almond flakes on some baking paper on a flat tray.
2. Put the sugar in a small non-stick saucepan and put the heat on medium-high. Add the water and stir.
3. Keep watching and stirring the sugar until it forms a golden caramel.
4. Pour the caramel over the almonds and tilt the tray a bit to get it to cover all the flakes.5. Let it cool down completely before using a knife to break the pieces apart.

Almond praline is an impressive decorating tool

For the butterscotch sauce...

1. In a small, non-stick saucepan, combine all the ingredients on medium heat.2. Stir until combined and keep it on the heat until it's slightly thick and very golden.
3. Taste test to be sure! Set aside until needed.

To assemble...

1. Whilst still hot, pop a sticky date pudding out of its mould and onto a plate. If you are having a lot of trouble with this (like I did), run a knife around the mould or keep it in there.
2. Serve with some vanilla ice-cream, the almond praline and the butterscotch sauce.

This is my deconstructed sticky date pudding - the way it is because I had issues getting them out of the ramekins...
I think it looks pretty ;).

Maybe there is some sense in using metal ones after all. Also, they only took 30min to cook, not 40min. Aside from those hiccups, everything else turned out well.

Inside of the pudding

Butterscotch sauce must be the easiest and most satisfying thing to make in the world. It tastes so good I just slathered it over everything and ate spoonfuls of sugary, ice-creamy, sticky mush.

Pudding mush

Saturday Night Dinner: Steak and Chips

Steak and Chips
Home Cooking

Here we go again - another attempt at reproducing a MasterChef dish. Last Friday, they went through some really classic classics; I'm talking about fish and chips, pancakes and steak with red wine sauce. I LOVED that episode because they also did risotto (which is why I made the pumpkin risotto) and all up, it was just a really educational show for me.

I've been spoiling myself recently. You can obviously see by the frequency of blog posts that my whole day is spent cooking and eating. I planned a steak with red wine sauce + home made chunky chips for dinner. This is not an easy task and also involved purchasing a lot of groceries: steak, red wine, potato, onions, shallots, rosemary - you name it.

You can watch the videos for the lessons yourself: steak with red wine sauce and fish and chips. As a summary, they talk about the importance of having the steak at room temperature before you cook it, cooking for a short time and turning as minimally as possible and resting your steak. As for chips, you cut them and cook them and then let them dry in the fridge for at least half a day before frying. It was recommended to fry the chips in peanut oil.

Steak and Chips (divided into 3 parts)
Makes a meal for one lucky girl

Part 1: The chunky chips

  • 1 potato
  • 500mL peanut oil
  • salt

1. Cut the potato into even chip shapes. This should mean you don't have to peel it because those curvy surfaces get dumped anyhow.
2. Dry the chips thoroughly on absorbent paper towel. Sprinkle some salt on.3. Place the chips in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
4. Put the saucepan on high heat until the water comes to the boil.
5. When the chips are cooked, drain and place them on paper towel once again.
6. After you've dried the chips, spread them out on a tray and place them in the fridge. They should remain there for at least 1/2 a day so that the surfaces dry out.
7. When you're ready to cook the chips, heat up the peanut oil to about 130 degrees Celsius. I didn't have a stove thermometer so I used an ugly chip to check for how hot the oil is. The oil is hot enough if when you put a chip in, it starts bubbling and sizzling immediately.
8. Swirl them around with a slotted spoon and bring them out of the oil and onto absorbent paper when they're golden and crisp.
9. To serve, sprinkle a bit more salt on.

Part 2: The red wine sauce

I'm not going to give ingredients etc for this because mine was a bit of a 'wing it' process. Read below to see that it didn't turn out perfectly. Watch the video (link given above) to see how the MasterChefs did it and try it for yourself.

My veggies for the sauce

I fried up the excess fat from my steak in a small saucepan, tossed in chopped shallots, onions and garlic, poured in some stock and waited. Then, I added the red wine, salt, rosemary and bayleaves. More waiting. The red wine reduced. Soon, there was nearly none left. In a panic, I put the whole mix through a sieve and saved the red wine that remained. I added more red wine the the rest of the stock and repeated the process... dodgy dodgy. In the end, I had enough red wine reduction to put back into the saucepan and reheat. I added some butter and let it reduce a bit more before serving.
Even after all that reducing, it was still not as dark and thick as it should be, visually. It did taste good though and complimented the steak nicely.

Part 3: The steak

  • lovely piece of steak (I got a 300g piece of grain-fed Porterhouse steak and chopped off the tail to get a 200g circle)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1 sprig of rosemary

1. Have the steak at room temperature. Dry it well on some paper towels.
2. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Drizzle with olive oil to cover and sprinkle some salt on both sides.
3. Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan on high.
4. When the frying pan is really hot, place the steak on. Cook it for exactly 3min before turning. After you turn, cook the other side for 3min also (note: I realize this cooking time depends on how you like your steak cooked and how thick the steak is. Mine was about 2-3cm thick and this cooking time brought it to medium well).
5. After the 2 sides are caramelized and sealed, quickly seal the edges of the steak too.
6. Place your frying pan in the oven and cook for another 4min. If your frying pan is not ovenproof, quickly transport the steak onto an oven tray and cook for 4min.
7. When time is up, turn the oven off and rest your steak for half the time you cooked it (in this case, 5min resting time). Rest the steak standing up so that less surface area is touching the tray.
8. Once the steak is rested, heat up the butter and rosemary in a frying pan till hot and quickly toss the steak in it to coat and gloss the surface.
9. Serve the steak with the chips and red wine sauce.

You'll have to coordinate yourself in terms of how to get the 3 components ready at the same time. I had multiple stove tops going at once and arms and legs flying...

The chips didn't work out well. They looked fantastic and I was SO looking forward to biting in but they weren't crunchy at all! No idea what I did wrong - hypothesizing that maybe they weren't cooked enough. ONE of them was crunchy. The rest were soggy. Maybe I didn't drain them fast enough? I blame my lack of absorbent paper towels. Oh well - can try again next time.

I had the opposite problem with the red wine sauce. I didn't follow any recipe - just used whatever quantities of whatever I thought was appropriate. Honestly, I expected the sauce to fail fail fail but it tasted good. The problem was it didn't LOOK right. Everyone else's red wine sauce is dark and thick. Mine is purple. I'm assuming I didn't reduce it enough. Or else, the wine was a bad choice. I know zilche about wine. Make that less than zilche. It only took me about 10min deciding whether something was red or white. *sigh*

Perfectly cooked to my liking

Finally, my steak. The steak was a winner. It was great. I know a lot has to do with the quality of meat itself but hey, mine was from Woolies. Granted the most expensive cut I could find at Woolies but still, I think I can take some credit for the success. Some people (in fact, most people) will say I overcooked the steak. It was brown around the edges and pink through the middle but very juicy. I usually order my steaks medium well so it turned out (unintentionally) exactly how I like it. If I was cooking to impress others, I'd probably reduce my cooking time to 2min per side next time.

Rules with cooking steak:
  • Get a good steak
  • Seal in a really hot pan
  • Don't flip it over and over again
  • Oven to finish it off
  • Let it rest
  • Finish by glazing with hot butter

Rustic Pumpkin Scones with Maple Syrup and Cream

Rustic Pumpkin Scones with Maple Syrup and Cream
Home Cooking

I had some left over pumpkin puree from making the pumpkin risotto for lunch. What to do with pumpkin puree? I thought the answer was obvious: whip up some scones. To give my appetite some chance of recovery, I waited till a few hours after lunch and made myself a nice afternoon tea.

About my scone making + tips:
There are a few scone posts on this blog but I'm not really happy with any of the recipes I've submitted so far (the most recent attempt, I didn't even submit a recipe because that batch was a dud). The thing with scones is that I actually make them quite frequently but it's hard for me to post because I don't measure exact quantities - I sort of just feel and go.

The same thing applies to this recipe. The quantities are 'more or less' what they appear on this page. Things to remember are that: I used pumpkin puree that already had butter whizzed through it. That means adding less butter in the actual scone mixture. Rather than ordinary milk, I always use a mix of yogurt and milk (more often than not, this will be soy milk). I've given up carefully assessing the ratio of yogurt to milk - it's basically a dollop of 2 of yogurt into the measuring cup and make up the rest of whatever I need with soy milk.

I always omit egg from my scone recipes. I just don't see the point of having it there. Even with egg omitted, my dough is usually really sticky anyway.

I have NEVER mixed up a scone dough that is solid enough to cut with a scone cutter. It's always wet and sticky. Today, it was again, wet and sticky so I added more and more flour until it was just sticky (still slightly wet). It was solid enough to form into a flattened circle shape but that's about it. If I put a scone cutter into my dough, the cutter would have stuck inside.

The other thing with my scone method is that I mix minimally and barely knead. I try to combine the ingredients gently. And I also never, ever glaze.

Usually I put blobs of scone dough onto some baking paper in a tray and hope they rise up in a round shape. Today, I made that flattened disk, let it rise like a free-form cake and cut the scone into wedges to serve. I've seen them done like that before - I didn't invent it. It looks very nice when done.
Rustic Pumpkin Scones with Maple Syrup and Cream
Makes 4

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (from here)
  • 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of yogurt/milk mixture (use roughly a 50:50 ratio but it doesn't matter too much)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • approx 1 cup of self raising flour
To serve
  • maple syrup
  • 1 tsp butter, melted
  • dollop cream

1. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
2. Mix together the pumpkin, butter, sugar and yogurt/milk till smooth.3. Add the flour gradually until it begins to form a dough. Stir the flour in gently, trying not to overwork the mixture.
4. When you get the right consistency so that the dough is solid enough to be formed into a flattened circle (see above re: scone making tips), flour the surfaces and place on baking paper.
5. Pop this on a tray in the oven and bake for around 25-30min. After the crust turns golden, you may have to turn the heat down to 180 degrees Celsius to prevent the crust from burning.
6. The scone is done when an inserted knife comes out clean and not covered in sticky dough (insert the knife right through the center because that will be the last area to cook through and also because you'll be cutting through there anyway).
7. When the scone is baked through, plop it onto a plate and cut into 4 wedges.8. Mix together the maple syrup and molten butter and drizzle this over the top of the scones. Serve with the dollop cream and some extra maple syrup.

This was such a heavenly afternoon treat. I thought 'yeh pumpkin scones - they'll be alright' but they were amazingly good. I normally like to have maple syrup with bacon and not much else but in this case, it really elevated the pumpkin scones. Cream brought everything together and made this snack rich and decadent. You almost think you're having a fancy dessert rather than a 'rustic' scone made from left over pumpkin.

The scones themselves were lovely. Everyone has their own preference in scone texture. I favor the dense, sticky and buttery texture that still manages to be soft. I find that shop-bought scones can never achieve the same softness as home-baked versions. Shop scones tend to be more floury and cakey. These pumpkin scones were perfect for my preference. In particular, they had a wonderful crust which I've never achieved on any other scone.

Halfway through trying to eat like a lady, I ditched my knife and fork and clawed the scones apart, dragging the pieces through the cream and dunking in syrup. Like I say, rustic scones - and that's how they're meant to be eaten.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pumpkin Risotto with Goats Cheese and Basil (from MasterChef Australia)

Pumpkin Risotto with Goats Cheese and Basil
Home Cooking

As promised in yesterdays post, I redid the whole risotto thing after learning some tips and tricks from the MasterChef masterclass. Today, I made pumpkin risotto and followed their online video. You can watch it yourself here.

I bought a whole lot of ingredients to get this dish rolling but in actual fact, it's really easy. I just didn't have anything at home: white wine, rosemary, pumpkin - even garlic and onion. My fridge was bare and I really needed to do some grocery shopping.

When I was buying the goat's cheese to serve on top, I didn't want to get a whole wedge so I asked the boy at the deli to cut me a tiny, tiny block. I kept saying 'smaller - no smaller than that'. In the end, I had a piece that in my mind, was still too big but when I went to the cashier, I found out it was only 30c!! Might as well have bought more :D.

Pumpkin Risotto with Goats Cheese and Basil
Serves 1

  • 1/4 onion, chopped really finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup of arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup of white wine
  • 1 cup of chicken stock (I used reduced salt Campbell's Real Stock)
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • goats cheese and baby basil leaves to garnish
For the pumpkin puree
  • 100g pumpkin (I used butternut)
  • 2 tbsp butter

1. You can make the pumpkin puree first. Grate the pumpkin.2. Put the pumpkin in a small saucepan with 1 tbsp of the butter. Pop the lid on and cook on very low heat (to prevent burning) till the pumpkin is soft. If you squish it between your fingers, the shreds should disintegrate. By the way, my photo shows 250g worth of pumpkin because I made more puree than needed for this risotto so don't panic if you have less.
3. When the pumpkin is cooked, scoop it into a blender/food processor and blitz till smooth. Add the second tbsp of butter and blitz again. Set aside for now.
4. In a large saucepan, saute the onions and garlic clove in a tbsp of butter. I didn't chop or mince my garlic - just crushed it to release the flavors. I then fished out the garlic clove later on. Make sure you chopped your onions finely. I'm a terrible onion chopper - I ended up fishing out all my big pieces of onion.
5. Add the risotto rice and spread it around evenly in the pan to coat with butter.
6. Pour the white wine over the top and shake the pan to 'agitate' the rice and coat them with wine. Add in the sprig of rosemary.7. Pour in enough stock to just cover the rice. I warmed my stock in the microwave so that adding the stock doesn't lower the temperature of the rice.
8. The heat should be turned down so that the liquid is simmering gently. Add a bit of stock each time the previous amount is soaked up. Shake the pan periodically to agitate the rice and prevent them from sticking.
9. The risotto is cooked when the rice is just al dente (soft to bite but still slightly firm on the inside). Fish out the garlic and rosemary.
10. Turn off the heat and plop in another tbsp of butter and 2-3 tbsp of the pumpkin puree. Stir through gently. Add the Parmesan and stir through again. You can adjust the seasoning at this stage but I found that it was fine without addition of salt or pepper.11. Serve the risotto immediately. Garnish with some crumbled goats cheese and baby basil leaves.

Ok, I admit it. This risotto is much better than the one I made yesterday. The flavors were simple, clean and very complimentary. I could have gone without the basil though - thought it was a tad overpowering. Guess I have a low basil tolerance; but the pumpkin and goats cheese worked like a charm. The MAIN area of improvement was the texture of the rice.

Guys, this 'agitation' method of risotto-making worked a lot better for me than the stirring method.

The rice granules were separated, not stuck together and gluggy. You don't get all that starchy fluid collecting around the rice as it cooks. Each grain stays whole and intact. I also cooked it just right this time so it was slightly al dente in the center.

Close-up of the pumpkin risotto

I don't know if I imagined it but I think the risotto also cooked faster? Maybe because I used a large frying pan rather than a saucepan - the rice was spread over a larger surface area so it could absorb the stock quicker.

All in all, the MasterChef judges have earned my trust and I'm looking forward to following more of their advice.

Cheddar and Chorizo Savory Bread Pudding

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Cheddar and Chorizo Savory Bread Pudding
Home Cooking

A few posts back, I wrote about my experience visiting the Absynthe Bakery on the Gold Coast. One of the lovely items I brought back home with me was a loaf of curry bread. Now, to be perfectly honest, this was good for one feed and afterwards, I got sick of it because the curry flavor is quite intense.

Therein lies the age old question - what to do with stale bread? If this was a neutral or sweet loaf, my options would have been plentiful. E.g. cinnamon bread and butter pudding withe creme anglaise = yum. ANYWAY - because my bread was savory, the only thing I could think of was to grind it up as bread crumbs. But even that wouldn't have been a lot of use because flavored bread crumbs don't have the same versatility as plain ones.

I toyed with the idea of a savory bread pudding. A quick search online revealed that such a creation DID exist and so I thought what the hell. This is my own recipe that I thought up on the spot. It worked out really well so if you're skeptical, come on and have some faith :p. I used a combination of chorizo, cheddar and caramelized onion because they were flavors that I thought would go well with the curry in the bread. You can obviously think up your own combination of savory flavors and use up whatever is in your fridge or pantry. After all, that's what bread puddings are good for.

Cheddar and Chorizo Savory Bread Pudding
Makes 1 (in a 10cm diameter springform tin)


  • 2 thin slices of whatever bread you're using, crust removed and cut to the shape of your tin
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup of milk (I used soy milk)
  • pinch of salt to season
  • 1/2 brown onion, chopped
  • 1/2 chorizo sausage (about 60g), skin removed and broken into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp cheddar cheese, grated or crumbled
  • 2 tbsp of bread crumbs (I used the hard crusts that I removed from the bread)

1. I wrapped foil around my springform tin to prevent leakage. Then, made sure that the bread fit inside. Because each slice of my bread was about 1/2 the area of the tin, I used 4 slices pieced together. By the way, I forgot to grease the foil which made the pudding a bit difficult to remove. Save yourself the trouble by greasing the inside of the foil at this stage.
2. Beat the egg and milk together, soak the bread in for 5min and turn. Keep soaking.
3. In the meantime, sautee the onions in a bit of butter or oil until brown. Add the chorizo and keep frying until the chorizo is fragrant and curled around the edges (indicating they have released their fat).4. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
5. Begin layering your pudding. Start with one layer of egg-soaked bread (1). Add on a layer of chorizo and onion. Because my tin is tiny, I couldn't fit all of my chorizo and onion on and ended up with some left over onion - I just served that with the pudding in the end. Top the chorizo and onion with 1/2 the crumbled cheddar cheese (2). Add another layer of bread and pour the remaining egg mixture over the top to reach all the sides (3). Finally, sprinkle on the breadcrumbs and the remaining cheddar cheese. This gives the bread pudding a crunchy crust.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10min till the pudding is set and the top is golden brown.7. Serve with some garnish. I used coriander to compliment the curry flavors, plus some chili flakes because I like chili. I REALLY WANTED to use the spicy tomato chutney I thought I had in the fridge but it was nowhere to be found so I went without and served my pudding with the remainder of the caramelized onions.

I was really surprised with how delicious this pudding turned out. So many times while making this, I thought it was going to be one of those rubbish, throw-together dishes that lazy people make. Well, it WAS lazy and 'throw-together' but it didn't taste rubbish at all. The flavors are beautiful together and the whole thing is so moreish.

Inside of bread pudding - lovely layers

The bread pudding itself was set just right and went perfectly with the chorizo. I loved the strength of the cheddar in this dish and the onion brought forward a complimentary sweetness. It was a great idea to have the bread crumb topping because the topping was my favorite part - cheesy and crunchy.


Shop 24-25, Elizabeth Arcade (99 Elizabeth St)

When we're in the mood for a quick feed after uni/work, we tend towards regulars. For Japanese food, this usually means Kadoya in Elizabeth Arcade or sometimes, Ajisen. On this day, we actually decided to go to "the Japanese shop in Elizabeth Arcade that's NOT Kadoya" in an effort to be slightly adventurous.

I had no idea what this shop was even called until I photographed the sign. It's got a cute indoor/balcony dining area set up which has a less crowded feel than Kadoya. It IS also actually less busy which again contributes to more calmer atmosphere.

We ordered a main each and an entree to share. All the food came out really quickly. In fact, I had sent Charlie down to get some bubble tea and all the food had arrived way before he got back.

Yakisoba omelet

Omelet cut open, revealing noodles inside

The yakisoba omelet came out fastest. It's basically stir-fired pork and Japanese noodles wrapped inside an omelet egg skin. There's some barbecue sauce and Japanese mayonnaise on top to compliment. Nice, simple, hearty food - I like it :).

Veggie croquette box with rice and salad

My veggie croquette box came next. The box contains salad, rice and the croquettes themselves. I sort of expected the croquettes to have more bite but it's more floury and starchy. The crispy skin was OK but the inside was slightly bland. As for the rest of the box, well I don't eat rice and the salad is the same one that accompanies everything else. Not a huge fan of the salad though it was quite fresh.

Potato katsu with barbecue sauce

The potato katsu we shared was really yummy. It was very cheap and is basically a small plate with deep fried, crunchy potato cubes. Again, simple but nice food.

I quite liked this place. It's good to have a bit of variety to chose from, rather than going through the same menu from the same eatery each time. We'll be back in the future.