Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sweet meringues -my Kitchenaid's virgin voyage

After opening my brand new 'Kitchenaid', i lay in bed at 11pm reading the manual. It was late, and i wanted to end the night fantasising about what my 'virgin' recipe on this new toy would be. But after reading all the different speed options (10!!) it's advanced superior rotating motion (doing away with the need to scrape the bowl much), it's ability to cut butter into flour, it's 3 attachments (paddle, whisk and dough hooks)!, i got myself so worked up and excited, i had to leap out of bed and try making something with it.
It was near midnight, but the first thing i wanted to try was the much dreaded meringue. Dreaded because i've never been able to whisk it to perfect 'stiff peaks'. There was always a layer of liquid egg white still languishing at the bottom of the mixing bowl at the end of each of my attempts in the past.

My girlfriend Audrey (whom i was playing squash with the next day )is a true fan of meringues. She's the only one i know who's constantly asking me to make them at dinners / parties (i personally don't like meringues) - so my mission was set. Meringues for Audrey - Kitchenaid's virgin voyage.

So i pulled out my Donna Hay cookbook, cracked in the egg whites, poured in the sugar, the cornflour and vinegar - and set the whisk speed at speed 6 (it goes all the way up to 10. And oh my goodness - the ease in which it whisked in effortless frenzy my egg whites! Stiff peaks in no time! and what a beautiful rotating motion, quietly whirring away to the task.

I swear my mouth had fallen open. I was Bug eyed and amazed.
It is a gorgeous piece of equipment, and i recommend it to anyone who wants to bake - whether for pleasure, business, gluttony - whatever. Get one today!

Oh and yes -the meringues were perfect.

My brand new Kitchenaid!


Now that i've done the 'screaming at top of lungs in excitement' bit - let's move on.
For those who have read my first entry in this blog, you would have read that i had only started amassing my modest collection of kitchen tools over the past 2 years. i have a small oven that doesn't fit normal cookie sheets and had only recently bought an oven temperature guage. I had mentioned that i had 'lusted' after a kitchenaid - the 'MAC's' of the mixer world.

And what a beauty it is!
My boyfriend had made a recent trip to Melbourne, and had secretly looked up the distributor of Kitchen aids in Australia, having seen me salivate over them on the net. I picked him up from Changi airport when he arrived home, and saw him pick up a huge hunk of a box off the conveyor belt, and oh the excitement! i was jumping from one foot to the other as he rolled his trolley towards me, going 'is it? is it? is it what i think it is?'
What a moment of pure joy!

The funny thing is - i didn't open the box that first night. I wanted to prolong the anticipation, afraid of disappointment. I was sleepy and i didn't want to 'unwrap' it in a rush.
And so i waited one more day. And in the 'grand opening' of my much anticipated new 'toy' (given it's size, it feels more like I just got given a car rather than a 'toy') my boyfriend and i lifted it out of it's styrofoam casing. And let me tell you - it did not disappoint. All 8kg of stainless steel, gleaming red, like a well engineered sports car, polished to perfection.

I think my boyfriend (being a typical guy who appreciates his 'boys toys' - he has the latest MAC after all), had bought the Kitchenaid for me partly because he could see what a fine piece of machinery it was, all macho and heavy and solid under the flourescent lights of the kitchen.

What a gift indeed. I could not stop bragging about it all week to anyone who would understand!

Monday, April 11, 2005

More Lemon and Poppy seeds!

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Posted by Hello

Continuing with the Poppy seed theme, i had promised my friend Jean that i would make her something yummy with lemon and poppy seeds (she is a fan of both ingredients!) I wanted to try a cake recipe (as opposed to a muffin recipe) and found a recipe for a Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf cake on epicurious.com that had been taken from the 'Cake Bible' (another one of those award winning books that i have since ear marked as the 'next book to buy at Borders when feeling rich').

I have to say that it was absolutely deee- licious! i loved it, and had serious trouble giving it away. The bundt pan makes them look extremely 'pretty' and it's not at all hard to make. As it turned out, i had 6 of them made and ended up bringing it to a friend's place the next day during a last minute dinner invitation, which thankfully included Jean. Thankfully because this way, i was able to fulfil my promise to her, whilst managing to share it with my generous dinner host, who had prepared a feast of tempura and soba noodles. not quite green tea ice cream, but a crowd pleaser nevertheless! (not to mention that i ended up eating 2 of them all on my own). oink!

Below is the recipe - a definite must try for anyone who enjoys a tangy dessert that has the added 'crunch' of poppy seeds.

All ingredients should be at room temperature.
3 tablespoons milk (1.5 ounces = 45 grams)
3 large eggs (scant 5 fluid ounces = 5.25 ounces = 150 grams, weighed without shells)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (6 grams)
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder (3.7 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon loosely packed grated lemon zest (6 grams)
3 tablespoons poppy seeds (1 ounce = 28 grams)
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, must be softened (6.5 ounces = 184 grams)

Lemon Syrup1/4 + 2 tablespoons sugar (2.75 ounces = 75 grams)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 ounces = 63 grams)

One 8-inch by 4-inch by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan (4 cups) — most attractive size — or any 6-cup loaf or fluted tube pan, greased and floured. If using a loaf pan, grease it, line the bottom with parchment or wax paper, and then grease again and flour.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl lightly combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients, including the lemon zest and poppy seeds, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 minute to aerate and develop the cake's structure.
Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. The batter will be almost 1/2 inch from the top of a 4-cup loaf pan. (If your pan is slightly smaller, use any excess batter for cupcakes.) Bakes 55 to 65 minutes (35 to 45 minutes in a fluted tube pan) or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with buttered foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
To get an attractive split down the middle of the crust, wait until the natural split is about to develop (about 20 minutes) and then with a lightly greased sharp knife or a single-edged razor blade make a shallow mark about 6 inches long down the middle of the cake. This must be done quickly so that the oven door does not remain open very long or the cake will fall. When cake splits, it will open along the mark.
Shortly before the cake is done, prepare the Lemon Syrup:In a small pan over medium heat, stir the sugar and lemon juice until dissolved. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, place the pan on a rack, poke the cake all over with a wire tester, and brush it with 1/2 the syrup. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a spatula and invert it onto a greased wire rack. Poke the bottom of the cake with the wire tester, brush it with some syrup, and reinvert onto a greased wire rack. Brush the sides with the remaining syrup and allow to cool before wrapping airtight. Store 24 hours before eating to give the syrup a chance to distribute evenly. The syrup will keep the cake fresh a few days longer than a cake without syrup.
NOTEThis cake is very attractive made in individual portions. A 6-cake Bundt-lette pan is the perfect size. This recipe will make 6 individual cakelettes, which require about 20 minutes to bake.

In a 4-cup loaf: 2 1/4 inches at the sides and 3 1/2 inches in the middle. In a 6-cup loaf: 1 3/4 inches at the sides and 2 1/2 inches in the middle. In a 6-cup fluted tube: 2 1/4 inches in the middle.

Airtight: 3 days room temperature, 1 week refrigerated, 2 months frozen.
Complementary AdornmentA simple dusting of powdered sugar.
SERVERoom temperature.

• Use cake flour that does not already contain leavening. Do not use self-rising cake flour.
• Use superfine sugar for finest texture.
• Use fresh baking powder.
• Measure or weigh ingredients carefully.
• If using a hand-held mixer, beat at high speed.
• Use the correct pan size.
• For very even layers and maximum height use Magi-Cake Strips.
• Check for accurate oven temperature.
• Use correct baking time; do not overbake.
• Be sure to use a wooden toothpick to test for doneness. The cake will spring back when pressed lightly in the center even before it is done. If the cake is underbaked, it will have tough, gummy spots instead of a fine, tender crumb.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A 'Small' Dinner

Monday, April 04, 2005

Roasted Vegetable Tart Posted by Hello

Brocolli Soup Posted by Hello

Green salad Posted by Hello

Barbequed chicken Posted by Hello

'Small Saturday Night Dinner at Rick's'
Last Saturday, Rick and i thought we would get together for a quiet 'cooking session' on a Saturday night at his place. He has a cosy little kitchen that looks out to the dining table, ideal for entertaining in small groups. We had a brief conversation on Saturday morning about what we would cook. I said i had wanted to try a roasted vegetable tart i had seen in a magazine for a while now, and he said he wanted to try one of my muffins - banana walnut was his request.
He had just bought a barbeque pit from one of his recent trips back to the US, and was looking forward to experimenting with it.
i invited another girlfriend to join us - so the night involved 3 of us - cosy, no pressure, relaxed enough for us to cook at our own pace.

Rick has this knack of whipping dishes out of nowhere. Often, i would ask 'what are you cooking' -and Rick would breezily say 'oh, i'm not sure yet' and whilst i turn my back to chop the onions, there is suddenly a broccoli soup steaming on the hob, ready to be served. Like magic.

The Menu
So like magic, the menu for our casual 'small' dinner involved the following:
Broccoli Soup topped with chopped spring onions and fried shallots
Green salad with lemon olive oil dressing, sprinkled with shaved parmesan
Barbequed chicken infused with a beer and garlic thingymajig (made on brand new infuser and barbeque pit)
Roasted Vegetable Tart with a pesto base (made in brand new Williams Sonoma tart tin)
Banana and Walnut muffins (i don't have a picture of this!)

The Outcome
With a comparitively minimal amount of mess (compared that is to the mess i normally make in my kitchen) , the dinner fell together beautifully. Rick had purchased this star trek looking contraption (see pic) - i'm attempting to explain what it does, but i can't. I'm going to have to ask him to explain it. basically, you shove the marinated chicken (marinated in a chinese vinegar sauce) over this metal thing, which contains an infusion of garlic and beer - place the whole thing over the barbeque pit, and wait. The result is a chicken that doesn't taste barbequed at all - extremely tender and juicy.

There was a bit of struggle over the vegetable tart, and as usual, i needed a lot of hand holding from Rick, who introduced me to the 2 knife method of cutting the butter into the flour to make the shortcrust pastry (better alternative to rubbing fat into flour with fingers). I used rice as baking weights for the blind baking but forgot to line the pastry with tracing paper first and ended up having to scrape the rice that had embedded itself into the half baked pastry. But after a few mishaps, i dare say the end result was tasty and satisfying. The roasted vegetables included cherry tomatoes, eggplant, red onion, yellow and green peppers. Mozarella cubes were added before the final baking period, together with a generous dose of pesto sauce resulting in a cheesy hearty vegetable pie dish that masquaraded as marginally healthy (but i am most certain was not). Nevertheless, certainly a dish i will attempt again.

Cooking with Rick gives me the confidence to try things i might not normally attempt on my own. Having an 'expert' by my side gives me that much more courage. Not a 'small' dinner by any means, but worth every calorie.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The landmark dinner party

An important Catalyst
When i first arrived in Singapore, i joined a gym soon after i had unpacked my worldly possessions of lycra. I was soon 'adopted' into the 'boxercise' gang, a group of friends my boyfriend had made from his frequent classes there. Punching my way into a regular 3 times a week boxercise routine, i soon met Rick, an American who was another regular of this class. As i shook his hand by the water fountain, both us sweating, him sporting a headband and a big grin, little did i know that our growing friendship thereafter would have much to do with our common love for food.

The Dinner
Our friendship started with a dinner for 4 at a fusion restaurant in Club Street. It was then that Rick mentioned that he enjoyed hosting dinner parties that would often last into the wee hours of the night. Having had limited introduction to the world of dinner parties, my experience of them had largely been comprised of a main course and cut fruit for dessert, all served on friendly ikea dinner plates and napkins. So when Rick invited my boyfriend and I over for a dinner party, i was not prepared for the lavish epicurean splendour that was to be our privilege to enjoy.

I cannot do justice to what was served that night by description alone. It was almost two years ago, but it will remain in my memory as a landmark day for the lengths people can take in understanding and enjoying the intricacies and wonders of food.
But what i can do is highlight some of the events of the night that might serve to explain a dinner party of this nature.

Firstly, Rick has a storeroom specifically for plates. We're talking ceiling to floor cupboards with matching sets of ceramic ware. It was only on one of my subsequent visits to his place that i had the priviledge of bearing witness to this cutlery storage room, throwing light on our wonder that night on how he was able to whip out the perfect cutlery for each dish served.

The Menu
I cannot remember the details of the 7 course dinner today, except that we started with a delicious vegetable soup, followed by a caesar salad. Rick made the caesar salad in front of us, explaining the importance of tearing the romaine leaves along the vein of the leaves to maintain the juiciness of the leaf (instead of cutting across the water pockets contained in the leaves), the inclusion of anchovies and the integral tool - the unbroken wooden salad bowl.
This was followed by a home made pate, and a lychee palate cleanser? (rick, if you are reading this, help me out here). Main course comprised of a pork dish (i think!) and salmon risotto.

I cannot remember how it all tasted apart from the wonderful explosion of the senses we were all submerged in. What i also remember was our unified amazement (there were 6 of us) heaped with a large dose of gob smacked wonder that we knew someone who was capable of making a home cooked dinner of this quality.

It was nothing short of a lavish celebration of food and the sheer love of it. And it made me understand that there was so much more to learn - that enjoying good food was not about merely savouring each bite, but about understanding the care that goes into the making of it, the importance of good ingredients, the subtle (and sometimes stark) differences in results from minor adjustments...

i do think this dinner was an important catalyst in my inspiration for cooking, understanding it, and my love for dinner parties (both attending and hosting them!)

Minor detail: Rick used to be a self taught chef in a restaurant in the US once upon a time.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

My introduction to Poppy seeds

Lemon Poppy Seed muffins Posted by Hello

Poppy seeds are hard to come by in Singapore, and so when my boyfriend made a rececnt trtip to Melbourne, I eagerly wrote him an entire list of ingredients that were either hard to find or very expensive when found and sent him on his mission. Items included poppy seeds, pure vanilla extrtact, lindt couverture chocolate, valhrona chocolate, whole wheat flour, sweetened dessicated coconut and er.. Kitchenaid stand mixer (the latter was probably a bit of a tall order, but it was a wish list after all!)

What are Poppy seeds?

Poppy is the dried, kidney-shaped seed of the annual Papaver somniferum. The seeds are very small in size, slate blue in color and are nut-like in flavor.
Poppy Seed is used topically on breads and rolls, and added to vegetables and salad dressings. Turkish cuisine uses toasted Poppy Seeds, while Indian and Turkish spice blends rely on crushed Poppy Seeds for flavor and texture.

Poppy Seed is produced in various countries including the Netherlands, Australia, Romania and Turkey. The Dutch variety, noted for its uniform slate blue color, is recognized as the best quality seed and comprises most imports into the United States.

Poppy seed has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. The tiny poppy seed actually comes from the plant that produces opium. The botanical name for the poppy flower means "sleep bearing." Poppies were even used in the Wizard of Oz to put Dorothy to sleep. The seed does not have this effect. Poppy seed was used as a condiment as early as the first century A.D. The red poppy flower has been the symbol of fallen warriors throughout history and was adopted as the emblem to commemorate Veterans Day in the United States.

Baking with Poppy seeds
With my new bag of poppy seeds, i proceeded to bake a batch of lemon poppy seed muffins last night. This recipe called for a 1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal - i have yet to experiment on a batch without conrmeal (first time i have ever used it), but the recipe said 'we wanted a very moist and a little tangy muffin that takes full advantage of the earthy sweetness of the poppy seeds. The secret is a touch of cornmeal, which balances the delicate seeds perfectly.'

The result of this recipe wasn't quite sweet enough, so i proceeded to include a lemon syrup topping (2 tablespoons sugar and juice from half a lemon), heating it until melted and slightly caramelised, spooning it over the muffin for a thin layer of barely visible glaze.
I should probably know this, but doing this - i realised that icing sugar made for a more obvious glaze (see lime and yoghurrt cupcakes) whilst granulated sugar results in a barely visible glaze. So if you don't want to mask the 'look' of whatever you're trying to put icing on, use granulated sugar instead of icing sugar.
With the syrup topping, it was perfect. Light, slightly tangy, with the poppy seeds lending the muffins a slightly crunchy texture. Poppy seeds are meant to have a nutty aroma and texture, but i'm not sure i can honestly describe the result as 'nutty' in my muffins.

I also used pure vanilla extract for the first time - i can't tell what difference it has made, but i'm convinced given the number of times cook books have stressed on its superior quality (over vanilla flavouring), there must be some serious value in the stuff. Not forgetting a good reason why i had made my boyfriend lug back 7 bottles worth!

Muffin voyeur

Orange Choc Chip muffins Posted by Hello

For the first time this morning, i sat at the cafe after i delivered my muffins, trying to look nonchalant as i sipped on a latte, watching out of the corner of my eye for my first muffin customer! (muffin voyeur at work)! I wanted to know who were the kind of people who were eating them - was it ordered with a look of glee, or absent mindedly, as an afterthought. Was it a temptation that they had caved in to on a Sunday morning, or all that they had wanted with their morning coffee. As it turned out, the first order came from a table that were too far away for me to know the 'negotiations' of the menu before it's eventual conclusion. I saw them being whisked out to 2 little girls, who were accompanied by their mindful parents. They had ordered the Orange Choc Chip muffins. i had made these as a complement to the lemon poppy seeds - one universally likeable, the other a bit more contemporary. I do believe lemon poppy seed muffins are for a certain 'type' of person. I imagine the literary types, the creative types - mostly female, well travelled, a little short of mainstream, possibly bohemian.

And the kids love Orange Chocolate chip muffins. And i'm begining to wonder whether it's the families with kids that end up being the end consumer of my midnight projects. In which case i could try expanding my experiments to include more chocolate based muffins - not coffee (parents don't approve of coffee for kids) - but definiely the 'fun' range. in fact, perhaps i should consider pastel iced 'cup cakes' and label them 'kids fun corner' for the families.
Another thought for another weekend...

p.s. these orange chocolate chip muffins were actually a disaster. They should not look like this - hardly detectable for its actual variety. They should look distinctly orange, with accents of chocolate chips - instead of a giant chocolate lump with strange odd coloured lumps in its midst.
Truth was that i had spooned in the batter into the muffin tins, pushed it into the oven, only to realise 5 minutes in that i had forgotten to add in the sugar. In panic, I had pulled the muffin tin back out of the oven, and dumped in the forgotten 3/4 cup of sugar, only to find that the choc chips had started melting into the batter to form a marbled effect. The end result was still pretty good (Taste wise), but certainly not the presentation! Lucky thing kids are forgiving.