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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Double Choc Chip Chilli Cookies - Bake Sale Donation (2 of 3)

        The best damn cookies I've ever made I just had to make them twice - two weeks in a row. I first made these delicious cookies about 5 weeks ago. I hadn't baked anything all weekend so came home one day during the week and felt like baking something. I also had to make something where all the ingredients were readily available. I am such a bad hoarder, pantry is full of ingredients that need to be used a lot more often than they do because I'm always making things that require me to go out and buy 'special' ingredients.

        I was flipping through all my cookbooks and thought some cookies might be cool as I havn't made cookies in a while now. I came across this book which I picked up cheaply at my old workplace. I flipped through and came across a recipe for 'Double Choc Chip Chilli Cookies' which I had eyed off before but never thought about making until now, I was also in a chocolate mood. Scanning through the list of ingredients I knew I had exactly everything I needed and set about making them. The recipe yielded a huge batch so I took some to work and they were very well received. I loved them so much that I had to make them again a week later to donate to the bake sale along with some other goodies.

Ingredients:
  • 250gr butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (165gr) caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup (165gr) firmly packed brown sugar
    (I used dark brown sugar, probably explains why mine were darker than the photo in the book)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups (300gr) plain flour
  • 1/4 cup (25gr) cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 400gr dark eating chocolate chopped coarsely
    (or in my case dark choc chips)
Candied Chillies:
  • 1/4 cup (55gr) caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) water
  • 3 fresh red (thai) chillies, chopped finely
    (I originally used 5, I thought my chillies were 'too small', gave the cookies quite a kick so I toned back down to 3 the second time around, still good).
        Firstly sift all the dry ingredients together into a bowl - plain flour, cocoa powder, and bicarb soda.


        Next make the candied chillies. Stir the sugar and water in a small saucepan over heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the chilli and boil for about 2 or so minutes, cool, drain and discard the syrup.

        Beat the butter, vanilla extract, sugars and egg until light and fluffy, did it all by hand but please do use your mixer for this if you have one.

My candied chillies ready to go in.

        Stir in the sifted dry ingredients in two batches then stir in the chocolate bits and chilli.

        Roll tablespoons (I used teaspoons) of cookie dough into balls and place about 5cm apart on greased, baking paper lined baking trays.

        Bake for 12 minutes in a 180 degrees celcius preheated fan forced oven. The first time I may have cooked them for a minute or two longer which gave them a more crispy texture. The second time I took them out on the dot as soon as my timer went off, it was noted that the second batch were not as fiery due to less chillies but were also more chewy - perfect!

        The recipe does say it makes 48 cookies, oops I overlooked that but I think you need to make that many in one go as they disappear very very quickly! Just ask my work colleagues =D.

        Even though my second batch of cookies were specifically for the bake sale I had to make sure I saved some to take to work again. Everyone loved the chocolate and chilli concept, if you're a fellow foodie this combination is probably not so unusual anymore but for everyone at work, they thought it was a revolution hehe =) I've had chocolate and chilli before but having it in a chewy cookie form was fantastic. What's your favourite cookie?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fiji Market, Maya Indian Sweets (Newtown Food Tour Part 2 - 31st July)

        It's taken me so many goes to complete this blog post. Work has been busy so the last thing I feel like when coming home is sitting in front of the computer and blogging (facebook and twitter surfing doesn't count but I don't even go on that much at home). After a long day at work, I just want to come home and lie on my bed and watch TV all night until bed time. Also trying to motivate myself to get back into a gym routine which is so bloody hard after slacking off for months. Anyway I should at least try and blog once a week, and I guess I should really finish off this post so that I can move on to some of my other ones.
        So this is a continuation from my first post on this Newtown Food Tour. After our little adventure at The Pastizzi Cafe we continued to trek down the south side of King Street Newtown to a place called the Fiji Market. Apart from Asian grocers I havn't really been to any other culturally influenced grocer. The Fiji Market is a combination of Fijian and Indian products - spices, condiments, cooking apparatus, etc etc. There was just so much too see, you just wanted to stop at look everything, inspecting, touching, reading, smelling, it was like we were kids unleashed into a candy shop.

Ohh look shiney stuff.

Massive blocks of rock salt which caught Ryan's attention.

Some pretty hanging things.

        Dried dill tips, have always seen fresh dill but never really though about dry dill. Didn't buy these but I picked up some candy coated fennel seeds and some pink peppercorns.

        Spices in bulk - by the kilo (or 5). The heavy aroma of spices is all that my nose can pick up and it gets quite overpowering but I stick it out because there's just so much to see.

Ryan spots some Guava paste.

Coconut grater.

Some more pretty things.

        After spending what seemed like an eternity in the Fiji Market we cross the road to a small indian store which was part sweet shop part grocer part video shop. There is this big neon sign in the shop window - Maya Indian Sweets, not sure if this was actually the name of the shop though.


        As soon as you walk in the door this is what you are greeted with. Immediately I just wanted to sample everything!

More sweets!

Ohhh look there's goat meat in the freezer.

        Ryan is quite amused by this giant wok - "it's big enough to fit Angie in!"

        So we leave with a selection of sweets to try. Can't remember exactly what they all were or what they were called but the two preferred ones were the diamon shaped one in the middle and the ball directly in front of it. They were nice in texture, flavour and wern't too overly sweet. The red spiral was heavy with palm oil and sugar syrup, wasn't too fond of it. The other two were a little strange, tasting like wet cheese.

        Funky looking erm 'sign' that caught our attention while we stopped to sample our treats.

        A non food related distraction on our way around Newtown. We passed by an antique shop which caught our attention so we popped in and had a snoop around. Check out the cool old style cameras. Had to literally drag Ryan out of here as all the others started to head off ahead of us. We passed by Buppa's Bakery however no photos were allowed and we were quite sugared out and were looking forward to stopping for lunch so kept going. Stay tuned for Part 3. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hummingbird Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

        Hummingbird Cake - What's a hummingbird cake? That is the one question I was faced with when I took this lovely cake into work on Thursday. I couldn't quite give anyone a straight answer other than that the name was what attracted me to it and that it was a cake that was made of banana, pineapple and pecans - very lovely and tropical sounding. I've never really seen this cake around anywhere and have come across the recipe for it in a few of my cookbooks. It was something that I wanted to make for a while now, and I wanted to taste what it was like.
        Some of the reactions I got were 'is there a hummingbird in it or something?' - love the people I work with =D. Google doesn't really give me much of an answer to it's name except that it's a very old traditional cake originating in the Southern states of America. And the reason why this post is done so soon after I made the cake instead of my ever growing backlog is that I have already received a request for the recipe.
 
        This is the reason that prompted me to make my cake. I came home from work earlier in the week to Mum announcing to me that she had a whole lot of ripe bananas. Rejects from my Uncle and Aunty's grocery shop, which she knows would usually always come in handy at home. Generally it's been sugar bananas before but this time it was just the plain old regular ones. 'Can you use them to make cake or something?'. Of course I can Mum! Home made banana bread was a given as it's so popular with my family but I also wanted to see if I could do something different too. Last time I had a bananathon I had made steamed banana cake, banana bread and choc banana souffles.
        I flicked through all my dessert/baking books, even browsed online, and I happened to come across the hummingbird cake recipe when looking in the index for 'banana' in the The complete Magnolia Bakery cookbook. Why not? Now I can tick another item off my cooking wishlist. I've made some minor adaptions as I went along and thought I almost had a disaster on my hands when I realised I had misread one of the instructions but my little so called mishap is exactly what made the cake ultra moist - which is what everyone commented on. Also, it's an American recipe so the pounds and ounces were doing my head in.

        Ingredients (Adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

        Hummingbird Cake (makes enough for a two layer 9-10 inch wide, approximately 4-5 inch high cake) :
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ginger powder (optional - I added this in as I thought it would compliment the fruits however was only 1/2 a tsp which wasn't quite enough to come through).
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups oil
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar (original called for 2)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large ripe bananas, mashed (recipe says 2 cups mashed and I can't even remember how I got to 3 bananas but that's what I used)
  • 1 cup canned crushed pineapple in natural juices (recipe said to lightly drain but I hadn't read that part carefully and left all the juices in, worked out beautifully for me though)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
        Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside (flour, cinnamon, bicarb soda, ginger powder, and salt)

        Beat the oil with the sugar on another bowl until smooth (3 minutes?) This wasn't too bad with my little hand mixer but ohhh how I dream of a nice big shiny mixer.
 
        Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light (about 1 - 2 minutes?).

        Now with the next steps the book says to add (beat) the vanilla, then the bananas and then the pineapple into the egg mixture. I combined all of this in a bowl with the mashed banana first before adding to the egg mixture. Either way is fine. Maybe just don't add the nuts in just yet here as you don't want nuts flying everywhere while the cake mixture is still being beaten.

        I so underestimated the capacity of our bowls, this is all the wet ingredients before I even get a chance to add all the dry ingredients. When I read 2 layer 9 inch cake I guess I hadn't quite pictured how much batter that would be.
 
        Thank goodness for Mum and her big plastic tubs (that also come with strainer baskets). The recipe does say to beat the dry ingrediets into the wet ingredients but I ended up just folding it all in by hand - a third at a time until smooth. Now it was at about this stage that I went back to the cookbook and realised that it said to drain the pineapple - whoops! I was wondering why it was a little more liquidy than my usual cake batters, I don't think it was that much extra liquid anyway and I think the batter is meant to be quite wet.
 
        Divide the batter into two 9-10 inch round cake tins and bake in the oven at 170 degrees celcius for about 50 - 60 minutes (or until nice and golden).

        Deciding to go home after work to bake a whole cake with frosting to take into work the next day was a BAD IDEA! By the time my cakes were anywhere cool enough to start frosting it was already 10:30pm! I wanted to go to bed already.
        I also forgot to say that I also had a loaf of banana bread in the oven baking at the same time as this cake. Baking is tiring work. My other idea was a nice baked banana pudding with caramel sauce but I liked the sound of the hummingbird cake so much more and was determined to make it, frost it, and take it to work the day after.
 
        So while you wait for your cakes to cool you can start on the cream cheese frosting.

        Ingredients:
  • 500gr cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces (Kraft does the twin pack of Phili cheese which is awesome for this, I bought it during lunch and left it out until I got home, was still a little hard to work with though - damn this too cool Spring weather)
  • 100gr unsalted butter softened and cut into small pieces (I had a 100gr piece already cut so added all of this to the mix, recipe calls for 6 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (original calls for 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extra but I thought the substitution might give the frosting a bit of an edge)
  • 2 cups pure icing sugar sifted (recipe says 5, I was tired of beating after 2 and thought it tasted pretty good already)
        All you do is beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth, and then gradually beat in the icing sugar a cup at a time. It says to beat in the vanilla before the sugar but I did it after all the sugar was combined.

        When your cakes are cool enough, sandwich them together with some cream cheese frosting and then proceed to frost the whole cake. Or, if you're not after a huge ass layer cake you can frost them individually and have two small cakes. It had been a while since I've made a layer cake so I kind of forgot how big they end up.

        Decorate as you wish and there you go, one very pretty hummingbird cake. It's become a little bit of a ritual for the office area I work in (I can't really call it a department as mostly HR, half of Engineering (my guys) and also a Quality Control Leader are in the mix). Someone would bake something and bring it in and then they would call either a morning or afternoon tea break - sending out Outlook invitations to everyone, and we would all gather around this little alcove of desks in the HR area.
        Sometimes if I've baked cookies or something small I just leave them on one of the desks and email everyone to let them know they are there. I've been bringing in a fair few of my baking projects recently so everyone gets quite excited to see/taste what I've done. And they disappear very quickly too.

        As it was such a large cake I invited the other two PA's to join us, they know about my blog and have sampled some of my goodies but generally miss out on a lot because taking anything down to them in the other side of the building just opens up a whole can of difficult worms. Just to make things simple I usually keep it to the immediate area I work in with the occasional cookie or slice of something making it's way down to someone down the other end.
        I ended up sending back with them a slice each for our Director and one of my other managers. One of the PA's asked for an extra slice to split up between the finance guys too - and one of the girls emailed me for the recipe, hence trying to get this blog post up so fast.

        This is pretty much what was left of my cake after morning tea, and it shrinks a bit more in the afternoon as one of my manager's missed out so I had to cut him a piece. Extremely positive feedback all around. It was not overly sweet and was very very moist. My direct manager came back for a second serve! Our Director and his PA think I'm good enough to take on Alvin (he works for our company in the other division). The Director then went on to say that we could have a whole company wide promotion for it - Haha thanks for the compliments guys but I am no where near good and experienced enough for any competitition.
        I managed to save a bit for Ryan to have a taste and he said that it's the best cake I've made ever - and he's one who will give me constructive criticism where it is due, if it needs improvement he make sure he doesn't just butter me up about it. This cake definately calls for an encore, there's many people who are yet to benefit from it!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mediterranean Style Lamb Shanks with Truffled Potato Mash (7th August)

        I've always loved a good lamb shank when eating out and have always wanted to cook it at home but never really got around to doing it because I knew that they required a fair bit of cooking time. The easiest way to cook them would probably be to use a slowcooker however you generally need to plan ahead of time to get all your prep done and then pop the slow cooker on for a fair few hours if not a whole day.

        The weekend that I wanted to cook lamb shanks was also a busy weekend, as I wasn't home on the Friday night and was going to be out on the Saturday. I had to do all my shopping on the Thursday and wake up extra early on the Saturday (when I usually sleep in) to do all my prep. I decided to adapt this recipe from taste as it sounded like a good hearty dish perfect for winter.
        I thought that while I was at it I might as well double the recipe to make the most of the slow cooker. Didn't end up using all the vegies as they wouldn't have fitted into the slow cooker with the 8 lamb shanks I bought.

        My shiney new knife from Wenger which I received as part of the Wenger Calabrian Master Class. Thought I might try it out at home and chop up some of my vegetables with it.

        I can't say the knife made me any better at chopping, need to practice some more.

        I find out that 'french' lamb shanks just means that they come ready trimmed from the butchers, the ones I bought were untrimmed so I thought I would trim them myself, not a very good attempt there so I gave up. I thought that most of the meat and fat would just fall off the end by the time cooking was done anyway.
        As I had my 8 lamb shanks sitting in the fridge for a couple of days, they were a bit hard to miss and Mum had noticed them but couldn't figure out what kind of meat they were so she asked me. I told her they were lamb shanks, something that she actually was not familiar with. I guess lamb is not a common meat in Vietnam and the only lamb she knows of are the bbq chops and ribs she buys at the butchers and the cutlets which I've recently introduced to her.

        I also chose this dish to cook because it was packed full of healthy vegies.

        I had totally underestimated the capacity of the slow cooker, everything managed to just fit.

        Making the most of flavours and minimising clean up, the liquids are poured into the pan and mixed together before adding to the slow cooker.

        There was a fair bit of maneuvering around with the shanks, vegetables and liquid making sure that everything was covered. Now I have never used a slow cooker before, seeing as it's Mum's I was hoping that she was able to guide me. She couldn't even really tell me how to use it as she always leaves it on at medium setting and checks on it and when whatever it is that she is cooking is about half way done she turns it down.
        I try and tell her that I've read you can leave the slow cooker on low and let it slowly cook for the whole day but she didn't seem to trust those instructions so insisted that we do it her way and that she'll look after it while I am out. Hmmm, I decided to leave my dear shanks in her control. I really hoped that they wouldn't be under or overcooked when I got home.

        So I go out hoping that everything will be okay when I return home. Mum advises me that the meat is falling off the bone and that she has only just rotated the shanks around not too long ago as a few of them at the top wern't quite as tender. As I pull up a shank to test the meat I am excited to see that the meat is easily pulled off the bone. We have success! Though the few that had been sitting towards the top could have done with a bit more cooking time, if I knew I would have called home to get mum to rotate the shanks around half way through cooking.

        Definately had to have mash potato so I left Ryan in charge of making it. He does a good job and it is absolutely soft and fluffy and creamy. I seriously can sit with a pot of mash potato and I'd be happy. He gets experimental and wants to add a bit of truffle oil to it. I am skeptical at first but it ends up complimenting the sauce really well giving the whole dish an earthy taste.

        It was an absolute delight eating this on a cold winter night. It was so good I'd be happy to eat it any time of the year too.