Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Melting Moments with Rhubarb Jam Custard

        Soft crumbly buttery biscuits, that just melt in your mouth. Sandwiched with a sweet, smooth, creamy filling. It's like taking a bite of cloud - if you could indeed do so. This is exactly how it should be if these biscuits are done right. I've made melting moment biscuits a couple of times before but they've always been on the slightly crispy side, which is not what these biscuits are all about. I also sandwiched them with buttercream instead, but I think you can really fill them with whatever you please.
        This time I decided to make a rhubarb jam custard, as I was sent some jams to sample so thought I would use it in place of the stewed rhubarb for the custard as per original recipe. My biscuits turned out a little soft and fragile though, but they were a dream to eat. You just had to make sure you had a plate or your hand to catch the crumbs, so that there is no wastage =).

        I've turned to my favourite cookbook the Women's Weekly 'Cookies' book for these Melting Moment biscuits. These biscuits are so easy to make and don't require many ingredients at all. They are quite fragile so handle with care.  Like all sweet treats packed with butter and sugar, they are meant to be savoured, but it is very hard to stop after one.

Recipe: Melting Moments with Rhubarb Jam Custard
(Adapated from the Women's Weekly 'Cookies - rhubarb custard meting moments recipe)

• 250g butter, softened
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup icing sugar
• 1 cup custard powder
• 1 cup plain flour

Rhubarb Jam Custard
• 1 tbsp custard powder
• 1 tbsp caster sugar
• ½ cup milk
• 2-3 tbsp Anathoth Rhubarb & Red Berry Jam
(or use whatever jam you please)

        Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius/140 degrees for a fan forced oven. Beat the butter, icing sugar, and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy.

        Sift together the custard powder and flour, then mix into the butter in two batches. It is supposed to be a very light wet mixture but should not be sticky, add a light sprinkling of flour if it is too wet, be careful not too add too much or else it will change the texture of the biscuits.

        Roll balls of dough and place on a baking tray. They say to use teaspoon measurements of dough but I do it freehand and mine are probably the size of small walnuts (shell on). Use a fork to flatten slightly and give the biscuits a bit of a ridge in them.

        Bake for approximately 15 minutes (more if you have larger biscuits) and then stand to cool.

        While the biscuits bake, make the custard filling. Combine the milk, custard powder and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until thickened. Add the jam and stir until well combined.

        The jam actually turns the custard a disgusting colour so I added some powdered red food colouring to make it look more appetising.

        Once the biscuits are cold, spread or pipe them with the filling and then sandwich together. This is where you will need to handle with care. But if you've got the dough right and baked them perfectly then they probably won't be as fragile as mine were.

        These biscuits really are the ultimate tea time treat. It'll be hard to stop at one. And they will melt in your mouth, true to their name.

        Thanks to Rachel from Beyond the Square Communication for sending me these lovely samples. I love jams, but actually rarely eat them. I think it's because the jars always look so pretty but when it comes to taste and texture, they've always disappointed me. Anathoth Jams have actually been on supermarket shelves for a while now but I've never thought to try them. They have recently launched this new flavour, Rhubarb & Red Berry.
        All I can say is, once I popped the lid off one of these tubs it only took days to empty it, compared to all the jam jars I have bought in the past that sit in the fridge almost full until past their expiry date. It's all natural, made of just fruit and sugar just as they are home made. There are no additives, preservatives, or extra artificial pectin added. You can tell from the way it just falls off your knife, unlike the solid jelly's that some other brands sell. I've promised myself that I'm going to make my own jam one day. Even if I do it just once.

        I originally made some scones to test out my jam samples but decided not to write about them just yet. They didn't turn out as I had imagined them to, and my technique needs some refining. I also need to follow the recipe properly. I'll be making them again soon so keep an eye out. I made some vanilla whipped cream to go with the jam. They were scrumptious little morsels. Not as good as the scones that the sweet old ladies from the Country Women's Association dished out at the Easter Show. But still tasty none the less.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hot Cross Buns - 2 Flavours - Double Choc Cinnamon Chip and Mixed Fruit & Spices

        With Good Friday and Easter only days away, I thought I would get my hot cross buns post up. I attempted to make these last year for Good Friday, but they were made last minute. I hadn't planned on making them last year and Ryan showed up at my doorstep proclaiming he had totally forgotten to grab some from the shops, so I offered to 'whip some up' but they didn't turn out too good. This year I thought I would plan ahead, and actually have them ready for Easter week starting with Palm Sunday.
        I wanted to steer away from the the traditional sultana, peel & spice mix, the traditional buns are readily available all over the place anyway, so if I was going to make my own, I might as well put my own spin on them. The two flavours I end up with are, Chocolate with Milk Chocolate Chips & Cinnamon Chips, and Mixed Fruit & Spice (Sultana, Apricot, Cranberry & Mixed Spices).

        I based my buns on this recipe from taste. I doubled the recipe for each flavour I made, which meant I was going to be pumping out 4 batches of hot cross buns - all in one day! I had to enlist the help of Mum's small commercial mixer, my little KitchenAid just didn't quite have the capacity for a double batch of dough. And I spent all day in the kitchen, from the moment I woke up (at 11am) until I left the house that evening to head over to Ryan's place.
        I counted 192 hot cross buns at the end of the day. Yes, 192! Crazy I know. They were mini, but they were many. I wanted to make heaps, so that I had plenty to give around to my family and also for Ryan's family. While I was baking, I thought I might as well make extra to take to work too. So that's how I ended up with my 4 batches. 2 batches would not have been enough and any less than 4 would have been messy trying to calculate ratios and proportions and what not.

Mixed Fruit & Spice Hot Cross Buns
• 1 1/2 cups warm milk
• 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
• 1/4 cup caster sugar
• 60g butter, melted
• 1 egg, lightly whisked
• 4 cups plain 00 flour
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
• 1 1/2 tsp all spice
• 1/2 cup dried apricots
• 1/2 cup sultanas
• 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Variation - Chocolate with Milk Chocolate & Cinnamon Chips
• Replace 1/2 cup of flour with 2/3 cup cocoa powder
• Omit the spices 
• Replace fruit with 1 cup milk chocolate chips and 1 cup Hershey’s Cinnamon chips

Flour Paste
• 1/2 cup plain flour
• 1/3 cup water
• 1/2 tbsp sugar
• 1/2 tsp vanilla powder

Bun Glaze
• 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
• 1/2 cup (170g) apricot jam
• or one part sugar and one part water

Make the buns:
1. Combine milk, yeast and 1 tbsp of sugar and leave aside in a warm place until frothy.
2. Combine all the remaining dry ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly, make a well in the centre.
3. Beat the egg and melted butter into the milk and yeast mixture.
4. Pour into the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
5. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 - 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
6. Place in a bowl and cover, leave in a warm place until dough doubles in size.
7. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius and grease a baking tray or cookie sheet.
8. Punch down the dough to get rid of the air bubbles, divide and roll into balls and place onto the baking tray. Set aside in a warm place until grown by at least a couple of cm.
Make the flour paste:
9. Combine all the ingredients and mix until smooth. Fill a piping bag with a small nozzle or any plastic sleeve will do (just snip off one corner)
10. Pipe rows onto the buns horizontally and vertically.
11. Bake in preheated oven at 200 degrees celcius for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 180 degrees celcius and bake for another 20 minutes.
Make the bun glaze:
12. Mix together the apricot jam and water and mix over medium heat until combined. Or combine the sugar and water and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup thickens.
13. Brush over buns while still hot.

        Rolled balls of dough waiting for the second rising. If I was going to do this again I wouldn't put them so close together. They really grow when baked.

        My rows of crosses. Probably could have made the flour paste much thicker. On Ryan's complaint that the crosses on the hot cross buns are always so plain, I flavoured mine with a bit of sugar and vanilla powder. Don't think it made such a difference because my crosses kind of just blended into the bun.

        This is what happens when you try to squish too many buns onto the one tray. I brushed them with the sugar glaze and then decided they could probably do with another 5 or so minutes in the oven so popped them back in.

        Don't ever do that (cram too many buns on one tray, and bake them again once glazed). Oops, baking them further with the sugar glaze crystalised the top, great crispy toffee like tops though.

        I ran out of flour paste for my fruit buns so had to make up another batch. Was a little sloppy and ended up with a much runnier consistency but... I was feeling a little too lazy to fix it up by now. I also never followed the recipe properly hence me stuffing up the crosses.

Finally! All my hot cross buns are baked.

        They were absolutely soft and fluffy and fragrant eaten straight after they're out of the oven and cooled enough to handle. Even though I didn't rebake the fruit buns after glazing them I also ended up with crystalised sugar syrup on them when they cooled. Think it was to do with my syrup mixture, and the fact that I had to keep reheating it because it went cold in between. It all dissolves overnight though.

        Breakfast the next day. The buns actually stiffen and dry a little overnight - the only downside of home made 'bread' but a quick zap in the microwave or a quick toast under a grill and they are alive again! The upside of home made buns is that you can pack them with as much flavour as you like. Even though my buns were smaller than your average store bought ones, each one was packed full of either choc and cinnamon chips or fruit and spice. I also find the store bought ones a bit on the too sweet side, so adjusted the amount of sugar in mine and they were lovely. Because they were not too sweet and were absolutely light and fluffy, it was hard to stop at one. Smother with a bit (or a lot) of butter/spread and serve with a cup of tea and you have the most perfect Easter breakfast.

        Being the good niece/cousin/future daughter in law/colleague I divide up my buns so no one misses out. (Okay I lie, there are so many more family members (and friends) who are missing out but sometimes it's just not feasible to include absolutely everyone. I promise one day I will get around to you all, and visit with some baked goodies). Ryan and his family loved them, he even suggested that I bake some for his Church to serve after the Good Friday Mass this weekend. Work colleagues loved them too. But who in that place doesn't love my baking =p. Don't know if I can go back to store bought hot cross buns now. Home made is just so much better hehe ;)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Warm Gnocchi Salad, Pulled Pork Tacos & Brazo De Mercedes - A wonderfully long lunch & a catch up with family

        Ryan and his cousin Dieter were close as kids, but as most kids do, they grow up and grow apart. Now that they are both adults they don't really see each other much and the only times we've ever seen him have been at birthday gatherings and funerals in the family. I think Ryan sees my cousins more than he sees his own. At the last few meet ups Ryan and Dieter kept saying 'we'll catch up sometime' or 'come over to my place and we'll have a BBQ' but then time passes by and being the laid back guys they are nothing really happens. So one day I sent a message to Dieter to get the ball rolling and we organised a catch up between the cousins (and partners too of course).
        Unfortunately Dieter's brother and his partner couldn't make lunch and Ryan's brother was hung over so it was just the four of us for lunch. The facebook invitiation did say BBQ but this was no ordinary BBQ with steaks and snags because we were lunching with two like minded food lovers. And it was an absolutely gorgeous Saturday for a long lazy lunch.

        Ryan and I turned up at Dieter and Alex's place with our hands full with our contributions to lunch. Ryan's dish was a warm gnocchi salad. I helped Ryan prepare his salad at my place and he rolled and cooked the gnocchi when we got there. He actually made the gnocchi dough the night before with my help (we had some for dinner) and made plenty enough to have with the salad and then some (we finished off what was left of the gnocchi again that night for dinner).

        Ryan has been experimenting recently and I think he has the got gnocchi making process spot on perfect. I am yet to get perfect little dumplings on my own (we do work better in pairs though.) You can follow recipes and read about gnocchi making as much as you can but it all comes down to hands on practice/experience, and learning to get the 'feel' for when it's right. Once you eat the little soft fluffy pillows of potato that are perfectly hand made and cooked gnocchi you will never want to go back to the packet stuff again. So it's quite disappointing when restaurants get the home made stuff wrong.

        Dieter and Alex have a Labrador called Oscar or 'Ozzy'. He is just absolutely gorgeous! But always seems to be in the way though.

        Ozzy also has a love for food just like his owners. Anything that dropped on the floor was quickly snatched up by him so you didn't really get a chance to sweep it up. We were told that recently he had to go on a diet because he was just getting too fat. Sounds like me ;).

        Dieter was cooking up some pulled pork for our lunch on his 'big green egg' bbq and let's me have a sticky beak (and to also check on it).

He also made some soft tacos for the pulled pork.

        The pork needs a bit more cooking time so we decide to have Ryan's salad first as our first course since it's ready (and because we were all getting a little hungry and it was getting late). The salad includes spinach, mushroom, nashi pear (my little addition), baby bocconcini, fried haloumi and Ryan's pan fried gnocchi. The salad dressing is a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard and truffle oil. The idea came from a recipe he found but was adapted to our taste. Everything worked well in this salad, all the flavours really combined well and there were the different textures, oh and fried haloumi!. Dieter and Alex had nothing but praise for Ryan's salad =).

After the salad Dieter makes the tacos to go with our second course.

Ryan helps him cook them while D rolls out the dough.

        This little clay pot belonged to Alex's grandmother and apparantly has been sitting on the shelf unused because they didn't know what to do with it, until now - great thinking D!

        The pork is ready! Well as ready as can be because we needed (wanted) to eat it. D explains that he slept in so wasn't able to get it cooking as long as he wanted to and had to cook it on a higher heat to get it cooked in time for lunch which resulted in a slightly drier and firmer meat than he had liked it to be. 'That's okay, there's always next time' I tell him. And I'm counting on it! ;) Ryan and I wouldn't have known any better, we absolutely loved it.

Mmm we get a bit of crispy crackling as he pulls the pork apart.

Porky goodness!

The pork is drizzled in a little of the fat to help keep it moist.
        The pork is served with a huge variety of Korean side dishes and oysters a la momofuku bo ssam style. It's my first time eating pulled pork, and bo ssam.

Soft Taco 'shells' in the pot.

        Looking at this has got my mouth salivating now... There was no real order as in how you were suppose to eat this. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, some pulled pork, an oyster, sauce and wrap it up and take a bite. My hand was dripping in deliciousness pouring out from my little wraps. The pork was perfectly seasoned and the small bits of chopped crackling added a textural sensation when added with the other sides. You had sweet, savoury, tangy, all in one bite.

        And look at who wants in. Apparantly when he begs for food he'll come up and put his head in your lap. We're instructed to push him away with our elbows and tell him 'No'. I felt his head in my lap a couple of times.

        We help them clean up (and let out stomachs digest) before we dig into dessert. I made a Filipino dessert called Brazo De Mercedes, which is a meringue roll filled with egg yolk custard. I've made it once before but didn't do it justice so will do another post with my recent much better attempt. Alex offers us a whole range of teas to choose from which made me feel so spoilt (most households only have one or two tea choices or sometimes no choice apart from just 'tea'). I chose an Almond tea (which I think was the Twinnings brand) and it was delish, especially with my dessert. We are all absolutely stuffed but absolutely satisfied by the end of our lunch - epic food coma (for me anyway). Wish I had taken more (better) photos, but I just enjoyed standing around chatting, watching food being prepared, admiring the house, playing with their dog. 
        I am so glad that I had part in organising such a great lunch. It's funny how food brings people together, alot of our conversation did surround food, but it was just so natural, and you could just tell that we were food lovers as there was just so much passion in the conversation (and the fact that Dieter and I kept whipping out our cameras to take photos of the food). We did talk about other things too but things always came back to one topic ;). Ryan and I couldn't stop talking about the lunch for the rest of the weekend. It was just such great food, great company, and their house was absolutely gorgeous and so homey and inviting. It was just good to be on the other end of the meal, the one not hosting and cooking everything and then cleaning everything up afterwards. There was something about that afternoon that I can't quite find the right words to describe (I'm a crappy writer) but Ryan totally understands how I feel. It was just awesome. Thank you Dieter and Alex for having us over! We're definately looking forward to the next time we catch up again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pasta with Prawns, King Brown Mushroom & Capers - Ryan Cooks (and Bakes!) and a Double Rainbow

        So it's Friday night, we've spent all day out and about so it's time to chill out at home, hmm what's for dinner? It's the month of Lent and Ryan has decided to go meat free on Fridays. Mum had cooked fish for dinner but there wasn't quite enough for both of us to eat too (she always expects that we'll cook our own or will be going out for dinner).
       So into the fridge and freezer I go, seeing what we could use to cook with. Pasta is always a pantry staple, and we almost always have prawns in the freezer and I was in luck that there were just enough prawns left for us to use. These two ingredients are always a winning combo. I had some capers left from when I made my pan fried fish with salsa and pea puree and I also spotted a tray of Oyster mushrooms and King Brown mushrooms so we decided to throw in one of the King Brown's. Some other fridge staples like garlic, chilli and white wine and we have ourselves a very tasty sounding pasta dish for dinner.
        I let Ryan take care of dinner because I had decided that I wanted to make macarons so needed to to all my prep so I could make them after dinner.

        While Ryan is cooking I notice that there is a huge rainbow right outside. I run out and see that it's a full length rainbow, and it's a double rainbow!

        I ran in to grab my camera but by the time I came out the clouds already started to come rolling in and the rainbow was slowly disappearing. I could still see both ends of the rainbow but unfortunately my camera wasn't capable of capturing it.

        My brother notices that the sky is glowing a bright amber in the direction of the sun setting. There is a really eerie feel in the air, reminds me of when we had the dust storm that made the skies red. The rainbow has faded into the clouds so I return back to the kitchen and dinner is almost ready.

        I can't give you an exact recipe for this (because I can't remember exactly how much we used and what we did) but I'll give a list of ingredients and basic instructions which should help inspire you to recreate it if it takes your fancy. Vary the amounts according to your own taste. This is what Ryan and I have labelled as cooking by instinct. We have a general idea of what flavours work well and we 'wing it'. Most of the time dishes made this way turn out really well for us. We were a little heavy handed on the chilli (even without the seeds there was quite a bit of heat), but other than that it was a tasty flavourful pasta dish. The capers really lifted the dish and gave it a bit of zing. The King Brown mushroom added sweetness while the prawns provided the savoury element. It was a well rounded dish in terms of flavours and textures, exactly my kind of dish.

Ryan and Angie's Pasta with Prawns, King Brown Mushroom & Capers
  • Dried spaghetti (or any type of pasta), half a pack
  • Shelled prawns approximately 300grams
  • Handful of capers in brine
  • 1 King Brown mushroom, sliced
  • 1 Chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • White Wine, approximately 1/4 cup
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta and drain.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook the prawns, remove from the pan.
3. Return pan to the heat and add mushroom, garlic and chilli and brown.
4. Pour in the white wine and let it boil to evaporate the alcohol.
5. Add the pasta, prawns and capers to the pan and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Serve with a splash of lemon juice - enjoy!

        After dinner I attempted to make my macarons. I was trying out a new recipe and technique (from a blog I'd found that guaranteed to break the 10 myths of macaron making). I also realised that Ryan has never ever seen me make macarons before this (but has always been a happy taster and critic of them). He watches me make the batter and when I offer him the piping bag he declines but then decided to have a go at piping them in the end. Not a bad job for a first timer! He ends up piping most of the batter for me except for the last tray which I end up doing.

        Unfortunately my macarons did not turn out, they didn't cook through properly and were cracked on the surface. I've been trying to experiment and make a manuka honey macaron shell and this being my second time (with manuka honey), was also a failure. The first time I used manuka honey I tried an italian meringue recipe and that didn't work so I thought that this supposedly fail proof recipe/method would help me achieve my goal but alas this one gave me a failed batch of macarons too.
        Ryan and I have concluded that perhaps honey changes the characteristics of the batter hence ruinging the macarons. I bake them longer and on a higher heat to turn them into delicious little honey meringue cookies. I tried the same recipe/method again the next day (without honey) but get the same results so it could possibly be that I was doing a few things wrong, like undermixing the egg white and almond meal mixture. I also think I may have cooked them on too high of a heat and then when I turned the heat down a little, I probably needed to cook them for longer.
        I've made okay macarons before but being the perfectionist that I am have never thought that they were good enough so am always trying to improve them. I might just resort back to the original recipe I've used as a guide, at last I know it gives me results (even if I don't think my macarons are perfect enough yet).