Thursday, November 27, 2008

Persimmon & Cranberry Tart

This year's Thanksgiving celebration was made simple and I insisted on it. As our extended family members are not here and all friends had their own programs, Curry and I didn't have to rush anything. We even opted for duck instead of turkey or goose as it requires less stuffings and something new to experiment with and no guests to feed! No fancy table settings and dressing up, the kids simply enjoyed the freedom of endless cartoons and snacks grazing up to dinner time.

Persimmon is a fruit originated from China and I first tasted it when I was very young and they are in abundance around Chinese New Year time. I love its firmness and yet juicy and sometimes crunchy when eaten with the skin. I would relate its texture to firm peaches and the sweetness akin to mango with the juice content of a plum. These days, persimmon is produced in warmer climate spots in the West coast and my preferred type is the Fuyu, which is absolutely good when ripen thoroughly.

As I had no luck of persuading Curry to try Pumpkin pie, I opted to make this tart. Still with the festive spirit and colors, orange and red and rich with fattening calories! I had no idea on how it will turn out as the persimmons have been sitting on my countertop for a week already and still firm and haven't reach the extreme ripe texture that I wanted. Well, as I said, no guests this year and I put on the experimental tool and pursued something new.

For the tart case, I used the Pate Sucre/Sweet pastry recipe and with the addition of egg, the crust turned out more stable and cookie like which is very suitable for a custard content like this tart. Resting the dough for a certain amount of time really firms it up and it must be thawed a bit before rolling out to line the tart pan. After the lining of the pan, the dough is let to rest again in the fridge. It was then blind baked , lined with parchment paper and beans to prevent the pastry case puffing out of shape during the baking before the custard and fruits are put inside.

For the custard part, I used 5 eggs with almond flour, added some lemon juice and a few tablespoons of heavy cream. The persimmons were then cut and sliced horizontally and lined in a circular motion inside the part baked tart shell. Dried cranberries were scattered all over and lastly, the custard is spooned over the fruits. Baked for 25 minutes till the custard is set and let cool to room temperature. Fresh cranberries looks festive and although they are too tart to eat on their own, garnishing with them brightens up any desserts and popping one in your mouth can be fun too with the sweet tart! I find this tart better to eat after letting it rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours and the crust remains dense and cookie texture like throughout. The persimmon did softened but not to the mushy stage while the dried cranberries gives it a sweet and tart bite. Having a slice of this tart with vanilla ice cream is very enjoyable and for a more sophisticated dinner, try whipped cream and a strong pot of coffee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Cookies

'Mom! I am thankful for my brother, you and my papa' . How can that not melt my heart? Missy E learns alot of things at school and sometimes she asks funny questions or imitate sayings that I don't want to hear in my house, but overall I am thankful she is talking and learning too. And for the whole month, she has been talking about nothing else except turkey, potatoes, cookies and thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is an American tradition where all families celebrate together and say thanks for having each other and a good year. Although the economy and financial condition these days do hamper the spirits of holiday celebrations, I don't see people slowing down in the throngs of queues at the stores cashiers picking up carts of groceries and gifts for visiting guests. One thing I learned is that Americans are very generous people. They donate and give and also share, no matter what the economy dictates during these Thanksgiving and X'mas seasons. Although they may buy smaller gifts this year but they still carry their shopping lists and ticking it off like Santa! I was behind a lady last Sunday while she was paying for her things and I glimpsed through her list..... goodness..... in my whole life, I don't think I ever buy that many gifts for anyone, let alone she has to get things for perhaps 30 people! Good for her and I am sure she brings joy to the people who is in her list.

It was rainy today and we had to stay indoors. Since it is not time to do anything for the Thanksgiving dinner, I used up the gingerbread dough from last week and played with some color in the icing this time. I did the rolling out of the dough, Missy E cut out the shapes and I baked and iced them while Prince D trying to sneak in at every corner to see what is happening. Keeping with the simplicity of less icing and colors, I worked with 1 color piping bag at a time and iced all 3 cookies at the same time when using the same color. I saved alot of energy changing piping bags and cookie decorating can be very tedious when I try too hard to follow the book. This time round I added a little more water to the icing mixture and it was easier to pipe. Previously, the requirement of alot of piping bags filled with different colors and different tips put me off the idea of ever doing cake and cookie decorating. But now I just stick to 4 colors the most and 3 basic round tips will get me through. As long as you can see what the cookie is shaped out as, I am already pleased.

I am thankful for everything that I have. Good health, good kids (although rowdy), ok spouse, friends old and near, families near and far and everyone whom I know or not know but reads this blog. Everything has been good for me this year and I am very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gingerbread Cookies

There are things that I can do well and something that I can never get right. Decorating cookies is in between. Over the years, the art of decorating cookies has exploded to massive scales and everyone seems to know how to whip up icing and slap it onto a plain sugar cookie. I was totally clueless till I came to America where cookie cutters of all forms and sizes are everywhere and bookstores shelves are stocked up with every cookies book imaginable. Everytime I pick up a magazine or book and see those beautiful colors piped onto the cookie, my jaw drops and a hush sigh is let out. I really admire those people who can do all the icing decoration with multiple colors and patterns and also deliver a full tray of it! How do they do it?

I did attend some of the Wilton decorating classes long time ago and before I had kids. After the classes, my interest wavered partly due to the fact that there was no one eating my cake or cookies and I was lazy! Decorating cookies is a feat to me and I am like Prince D with a color pen....... getting all messy with my hands and still cannot draw anything! However said, having kids do change a person, especially a woman and everyone knows, kids love cookies and with the X'mas season around, how can I not do anything like the other moms and make my kids miss out on all the fun of eating a decorated cookie?

One day Missy E came home from school with an assignment. She had to bring in everything she can find that spells with the alphabet 'G'. The idea of Gingerbread man came instantly to my mind and my mood in cookie making was suddenly revived! Throughout the process, I was imagining how happy she and her friends will be to have these cookies for snack time. Despite knowing that my piping skills is zero to nothing, I gathered up my guts and whip up the icing. Making the cookie was the easy part. The usual mixing of sugar, brown sugar, molasses, butter and vegetable shortening was done with the mixer and the flour was slowly folded in. Nothing complex. It was the mixing of the icing sugar with meringue powder and water that kept my attention locked in. I don't really fancy handling icing cream as I find it messy just like melted chocolate and the consistency of it can change drastically with an extra drop of water! I managed to decorate 18 gingerbread people before my palm starts aching. Although the results were amateurish, I am glad that I did it and thanks to Missy E and Prince D, my piping and decorating tools will not see the doomsday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November Bento Days (4)

Today was Missy E's turn for a Bento box. It was one of those special stay back for lunch school days and I get to use all the cute stuffs of the Bento world! I finally got my Bento gadgets and accessories and started to experiment with them. I find the character rice moulds a bit difficult to use as they are small and I had to work fast when the rice is still hot. For the garnish on the face, I just cut up some nori sheets and dried cranberries which was done the night before to save alot of time! I always wonder how the other Bento mums can spend so much time in doing those Character based Bento ('Kyaraben') as I really find it time consuming and patience testing. Kudos to them and 'Ganbatte' to me ('work hard')!

I stir fried some chicken marinated in soy sauce and pepper with a little orange juice. Kids love sweet and sour stuffs and Missy E will eat up anything. To fill up the Bento, I blanched some broccoli florets and I am amazed by Missy E who finished up everything within her 15 mins lunch break in school today. For her top tier box, I cut up some baby tomatoes and put in some grapes. I thought mini quail eggs would add in the fun and cut up two and arranged them neatly with a side of mayonaise for dipping. With a juice box, Missy E was happy for a day and taught her teachers on the art of chopsticks. How cute was that!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Bento Days (3)

Feels like winter is already here. I am yet to go look for my complete sets of winter clothing and my kids look like they have fattened up like the turkeys for Thanksgiving with their layers of clothings from head to toe! I am very sure they are looking forward to the first snowflake while I rather bake my own snowflake cookie and play pretend.

One of the coldest day of the week today and I am stuck at home with a dead phone line and no ways of accessing the blogs and other people's gossips of the day. It takes an occasional dead phone line to remind me on how much I have come to rely on my laptop to survive and without it, I am restless, nervous, uncertain and simply non-function. I used to joke with my cousin Agnes on how the computer has destroyed our lives, made us pounds heavier and kilos lazier! But without it, I will be tonnes ignorant of what is happening in the world outside of my own and certainly it brings more good than harm. Living with a laptop requires balance similar to living with a spouse, sometimes they short fused and black out, sometimes they upgrade themselves automatically much to my advantage and sometimes they just don't deliver fast enough at my request! And still we cannot live without them!

For today's Bento, I admit that I am not very creative. I used the chinese preserved sausages, which has always been my favorite since young. I remember it used to be a luxury and only served at Chinese New Year's dinner. God knows what they put into those things that make them so preserved and yet tastes scrumptious. It is more pricey than the usual processed sausages we find in the local grocery but worth every dollar. Freshly steamed and sliced as I did and served on a bed of piping hot rice, the palate is satisfied. On the side, I pan fried some chicken slices with breadcrumb and stir fried carrots with slices of fuzzy melon and green capsicum. I always save up the little packages of sauce and condiments that the fast food chains so generously hand out with my Super Meal trays and they are good for Bentos, no fuss and space saving. Here the mayonaise and mustard come in handy. No interesting fruits during winter time and I just sliced up half an orange to fill up the box with the grapes.

Winter days means hungrier appetites and more snacking. Curry was very satisfied with his lunch box today and I am pretty sure the meat kept him warm!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cilantro Curry Puffs

What a busy week I had! After a brainstorming few days with pen and paper and no pots and spatulas, I finally realised that my path in life has changed so much since I left the working force and I am so ready to declare myself a domestic diva now. I used to write up things easily when I worked in the legal world, but now it takes so much time for me to put things into perspective and context, let alone in words! I think I like cooking more now , at least I can produce something in my style and savor my hardwork by the end of the day and enjoy them with a cup of tea! And of course ramble about it like no other people's business in this humble blog of mine.

I think curry puff is the most ubiquitous snack item in Malaysia and everyone seems to like it. Normally I see them alot during the celebration of the Malay's Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. They are baked or deep fried in mini sizes, measuring slightly 2 inches and eating one is never enough. The fillings usually comprised of curry potatoes with meat or just vegetarian versions with diced carrots and peas. On usual days, local coffeeshops sell them too but made in bigger sizes for teatime cravings.

To me, a good curry puff is one with a slight crisp pastry, light when bite into and doesn't disperse too much after each bite. The filling must retain its moist but not wet. At first I wanted to experiment with the oil and water pastry dough method that produces a flaky texture. I used this method but didn't manage the lengthy process of folding and rolling as Curry, my human husband was donning on his cooking skills today in the kitchen and I couldn't work in peace! And making these mini sized ones all by myself is not easy and I only recommend making this at a cooking club.

For the filling, I used potatoes and cooked and diced chicken meat with minced garlic and shallot. The potatoes and chicken thigh meat were first skinned and diced. The shallot and garlic were pan fried and the chicken and potato added therein. I made the curry spice by combining coriander powder, cumin powder and turmeric. As I have the kids in mine, I didn't add the chilli powder but added salt and a little water instead. The whole thing was cooked till the potato turns tender and then removed from the heat.

Cilantro or coriander has always been my favorite herb and I believe the ones we get here is more pungent than those I get back in Malaysia. Their fragrant smell starts eminating as soon as I start washing and soaking them in the water. I chopped up some and kneaded them into the oil dough before finally rolling the oil dough with the water dough. The time consuming part was the rolling of each piece of dough for each piece of curry puff. I used the smallest Empanada mould that I have been hiding in the pantry for 5 years, which saw the light for the first time today! It is important to dust the mould with flour before placing the rolled out dough onto it so that once moulded, the puffs come out easily. With a small teaspoon, I spooned the filling onto half part of the mould and once folded, the puffs will look loaded but not bursting. Eggwash was applied to the surface of each before baking them in a preheated 375F oven on the lower rack. I have never tried deep frying but for those who doesn't mind all the grease and cleaning up, give it a try.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Curry Potato with Tomato & Peas

I am not a vegetarian and before I discovered the world of spice, I would never think to cook an all vegetable meal as I find vegetable, when eaten on their own is good but to make it into a whole meal combined with other similar raw tasting food is not very appetizing. As we don't eat as much dairy nor believe in splashing salad dressing all over a plate of raw vegetables which really serves not much purpose but to entice the appetite to eat the greens, cooking vegetables with spices is a very welcoming idea.

For this dish, I used the main Indian spices, namely, turmeric, coriander and cumin. In India itself, they would grind their own spices and I find Indian cooking a bit tedious if I had to really adhere to the right procedure. However said, Indian cuisine is a very colorful and flavorful one and I learned to like it when its popularity in England skyrocketed amongst the University students mainly and now I believe Chicken Tikka Masala is one of the country's top dish, sharing the same standing as the Fish & Chips and Steak & Kidney Pie.

This dish is not difficult but attention is required in the cooking time as different potatoes have different cooking time and the dish can turn very mushy when the potatoes are overcooked. The addition of tomatoes added liquid during the cooking and I recommend the peas to be added only at the last 10 minutes of cooking to retain a better green color.

6 medium size potatoes
10 cherry tomatoes
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup shredded cilantro
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 knob ginger, sliced
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 cup vegetable stock

Method :
  1. Peel the skin of the potato, wash and cut into chunks pieces.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp of cooking oil in a saute pan. Add in the garlic, ginger and 1/2 of the cilantro pieces. Saute fo 30 seconds.
  3. Add in the potatoes and stir for 1 minute to coat. Add in the turmeric, cumin & coriander powder and toss the potatoes around till all spices blend in. Cover saute pan for 2 minutes.
  4. Add in tomatoes and vegetable stock. Turn the heat to medium low and let cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Add in the peas and salt and mix well. The potatoes should be turning tender and check every 3 minutes. Once the potatoes can be cut easily , it is done.
  6. Dish up and garnish with remaining cilantro.

Serves: 4 persons

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November Bento Days (2)

Today is a good day to rise up and do Bento. Sunlight was piercing through my window curtains and looks like a promise of fine and dry day. And so I thought. As soon as I turned on Robin Meade and the rest of the CNN sunshine gang, the weather report dampened my spirit a little. "cold weather coming through this week and be right back to tell you how much the temperature will drop"...... sigh..... why do weathermen always think this sort of 'Wait & See' is so much fun ?

With the sun setting wholly by 4.30pm, I have been having problems with my photography too as I depend on the natural light flowing in through my kitchen window to capture those mouthwatering dishes at their best shots straight out of the pot! All I get these days is a weird color and photographs not worth looking at. At least Bento is the one thing that I have to do in the early mornings and I am glad my overworked camera hasn't given up hope yet!

For today's Bento, I used left overs from our dinner. As the dish's recipe couldn't make it into this Blog last night due to photography malfunction, I saved some for today! I stir fried salted black bean with some pork ribs and egg plant and steamed them. Garnish with scallion pieces, they are ready to go with rice. Made ham & scallion sushi roll and stir fried some lotus root pieces with green bell pepper. The Cherry tomatoes is always my top choice for Bento filler with its beautiful reddish hue. Persimmon seems to be everywhere now and I have always like this fruit. The firmness of it with its sweet juice added more texture to the fruit box than any orange or apple. I like the fact that when cut horizontally, a star crossed pattern is visible and this added another aesthetic touch alongside the grapes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Flaky Green Tea Cookie

Everytime I open a Dim Sum cookbook, there is definitely a recipe that makes flaky pastries. I have skipped through these recipes many times for the simple fact that it calls for 2 types of dough and lots of rolling process. With limited countertop space, the idea is not welcoming to me. Despite so, I love this Chinese pastry as it is all flaky, thin and good. Eating them in one spot with a plate to collect all the falling flakes everytime a bite is taken is advisable.

I don't really know what to call this pastry and I think cookie is appropriate as both are made of sweet dough, crisp and can be filled or baked plain. I managed to get a can of green tea flavored sweetened bean paste, similar to the lotus nut paste that is used to fill mooncakes. A friend once told me that this paste tasted like toothpaste but I was eager to give it a try as I love anything green tea and it must not be that bad and I am convinced that only mint flavor tasted like toothpaste and certainly my friend was wrong. Nothing was minty nor toothpaste about it and I thank my curiosity.

In terms of appearance, this pastry is rather plain and the usual ones are non flavored and only brushed with egg yolk before baking to give it a better color. Chinese food emphasizes more on taste rather than all the pretty and frilly touches and indeed, eating a freshly baked pastry like this one is more satisfying than looking at it!

I added green tea powder to the oil dough, which was a combination of flour and vegetable shortening. I have heard that some people do use cooking oil instead but I am more content using the shortening without getting too greasy. As for the water dough, it was another part of flour with less vegetable shortening added to icing sugar and water to make a more pliable and firmer dough than the oil one. Both dough are then rolled together into a ball and with a rolling pin, the process of rolling out and folding was repeated twice to blend in both doughs to create the flaky layers when baked. When the cookies were rolled out, the green from the tea powder was very obvious but after baking, it kind of faded away. The filling was first rolled into balls before being placed and wrapped into the dough. Instead of egg, I brush some water on the surface of the cookies and sprinkled black sesame seeds on it before the baking.

The kids loved it as it was light with a tinge of crispness on the outside layer and plenty of sweet filling in the inside. I enjoyed my teatime today with 2 pieces and a cup of hot green tea. I like to think that eating these type of cookies is not as fattening as the usual butter cookies!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Beginning

I am elated, overjoyed and full of hope. Today seems to be better than any days, people smiling everywhere despite late night yesterday. Even the atmosphere is better everywhere I go. I am very happy to see history was made on November 4, 2008. I would like to dedicate today's blog to the new President, whom I believe will lead us to better days and future for our children and hope in everything is possible. President Obama's speech in Chicago was very moving and I want to remember this here and now!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November Bento Days(1)

I rose earlier than anyone else in the house today. Not that I am going to the polling and voting stations but to make the long forgotten Bento for Curry! And also to watch the election on TV and hopefully to witness history!

The campaign for the major parties begun almost 2 years ago and I am glad the ultimate date has arrived to pick one of them. Countless night sleeps have been lost to late night re-runs of debates, news channel anchors and political correspondents cross firing to air their choices and thoughts, spouses different views and supports add to their blissful and sometimes mundane marriages, teenagers and kids all got into the bandwagon to cheer for candidates and housewives like me get to see fashion styles of the hair and attires of the candidates' wives. To sum it all, I have spent most time watching politics during this period than any time in my life. Pity though, I am not a voter but I sure hope those who has this right will do it today and pick the right person to lead the next 4 years.

I must have been very lazy to the point that Curry asked me why am I in such a good mood to make Bento today..... has it really been that long? Don't the dinners count as good food too? Men's perspective of things is very narrow and women really has to do alot to convince them. Like the Republicans and Democrats, we just have to live with each other whether we like it or not!

For today's Bento, I made honey Chicken, marinated overnight with Japanese mirin and Ponzu sauce. The honey was added to the marinating sauce and cooked with the chicken and ginger to get a gingery and citrusy dish. Served on a bed of cilantro, this dish is fragrant and appetizing. Shredded carrot, diced radish and scallion are stir fried together with soy sauce to fill in the vegetable part. I blanched a few broccoli florets to add more green. I mixed shredded nori seaweed pieces with toasted white sesame seeds into the rice and moulded them in a triangle rice ball mould. For the first time in my Bento making days, I managed to fill every nook and corner of the box. In the spirit of the election, I skewered the grapes on red, white and blue food picks and completed the sweet corner with a small slice of walnut cheesecake.

P.S. This addition was blogged after 11pm on Tuesday Nov 4, 2008: Congratulations to all of America and the new President Obama. All I wish for is a better America for the next 4 years!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Walnut Baked Cheesecake

Daylight savings clock time ended this morning. Despite the additional hour in bed, it doesn't excite me much as the days are getting shorter and definitely very depressing to see the night already falling in around 4.30pm everyday with biting cold air creeping in and skin cracking due to dryness. What is a person who loathe cold weather like me to do in this time of the year? Well, easy, bake, eat and hibernate till there are more important things to attend to!

Cheesecakes have always been my favorite besides mousse cakes but knowing that I will pile on tonnes of dairy fat in my system with every delish piece brings me back to my health consciences! Sometimes I really admire those lucky devils out there who can really eat and not put on a single ounce when all I can do is count my calories and eat with guilt! Life can be so unfair isn't it?

Cheesecake is the type of cake that you have to eat one big slice to satisfy the cravings. Whether it is steam baked, non-bake or wholly baked, I welcome them anytime. The big chunk of creamy cream cheese in the New York style cheesecake was a bit too much for me to make today and I opted for a baked cheesecake instead, where the cheese is all baked into the cake and out of sight.

My initial plan was to bake this cheesecake with pistachio which gives a very nice green color together with the lingonberry preserve. I thought I saw it yesterday somewhere in the pantry and after a mad 10 mins search, I asked Curry. "Oh.... I cracked up everything and ate them last night"! Hmm..... John McCain must have been very funny on Saturday Night Live last night to make him stayed up that late and finished all my pistachio! And so, I threw in chopped walnuts instead. When comes to baking, I can be more Drama Queen than Sarah Palin on stage and I was ready to get the keys to the grocery store to get the pistachio if I didn't locate the walnuts.

Perhaps the Neufchatel Cheese that I used was a generic one from my grocery store or the amount I added was not enough , this cake was actually light in taste and the cheese flavor was very subtle. The addition of butter made the texture of this cake very nice, not too moist and not too dry, easy to cut and rose up nicely in the mini angel tube pans. The walnuts gave a nice chunky bite while the lingonberry preserve added a touch of tartness. Infact, I think I made a nice butter cake instead of a cheesecake. The most important thing in making this cheesecake was to have all the ingredients at room temperature and the eggs were beaten before adding to the cream cheese and butter mixture. For all types of cake, I always use cake flour and never all purpose flour. The texture is just more softer. I only think the transferring of the batter into the tube pans was a bit of a hassle as they measured approximately 4 inches and the batter was not creamy consistency but rather like butter cake batter which needs spooning and spreading with the spatula and of course, a good tapping of the baking pans on the countertop to make sure there are no bubble pockets. I set the oven at 350F and baked 3 mini angel tube cheesecakes for 35 mins. As always, I was not keen to use the fancy decorating tips and the piping bag and I simply spooned lingonberry preserve straight from the jar on top of the cakes. With the magic of confectioner sugar, the cakes look pretty enough to adorn any cake shops or cafe table! And of course, the taste is homemade as always and I find this the easiest cheesecake to make anytime. It took me 15 minutes to prepare the batter and 35 minutes to bake. For a lazy Sunday, this is all I want with a cup of hot tea.