Healthy (?) Halloween

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Almost the weekend and we're off camping again - dropping off the grid for a few days. (Talk about scary, the place we are heading to doesn't have internet access! Or phones. Or restaurants nearby ;P)

But before we go, I wanted to share these fun Halloween inspired treats with you. They're semi-healthy (what? they have fruit!) and super easy to make.

Strawberry chocolate frogs

These are always a big hit when I make them, and it doesn't matter how wonky they look, just pass them off as mutant frogs. The steps are really simple.

You will need some fresh strawberries, white chocolate and green food colouring.

1) Wash and dry a handful of strawberries. Make sure they are really dry as water can cause the chocolate to "seize". Line a tray with baking paper. Check to see if tray will fit in the fridge (to chill the chocolate).

2) Pinch the green leaves off the tops of the strawberries but don't cut or "injure" the strawberries, they have to remain dry.

3) Melt some white chocolate - this will sound horrifying but I found compound chocolate (sold here as Melts) actually worked better for this process because it sets quickly. The "eating" white chocolate just ended up too gloopy. (I used the bowl set over hot water method to melt the chocolate. This has the added advantage of keeping the chocolate "runny" when needed).

4) Tint the chocolate a shade of green. I used a toothpick dipped in paste colour, not sure if liquid colour will work so I won't recommend it

5) Dip the strawberries in the chocolate and leave to dry on their sides on the baking paper. I used my fingers to dip and when the "frog" was on the baking paper, I touched up visible bits by spooning chocolate over it. If you can get the stawberry to sit "stem end" to the ground, it will look more froglike.

6) Use a teaspoon or piping bag (if feeling industrious) and make a frog-leg sort of shape on the paper (see pic). Attach the strwaberry part to the legs with a bit of extra chocolate. Add two chocolate chips for eye. Chill till set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

7) Watch the frog "bleed" when you bite into it:) Best eaten on the same day it is made or it the strawberries will start to go a bit wet and unappetising.

My legs! My legs! I can't feel my legs


Chocolate banana ghosties

This one was even simpler.

Melt the chocolate. Slice some glace cherries in such a way as to get the "O" shape.

Line a baking tray as above. Chop a banana into the ghostlike shape. You will need both ends of the banana and depending how long the fruit is, you may end up with a bonus "middle" banana offcut. (*burp*)

Dip banana into the chocolate (I used a skewer), then set on baking paper. When the chocolate isn't too runny, add on the eyes and mouth. Put in fridge to chill. (If you add the eyes and mouth too early it will just slide down the "face")

The mini-critics loved it. What mini-critic junior didn't like though, were these "Furry Monster Cupcakes". She didn't want to even look at it becasue it freaked her out too much!

Super simple idea. Just tint some shredded coconut green and sprinkle it on your favourite iced cupcake. Add glace cherry eyes and a chocolate mouth.

Have a great Halloween everyone. We'll see you sometime next week. Malaysian Monday will be postponed until the week after!

EOWTTA*: G is for ginger

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

*EOWTTA=Eating our way through the alphabet

(Yesterday’s transmission was briefly interrupted by THAT baking group, and we apologize for the delay in returning you to your regular programme.)

I really had to start today’s post with this quote from the Buderim Ginger website : “It (ginger) quenches thirst, revives, excites the brain, and in old age awakes young love again.”

It would be safe to say this knobby rhizome is familiar to anyone who grew up in an Asian household. One of my favourite smells is of garlic and ginger sizzling in a wok with a dash of sesame oil. It takes me straight back to my mother’s kitchen. A favourite childhood meal was a simple fried pomfret (fish) dish with crisp brown strips of ginger piled on top, then drizzled with soy sauce.

We consumed ginger in many forms including a bright red dried/salty preserved version that was said to be good for combating nausea (I shudder to think now what was in that brilliant red colouring though). And I remember being allowed to have a taste of ginger wine – a very sweet but strangely tasty concoction – from time to time.

Crystallised ginger 

Ginger is considered a “warming” food in Chinese culture, and dishes containing the rhizome would frequently be served to women after childbirth. This spice is also believed to contain many health-giving properties. In fact, ginger may help in lowering cholesterol and it may also have cancer fighting properties, although the jury’s still out.

Close relatives of ginger include: turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. And if you love laksa, then you’ll probably know that a key ingredient is Bunga Kantan or Torch Ginger flower.

But it’s not all good things that ginger is known for. In the course of my googling, I found out that the rhizome has been used to do unspeakable things to horses. Eeew. Poor ponies.

Err, and on that unsavoury note, I think I’ll leave you with a sweet ginger recipe. I wanted to attempt substituting eggs with soda, for no reason really except to see if it works. I picked these brownies because I figured they’d still taste good even if the texture wasn’t perfect. And I can say yes and no to whether they worked. They looked great, tasted even more fantastic, but I think I should have added a little bit more flour to make them slightly firmer. The texture was very much like a soft fudge. Thank you very much to my MIL for the original brownie recipe ☺

Oh, and here are a couple of other ginger resources:

Ginger ale brownies with crystallised ginger

90g butter
160g self raising flour (I made my own using plain flour + baking powder + baking soda. The ratio is 1 cup flour + 1 tsp baking powder+1/4 tsp baking soda + pinch of salt)
250g brown sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
125g (scant 1 cup) chopped crystallised ginger pieces
150ml ginger ale/ ginger beer (non-alcoholic) – at room temperature
175 g dark chocolate (chopped)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease and line a baking pan with baking paper. I used a small square pan and double lined it, with the paper folded into the edges. This will save on cleanup as the brownie is very sticky.

Preheat oven to roughly 160˚C (my fan-forced setting doesn’t work, so I can’t tell you what sort of timing/temp would work there) .

In a small saucepan, put the sugar, butter and about 2 tbsp ginger ale and stir over low heat until the butter has melted. I don’t think it matters too much if the sugar is a bit grainy at this point (well, it didn’t matter for me at any rate.) Remove pan from heat, add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted.

Pour in the ginger ale, and keep stirring continuously until mixture is smooth.

Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl, add the ginger pieces and stir to coat. Make a well in the centre and pour in the melted ingredients. Stir well. Pour batter into lined tin and bake for about 30-35 minutes until the mixture is set. The top should be crackly and the middle soft – press it lightly with a finger, you should be able to judge if it’s cooked or not. Don’t try testing with a skewer because it will definitely have crumbs sticking to it. If it doesn’t, then it means the brownie is overbaked and dry .

Cool completely in tin. To help the cutting process, I actually refrigerated mine overnight before turning out onto a board to slice. (It was that soft).

Store in fridge in and airtight container for up to a week (if it lasts that long).

Hi, I'm a Mac (Daring Bakers October 09)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And I'm a Daring Baker...woo hoo! Who makes French Macarons. Yeah!

First, the obligatory words:

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I'd been gathering up the courage to try these fiddly french fancies and made an attempt three days before the challenge was announced. Talk about hitting the ground running. I used a recipe by Helen of Tartelette and whaddaya know - my  first ever batch of macarons had feet! You could have heard the whooping a mile away! So sure was I that my macarons wouldn't rise to the occasion, there was no filling ready for them. A quick slap of the multi-purpose chocolate ganache and we were set.

My first try : Hazelnut macarons  with dark chocolate ganache. (Subbed all the almond meal with hazelnut meal)

Then I tried this month's challenge. The DB method and ratio differed from Tartelette's recipe, but I gamely gave it a go. feet - tasted good but not what I was hoping for. Usually, I'm quite tenacious when it comes to working my way through to the bitter end, but this time I chose to stick with the successful recipe. To be fair, many other Daring Baker's made the challenge recipe work so do check out their success stories.

DB Footless Macs- Orange and clove macarons dipped in dark chocolate. 

I kept practising with Helen's recipe and I think I am officially obsessed. Didn't realise quite how many macarons I'd made until I compiled all the photos avoid a massive post, I'll try to do most of it in pictures. As for the recipe and method, I urge you to visit Tartelette and follow any of her macaron recipes. I used 2/3 of the recommended ratios.

Some things I found helpful:

1) Weigh the egg whites - I found that the weight differed greatly between eggs even from the same carton. I estimated each egg white to weigh roughly 30gms or so (give or take).

2) I did age the egg whites and this seemed to have a noticeable effect on the "feet". Older egg whites - taller feet. Fresh egg whites - frilly feet. To age, I left my bowl of eggwhites in the fridge, covered loosely with plastic wrap. Remember to bring the eggs to room temperature before using.

3) Size matters! Using a thin and whippy spatula to fold the almond into the egg whites  - I seemed to go over the recommended amount of "strokes" all the time but the macaron mixture didn't look ready. Using a heavier spatula, I achieved the recommended flow much sooner. (This will make sense when you read the macaron method).

4) I didn't draw circles for the macs, instead I timed the flow when piping, counting about 10 "counts" per macaron to try and ensure all the macs ended up the same size.

5) To colour the macarons, I used a cake decorating trick to tint the sugar first. Mix some paste colour into the sugar and sieve it to get a uniform colour. The sugar needs to be really dry so if using liquid colour, make sure to spread the sugar on a tray to dry out before using.

And in case you're wondering  where all the egg whites came from? I made ice-cream (6 egg yolks), and mango and lime curd (4 egg yolks) + I already had some lurking in the freezer.

Big Macs!

Thank you very much Queen Helen, undisputed Monarch of the Macaron. And thank you to the Macaron fairy who must be hiding somewhere in the kitchen..I'm still pinching myself that my mac attempts were successful.(Edit: And d'uh where are my manners? Thank you Ami for a great challenge!)

Enjoy these flavours, I'm sure you'll see more in time to come.

Coconut macaron with mango lime curd filling 

Subbed a little of the almond meal with toasted, dessicated coconut. Made a mango and lime curd based on my favourite lemon curd recipe - and used 100ml of sieved mango puree + juice of half a lime. 

Teh-Hallia (Ginger Tea) Macaron

Based on a Malaysian beverage. Macaron shells flavoured with Black Tea. Crystallised ginger sandwiched in ginger white cocolate ganache (just add some ground ginger to the ganache).

Kheer Macaron

Inspired by Indian Rice Pudding/ Kheer. Subbed a bit of the almond meal with toasted ground rice (50g almond meal + 20g rice for recipe calling for about 70g almond meal). Flavoured the shell with finely ground cardamom pods (2). Sandwiched with some of the white chocolate ganache from above. Pistachio hidden in centre. 

This is my favourite macaron out of all the ones I made. the rice gives it a gritty but not unpleasant aftertaste.

Rose and lemon macaron 

 This was inspired by the Persian drink Sharbat - the shells are flavoured with dried rose petals and the filling is lemon caramel. I was really trying to make a tiny batch of lemon marmalade  but it didn't quite work out. The lemon caramel tastes fantastic though - very  tangy and complemented the rose scent very well.

Nasturtium Macaron

I really wanted to make use of the spring blooms in the garden and attempted these Nasturtium flavoured macs. I added some dried leaves and flowers plus a sliver of petal on top. The filling was cream cheese, a pinch of salt and 3 nasturtium flowers. The flavour was interesting and if you didn't know what was in them - it was quite indefinable

I air-dried the nasturtiums, then finished them off in a low oven (I put them on the lowest rack while a batch of macarons were in the oven)


Thanks for visiting! Have a sweet day :)

Malaysian Monday 13: Air sirap selasih and bonus agar-agar

Monday, October 26, 2009

(Not for the fainthearted – organs are involved. Fake ones of course! And sorry for a long post but there are TWO scary treats to look at)

We never celebrated Halloween in Malaysia, Ellie from Almost Bourdain explains the reason very well in one of her posts. The colour black and decorations associated with death are considered very “suay” (bad luck) in Chinese culture (and a lot of other Asian cultures as well).

It’s not a big celebration in Australia either, although trick-or-treating does happen in a few areas. Ghoulish decorations can be purchased easily from the shops and our local library puts on a spooky-themed event for the kids. Which is great because I love the idea of Halloween and all the goriness it entrails entails.

While Malaysians don’t “do” Halloween, they certainly eat some scary looking stuff. Take these basil seeds for instance. Locally known as Biji Selasih, the seeds expand when soaked in water and end up looking (and feeling!) like frog-spawn. These are then added to red cordial/red syrup to make a refreshing drink.

 There are versions of this Air Sirap Selasih (Air sirap=Syrup water) in other cultures as well – the Indian Falooda and the Thai Nam Manglak. I’ve never tasted either of those drinks but the flavourings sound similar.

In Malaysia, air sirap (syrup water/syrup drink), is the red cordial of choice for big kenduris (feast/celebration). I’m not sure how it was made originally, but most air syrup now just comes out of a bottle. The extremely sweet, red, rose-flavoured drink is a big hit with kids. Other versions of Air Sirap, include Air-Sirap Limau (Limau=Lime), and Air Bandung, a pink concoction involving rose syrup and condensed milk (even I draw the line at this one).

I didn’t feel like buying a whole bottle of rose cordial so I made up a version using simple syrup and rosewater. To give the syrup its distinctive red hue, I was lucky enough to have some freshly delivered bottles of pomegranate juice to experiment with. The subtly tangy flavoured juice is not sweet, making it the perfect mixer to add colour to drinks.

(When Linsday of POM Wonderful emailed me about a month ago asking if I would like to try some pomegranate juice, I couldn’t hit the reply button fast enough. Seriously – is there a different answer to the question “would you like some free stuff to consume?” The timing was near perfect too, the package arrived just before I attempted to make my drink. Thanks Lindsay!).

The resulting syrup tasted a bit more sophisticated than the Air-Sirap of my childhood, and the kids loved the frog-spawn. Mr. Kitchen Hand was suitably disgusted when I made him swallow a mouthful ☺. (He liked the flavour though, but the basil seed texture (a bit like bubble tea) freaked him out too much).

The red syrup made me think of another favourite Malaysian dessert – agar-agar. There must be hundreds of different agar-agar variations out there, but in it’s simplest form, the agar-agar is flavoured with pandan, tinted red and cut into pretty little diamonds. At almost every birthday party, gathering or pot-luck, one can be sure to find a plate of these little gems.

Of course, I couldn’t resist “Halloweenifying” the treat up to produce these “eyeballs” in Lychee and Pomegranate agar-agar. The kids were absolutely thrilled and broke out spontaneous zombie-walking demanding more eyeballs.

I did make a prettier version of the agar-agar decorated with lychee “flowers” too. As you can see, I still haven’t got the hang of cutting it into diamonds yet. Ah well, at least it tasted good. I’m sending this agar-agar over to Mansi at Fun and food cafe for her Sweet Celebrations blog-event too.

Have a great rest of the week and I leave you with Mr. Kitchen Hand’s reaction to the agar-agar and the recipes. See you soon.

Sorry for the ultra long post.

The MKH Scale-O-Meter 
Appearance: 3 “ Looks very cool with the lychee “flowers”
Taste: 3.5 “Refreshing lychee and unusual pomegranate taste”
Texture: 1 “Manages to be both rubbery and slippery”

(Agar - agar has a sort of crisp texture. Unlike jelly/jell-o, it doesn't dissolve in the mouth, it kind of disintegrates) 

Air-Sirap Selasih (Rosewater Flavoured Syrup with Basil Seeds)
For syrup:
½ cup sugar
½ cup hot water
dash of rosewater

Dissolve sugar in the water, leave to cool. Stir in a dash of rosewater to flavour.

To serve
1 teaspoon basil seeds (available from Asian/Indian grocery stores) soaked in water until expanded – takes about 10 minutes. Rinse the expanded seeds in a sieve under running water.
Some pomegranate juice (if unavailable, substitute with cranberry juice or add food colouring instead)
Ice and water

Put some sugar syrup into a glass. Add enough pomegranate juice, water and ice to taste. Adjust the sweetness of the drink by varying the amount of sugar syrup. Add a spoonful of “frog-spawn” before serving. Store leftover “frog spawn” in the fridge.

Lychee and Pomegranate Agar-Agar.

1 can lychees in syrup
1 bottle (475ml) pomegranate juice. with some water added to make it up to 500ml (If you have access to fresh pomegranates, you could juice your own).
5-7g agar-agar powder (depending on the level of “setness” desired. read the instructions on your agar-agar as the amount required may differ).
1 tablespoon sugar (or more according to taste. Our agar agar tasted mildly sweet, with a lovely tang from the pomegranate juice. If you like your desserts very sweet, add more sugar)
Some blueberries to decorate
Shotglasses (you can use any moulds but the shotglasses are perfect for holding the eyeballs down).

Drain the lychees and reserve the syrup.

Pop a blueberry into the cavity of a lychee. Put this “eyeball” into the bottom of a shotglass and wedge it in a little – otherwise the eyeball will float but it doesn’t matter, it will still look spooky. Make as many eyeballs as desired.

(Alternatively, cut the lychees into pretty flower shapes (see pic) and arrange on the bottom of a suitable mould.)

Measure the amount of lychee syrup collected and top it up with water until it gets to 500ml. Heat the syrup and sugar until just simmering, stir in the agar-agar powder and keep stirring until all the agar-agar has dissolved. (It’s ok to boil agar-agar, it won’t denature like gelatin).

Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the stove. Pour in the pomegranate juice, stir quickly and spoon into shotglasses or pour into moulds. Try not to boil the pomegranate juice because heating will affect the colour and make it more purple than red. (If the juice is too cold and agar-agar starts to set, just turn the heat back on low and sitr until the agar-agar dissolves)

Spoon the agar-agar into the shotglasses. Have a toothpick handy to manouver any eyeballs that move, or to shift the eyeballs slightly so that the agar-agar can get to the bottom of the glass.

Leave to set. The agar-agar will set at room temperature and takes no time at all to set in the fridge. Best served chilled.

Lychee "flowers" at base of mould. Pour the agar-agar over a spoon to avoid dislodging the lychee


Friday, October 23, 2009

Too quickly the end of the week is upon us. Or not quickly enough-depending on your point of view ☺. Seems like barely yesterday we were chilling out on school holiday time – as we headed off on our road trip down the coast to visit Nana and Pop.

It’s not the most environmentally friendly thing in the world, but I love driving trips. That sense of possibility the open road brings. The feeling of letting go and just “being” (unless you’re the driver). My dad is a great fan of the road-trip. He carted the family round Peninsula Malaysia one holiday, urging my brother and I to look out the window as we went past oil palm estates and rubber plantations and dams and rivers and forests and towns. “Look! Look at the scenery” he’d hassle us as we dozed off, trying to imbue in us the sense of adventure that he obviously felt.

His passion was contagious. “Look! There’s a cow!” I point out to the mini-critics who have started fidgeting in the back seat. No in-car DVD’s for this family – I want them to look out the window and watch clouds, and dream. We play “I spy” and made-up alphabet games. We count horses and cows and trees and cars. We talk (and occasionally whinge) and we sleep. We complain about hunger. We happily find interesting places to eat…

Here are some photos from our recent road trip and a café or two. Have a great weekend and happy trails ☺

Afternoon tea goodies from the Greengrocer on Clifford. A greengrocer/cafe in Goulburn that has a great selection of baked goodies, sandwiches, salads, juices  and woodfired pizza (dinner only).  The interior's not that flash (think cafeteria dining), but the vibe is relaxed.
37 Clifford St Goulburn 2580 - (02) 4821 0033.


The charming Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery is definitely worth a stop. It can get pretty crowded but if the weather's fine, you can always get the tarts/pies/tasty treats to take away and have a picnic.  We've stopped here about three times now and haven't been disappointed (except for the times when we found it shut - open only on Wednesday to Sunday)

My lunch : duck confit (if there's duck on the menu, I can't go past it). potatoes, and frisee salad with lentils. Really, really good. I had to battle the family to hold on to my potatoes.

Mr. Kitchen Hand's lunch - he was very pleased with it too. Pastie (can't remember what was in it) and a Pumpkin and fetta tart (mini-critic junior couldn't help pinching a bit). No pics of the kids lunch because spaghetti is just not that photogenic and besides, they would't let me take a photo because they wanted to dig in straightaway.


My dessert: Prune and custard tart. It was pretty tasty but I had dessert envy once I realised what the others had scored. My tastebds kept saying - "come on, we want the other thing".

Looks unassuming but on the first mouthful, Mr. Kitchen Hand remarks:"Phwoar, that's weapons grade chocolate that is". Then rich, golden, salty caramel oozes out from below the chocolate layer. Luckily, there are two of this and I get some of the kid's leftovers.

Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery. 23 Alfred St, Berry NSW 2535. 02 4464 1617

Rose and pashmak cupcakes, plus some soul-searching

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So, I turned another year older recently. Shhh, a lady never reveals her age - let’s just say I’m on the exciting side of 30.

Truth be told, I’m not that fussed about birthdays. We didn’t really do birthday parties once we were past the single digits. Instead, the whole family (including uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents) would simply descend upon a chosen restaurant and partake of the chaotic camaraderie only a family could enjoy.

This year however, an intimate home cooked dinner with four close friends was on the table. And I decided to treat myself by baking cupcakes. The idea for pashmak (Persian Candy Floss) decorated cupcakes had been on my mind for a while, and I figured – why not, I’ll spoil myself on a birthday.

However, as I lovingly arranged the tufts of rose scented pashmak over the tops of the cakes, I couldn’t help but feel my conscience itching away. So many blogposts were highlighting the problem of real hunger in the community. Over at Feeding Maybelle, there were posts about the eaton30 challenge created by Tami of Running with Tweezers. Suddenly, the already expensive pashmak seemed like an overblown indulgence. It’s ok, it’s my birthday I told my conscience. It still itched.

Allow me then, the added indulgence of using part of this post to help send some love (and maybe something more) over to OzHarvest. It’s a fantastic non-denominational charity that “rescues” fresh food from restaurants and other venues. The perfectly good food, otherwise destined for the bin, is sent to charities that support disadvantaged and at-risk communities in Sydney. Please do take the time to at least visit their website and find out a little bit more about their efforts.

The itch is still vaguely there, but for the moment, this is the least I can do. Will I change the way I view food and how I blog? Honest answer? Not really. But, I will be more mindful of using every single scrap of food – reusing bones for stock, saving peel for flavouring cakes, that sort of thing.

I didn’t mean to put anyone in a down mood , but I did have to get that off my chest.

If you’ve stuck around this far, you deserve a cupcake ☺ - or at least a recipe for one.

Rosewater cupcakes decorated with pashmak

(adapted from the Golden Almond Cake in The Cake Bible)

Let me first say that I don’t usually muck around with any of the Cake Bible recipes because they are so fool-proof and I feel the need to “respect” the recipe. But I once substituted yoghurt instead of sour cream in this recipe and found the result so delicate and light, I now make it this way instead. The original recipe also calls for the addition of almond and vanilla extracts.

2 eggs
160g yoghurt (I used Greek Yoghurt)
1 teaspoon rose water (not essence - use less if using essence)

166g sifted cake flour
35g almond meal
200g sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
170g butter –softened
1 teaspoon crumbled dried rose petals (optional)

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Combine eggs, rosewater and ¼ of the yoghurt, beat gently until smooth.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Beat on low speed for about 30 seconds (I use hand beaters), to combine. Make a bit of a well in the flour and add in the butter and rest of the yoghurt. Beat slowly at first to incorporate the flour, then raise the speed to high (working on hand beater speed here) and beat for about a minute or so until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg mixture in two batches, beating well after each addition.

Spoon into cupcake case and bake until golden (about 20 minutes or so, I forgot to time it. I usually go by smell anyway).

To decorate:
White chocolate cream (I just doubled the amount I made for the Pink Velvet Cake)
Some chopped pistachios (I used my leftover pistachio marzipan)
Dried rose petals

Spread some of the white chocolate cream on top of the cupcakes, sprinkle pistachio or chopped pistachio marzipan over the top. Just before serving,decorate with pashmak. Pashmak is very sensitive to moisture so do not put it on too early or it will dissolve into the icing.