Rediscovering Sydney.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A tenacious dandelion puffball straggles its way out of the merest smear of dirt in the footpath. I see a weed, ready to spread its seeds, and annoy gardeners everywhere.

But when MC Junior spots it, she’s thrilled. In her eyes, this puffball is magical – she blows on it and tiny little parachutes float away on the breeze. “Fairies can ride them!” She’s so pleased with herself, I forget for an instant the small act of environmental vandalism she’s just committed. There is just so much joy and excitement in her beaming face, so intense in that fleeting moment, all thanks to a little weed.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, kids really help open our eyes to the wonder all around. I see a stick, a stone, a dead leaf. They see batons, secret jewels, and boats to float in muddy puddles. When did I lose this skill?

And so we found ourselves during the recent school holidays, exploring a city we’d lived in for over a decade. Mr. KH and I had worked in the CBD at some point or other during that time, and our view of it had become limited. Familiarity had bred indifference. We saw too many drab buildings, too much noisy traffic and too many people caught in the drudgery of the everyday.

But the MC’s saw things differently. Everything we looked at was coloured by their enthusiasm.

“Look! Look! It’s the ope-pe-ra house!”
 “Oooh, a silver tree” (Roxy Paine's Neuron in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art)
Ah, the simple pleasures : raspberry tart at La Renaissance Patisserie in The Rocks. This tart tasted as good as it looked. Luscious custard and a pastry base that really tasted of butter. 

More tart
Usually, I'm wary of cakes this brightly coloured. It was also named after an artist - I forgot who, all I remember is the letter M. Matisse perhaps? But, it tasted beautiful - layers of passionfruit and raspberry mousse and airy cake.

Like this

"It's so fancy, like a palace!" (Interior of the Queen Victoria Building)

You'd be this happy too if you tasted the awesome soft pretzels from Luneburger bakery at the lower ground floor of the QVB

 Chocolates from Bon Bon in the QVB (Ground level). I LOVE the liquer cherries here, they still have the pips in them!

Market at the Rocks

As we headed home, we realised just how lucky we are to live in this splendid city.

Thanks for coming on this little trip with me. Have a great weekend! And happy exploring :)

A year with the Daring Bakers - cool!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hello Daring Bakers!

I really put this month’s challenge off until the last minute and almost didn’t bother. Then I realised that this post would mark my one-year anniversary as part of the group! How could I let that pass?

So, even though I’m not a great ice-cream eater, and even though it was so cold I contemplated making a warm custard filling instead, I’m glad I went ahead and made this month’s Swiss swirl ice-cream cake.

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food.  Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

We needed to make Swiss rolls, a filling for them, two ice creams and a fudge sauce, from scratch. However, Sunita gave us a lot of leeway with the recipe, allowing us to vary the flavours of each component.

We were also required to set the dessert in a bowl or utensil of our choice in the order given in the recipe-Swiss roll, first ice-cream, the fudge topping and, finally, the second ice cream.

I made the Swiss roll from the challenge recipe, with two changes. I omitted the hot water (unintentionally, bad recipe reading skills) and rolled the cakes in baking paper instead of a tea towel (intentionally, to save from washing extra tea towels).

While I’ve made Swiss rolls before, I definitely need more practise because I managed to produce one or two cracks. Luckily, they cracked on the inside and looked okay once completely rolled up.

I’d run out of cream by the time I was ready to make the Swiss roll filling, and it was close to midnight, so I made a simple vanilla buttercream instead (the eggless kind, very similar to this icing). It turned out to be less than ideal, I’d refrigerated the Swiss rolls to make cutting easier but the buttercream set hard, which meant I had to use more pressure and ended up tearing and squishing the cake quite a bit. Oops. Next time, I’ll buy more cream.

As for ice cream, I turned to Mr. Lebovitz for help. I made a caramel ice cream (minus the salt), where I learnt to take my sugar to the dark side. Although I think I took it too far and ended up with a slightly bitter confection.

The other flavour was an eggless peanut butter ice-cream which I found here (the recipe is from David Lebovitz too). So far, I’ve made three successful ice creams based on his recipes, so it looks like The Perfect Scoop is going to find a space on my bookshelf very soon. I think I may even be getting a little bit more excited about ice cream now!

Caramel ice cream (left) and Peanut butter ice cream (right)

And because I’m a bit of a peanut butter fiend, I swooned a little when I found this Nigella recipe. Spoon  rating = 5 licks!

Finally, I had all the components ready, so I made a Swiss roll ice-cream sandwich cake in this order: Swiss roll, caramel ice-cream, peanut butter chocolate fudge sauce, peanut butter ice-cream, then topped with another layer of the Swiss roll.

And I cannot think of a better way to mark a fantastic year with my fellow Daring Bakers ☺

Thank you Lis and Ivonne for creating such a fun “family”. Thank you to the Daring Bakers for your friendship and support. Hip, hip hooray (x3) to the lot of you!

Cake for all my friends

Malaysian Monday 44: Banana Leaf at Kavitha’s

Monday, July 26, 2010

Banana Leaf – the mere mention sets off a Pavlovian response in me (as I write this, my tummy is growling!). I’m sure there is a proper Indian name for this style of cuisine, but if you say "Banana Leaf" to a Malaysian, they’ll immediately understand that you are talking about a meal of rice, vegetable side dishes and curry, all served on a fresh banana leaf as a plate.

That’s where all consensus ends. Everyone, and I mean everyone has an opinion as to the best banana leaf place around. Like many things, it all depends on your preferences. For Mr. Kitchen Hand and I, our choice is Kavitha’s Curry House in a suburb called Petaling Jaya (Section 5).

We’ve tried many others, based on recommendations from family, friends and colleagues, but we always return to Kavitha’s. Maybe it’s habit: we first started eating here when we were just a-courtin’, well over 12 years ago now (Mr. KH worked in Malaysia for a little while, which is where we met). Since then, every time we visit my family, we try to squeeze in a visit to this place.

The first thing that you notice when walking into Kavitha’s, is the row of ice-cream chillers filled with meat and seafood (rest assured there is no actual ice-cream in there). These meaty morsels have been marinaded with curry powder and seasoning, and we choose some chicken and fish for our meal. These will be deep fried and brought to our table.

Like the trip to the hawker centre I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, this eating spot is not for the faint hearted. Let’s just say the interior is not as sparkling as it should be, and leave it at that. Service can be extremely slow, but the waiters are quite friendly. They just like doing things at their own pace – being on holiday, it’s easier for us to take, but I wouldn’t recommend coming here if you’re in a hurry.

But the whole idea of banana leaf is to take it slow anyway. First, the “plate” is placed in front of you, then the waiters scoop the side dishes of the day onto the leaf. You get whatever has been prepared/ cooked that day – usually three different textures/styles. On the day we visited, we had some fried cabbage, a curried potato dish (I think it was potato), and some fresh cucumber salad with yoghurt.

This photo was actually taken at a different banana leaf sessiona at another restaurant. My photos from Kavitha's were a bit limited because I was concentrating very hard on digging into the food. Sorry. 

Then they bring over the rice, dishing it out until you tell them to stop. Next up, the curry sauce, usually a choice of chicken, fish or dhal, which is ladled over the mound of rice. There is no actual meat in it, just the sauce. Be warned, some places warm up the curry, others aren’t as diligent and it’s a little cold. This time, because it was close to lunch time, the curry was nice and warm.

Top: trio of curries. Bottom, complete rice set,  I'm a bit of a wuss with the curry, usually folks get lots more than this. Again, this wasn't a Kavitha's meal, this was somewhere else that we ate at. It was ok, but Kavitha's was better.

Finally they bring large crispy pappadums. We always ask for more, and if you have two charming little ones at the table, you might score quite a few more extra ☺ We also get a little plate of deep fried bitter-gourd chips and salted chillies.

Ahhh. this is definitely Kavitha's strong suit

By this time, the mains we’d ordered have also arrived. Piping hot chicken and fish, with a tasty spiced crust, and all the juices sealed in. Mmmmm…We’d also ordered a little dish of dry mutton curry (my absolute favourite), and spicy curried chicken. Oh, and the only way to eat banana leaf properly is to use your hand (preferably the right hand). Don't worry, there are sinks at which to wash up after :)

And this

And this

Depending on what you order, food can get a bit pricey. There is usually a set price for the rice, veges and sauce, then you pay extra for all the other things you order, like the deep fried dishes and the extra curry dishes. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what we paid for this meal, and this is not the sort of place that issues receipts either. I do remember thinking it was reasonable – not cheap but not exorbitant either.

After all that food, the only sensible thing to do is to roll home and have a siesta ☺.

All done. We still quibble over which way to fold the leaf. Some folks believe folding it away from you signifies warding off bad luck. Others believe folding it towards you means to invite good luck in. I believe fold it in such a way that food doesn't fall on you when the waiter clears the table :)

But a quick reminder before I head off. This Wednesday is the last date to get an entry into our Muhibbah Malaysian Monday blog event.

A quick recap of how to join:

The event open to EVERYONE!
It's all explained here, and the summary of the rules are:

1) ANYONE can join in – you don’t have to be Malaysian.

2) Post anything related to food and Malaysia, on a Monday (you can do a one-off, every week, or anywhere in between). It could be about food, drink, a restaurant review, a cookbook, an interesting ingredient, etc, etc.
(Edit: Please link back to either Test With Skewer or 3 Hungry Tummies in your entry, and also include the words "Muhibbah Monday" somewhere in the post. Thank you :) )

3) Send us your name, your post(s) name and post URL by the LAST Wednesday of the month. Please write Muhibbah Monday (#X) in the subject line (eg: it should read Muhibbah Monday #1 for this month). We will pull a photo off your post to use in our round-up.

4) Suresh (sureshchong[at]yahoo[dot]com) and I (its[dot]sharon[at]gmail[dot]com) will take turns to host, and we will let you know where to send each month’s entry. If you would like to take a turn at hosting, do send us an email.

5) On the first Monday of every month, a round up of all the entries will be posted on the host’s blog.

That’s about it.
Mari masak, minum, main bersama-sama! (Let’s cook, eat, drink and play together).
Muhibbbah = Goodwill

Grab a badge if you like

Hope you have a great start to the week.

Warm me up, please! (a gluten free post, I think)

Friday, July 23, 2010

If I was a puppy dog, I’d be pretty healthy right now, because my nose is so cold!*

In fact, I’m chilly all over. The weather has been (insert appropriate swear word here) freezing!

Admittedly, I spent the first 25 years of my life in a tropical country, and I whinge when the thermometer dips under 20˚C, but believe me, I’m not the only one complaining around here.

Of course, when faced with extreme conditions, my brain starts obsessing about food. Yours doesn’t? Oh…

Anyhow, I couldn’t stop visions of gooey, warm chocolate fondants from dancing in my head. You know, those pudding type desserts with the melty centres? I’d never baked them before, under the false assumption that they were very tricky to make. But a quick web search later, I’d found a recipe by a certain Mr. Ramsay, and it looked pretty do-able.

Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I decided to make them gluten free and flavoured with ginger.

Mmmmm, they worked a treat, and exactly what I needed. They were warm, and oh so rich and chocolatey, with an extra touch of spicy heat from the ginger. A luscious warm ginger-caramel sauce poured over the top lifted it to “lick the plate” level.

I don’t think anyone would have guessed they contained no gluten. At least I think they were gluten free, since I wasn’t too diligent about checking the labels on the cocoa powder and chocolate. The thing is, if I’d accidentally allowed a bit of gluten into the pudding, my family and I wouldn’t have really been affected. Our bodies can deal with it, unlike coeliacs or people with a gluten intolerance.

Which brings me to the heart of this post. I was contacted by a nice PR person, who informed me that the Coeliac Society of NSW will be hosting the 6th annual Gluten Free Expo on Friday 6th August and Saturday 7th August at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park. The expo is a free event for the public, and there will be gluten free products on sale, plus the odd tasting or two. You can also listen to informative talks and seminars, or watch live cooking demonstrations. Here’s the website for the event:

So put that it your diary for next weekend, if you’re interested in all things gluten-free.

Have a lovely weekend, and keep warm!

(Northern hemisphereans, don’t rub it in by telling me how it’s so hot the only way you can cool down is by lying at the beach all day)

*apparently this is just a myth, but I needed an effective opening for my post. Call it creative license.

Ginger caramel sauce
100ml pouring cream
a ginger chunk (thumb sized), peeled
½ cup caster sugar
a few tablespoons water

pastry brush for washing down

A few hours before, or overnight, scald the cream with the ginger chunk. Take off heat and leave to cool, then store covered in fridge.

When ready to make sauce, bring cream back to room temperature. A skin had formed over my cream, I just stirred it back in, didn’t seem to affect the final product.

Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Shake saucepan lightly from time to time to make sure the sugar has melted. Cook over medium high heat until the sugar turns golden brown. Use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides, to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Do this as often as needed.

When sugar is golden, remove from heat, pour in the cream (remove the ginger chunk first), and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. If lumps if sugar remain, just put back over low heat and stir until smooth.

Set aside until needed.

“I think it’s gluten-free” Ginger, hazelnut chocolate fondants.
(These are the ratios I used, for the method, go here.)

The puddings weren’t as liquid as some I’ve seen, and I think this was caused by the hazelnut meal, or maybe it was the rice flour. But it still “oozed” beautifully, and there was definitely a contrast between the “outside” and “inside” of the puddings.

70g hazelnut meal (I bought this ready ground)
125g good quality dark chocolate (I used one with 85% cocoa solids)
100g butter
100g caster sugar
30g rice flour
about ¾ tsp ground ginger (or adjust to taste)
2egg yolks
melted butter for brushing
cocoa powder for dusting

glace ginger to decorate (optional)

Method: Follow the website link above.
Notes: When brushing the ramekins with the second coat of butter, then dusting with cocoa powder, best do this one ramekin at a time, otherwise the butter solidifies because of the cold ramekin.

Serve the fondants with the caramel sauce and a piece of glace ginger on top.

Guest post: Mr Kitchen Hand goes to New York City

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

(You’ve heard about the man behind the scenes often enough, now I’ve finally let him out of the kitchen ☺ He couldn’t take me to New York, so I made him write about it instead.)

 When you’re in the big apple, you take a big bite.

When I first learnt my office was about to send me to New York for a week, I was thrilled. Until I received the list of places I had to visit and things I had to ingest in order to satisfy Ms Skewer’s vicarious travel lust.

I’m not as in love with cooking as The Skewer (I worked out my spot in the food chain fairly early on in life), but I love a good meal as much as the next guy, and found NYC to be over-run with opportunities to make a pre-emptive strike against hunger.

Probably the highlight for me was brunch. An expat American colleague had been regaling me with tales of this legendary NY pursuit (I hear they are lobbying the IOC pretty hard to have it included in the 2016 summer Olympics) and I was keen to try and find a ‘locals-only’ kind of spot. So Ms Skewer sleuthed through the Time Out brunch recommendations and sent me to a place in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, called Char No.4.

 Jet lag woke me far too early on a Sunday, so I took a stroll through central Park, grabbed an iced coffee and madeline from the Bouchon at Columbus Circle (am I missing something here? What is the fuss with this place?), took a deep breath and went down into the subway.

For a kid from Australia, a visit to NYC is just like stepping into a 1980’s episode of Sesame St, and the subway brought home the faux televised nostalgia in a big way. I set the playlist to The Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ while the F train took me to Brooklyn, where I found the people were, by and large, still getting out of bed. So I strolled some more while watching the farmers market and a street fair set up in the already-stifling heat.

The good folk at Char offered me a seat at the bar (this is possibly America’s greatest contribution to dining - what a practical yet sophisticated option) and I ordered up their Prix Fixe Brunch while marvelling at probably the biggest single collection of bourbons I’ve ever seen. Oh, man, if only they were rums.

Woe betide anyone who orders a G&T @ Char #4

The menu read: House smoked brown sugar ham / Poached egg / Crispy potatoes with green onion &  garlic / Buttermilk biscuit with homemade jam / Brown butter applesauce, and came with fresh orange juice and coffee. Sound good? You have no idea how accurately it hit the spot. The applesauce was sweet and a little tangy and the biscuits were a revelation. I substituted the alleged coffee for a schooner of Brooklyn Wiess (not a million miles from Hoegaarden, in it’s citrus-clove effervescence), which helped just a little.

That’s Sunday morning heaven on a Brooklyn plate.

Char No.4 itself is a stylish yet relaxed spot (at least in the calm before it gets completely swamped by the bugaboo logjam of newly-minted Brooklyn parents) and it probably gets good at night. But I had to go – I was on a mission to walk the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan, in time for work (Yes! I know! On a Sunday!).

New York: your bagels were as good as you promised, your pretzels eye-wateringly salty, your pizza by the slice a godsend, and the pastrami on rye from Katz’s Deli was a landmark in it’s own right.

 Where Harry met a recently slaughtered herd of buffalo, apparently.(Katz's Deli Pastrami on Rye)

How can something that looks like this taste so bloody good?!? (Language! Mr. Kitchen Hand. Tsk, tsk)

A very well-travelled work colleague reckoned the appetiser she ate at the bar (yes, there’s that stunningly good idea again) of Perilla in Greenwich Village was in her top 5 of all time.

But, man, have you got some work to do on the coffee front. Apart from a couple of little hole-in-the-wall, locals-only places an extremely helpful colleague (and Hell’s Kitchen resident) led me to, the coffee in New York was every bit as bad as everyone told me it was going to be.

But you know what, NYC? I’ll forgive you.

Look! There it is! Actual real coffee in Noo Yawk Citee! Take a leaf out of B Koffie’s book, people. It’s not rocket surgery.

Thank you Mr. Kitchen Hand. oh look, loot!

Malaysian Monday 43:Beehive Cake/ Honeybee Cake (Kuih Sarang Semut)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hi everyone, how was the weekend?

We had a burst of glorious picnic weather, so I left off making something for Malaysian Monday until late on Sunday. As it turned out, I should have started earlier, as it took two attempts to get an almost-right result.

I was attempting to make something called Beehive cake, also known as Kuih Sarang Semut (ant’s nest cake). This cake has an interesting texture – it is dense, chewy, and moist all at the same time. Its appearance is also very distinct, full of tunnels and holes, hence the name.

I’d found a recipe in mum’s handwritten collection, and I as soon as I’d read it, I wondered if I would get a good result. Should have trusted my instincts.

See, Mum has a bit of a system - good recipes are usually marked with a tick, ones that don’t work are crossed out with the words “No Good” scrawled across them. Sometimes, she made annotations or wrote alternate instructions in the margins. This recipe was pristine, meaning she probably never got around to trying it out.  Also, the recipe called for baking powder, and I was quite sure baking soda was needed for this cake.

But since I had to start somewhere, I halved the ingredients, then followed the instructions to the letter, and ended up with just normal cake, Quite tasty cake since there was caramel and condensed milk involved, but completely unlike the cake I was attempting.

This is not the cake you're looking for

Scratch that recipe! (literally).

I then did what any self-respecting food blogger would do.  Google. Which is how I found Sunflower’s blog and a recipe, complete with successful photo of my desired cake. The ingredient list and ratios were quite similar to my original recipe, but the method was completely different.

Again, I halved the recipe, and used a loaf tin, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.

Yay, I got a whole lot of holes! The cake should really have more holes than this, so I’m not quite sure where I went wrong. Perhaps, I didn’t let the batter sit for long enough, or perhaps the baking soda was old.

Never mind, at least it tasted good – a strong caramel flavour without being overly sweet. Perfect for packing into school lunchboxes ☺ Happy back to school and have a great start to the week!

Don’t forget, 3 Hungry Tummies and I have started a blog event called Muhibbah Malaysian Monday and we’d love for you to join us. This link will tell you more. Speaking of links, do remember to link back to us and mention the words Muhibbah Malaysian Monday somewhere in the post. Thank you!

Electrolux #splits: A cupful for a cause

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Here comes the weekend! How about some ice-cream? To be perfectly honest, ice-cream doesn’t excite me all that much. Different story for the rest of the family though, they’re the ones who eat ice-cream in winter - which it currently is…brrrrrr.

But, I’ll serve up a sundae for a good cause ☺.

Don’t be surprised if you suddenly see plenty of banana splits popping up all over blogland. Foodbuzz is organizing a Top 9 Takeover, and on Monday, all Top 9 featured posts will be about the same theme: (yup, you guessed it) banana splits.


To help raise money for Ovarian Cancer Research, and the Ovarian Cancer Research fund.

You can join in and help too, by following this link to the Kelly Confidential website.

So, here’s my attempt at an unconventional banana split.

Since I was short on time, I used store bought ice-cream, but I did make one component of my banana split from scratch.

The bananas.

Yes, yes, I know, a banana split is supposed to be made up of a split banana, but I’ve always found the combination of raw banana and ice-cream a bit boring. So I made a sort of caramelized banana thingy to go with the scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice- cream.

It’s pretty simple to make the caramelized banana. First slice a banana into rounds, drizzle with lemon juice if you don’t like it going brown. Heat about a tablespoon of butter in a small nonstick frying pan, add the bananas and cook carefully on one side, then gently turn them all over and cook on the other side. Once they start to soften and look cooked, sprinkle with some brown sugar (adjust to taste) and shake the pan lightly to get the sugar, banana juices and butter to mingle. You should end up with soft golden-brown banana pieces in a sticky sauce. Leave to cool before using with ice-cream.

Then I added some coconut chips, melted chocolate, whipped cream and a cherry on top to create my version the famous split. And you know what I reckon would go well with this? Maybe a teeny splash of rum. It is the weekend after all. Have a good one.

Foodbuzz will donate $50 (up to $5,000) for every Banana Splits post by a Featured Publisher, posted by Friday 16th.

I suggest a new strategy. Let the cookie win.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A long time ago,
in a galaxy not too far away,
a rebel spy returned with secret plans
for the ultimate snack.

 Actually, the “spy” just bought some pretty nifty cookie cutters from Williams Sonoma.

I’d first seen them over at Dessert Girl’s blog, and I immediately earmarked them as a “must-have souvenir”. Luckily, Mr. Kitchen Hand was more than obliging on his recent trip to New York, and I was soon the proud owner of a Stormtrooper, Darth, Bobba Fett and Yoda. Question: why is there only one good guy in the pack? Is it because we feel better about eating the baddies?

Of course, I needed to test these as soon as possible. According to the recipe that came in the box, the dough makes 24 cookies. However, I like my cookies with a bit of snap,  so I made them thinner than suggested and  ended up with about 36. I won’t post the recipe because it’s very similar to a sugar cookie recipe, and I’m sure you’ll either have your own favourite version, or can find one pretty easily. For the icing, I used a royal icing powder available from cake decorating suppliers.

This is the first time I’ve used an ejector-style cookie cutter, and I have to say these are fantastic. I love how the features of the characters are really clearly marked on the cookie. However, make sure you work with very cold dough, and put them into the oven as soon as they’ve been cut out. If the dough warms up too much, the features don’t stay as sharp when baked.

The cutters worked better when dipped in flour, to prvent the dough from sticking too much. I also found it useful to have a skewer, or toothpick, and a dry pastry brush on hand to clean the cutters as I went.

As you can see, I had heaps of fun decorating the cookies.

 I used the run out technique to decorate the cookies. Using royal icing, pipe around the edges of the cookies, and any features you don't want filled in. Then thin down the royal icing until it flows well (but not too watery or it will end up looking veyr patchy) and fill the large areas in. This can be done using a piping bag (neater) or a teaspoon (lazy version). Guess which I used?

And taking photos of them.

 "You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny."

 Where's a wookie when you need one?

Eat you, I must

The MC's had a crack at decorating too:
 Stormtrooper meets Hello Kitty. (sorry, I had Yoda upside down in this shot!)

Did I mention that Mr. Kitchen Hand paid a visit to MoMA?

But we probably had the most fun eating them!

And just so you know, I'm not the only one with a Star Wars fixation :)