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A case for the cauliflower

12 Sep

The cauliflower is not a favourite vegetable among most of my friends. Except perhaps when it is coated in a spicy chilli-flavoured batter and deep-fried. Anything deep-fried is nice, after all. But on the rare occasion when there is a when there is a cauliflower on the table, I find myself the only one excited. What’s not to love? Crunchy or soft, the cauliflower is truly  adaptable. Honest. It’s wonderful in a curry/masala as it absorbs the flavours well. As mentioned above, its delicious when deep-fried (after dousing it in boiling water to soften it a little). It’s nice au Gratin too. I even like it steamed (with broccoli and corn) and seasoned with just salt and pepper. But what I really like is mashed-roasted cauliflower! It’s way better (and healthier) than mashed potatoes – yes, even better than the Colonel’s mash.

I decided to test out my theory (that mashed cauliflower beats mashed potato) on some cauliflower hating friends. I didn’t reveal the main ingredient of the dish as, all mashed up, it kinda looked like potatoes anyway.

No Andy Warhol magic needed.

Here’s what I did. First, I steamed the cauliflower till it was nice and soft — about 20 mins. Then, I mashed it with a fork. Easy.

Preheated my oven to 180C.

Next, in a small pan I melted some butter and  sautéed some garlic, minced fine. I added the mashed cauliflower and added about 1/4 cup milk (or cream if you prefer). I let the mixture simmer (low heat) till there was no more liquid and then I added about 1/2 cup cheddar.

I then seasoned it with salt and pepper. As the cheddar was pretty strong, I didn’t need that much salt.

After about 2-3 minutes, I transferred the mash into a bake-safe dish, sprinkled some cheese on top and let it bake in the oven for about 10-15 mins or till the top began to get golden.

Remove, scoop out, garnish with coriander and serve.

OK, the results. My  unsuspecting dinner guests loved the mash but they also kinda guessed it wasn’t mashed potatoes. They were not able to guess what it was though. the nuttiness of the boiled and then roasted cauliflower kinda made them think they were eating mashed beans — they weren’t too thrilled at this thought. When I revealed what it was, there was silence. No, they didn’t become cauliflower converts but admitted that they wouldn’t mind seconds of my mash.

I’d call it a success. After all, they ate so much I had to chance to help myself to seconds! Backfired? Perhaps!

Twisted and loopy

11 Sep


I love soft, flavourful breads. All breads are flavourful, you may argue. Well, most home-made breads are indeed flavourful but I find that  store-bought breads are mostly pretty bland and have no character (I am talking about the loafs that are pre-packed and have a 2-week shelf life!).  Since I successfully baked my first loaf about seven months ago, I think I’ve eaten store-bought bread less than five times. Why buy when you can bake, right? Sure, baking takes time (unless you have a bread machine — but where’s the fun in that?). Also, baking my own bread means I can add any herb/nut/grain/seasoning I like depending on my mood.  Now that’s really  swell especially since I love herb buns and they’re not that easily available in stores.

So, anyway. I was in the mood for some bread making and was mentally going through a list of breads I could possibly make. What about Pretzels? I’ve never made them before even though I’ve read quite a few recipes and articles about making a good pretzel. Why not? I was feeling relaxed (a  four-day weekend would get anyone to relax, right) and adventurous. So, why not?

Usually whenever I get a craving for pretzels (not very often, thankfully) I head over  to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels for a sour-cream and onion or cinnamon flavoured knot.  I like em. So the question is, could I make mine as nice?

I used a recipe I had earlier bookmarked from thefreshloaf.com, a great resource of you like making bread. I intended to make the  Laugenbrezel or the Lye Pretzel — a basic pretzel that is first dipped in boiling water+ a drop of Lye and then baked. The recipe on thefreshloaf however skips the lye bath, deeming it unnecessary for homemade pretzels. Ok, great. Am all for skipping a lye bath for it kind of reminds me of a tic bath I have to administer on my dog, Mojo, from time to time. Urrgh.

As it turned out, my pretzels weren’t as pretty as auntie anne’s but they were really tasty. Especially the ones with grated cheese topping. Not bad (pat on back, pat on back) 🙂

Home made pretzels

(from thefreshloaf.com)

Makes 6 large pretzels
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees)

1 egg (for egg wash)

1 saucepan boiling water

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer and mix until the dough forms a ball. Use 2 cups of  flour first and add more, if necessary. I used a little less than 21/2 cups. Mix it for about five mins on low speed (speed 2 on my Kenwood) and then anpther 5-7 mins on 4 until the dough is all smooth and shiny.

Remove the dough and form into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise till double the size, about an hour.

Degas the dough gently and then transfer onto a work surface.

Preheat your  oven to 220C.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one into a short log, cover with a towel and let the dough relax for 5 to 10 minutes. This makes it easier to  roll it out and stretch it.

Roll each log into long ropes about as thick as your index finger, 15cm in length. You may have to let it rest as you roll/shape them.

To shape the pretzel, form the dough into a”U”. Cross the ends and cross them again. They fold the crossed ends downwards. Confused? Check out THIS site for guidance.

Once all 6 have been shaped, bring a saucepan of water to boil.

Now, using either two metal spatulas or a big wire strainer (the kind you use to deep fry stuff) dip each pretzel in the boiling water (one by one) for about 10 seconds. Drain and place on a baking sheet.

Brush each one with egg wash and sprinkle with salt and any topping of your choice: poppy seed, sesame seeds, nuts, onion powder, grated parmesan, etc.

Bake for about 15 mins or till nice and golden.

Eat it while its hot!

Cloudy with NO chance of meatballs.

12 Aug

Neatballs? I went online to see the kitchen exploits of fellow vegetarian cooks and came across several sites featuring recipes for Neatballs. One click later and I realised neatballs is a term that’s been coined for vegan meatballs.

Why “Neat”?  Well, the “N” represents the “normal” ingredients that go into a neatball. Normal as in common, everyday, easy to find ingredients. Seriously?

A neatball is really a new-fangled way of saying vegetarian or vegan koftas. Instead of ground meat as the base, vegetarians use beans, tofu, nuts, mushrooms, eggplant or pulses as the base for their balls/cutlets. The different base ingredients determine not only the taste of your cutlet but also the texture. Using eggplant, for example, will yield you a smooth, soft cutlet while a nut-bean combo will give you a rough, crunchy texture. Mushrooms, of course, make anything taste good 🙂

Mushrooms are my favourite base ingredient for vegetarian koftas. And, unlike most recipes using mushroom, with koftas, I find the stems more useful than the caps so I buy the king oyster mushrooms (the one where the stems are at least a couple of inches thick and the caps are tiny and pale) and mix them with some shitake (stems and caps). The stems give you the koftas a kind of toughness you won’t find with most vegetables.

I drained the mushrooms (about 2 cups)  and roughly chopped them up. Next, I seasoned them with just salt and pepper and dry roasted them for about 30 mins (150C). Let them cool.

Once cool, mix the caps with other ingredients of choice: I used walnuts (1/4 cup), some carrots (1/2 cup), parsley (a handful, chopped) and eggplant (1/2 cup, lightly roasted) and blend them till they are slightly pureed — allow for some chunkiness. Add some mash potato (1 potato) and breadcrumbs (just 1/2 cup, optional) and season with oregano, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Roll into balls, and you’re set.

Bake at 180C for 20 mins or till they’re nice and browned. I cooked my koftas in a tomato-based stew and ate it with spaghetti but I kept several aside to eat on their own for my dinner tomorrow. They’re that tasty ..

Cereal killer

26 Jul

I was inspired by crack (pie). Haven’t heard of crack pie? Well neither had I until my colleague and fellow blogger Marty brought a deliciously sinful plate of pie to work and declared that it was called Crack Pie.

A Momofuku creation, Crack Pie is essentially all butter and sugar on a homemade oatmeal crust (read more here). Oh Marty, how you tempt me. She  made the pie to collaborate with another colleague and fellow blogger, The Hungry Caterpillar who was doing a review of the Momofuku cookbook. This is beginning to sound all too confusing isn’t it? Simply put, I jumped on the Momofuku bandwagon minutes after perusing the book and corresponding website. You will too, if you dare to check it out.

So anyway, I was attracted to the Cereal milk panna cotta recipe. Why did I find it so appealing? Firstly, the idea of using cereal milk — not the cereal itself mind you, just the milk you steep them in — was intriguing.  The pana cotta itself uses very little sugar — less than a tbsp — so the flavour is really from the cereal.  A breakfast dessert if you will.

Now the other attraction to this recipe is the garnishes: caramelised corn flakes and a slab of home-modified chocolate dubbed, the Chocolate Hazelnut Thing (chocolate with hazelnut praline and caramelised cornflakes in it — oh yum).

I have to apologise for my picture which barely does any justice to the recipe. To see a more aestheically pleasing version of the dessert, click HERE.

The panna cotta is also served with an avocado puree but I prefered mine without it.

Here’s how you do it. Be warned, there are more than a couple of steps to the recipe but they’re really easy to follow and pretty quick to execute.

Cereal panna cotta

First, toast  4 cups of corn flakes lightly in the oven (150C) for about 10 to 15 mins. Then, mix 2 cups of milk with 2 cups of heavy cream in a bowl. Add the cups of cereal to the milk + cream mixture and steep for 45 mins. Now, strain the milk from the cereal (get as much of the milk out). Now, add 3/4 tbsp  sugar and a pinch of salt to the milk heat the milk+cream mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves. Keep stirring.

Set aside 1 tbsp agar agar flakes or 1/2 tbsp agar agar powder in a bowl. As the milk+cream+sugar heats up, ladle some of it into the bowl with the agar-agar and let it dissolve. Once done, whisk soaked gelatin back into remaining milk + cream mixture. Strain the mixture so that any undissolved bits of agar agar or sugar are containes and pour the liquid into wither ramekins or wine/cocktail glasses. Refrigerate until set (at least 2 hours).

Chocolate hazelnut thing

Part A: Caramelised corn flakes

Mix 1 cup of corn flakes + 2 tbsp sugar + 2 tbsp millk powder. Spread the coated flakes out on a tray and bake (120C) for about 15 mins or until it’s a deep golden colour. Set aside.

Part B: Hazelnut Praline

Roast 1/2 cup skinned hazelnuts till they’re nice and toasty. Set aside.  Heat 3/4 cup sugar on the stove (low heat) until it melts and becomes a syrup. Add the nuts and stir the mix so the nuts are nicely coated. Turn off and let the sugar+nuts cool.

Blend or pound the mixture  to a paste/powder. Set aside.

Part 3: Melting the chocolate and assembling all parts

Choose a choclate of your choice: plain or one with a nutty flavour would be good. Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl over simmering water. Once melted, add the praline and caramelised corn flakes and spread the mixture on a tray. (I kept aside some of the praline  powder to sprinkle on the panna cotta seperately). Freeze till it sets and break it up into pieces.

Once the panna cotta and the chocolate are set, it’s time to put the sum of all parts together and enjoy the fruit of your labour 🙂

Guarding my cuppa (corn)

19 Jul

Corn is one of my all-time  favourite comfort food. Simple steamed sweet corn, seasoned with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of herbs and eaten out of a cup in front of the TV.  It has to be that way, only then is it my perfect comfort indulgence.

Strangely, I haven’t much eaten steamed corn in a while. It’s not that everything’s all hunky dory with my life; more like I’ve been too spoilt for choice these days and consumed by my newfound hobby: baking.

Still, you never can forget true love and it took very little to jog my taste buds into attention. Last Friday, after watching the almost unbearable new Predators flick starrting Adrien Brody (this is totally my opinion, of course), I was feeling completely unfulfilled. Wish Arnie would stop mucking about and get back to Hollywood already. Anyways, as I was walking petulantly down to the carpark, I spotted a food stall selling steamed sweet corn. Now, steamed sweet corn as a “fast food” snack emerged sometime in the late 1980s. Back then, a cup was only RM1. This little stall was selling a really small cup for RM3.5o. Sure, there were many flavours (compared to thos days when the choice of seasoning was only salt and pepper. This exhorbitant corn had several choices of flavours: original (salt), lemon and pepper, cheese and lemon and chilli.

I stuck to the original. Not because I lack a sense of adventure but rather, I’ve learnt that when it comes to corn, it doesn’t pay to be adventurous. A couple of years ago while traveling in India, I tried a local version of steamed corn: masala (mixed spice) corn. It wasn’t vile but I vowed never to try exotic flavoured corn. The masala spices overpowered the natural flavour of the sweet corn and I tasted all spice and no corn.

From then, corn went only with salt and pepper … and melted butter, of course. Last night, I decided to throw caution to the wind (am exagerating, come on!) and added some fresh thyme to the corn once it had steamed. Lovely. So for now, subtle hints of herbs are an accepted extra to my cuppa sweet corn.

A case for mushrooms

19 Jul

I have way too many cookbooks. Some of these cookbooks I inherited but most of them I bought. I have so many that there are some I haven’t used — sure, I’ve browsed through them but haven’t tested the recipes.

Since we started reviewing cookbooks for Don’t Call Me Chef column in StarTwo (together with Marty Thyme and The Hungry Caterpillar), I’ve accumulated even more cookbooks. Yowza!

So, for today’s review, I decided to unearth a cookbook I bought about six months ago at a book sale dubbed the Big Bad Wolf sale: the Good Housekeeping Step-By-Step Cookbook. The 460-odd paged book is an essential for beginner cooks as it has step-by-step instructions on basic but fundamental cooking techniques with recipes to accompany.

But it is also a keeper for those of us who know a little about cooking and are  learning: especially Asian cooks who need to know the fundamentals of western cooking styles using Western flavouring.

From jams to pot roasts, chocolate brownies to paella, the cook book is replete with recipes to try out. For the column in the newspaper, I tested two recipes, one for herbed butter and another for a basic lemon cheesecake. Read the full review and get the recipes HERE.

Having tried the two recipes, I wasn’t quite done with the book. There were several other recipes I wanted to try: tomato sauce, chilli sauce, the sweet mocha bread (which looked divine), the chocolate chip cookies (if this book could guide me to baking great cookies, it’s definitely gold-star worthy as I am hopeless at cookies) and many more.

I started with the recipe for Mushroom Baskets simply because I love mushrooms and had some on hand.  They’re really tasty (you can’t really go wrong with mushrooms) and though the baskets in the recipe are individual meal-sized portions, they’d make really good canapés if you make downsize them to tartlets.

There are just two steps to these baskets: Step 1 is making and pre- baking the pastry and Step 2 is making the mushroom filling.

Pastry

250 g plain flour

150g chilled butter, cubed

1 large egg

Crumble the butter in the flour till it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add egg and mix (by hand or pulse in a food processor) till the mixture comes together. Knead lightly on a floured surface and shape into six balls. Wrap and chill for 30 mins. Once chilled, roll the pastry out on a floured work surface (big enough to fully line the tart tins) and line the tins (loose based tart tins are recommended) . Prick the base with a fork and chill for 20mins. Heat the oven to 200C. Line the base of the cases with parchment paper and fill with beans. Blind bake for 10 mins. Remove the beans and bake for a further 5 mins or till cooked. reduce oven temp to 180C.

Making the filling

15g dried mushroom

50g butter

2 onions, finely chopped

450g mixed mushrooms, sliced

1 clove garlic, cruched

300 ml med-dry sherry (I used red wine)

250 gm double cream

salt and ground black pepper

fresh thyme to garnish

Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 10 mins. Heat the butter in a pan and add the onions. Cook for 10 mins. Add the fresh mushrooms and garlic and cook for 5 mins. Remove from pan and set aside.

Put the dried mushrooms and the liquid (about a cup) in a pan with the sherry. Bring to a boil, bubble for 10 mins and add the cream. Cook till it becomes syrupy.

To serve

Put the pastry cases in the oven to heat them up, about 5 mins. Add the cooked fresh mushrooms to the sauce  and season on low heat. Pour into cases and garnish with thyme.

Do you roll with bananas?

11 Jul

It’s strange. I don’t quite like eating bananas but give me banana cake or bread and I’d gladly gobble it up. But, being a fussy eater, even with banana breads and cakes I prefer it when the taste of the fruit is not all empowering and is instead tempered  with spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. I’ve made banana bread before but I wasn’t quite satisfied because though tasty, it tasted suspiciously like cake. I have been on the lookout  for an alternate recipe. So, when I spotted a recipe for a yeasted banana bread on My Diverse Kitchen, one that seemed more bread than cake — i.e very little sugar and a moderate measure of banana, my curiosity was piqued. Actually, more like my greed. My hopes and expectation were high as the picture of the rolls depicted  on My Diverse Kitchen was tantalising.

So, I actually made it a point to get up real early on Saturday (to beat the traffic at the morning market — believe it or not, it gets insane after 730am!) and got myself a bunch of ripe bananas: I chose the small, sweet pisang mas because I think they cook  well.  I had all the other ingredients in my pantry already: all purpose flour, cardamom, butter, salt, sugar and yeast so I was all set.

I followed the recipe to a T, with one exception: I used instant yeast instead of active dry yeast —  a small inconsequential adjustment. The recipe was easy enough to follow but let me caution you: it takes about 3 hours to make these rolls. You need to allow the dough to rise twice and the first rise is for 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. Anyhow, it was worth the time. The rolls turned out well. They were soft and fluffy and just a little moist. And, it looked like a football/soccer ball! How apt that the World Cup final starts in less than 6 hours!

The only problem was that I could hardly taste the banana; they tasted too much like dinner rolls. Delicious dinner rolls, no doubt,  but where’d the taste of the cup full of mashed banana go? Perhaps the bananas I bought weren’t sweet enough…

Told you I was fussy. No  matter, I finished the eight rolls the recipe yielded with the help of a couple of  friends and guess what I did? I  decided to give it another go, adding more banana this time around. After all,  I reasoned, I wasn’t going to eat the remaining fruit in a hurry …

Instead of 1 cup of mashed bananas, I used close to 2 cups. I added a bit more cardamom and a little nutmeg too. This time, it was just  perfect.

Here’s the recipe.

31/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup lukewarm water (plus a bit more, in case)
½ cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup banana, mashed
1/2 tsp  cardamom powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
Melted butter for brushing on rolls once they’re out of the oven

Whisk together the banana, water, buttermilk, yeast, salt, sugar, cardamom,  nutmeg and butter in the bowl of your stand mixer till all the ingredients are well incorporated. Fix the dough hook attachment  and,  adding the  flour in two batches, mix  the wet and dry ingredients till a dough forms, about 5 mins. The dough should be sticky and moist.

Remover the bowl from the mixer and cover with a damp cloth. Let it sit in a warm spot, allowing the dough to rise for about 2 hours. It should double it’s size and deflate. If it hasn’t deflated, de-gas it gently after the two hours are up.

Flouring your hands, gently form balls (the size is up to you; mine were half the size of a tennis ball) and arrange them (touching each other) in an 8-inch round cake tin.The balls need to be the same size: they look prettier and will cook more evenly.  Cover and let the dough balls rise again for about 30 -45 mins. Bake at 180C for 30 to 40 mins or till the tops are golden.

For soft rolls, brush the top with melted butter once you’ve taken them out of the oven. Set aside to cool. Best eaten warm.