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The Challenge is here

>> Monday, July 30, 2007

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Most of you may have heard of a group called The Daring Bakers, which consists of baking enthusiasts in the blog world. Each month, there is a baking challenge for every member to accomplish. These are real challenges that perhaps only the very daring home bakers will take on. Am I exaggerating too much? Not at all! Proof: please visit all fellow daring bakers and see for yourself!

Anyway, I am proud to be included in this month challenge, which is hosted by the talented Peabody of Culinary Concoction. She has chosen a marvelous challenge for all of us – A Strawberry Mirror Cake. Truth to be told, when I first read about this during my holiday in Sydney, I almost fainted. I used to have very bad experience with any type of sponge cake, let alone a mousse cake with the mirror topping. The recipe did sound long and complicated, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it…
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But then, after the hectic at work and study was settled, I did find some time to make the cake. It was done mostly at night over three days. Most of the time, however, was for the cake to settle in the fridge.

Contrast with my worry, the sponge cake itself turned out all right. Reading the instructions and tips from other daring bakers really helped (thanks guys!). After the cake was done, everything else was pretty smooth. The Bavarian cream set wonderfully and so did the mirror topping.

However, I did make some mistakes during the assembling process. Adapting and scaling the recipe to fit my mini ring, I miscalculated a little (my work involves math you know?) and ended up with a lot of leftover Bavarian cram. But the strawberry cream was so delicious that I and my flatmate didn’t waste a single bit. We had it as filling for our pancakes and it was marvelous!
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I am really happy with this cake. Firstly, it is so pretty! Secondly, it tastes fantastic. The flavour of strawberry really comes through, providing a very refreshing taste to the mousse. This would be a perfect choice for summer party.

You also have noticed that I served my cake with some dusted cocoa powder. Initially, I intended to make some chocolate sauce instead. However, the sauce may be too rich and sweet for this. Pure cocoa powder is much better choice. It gives a light contrast and lifts the flavors of the whole cake without overpowering the fruitiness. There are pieces of dark chocolate here or there to tease the palate a little, too.

If you are looking for the recipe, please head over to Culinary Concoction (I’ll link to the recipe when Peabody posts it).
Please don’t forget to visit other daring bakers’ blog to see their showcase of this marvelous cake. You can find the list of all Daring Bakers here.
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Looking to the Bright Side

>> Friday, July 27, 2007

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The last few days have been quite hectic for me. I was on an emotional ride about certain issues and at times did not know what to do. But life goes on and I have regained the calmness and confidence to face the challenged ahead. And of course, there are things to look forward to. Next week I will go and see The Phantom of the Opera in theatre. This is a dream come true since I have always loved the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is also a very sweet early birthday present from my love, Mr. Bee…

See, there are always sweet things in life. And sometimes we can make it ourselves by jumping into the kitchen and bake. For me, the reward for a busy week is very rich sweet dough, followed by a very wicked apple and custard loaf. You know, I do have great liking for buttery pastries and tarts. They always make me happy and satisfied. So making one in a while is quite natural.

But this is not like any normal sweet dough. What you see in this post is the left over from the dough I used for the apple and custard loaf, which will be up soon. This particular dough is the tastiest I have ever made, and I do mean it. With a lot of cream and butter, it’s definitely buttery and creamy. But the secret of the dough is the use of a natural leaven (wild yeast) and a tiny amount of commercial yeast. If you have made/tasted sourdough, you should know that wild yeast makes great breads. I can really go wild for them! The commercial yeast, on the other hand, quickens things up and produces tender crumbs. Together with flour, eggs and sugar, everything makes incredible sweet yeasted butter dough.

I will post the marvelous apple and custard loaf soon, but the leftover dough makes the most beautiful sweet bread! The crumb is soft and sort of melt in your mouth. And if it is healthier, I won’t mind having it everyday for breakfast.

Right, rich and creamy things make me happy. How about you? What food can lift up your mood on a rainy day?

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Dan Lepard’s Sweet Butter Dough

From this book

Ingredients

2½ tsp fresh yeast (halve the amount if using dry yeast)

1 egg

2 egg yolk

125g castor sugar

500g plain flour

200g white leaven (follow link for recipe)

125g single cream

1¼ tsp sea salt

175g unsalted butter, cut into pieces and allow to soften

Method

Combine yeast with egg and yolks and some sugar. Mix in all the other ingredients except for butter and knead thoroughly. Cover and leave for 10 mins.

Put butter pieces on top of the dough and work them into the dough. Knead on a lightly-oiled surface for 5 mins or until the butter is incorporated and the dough is smooth. Knead into a ball and place in a large container. Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least 18 hours.

Making into sweet bread

This is what I did for the left over dough (about 1/3-1/2 the amount above) from my other loaf.

Roll the left over dough into a loaf tin, and let it rise until doubled in size. After that, bake in pre-heated 200C oven until done.

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Inspiration

>> Tuesday, July 24, 2007

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After pho, banh my is perhaps the second most popular Vietnamese food in the western world. Banh my simply refers to short Vietnamese baguette which is normally packed with BBQ meat, Vietnamese pâté, herbs and pickled vegetables. Fresh, tasty and amazingly cheap, it is a popular lunch (and even breakfast) for a lot of people. Surprisingly enough, banh my wasn’t my thing until recently. As a kid, my parents actually banned me from touching it simply because the Vietnamese pâté was normally made from inferior meat (Think hot dog and you will get the idea). To make it worse, the Hanoi version is kinda boring – you normally just have ghee, pate, some slices of cucumber as filling. I would rather eat the baguette plain than chewing on those things! But a trip to southern Vietnam changed my view. The southern version is what you normally get in the west today, full flavors and aroma. No, I still won’t touch the pâté, but everything else is delicious and complete.

With such delicious memories for banh my, when I see the recipe for Oyster Po Boy in a recent food magazine, I can’t help but create my own version. The fresh oysters are rolled in dry breadcrumbs, pan fried lightly and served as a filling in the popular Vietnamese-style baguette. Wasabi mayonnaise is added for some spicy and creamy kick. And of course, it can’t be complete without some shredded lettuce, herbs and pickle veggies. When you can go for different types of pickle veggies, the most frequently used is perhaps carrot. But the authentic banh my always include a delicious ingredient, pickled lotus rootlet, something I would go crazy for.

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Lotus rootlet has a special crunchy texture. When pickled with rice vinegar, sugar, chili and/or garlic, it also has lovely fresh sweet-tangy flavours. Pickled lotus rootlet makes great addition to salad, especially when paired with prawns. You can almost always find a jar of pickled lotus rootlet at Asian shops.

With all the ingredients above, I manage to whip up a wonderful lunch. It’s quick, healthy and delicious. I can’t ask for more.

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My Fried Oysters and Asian Salad Roll

Ingredients (for 3-4 serves)

14 fresh oysters, shucked

2 tbsp corn flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup dry breadcrumbs

Oil, to pan-fry

3-4 Vietnamese-style baguette (or French baguettes)

Shredded lettuce (I used the curly variety)

Pickled lotus rootlet, as needed

Asian herbs (choose from coriander, Thai basil or mint)

Fresh chili slices (optional)

½ cup mayonnaise*

2-3 tsp wasabi paste

Method

  1. For the wasabi mayonnaise, mix together wasabi and mayonnaise. Set aside.
  2. Dip the oyster in flour, shake off the excess, then into egg and finally breadcrumb. Lightly fried in heated oil until golden.
  3. Quickly heat the baguettes in the oven if desired. Halve the baguettes and spread with a layer of wasabi mayonnaise. Lightly season with salt & pepper. Arrange the shredded lettuce and pickle veggies. Top with fried oysters, some Asian herbs, chili and extra mayo if desired. Serve immediately.

(*) I chose mayonnaise with less vinegar taste. If you can get Japanese mayonnaise, it will be great, too.

**

I would like to submit this entry to Weekend Herb Blogging. Founded by Kalyn, the host of this week is Anna from Anna Cool Find. Please check Anna site out next Monday for the roundup and Kalyn’s blog for more information about WHB.

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Back to the kitchen

>> Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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Holiday is always good especially when you can spend time with your loved ones! My family visited me for the first time in Australia. Since my parents’ annual leaves were limited, they only visited Sydney and Melbourne. But everything was so good, even the weather was kind. When we were in Sydney, it was mild with some beautiful sunshine. That made our trips to Blue Mountain and Canberra more enjoyable. The highlight of our stay in Sydney was to climb the Harbour Bridge and admire the view of the beautiful harbour, Sydney Opera House and the city in brilliant sunlight. It was so spectacular and beautiful that you just fell in love with Sydney all over again… Our stay in Melbourne was also very pleasant, but I will tell you about it another time.

Now back to the normal routine. The dish you saw above was the first proper meal I cooked after the holiday. It must be the weather effects, but I do crave for red meat quite a bit lately. So a medium, pink and juicy steak was somewhat irresistible.

What makes this dish special is the gratin of mushroom on top of the steak. It is a clever interpretation of the traditional steak and mushroom sauce. The recipe is from a well-known chef, Gordon Ramsay, who is my current favorite TV character (together with House, if you ask). It is an almost perfect dish – the creamy and herby mushroom goes very well with the tender and juicy steak. It is full of flavors, unlike those dull steak and chips which I disliked. However, I think some additional sauce will be lovely to bind all the ingredients together. Something like a stock reduction or gravy will be good here.

Served with some roasted potatoes and a green salad, you will have a comfortable dinner in the midst of the cold and wet winter.

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Beef Fillet with a Gratin of Wild Mushrooms

From this book

Ingredients

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

4 tbsp olive oil

200g wild mushroom, finely chopped

1 tbsp each of finely chopped parsley, chervil and chives

4 tbsp double cream (35% milk fat), whipped till soft stiff

1 egg yolk

4 fillet steak, 180g each*

2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese

Sea salt and black pepper

Method

  1. For the topping: gent;y sauté shallot and garlic with 1 tbsp olive oil until softened. Add a further 2 tbsp olive oil, and sauté mushroom over high heat for about 7 mins. You need to stir the mushroom frequently. The mixture should be quite dry at the end. Transfer to a bowl. Season & add herbs. Cool completely.
  2. Fold the whipped cream and the egg yolk into the mushroom mixture. Cover and chill.
  3. Brush the steak with some olive oil. Heat a nonstick pan until very hot. Seared the fillet all over. Remove and leave to cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 220c. Close to serving, put steak on a baking tray and top up with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with parmesan. Cook, uncovered for about 5-8 mins or until the topping is golden. Serve immediately.

(*): In the book, Gordon used steak with 4cm high, which makes a perfect presentation.

(*): I don’t use steak which has been frozen because they contain a lot of water. It’s best to buy steak from a good butcher, store it in the fridge and cook as soon as possible.

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Cooking/Baking will be resumed soon!

>> Friday, July 13, 2007

Hi guys, I am just back from a wonderful holiday with my family. My parents and sister came to visit me in Australia and we had wonderful time together. I really enjoyed this little break with all my beloved and things couldn’t have been better!

I am currently busy catching up with my work and getting out of the holiday mood. I am dying to get back to my beloved kitchen and start cooking really soon. Meanwhile, I have tons of blog entries from my favourite bloggers to read and be inspired!

Before all of you see my cooking again, I have decided to post something for those who are interested in Vietnamese cuisine – my personal review on a very good Vietnamese cookbook. I intended to post this before my holiday but was too busy to do it. But I believe this post is not too late for any food lovers out there!


I have received several emails asking for a reliable authentic source of Vietnamese food. I have come across a lot of so-called Vietnamese cookbooks, which do not even resemble anything I have eaten back home. Most of them are more like Chinese food. Sure, there are resemblances between Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, given the close proximity and long history. But simply substituting soy sauce to fish sauce does not make a dish Vietnamese.

Vietnamese cuisine, for me, is much more than fish sauce, fresh herbs and pho. We have so much more to offer, which often get forgotten or confused in the west. Vietnamese food, especially home-style cooking, is simple yet very delicious and very healthy. Fresh vegetables are the key to any meal, and meat or seafood is eaten in moderation. The preparation is light in oil, fat, dairy, but still provides very good and tasty results.

I have blogged about several Vietnamese dishes. Of course, I have yet covered all the great things about Vietnamese cuisine. So, if you want to have a richer source of information about Vietnamese food, I would recommend you ‘Into the Vietnamese Kitchen’ by Andrea Nguyen. It is by far the most authentic Vietnamese cookbook in English. The book is a good reference to me. I admit I didn’t follow extract instruction there. Vietnamese food is something I cook naturally. But the approach to cooking method and ingredients in Andrea’s book is authentic with a light modern touch. This is important since not all Vietnamese ingredients are available elsewhere.

Andrea is also running a blog, so you can catch her there, too.

I do hope this post hopes all of you who are interested in Vietnamese cuisine!

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