Friday, December 21, 2007

Mocha Shortbread

I can't believe Christmas is here once again. Last year I was in HK with my family, jostling with the crowd and street shopping endlessly from one lane to the next. This year will be one spent quietly over dinner and drinks with friends in Sydney. Though of course I still wish my family and besties were by my side, I'm more than content for having friends here to spend my holidays with. Yep, they are the people who make time here fly just that little bit faster, not to mention sweeten it by making it so fun!

So, to wrap up the year, I wanted to do something special for them to just show them how much they mean to me. I'm kind of a emo-idiot, if you can call it that way. I get stuck often a time when trying to verbalize or show my emotions physically even though I want to, probably a result of a traditional Asian upbringing. Whatever it is,, I decided to do what I do best next - write & bake of course. :)

I ended up making two batches of cookies - one batch of candycane cookies (in my last post) that were probably cuter to look at than eat, and another batch of mocha shortbread. I just adore the texture of shortbread and how it starts off all crumbly and then melts so beautifully in your mouth. These shortbread fingers were all that and more - dark, chocolately and intensely flavoured with coffee; definitely one for the grown ups. There's just one catch: if you aren't the owner of an electric mixer like me, be prepared to get your heart rate up for a good workout. Even with all that dragonboat training, this was tough for me. LOL.
Hope you enjoy this. Happy Holidays! :)

Mocha Shortbread
Note: For this recipe, I reduced the flour to 2 cups and substituted 6 tbsps flour for 3 tbsps cornstarch since I didn't have any cornstarch on hand.
1 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour + 6 tbsps (or 3 tbsps cornstarch)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) pure
vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (8 grams) instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly butter (or spray with Pam) a 15 x 10 inch (38 x 25 cm) baking pan.
In a small bowl, sift the confectioners sugar with the cocoa powder. Set aside.
In another bowl, sift the flour, salt (and cornstarch if you're using it) together. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about one minute). Add the sugar and cocoa mixture and beat until fully incorporated (about 2 minutes). Add the vanilla and espresso powder and beat until incorporated. Then add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until the dough just comes together.
Spread the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan and gently press the dough, with your fingertips or the back of a spoon, to form an even layer. Then, with a sharp knife, score the top of the shortbread into approximately 3 inch x 1 inch (7 x 2.54 cm) fingers. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the top is dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. While the shortbread is still warm, re-cut the shortbread into fingers. Cool completely before removing from pan.
Adapted from Joy of Baking

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vanilla Scented Granola

Mmm. If you ever need one reason to wake up early in morning, it's gotta be homemade granola. I love museli for brekkie and I lurrvveee granola clusters even more, but nothing irks me more than having to shell out 7 bucks for a small pack of those cheery little clusters. Feeling kinda cheated and not terribly satisfied with having to settle for the cheaper alternatives, I did what any self-respecting granola-nut would do - make my own. Duh.

I can't believe it took me this long to do this. Rolled oats, walnuts and slivers of dried coconut were tossed and held together by lashings of honey and slowly roasted to a golden crunch. Spiked with vanilla and chunks of dried apricots and dates, it was comforting and heartbreakingly delicious. I personally love it soaked in milk, but it's great on its own when you get the munchies too - I just had to help myself to a couple of handfuls before running out the door for training today. If you're a cereal lover like myself, I suggest you try this out! Enjoy!

Vanilla spiked Granola (Bon Appetit) (makes 8 cups)
4 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
5 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup oil
4 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1 cup chopped walnuts
1-2 cups dried fruits of your choice (I used apricots and dates)

Toss together rolled oats, dried coconut, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring to boil the honey and oil. Remove from heat and add vanilla essence. Pour the hot honey/oil over the oats mixture and mix well (use your hands if you have to).
On a baking tray lined with parchment paper, lay the prepared oats, pressing down with your hand to compact it a little. Bake it in the oven for approximately 30 mins at 400degF or until golden brown.
Remove from oven, let it cool down and break it into chunks. Toss in chopped dates and apricot and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Apricots, mascarpone and walnuts

Oh bliss. Just 2 minutes to put together and 1 minute to enjoy. Best of all, it's au naturel and chock full of fibre, calcium and natural fatty acids. What more could you ask for?

Apricots, mascarpone and walnuts (noix)
Slit dried apricots into half, but not all the way such that it remains a whole piece (sort of like butterfly-ing a fillet).
Using a teaspoon, fill the apricot with chilled mascarpone cheese. Gently press a piece of walnut into the cheese.
In one smooth motion, pop it into your mouth and enjoy the sweet, tangy, nutty and creamy goodness all at once.
Lick your lips and happily repeat the above steps.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Singapore Chili Crab

Twas a weekend of fulfilled promises. I got to try out sailing, and he got to try Singapore chili crab. On his part of the promise, I had the time of my life on the water and it was 100% PURE fun! Seriously can't wait to do it again!!! The most stressful part was probably making sure that we kept our heads way out reach of the boom.We took a smaller boat thus it was heaps more dynamic and only served to add to the thrill. The post-sailing theory session soon transpired into a leisurely Saturday afternoon with friends over aperitifs, snacks and Dutch goodies (Bolletje, which is a sort of spicy, gingerbready cookie and Amandelstaaf, an almond-meal based pastry very much similar to the french epiphany tart). Spices apparently were expensive in the older days and had to be shipped all the way from Indonesia, thus it was a rare treat and they use it extensively in their holiday cookies. This time, it was Sint Nicolaas. (Erm, something to do with Saint Nick I think) Splendid.

Took an impromptu tour of the HMS Endeavour at the Maritime Museum today after DB training. It was on the way to Chinatown where I wanted to get the ingredients for the chilli crab. The ship's really quite impressive. I found nothing to complain about on a taser after seeing the number of ropes they had on this ship. You see, they have like a different name for everything on the boat. This was for practical reasons too - in cases of storms etc, you can't be yelling "Grab that rope" cos it'll probably just elicit the inevitable response of "WHICH rope?!"

Will you just check out how quaint and lovely the officer's mess was? It's even nicer than my kitchen!!!

OK now on to my promise. I've never cooked chilli crab in my life and it was a tad worrying attempting this dish cos everyone who's been to Singapore raves nonstop about it. I looked up various recipes online, and there was one ingredient that was ubiquitous in quite a few recipes which had me stumped - tomato ketchup. Erm, that sounds so non-Asian or authentic for that matter. But after chewing on that thought for a bit and thinking about the taste of Jumbo chili crab, it actually started to sound plausible. I used the original maggi chili sauce in place of ketchup since it was also sweet but had that little bit of spicy kick.

The next worrying issue was dealing with the crab. But that task was swiftly left to the Asian grocerer who took care of the mud crab away from all the guilty eyes. Whew. No chopsticks up the crab's a*s and other such violent acts in the kitchen.

I used a combination of recipes and kind of went with trial and error towards the end. The crab flesh was springy, sweet and soft, and the sauce, tangy and spicy and deliciously flavoured with the ample crab juice. The hot, steaming, brioche-y mantous mopped up the eggy broth and was oh-so-satisfying. Heh. I feel like a true blue Singapore-lang now! ;p
Singapore Chili Crab
1 mud crab, chopped and cracked (~500g)
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tbsps of maggi chili sauce
tamarind juice (tamarind paste soaked in hot water)
2-3 tbsps crushed dried chilies
1 egg
1 cup water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1-2 tsp cornstarch
soy sauce to taste

Fry the ginger, garlic and chilli until fragrant. Add the chili crab and water and bring to boil for 2-3 mins. Add the tamarind juice (without pulp), sugar, soy sauce and chili sauce to taste. Add cornstach. Combine well with the crab and cook til the crab shell turns red. Beat one egg and add it in, stirring slowly. The sauce should take on a thick, almost custard-like consistency.
Serve with steamed or deep-fried plain mantous (available in the Asian supermarkets)

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Light, fluffy, airy, crispy. Mmmm. This is my first attempt at choux pastry of any sort and what emerged from the oven was absolutely delightful - crackly golden mounds of lip smackingly delicious chouquettes. And the best bit? It took only 5 minutes to put the pate a choux together and another 25 minutes to bake it to perfection. I was rather skeptical initially when my 'dough' looked more like a thick batter after adding the eggs, so I plonked myself down in front of the oven and watched with hawk-like scrutiny, all doubts put to rest when they started fluffing up obediently like little balloons. Good little chouquettes.

The only step I missed out in the recipe is the turning off the oven bit and waiting 10 minutes, which could explain why it didn't work too well when I tried making normal palm-sized puffs. Gargh - this is a lesson to read the recipe more thoroughly next time! Nonetheless, they were still very tasty and are just perfect to pop into your mouth. I stuffed half of the chouquettes with coin-sized dark chocolate semis as soon as they were cool enough to handle. Splendid.

Chouquettes for two (Chocolate and Zucchini)
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar (or normal sugar)
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup self-raising flour
2 eggs

Bring butter, water and sugar to boil with a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until a wettish dough is formed.

Wait for dough to cool a bit, then add the 2 eggs, one at a time, and combine well. It should have a somewhat thick batter-like consistency.

Scoop little teaspoonfuls of dough onto a tray lined with baking paper, leaving a bit of space in between each mound. Top with coarse sugar (or in my case, more brown sugar) and bake in the oven for 25 mins or until risen and golden brown. Turn off the oven and wait 10 minutes before popping them out to cool.

Enjoy immediately or stuff little chocolate chips like I did inside!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gula Melaka Ak Bahling

I dont know if you've yet noticed, but yep, I'm kinda obsessed with cooking. In particular, I only want to attempt dishes that sound interesting or those that I haven't done before, which actually encompasses almost everything. Like the soft, chewy, tender, melt-in-your mouth figs braised in red wine vinegar and red wine I made last night. Served with chilled mascarpone cheese and walnuts, it was unbelievable. In fact, it was so good I went for a 2nd serving against my better judgement. I had to contend with a distended belly for the rest of the night. lol

Sometimes my culinary exploits are also borne out of necessity. Like this morning's brekkie of glutinous rice balls (ak bahling) soaked in warm coconut milk. Realising we were out of milk and the stores were not open yet, I had to make do with whatever was in the kitchen. Since there were 3-quarts of a can of coconut milk left in the fridge from the nasi lemak last night, I thought I'll make an improvised version of ak-bahling.

Now the plain ones are easy peasy to make, but stuffed ones? The first ball I made looked like a herd of elephants had just played Twister on it. Oh and did I mention that gula melaka melts VERY quickly? Put two and two together plus clumsy fingers and you end up with a stickey mess. Not very pretty. The second and third ones turned out much better though, and before long, I was churning out stuffed ak bahlings so deftly that anyone watching would have thought I worked in a rice ball factory all my life. The secret to this is simple - the less time the ball spends in your hand, the better. You gotta work FAST. The dough tends to deform easily and the heat from your hands melts the sugar in the dough. I'm so proud of my little babies -see how pretty they look in the picture above? ;p

For the recipe, if you like you can add one tsp of vanilla extract to the dough like I did. One bite into the ball releases a swirl of thick gooey gula melaka into the coconut milk and with the slightly softned but nonetheless crunchy peanuts, it creates a beautiful melange of textures and flavours.

Comfort food for a rainy Saturday morning. :)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ikan bilis & peanuts

One of my fave "junk" foods ever, especially topped on nasi lemak, or coconut rice. The saltiness of the dried anchovies cuts right into the creaminess of roasted peanuts and is further accentuated with homemade chili paste. One bite and I'm reminded of home sweet home...

Ikan Bilis n Peanuts
Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan. Take equal portions of unsalted raw peanuts and dried anchovies (ikan bilis) and fry til til golden brown. Remove, cool and serve with rice, noodles or with aperos! (or like i did tonight, with a 2005 dry pinot noir from Capel Vale, Western Australia)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Glebe Street Fair 2007

Oh boy. Judging from the windless and sunny conditions in the early morning, I knew this was going to be a sweltering HOT day. And after two hours of paddling, lunch and a cold, refreshing shower, the last thing I wanted to do was go out again. Then again, the annual Glebe Street Fair was on and well, a quick browse won't hurt!

I admit I was half expecting a blown up version of the Glebe Markets, but it was a serious underestimation. This was waaaaayy better. Stalls of food, costume jewellery, clothes, bags etc lined a good half of Glebe Point Road. I had a ball zipping in and out of each stall, but what really caught my eye were the cheap summer dresses and skirts on offer and of course, the food! I was still full from lunch, so I thought I'll shop around first while making a mental note of the kinds of foods available.

It was when I was floating on a giggly high after purchasing 2 light summer dresses and a skirt that I chanced upon this:

Utterly delicious finger-lickin' Hungarian pastry. It was the sight of the weird bread-like standing cones which caught my eye initially. To seal the deal, there were free samples for tasting. ;D I popped a small chunk into my mouth, not really expecting anything mind-blowing. Jeebers, it was soooo good. Soft, yielding and crusty on the outside with a good smattering of cinnamon sugar, it somewhat made me imagine what a really good pretzel would taste like and one bite would not suffice. I ordered half a cone of almond pastry and we shared it between us quickly. And it wasn't oily at all. Check this out : they grill the bread on a mini spit roast as they would do chickens! There's virtually no added fat and the constant turning meant that the pastry was cooked evenly. However, I thought the price at 6 bucks for a cone was a tad hefty.

This Hungarian stall was also selling big, flat, golden pieces of deep fried dough which turned out to be Hungarian style garlic bread. It was amazingly light, crisp with a solid dose of garlic. Just the way I like it. If the simple likes taste THIS good in Hungary, I'll definitely be making a pit stop there one of these days!

As I mentioned, it was stinking hot and I was already feeling quite sticky. A nice, tender young coconut was greeted with greedy smiles from the both of us. I even got a generous bottle of coconut juice for free since my coconut was on the smaller side. How nice. I just wish they'll just catch on with the young coconut idea a bit faster - I reckon it's the perfect summer drink and you can get them cheaply everywhere in SE Asia. There was also a stall selling mexican food with a savoury chocolate and chili sauce. Damn, the heat turned our appetite off for a bit there so we didn't try it.

But right before we left I thought I just had to have a chocolate churro. Yep, these slender, long, dough-y sticks just seem to have a hold over me. Simple yet satisfying.

Whee! Can't wait to use my dresses!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chocolat et orange cookies

You know how sometimes you inexplicably take a sudden liking certain foods that you didn't before?

For me, it is citrus flavoured desserts.

Yeah I know lots of people love all things citrusy. I, on the other hand, tend to steer clear from them for some reason. Sure, I'll eat oranges, kumquats, grapefruits and what not, but put them in a confiture, ice-cream, cake or even chocolate and you can be sure I won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. They remind me of dishwashing liquid - and who wants to have Jiff lemon flavour for dessert? I even remember those little individually wrapped Van Houten chocolates that we normally get during Chinese New Year - I'll dig through the whole lot and leave the orange-wrapped ones behind (I just have to wonder who finished those!).

Until now (5 years into adulthood), I've only managed to come across one citrus desert that blew me away - lemon gelato. It was sweltering hot in Basque country and all I wanted was something light, fruity and refreshing. Enters gelato. (Make that excellent gelato) I pick faves like cassis and green apple while Truffe goes for lemon. Once. Twice. Thrice. And he ate the third scoop with as much enthusiasm as the first one. Curiosity got the better of me and I tentatively took a bite out of his scoop - I was hooked from then on. Banana and lemon. Coconut and lemon. Green apple and lemon. Right before I left Basque, I shoved what would probably be the last frozen lemon scoop I would have there down. I just had to. *shrug*

And now, orange and chocolate. I was leafing through recipes from the Mrs Field's cookie competition. Chocolate and oatmeal (oooh!), white chocolate macademia (yummo!). There was only one problem - I was in the mood for something a little more exciting and the plain old flavours just didn't cut it. Give me matcha, black sesame, anything. So when this orange chocolate chunk recette caught my eye, I was all game.

And it feels somewhat like revisiting an old situation, only with a totally new perspective. I loved it.

In this recipe, I subsituted one cup of organic wholewheat flour for all-purpose flour - simply because I ran out of the latter. I also used fresh orange juice in place of orange extract and added 1 tsp of finely minced fresh ginger for that added kick. Was a little worried that the orange would be subdued, but the mixture of grated peel and juice worked the stage perfectly, with the peel providing a pleasant tang. The chocolate chunks were orgasmic - just the right size for a good mouthful of chocolate in every bite! I'm happy - simply 'cos liking another thing means more food for me! Heh.

Hmm. Gotta get in shape for my sister's wedding in Feb. Now, I'd better find a way to distribute these before I polish them all off....

Monday, November 05, 2007

And race season begins..on a rainy note.

Ominous clouds. Thunder. Light rain. Gusty winds. I was so not looking forward to racing yester-morning.

Woke up all sleepy-eyed at 6am, had a brisk hot shower and we sat through a short and quiet brekkie of cocoa pops, milk and a mandatory long black. Quickly put together a salad of tuna, corn, tomato, rice & vinegrette and packed a box of museli as well as a white chocolate + matcha cake (gateau aux chocolat blanc et matcha) I whipped up the night before for the team. I've grown to love matcha (japanese green tea) in my desserts and have been wanting to try my hand at making one. Have to admit I was agonizing between my tried-and-tested gingerbread and the matcha cake for some time. Well, when you're cooking for others, you want to make something that'll cause them to be so estatic on the first bite that their eyes will roll back, right? Or well, something along that line. But what the heck, I decided to head for uncharted waters. You see, i kinda figured:

(1) the team will be too hungry after the race to give a damn;
(2) everyone will be too polite to complain; and
(3) if it REALLY turns out bad, Truffe will just have to finish it! LOL

Just kidding.

It did turn out pretty yummy, although I had to do some improvisation on the spot. I thought the recipe called for too much flour and too little matcha, so I left out a portion of the flour and tripled the amount of matcha. It was a good call considering the cake edges ended up rather crunchy. Was also rather disappointed that the white chocolate and matcha flavours did not stand out as much as I would have liked it to. It was tasty nonetheless and everyone agreed, or maybe Points (1) and (2) probably held true. ;D

As usual, our pickup was While waiting, I couldnt help but pick up my camera to take a few shots. I just love how the rain makes everything look so fresh. And check out these babies - the grapes are growing again. Geez, how fast one year passes...

By the time we got to Penrith, the sky had cleared up to a cheery light blue and the sun was out in full gear, dieu merci. Yeah, the weather in Sydney is even more fickle than moi! LOL. Warmed up, marshalled and off we went. The winds remained strong though - we had quite a bit of difficulty aligning the boats in the first race. As a result of the wind conditions, the entire competition was running some 3 hours behind schedule (or perhaps it was poor organization?). Our team didn't win overall, but I reckon we did well on our last lap of the day. And that's considering half of the team's comprised of newbies, we took part in the mixed races 2 paddlers less due to a shortage in numbers and lastly, a 500m sprint is really quite a tough race, even for someone who's been paddling a year like me (okay prob still not long enough, but well, long enough by my standards.). This might come across as a tad sour-grapish to some, but frankly I dont give a rat's ass. Winning is nice, but it isn't everything. That's what I love about this team - they dont let the competition get to their heads and they're there cos they really enjoy the sport for what it is. It makes me wonder how many people really look at dragon boating as a recreational sport like we do.

All I can say is, what a great start to the race season and I'm looking forward to many more :)

Note: dragonboating pics taken courtesy of Serence..thanx babe!