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Yes yes, I know! I’m late!! The DB challenge reveal date was yesterday and I’m exactly 24hours late! :p Oh well, better late than never! Hopefully this doesn’t get me into trouble though.

I’ve been missing in action for a while. I know you guys are probably sick of hearing me say it’s cos I was too busy with work. Sadly, it’s the truth though. Although I have to add that I’ve been lazy as well. Working anywhere up to 50 hours a week, you tend to want to do nothing on your off days! That’s my life now. Sundays have been designated as my “Do Nothing” day. Guess, I’m going to need to designate one of my days as blogging day! :p

Having missed the last 2 DB challenges, it’s time I join the party once again.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Ever since I watched the Youtube video of Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington, I’ve been wanting to make my own puff pastry. So this was my chance to experiment! Sadly, this month’s challenge was not as smooth sailing as I’d expected. With limited time, I made a batch of pastry last week and left it in the fridge with the intention of finishing it off the next day. Well, the next day become the next, followed by the next and the next. By the time I finally got around to it yesterday, the colour of the dough didn’t look right and it looked like stuff had grown on it. SO into the bin it all went! I had to rush and make a new batch this morning. Therefore explaining the reason behind the lateness of my post.

With my vols-au-vents, I decided to make a breakfast special of your classic eggs and bacon. Another mishap occurred with the eggs. For some reason, I couldn’t turn out any poached eggs at all even after 3 attempts! Oh well! I also made some filled with Tassie smoked salmon, crème fraîche, capers and dill. With the leftovers, I made Alan’s favourite – SAUSAGE ROLL!! :p

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

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I know I’ve no reason to go missing now that I’ve settled in to Sydney. However….remember how I said Sydney has not treated me well?! Sighz…since coming here, we’ve had nothing but bad luck one after another. The last misfortune to befall upon me (hopefully it’s the last), is the crash of my hardrive! I lost EVERYTHING in my hardrive! All my photos, my recipes, my documents – EVERYTHING!! As a result, I had nothing for me to blog on as all my food pictures died with it! 

Thankfully I’ve still got the DB-ers to fall back on! If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d joined this group, with my crazy lifestyle here, I’ve not had time to cook a decent meal in a long time. So it is with great honour and joy for me to announce this month’s DB challenge. The May 09 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of “make life sweeter! ” and Courtney of “Coco Cooks“. They’ve chosen Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

 

As with many of the previous challenges, this was my first strudel and with it came all the excitement of making something new! I thought I’d try a classic apple strudel, a savoury chicken and mushroom strudel and something with a bit of a twist – strawberry and ricotta strudel. I’m not sure whether it’s cos I kneaded my dough too much, or if I didn’t roll it out thinly enough, but my strudel didn’t come out as flaky and thinly layered as it should be. Hhmm…it looked and tasted more of a cross between a puff pastry and shortcrust pastry. Oh well, at least the filling was nice. I’ll definitely attempt the recipe again – perhaps with a mango filling! Mmmm…yum! 🙂

Recipe

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Strudel Dough:
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Dig a hole in the middle of flour, add the water/oil mixture to the flour and mix with a wooden spoon. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

2. Continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.

3. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

4. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

5. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it’s about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Note: I used canola oil as I didn’t have vegetable oil at home. Instead of cider vinegar, I used white wine vinegar. As for the table cloth, I used bedsheet! 🙂

Apple Filling:

4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
About 8-10 tbsp of raw sugar
3/4 cups raisins
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 – 2 tbsp apple mead

1. Cut apple into chunks. Place all ingredients except for mead into a large saucepan and cook over medium heat. 

2. Allow it to simmer slowly and soften, approximately 10 minutes. 

3. Turn off the heat and add the mead. Stir it in well and leave it to cool. 

Chicken and Mushroom Filling:

2 pieces chicken breast fillet
10 swiss brown mushrooms
A handful of fresh sage
1/2 tin campbell’s chicken and mushroom soup
A block of camembert cheese

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add chicken and salt and allow it to boil. 

2. In the meantime, slice mushrooms and place into a large bowl. Once chicken is cooked, shred it into thick, chunky slices and add to mushrooms.

3. Add sage and chicken and mushroom soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Strawberry and Ricotta Filling:

1 punnet strawberries, washed and halved
About 8-10 tbsp of raw sugar
1 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp strawberry liquer
Ricotta cheese

1. Place strawberries and sugar into a saucepan and cook over medium heat. 

2. Allow strawberries to soften and sugar to caramelize. Add in brandy and liquer and just simmer briefly.

3. Pour into a bowl and allow it to cool.

Assembling – Apple and Chicken&Mushroom:

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

2. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described above. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. 

3. Spread the filling about 3 inches from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch wide strip. For chicken, top filling with cheese. 

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Assembling – Strawberries and Ricotta:

1. Cut dough into square pieces. You’ll find that when you lift it up with your hands, it doesn’t hold its shape as the dough’s really thin.

2. Melt some butter in a pan. Lightly brown dough and drain on kitchen towel.

3. Layer with strawberries, a dollop of ricotta. Top with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with some sauce from strawberry filling. 

Note: While typing out this post, I realised why my strudel wasn’t flaky. I missed out the most important step – the spreading of the butter and breadcrumbs! Darn! Guess now I’ve got the perfect excuse to make a mango strudel! 🙂

 

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Well, it’s about time I come back to updating this blog more frequently. After 3.5 months, things have finally started coming together. Moving to Sydney was and still is a nightmare. From movers, to internet, to phone etc, nothing seemed to fall into place. It took us more than a month to get all our stuff (long story..movers were a nightmare!), and then 3 months before we got our internet. The bad news is we still don’t have a home telephone but the good news is we are finally on track to bringing normality back into our lives. 

If there are things we should be thankful for, it’d be friends whom we’ve lost touch with for a long time but who have nonetheless welcomed us here with opened arms. Guess this is what we call true friendship. It’s certainly been a life changing experience for both Alan and I. Him being his first job and mine being a career change. It hasn’t been any easier having to do all these in a totally foreign place and would have been a lot harder if we didn’t have friends who were constantly lending us a helping hand. You will only truly understand when you relocate. You miss the simple pleasures of knowing how to get to the supermarket, or where’s the nearest ATM machines, or shortest cuts to your destinations etc. etc. I wouldn’t dare say we’ve settled in, but I’d have to say we are trying, hard as some of the days may be, we will continue to try. 

Setting up home took forever! With both of us working full-time and crazy hours, unpacking was a real pain. Furniture shopping, cleaning, clearing, throwing….man! *big sigh* Finally, we have a house we can start to call our home. Each of us leaving our own mark in our own unique ways. All in the name of making this place where we rest, be it for 4 hours or 4 days, a place we can call home. Here are some photos I’d like to share with all of you of the place we now call home. 

The second part of my sharing will be broken into 3 separate blog entries – highlighting the 3 different group of friends we’ve had over for dinner as a way of sharing our new life together in Sydney. Our first dinner party was the first week we finally had 90% of our stuff unpacked, and a livable living room. It earmarked my achievement as a girl who not only uses her hands for cooking and baking, but also one who can assemble her DIY furniture all by herself! 🙂 To celebrate my achievement, we had Mei Gee and James over for dinner. It was my first proper home-cooked meal, which was prepared from scratch, in my new kitchen. To mark this special day, I opted for a simple yet classy dinner – a nice, slow cooked roast, some vegetables and a simple dessert. Nothing very fancy, but full of flavours and spices. You should’ve seen the look on my face as I peeled and chopped herbs in the kitchen – pure heaven! 🙂

Entrée: Antipasto Plate

Ingredients:

  • Turkish pide bread, toasted and rubbed with fresh garlic
  • Grapes
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Cheese (any choice)
  • Pâté (I used smoked salmon and cracked pepper)

Method:

  • Assemble everything onto a platter and serve. 

Mains: Herb Crusted Beef with Confit Cherry Tomatoes (Delicious, Dec 08-Jan 09 edition)

Herb Crusted Beef


Ingredients:

  • Mixed herbs, chopped (I used rosemary, basil, lemon thyme)
  • Premium eye fillet
  • Olive oil
  • Aioli
  • Fresh rocket
  • Baby carrots and potatoes

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180C. 
  • Spread chopped herbs on a sheet of baking paper. Brush beef with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roll beef in herbs till coated well. 
  • Heat a frying pan with some oil. Sear beef on all sides till evenly brown. 
  • Transfer to tray, add carrots and potatoes, and bake till your liking. Mine’s a gas oven and I had to bake for nearly 2 hours to achieve medium. 
  • Arrange fresh rocket on plate. Thickly slice beef and top it on rocket. Top with confit tomatoes and a dollop of aioli. Serve meal with a bottle of red wine. 

Confit Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • Remaining mixed herbs from above
  • 2 x 250g punnets cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves

Method:

  • Cut a small cross at the base of each tomato.
  • Bring a pot of water to boil and set a bowl of ice water on the side. Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 20-40 seconds, remove and placed in ice water for another 30-40 seconds. Peel immediately and place in a bowl.
  • Warm balsamic, oil, garlic and herbs in a pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Pour over tomatoes and marinade for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving. 

Dessert: Lime and Basil Sorbet (from Jamie Oliver)

(Sorry, forgot to take pictures and can’t seem to find my old ones)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lime juice
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 handfuls of fresh basil
  • 1 cup water

Method:

  • Bring sugar and water to boil, till sugar dissolves. Add fresh lime zest from 4-5 limes. Remove from heat and allow to cool down.
  • Add freshly squeezed lime juice and adjust taste accordingly – sweeter or slightly more sour – up to you.
  • Rip basil and pound it in a mortar. Bruise it well and add every bit to the lime syrup.
  • Give it a good stir then pour it through a sieve. 
  • Place in container and freeze for an hour.
  • Take it out and give it a good whisk. Freeze again and when the time comes, serve in chilled glasses. 

 


 

 

 

 

 


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Disastagne!!!!

I am back once again with this month’s DB challenge. For those who don’t know, it’s been an exciting month for us DB-ers. Our new website has launched and it looks fantastic! Now not only do we have the Daring Bakers, we’ve also got the Daring Cooks. Plus the website has so much stuff on it, it’s mind boggling! :p

March 2009’s challenge is brought to you by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They’ve chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. I was really excited about his month’s challenge as I’ve never made lasagne from scratch before. All my previous attempts at making lasagne were from using the pre-packed sheets you get off the shelf. But old habits die hard. I was always a last minute student during my high school and uni days, and up till today I still am a last minute person! Up till 9.30pm last night, I was still baking in my kitchen! :p

lasagne

My lasagne was and is a walking, talkin and baking disaster! According to instructions, I had to roll it out really thin but by doing so, I created multiple holes in my lasagne sheets! Some big, some small, they kinda look like the tears I have all over my favourite PJs which I’ve worn since I was 12! I had to hang them to dry on our clothes rack and you should have seen the pieces of dough that kept dropping onto the kitchen floor as the tears got bigger and bigger! Alan was like “Are you sure this is lasagne?! :-/ “. And then came the assembling, gosh it was hard layering “holy” pieces together! Clearly, I was unable to layer 4 layers of nice sheets overlapping each other. I could only settle for bits and pieces here and there and pray that they would be enough to cover each others holes! The result though, was surprising! It smelt really good and filled up the apartment. Alan came back from work slightly before 11pm and decided he was gonna have lasagne for supper! The verdict: YUMMY! Worth the effort but definitely need to work on the presentation! 🙂

lasagne

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

Ingredients:
10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce
1 recipe Country Style Ragu
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method
Working Ahead:

The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

lasagne

Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

Ingredients:
2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Method – Working by Hand:

Equipment:

A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

Kneading:
With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Ground cinnamoon, to taste

Method:
Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Ragu
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
60g virginian ham,  finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
250gm veal and pork mince
250g premium beef mince
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:
Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the ham and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Stir rest of the mince and prosciutto into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering:

Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

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I am proud (or should I say embarrass) to announce my first DB challenge failure! Looks like I need not apply for any pizza chef positions! 🙂

This month’s challenge was to make our own homemade pizza dough and top it with our choice of fillings. The challenge was hosted by Rosa’s Yummy Yums who was initially suppose to host this month’s challenge with Sherry and Glenna. Unfortunately, Sherry passed away unexpectedly in July, and Glenna for personal reasons decided to leave the DB-ers, Rosa was left to host this month herself. Well, one definitely has to applaud Rosa on her decision to continue with hosting this month’s challenge herself and for respecting Sherry’s choice of this month’s challenge which she shared before passing away. 

The reason I joined DB was because I wanted ti be challenged in my culinary experience. This month’s challenge is the exact representation of why I joined the DB-ers! Far and beyond my abilities, and definitely above my wildest dreams of accomplishing, I had to make pizza from scratch! It was scary yet exciting! Alan was ecstatic when he heard what the challenge would be this month and was looking forward to it.

Sadly, this challenge did not turn out the way I’d pictured in my mind! The dough was perfectly ok. It was simple and easy and I was quite happy with how it turned out. Day 2 was when disaster struck! Tossing the pizza?! You’ve gotta be kidding me! I can’t toss a frisbee if my life depended on it so what makes you think I can toss a pizza! There were a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” when the tossing was happening. Alan had a go at it and wasted one of my pizza balls as half of it ended on the floor and the other half in the sink! Mine wasn’t too good either but we all had fun. All 4 of us at home were in the kitchen trying to catch a bit of the fun and it didn’t turn out too bad.

The baking was the beginning of my failed challenge. As mentioned many times, I use a turbo oven. This oven’s good for baking cakes and simple tarts etc. But when it comes to things which require browning/baking on both sides, it’s not your ideal oven. Most of the time it’ll cook the top, leaving the bottom undone if it’s not flipped over. That being the case, our first pizza was half cooked! Learning from this, I baked the base first for my second pizza but the end result was that it became too crispy and turned out more like crackers than pizza! Needless to say, the third was half cooked as I’d already topped it with the filling while baking the first so had no choice but to bake it face up. Even after baking for more than 30 minutes, it was still half cooked. But because we were all starving at home, I decided to take it out and serve. Before my own eyes, I saw the pizza fall apart! All in all, fun as it was, I failed in this month’s challenge! In conclusion, I shall not attempt to make my own pizza again until I get a proper oven. I believe everyone in my house will concur with me that it was the equipment and not the chef’s fault this time round! 🙂

My first choice of topping is an Australian favourite at many of the pizza joints here – Garlic and Herb Pizza Bread. It’s generally served as an entree and it’s topped generously with fresh garlic, herbs and a mixture of mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese. 

My second choice was a favourite of ours – Smoked Salmon Pizza. The base of the pizza is baked first, then removed from the oven. Spread with a layer of sour cream, top with red onions, smoked salmon, capers and a sprinkle of dried dill tips.

And my last choice was a half and half. I spread the base with tomato paste and topped each half with different ingredients. The first half was topped with fresh tomatoes, hot salami and pineapple chunks, and the second half with chicken and red and green capsicum. Finish with a generous sprinkle of cheese and you are good to go!

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled 
  • 1 3/4 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tsp Instant yeast
  • 1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
  • 1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

Method:

Day One:

1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

Day Two:

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). 

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. 
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving. 


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Ta da!! It’s once again time to unveil Sept’s DB challenge….LAVASH CRACKERS with dips! I was really excited about this challenge as I’ve never had a savoury challenge since joining the group and crackers are definitely new to me! I haven’t even heard of lavash crackers before this!

Initially I was gonna make these for a catering engagement I committed to. Sadly, as most know, I fell really sick so had to cancel. Guess who the lucky one was? You got it! Alan! I had so much fun making these…and even more gobbling them down! The choices were endless and the opportunity to mix and match flavours was too hard to pass. If you have never had them, you need to try them! These are the perfect hors d’oeuvres accompaniment and definitely a lot healthier than having chips and nachos! 🙂

I borrowed a sauces, dips and relishes book from the library and after flipping through it, I wanted to make EVERYTHING!! Then there were those magazines I had that have amazing recipes in them. Between all these resources it wasn’t surprising I couldn’t decide. In the end, I decided I’ll play safe (cause Alan’s not an adventurous eater), so I decided on 3 flavours for the crackers: (a) thyme and lemon salt with fresh thyme, (b) black sesame seeds, and (c) mixture of fennel, cumin and ajwain seeds. As for the dips I decided on the ever classic basil pesto (but with pistachio nuts instead of pine nuts) and chili relish. The result: YUMMY!! Good choice Natalie (Gluten A Go Go) and Shel (Musings from The Fishbowl)!

Lavash Crackers by Peter Reinhart

Ingredients: (Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers)

  • 1  1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour 
  • 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
  • 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
  • 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
  • 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Thyme and lemon salt and fresh thyme
  • Ajwain, fennel and cumin seeds
  • Any other spices or seasoning of your choice
Method:
1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball.  You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.            

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).            

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour.  Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. 

You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax.  At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down.  Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.  When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment.  Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment.  If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors. 

 

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.)  Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough.  You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.  If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.  

6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

7. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Chilli Relish

Ingredients:

  • 6 tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and shopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 tbsp sugar 
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • A handful of basil leaves, chopped
Method:
  • Put tomatoes directly on stovetop and heat on medium-high heat. Continue to turn it around until the skin splits and wrinkles. 
  • Slip off the tomato skins and roughly chop the flesh.
  • Heat saucepan on medium and drizzle with olive oil. Add chopped onion, red pepper and garlic to pan.
  • Cook till pepper is softened. Add chopped tomatoes, cover and cook for roughly 5 minutes or until the tomatoes release their juices.
  • Stir in the cinnamon, chilli powder, ginger, salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar. Bring gently to boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. 
  • Simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the mixture is pulpy. Stir in the basil leaves and season if needed. 
  • Allow to cool completely then transfer to a jar with a tight fitting lid. Store, covered in the fridge.

Basil Pesto
Ingredients:
  • Fresh basil
  • Garlic cloves
  • Pistachio nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Method:
  • Using a pestle and mortar, pound and mix all the above ingredients. If you want it to be finer, then throw it into a food processor and mix it up well.

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As most who read my blog often enough know, one of my favourite chef is Jamie Oliver. If you ask me why, I probably would say it’s because of Alan. He’s always telling me about “Jamie made this today…” and “Jamie made that yesterday…” bla bla bla. Since we got the Oliver Twist series off a friend, it’s been one of our favourite dinnertime programs. I have to say that in the last year or so since I started reading more gourmet magazines and watching Hell’s Kitchen and also joining Daring Baker, I’m more exposed to different chefs and just the wonders of how some of the most basic flavours when combined produces such an amazing experience. 

Burgers being one of the world’s most staple fast food has always been synonymous to the words “unhealthy, junk, greasy, fattening”. And because of its association with such words, I’ve always tried to limit our intake of fast food. There was a period of time whereby we were eating maccas (or McD’s) at least 3 times a week. It reached a point when I had to put a stop to it and said “No! From now on…we will only eat it once a week..!” A couple of weeks ago, during one of our dinnertime sessions, Jamie introduced us to his version of burger and fries. Man! I was impressed…so impressed I decided I was going to make it for our dinner the next day! 

Jamie enjoys infusing his oils and salt with various flavours. So I thought I’d give it a go too. Off I went to the supermarket and got myself a bag of sea salt (my first bag..woohoo!), fresh lemons and of course rosemary. Out came the pestle and mortar. Pound, pound, pound and whoa…just this incredible fragrance of fresh lemon and rosemary punctuated the air around me. Seriously, you have to try it yourself to believe me. This with fries…the perfect combo!

Rosemary and Lemon Salt

Ingredients:

  • Sea salt
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Lemon

Method:

  • Peel lemon zest and place all ingredients into the mortar. Pound and mix well. Store in container for future use. It gets more fragrant as the weeks go by. 

Homemade Fries

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Rosemary Lemon Salt
  • Olive oil
Method:
  • Preheat oven to 200C. Wash and slice potatoes to thin slices, skin on. Par boil them in a pot of boiling water. Drain well. 
  • Heat a pan with olive oil on high. Tossed in garlic (skin on) and fry till fragrant. Toss in potato slices and coat well with olive oil. 
  • Place onto baking tray, sprinkle a generous amount of salt then place in oven to bake for 15-20 minutes. 
  • Remove and sprinkle more salt. Serve hot. 
Burgers
Ingredients:
  • Beef mince
  • Red onion, minced
  • Rosemary
  • Egg
  • Mustard seeds
  • Dijon mustard
  • Parmesan cheese, grated fine
  • Bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Buns
  • Salad and sauce, if using
Method:
  • In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Season with rosemary salt and pepper. 
  • Using your hands, form them into nice round patties. Depending on the size of your buns or your liking, shape them as you wish. Place onto a baking sheet and refrigerate till ready to be used.
  • Slice buns into half and place face-up under the grill. Heat a pan on high with olive oil and fry patties.
  • Serve on buns with sauce and any salad of your choice and fries…YUM!!
            

 

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