Thursday, September 27, 2007

A new era of baking

Yesterday was a very special day. It marked the threshold for this blog between "the past" and a "new era".

This blog, which up til now had an audience of one (namely me), opened up when I joined the ranks as a Daring Baker! (Thanks Lis and Ivonne!) Someone said, a blog that's not public is a contradiction in terms, and I can see what that means, but I disagree. It's not really the opportunity to say what I want to say, but the opportunity for establishing relevant connections that interests me. Otherwise, I am quite happy logging my own cooking notes.

Well, that's not entirely true. I am not quite entirely happy just doing that, especially when I can be a culinary guerilla instead! Actually this is starting to feel a bit like my online gaming days. . .

So, what am I going to get to do as a Daring Baker? There will be a baking challenge once a month, where the Blogroll bakers will all participate by baking exactly the same thing AND then blog about it. I definitely have plans to get my baked goods tested.

I really like Mary of Alpineberry's description of the DBB: "Who are the Daring Bakers you may ask? Well, we're a group of rogue operatives strategically placed all over the world and secretly trying to conquer our baking fears one recipe at a time. At least that's how I see it. In actuality, we're a group of food bloggers who, once a month, make the exact same recipe and then blog about our experience on the same day. It's a fun way to try new recipes and techniques. Everyone has such a unique experience preparing the same recipe and the posts are always interesting to read."

Even as an avid experimenter, there are things I just won't be fussed enough to make unless something happens, like a mistake, that forces me to correct it (like macaroons).

I am far from an accomplished baker/cook, but I am so looking forward to the baking challenges that will be served up in October and the months to come!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The day I discovered truffle oil

Made a small beef roast last night that turned out too salty even though the flavours were good, so I tried to correct it. Or, I corrected them through a series of variations.

1) Made a cauliflower puree (with milk). Shredded beef roast (marinated with salt, rosemary, thyme rub, cooked in fruit juice and a bed of soft onions) and heated it in the puree.

2) Added a tsp of black truffle oil, then tossed pasta in it. At this point, this is a very good pasta dish.

3) Then, I shaved Neudorf Richmond Red (a prize-winning Manchego-style New Zealand hard cheese), and it became an absolutely, utterly perfect pasta combination.

I realised today - having never EVER liked cheese from sheep's milk because they always seemed to carry an odd sea-urchiny taste - that perhaps I've simply never had good sheep's milk cheese.

And truffle oil - that's like a whole new taste dimension altogether!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Corn fritters?

AnneMarie shared her corn fritter recipe with me in conversation - I memorised it and made it that weekend. This is truly addictive. Especially since I love golden syrup so much. I ate it with sauted apples, which is an excellent combination.

Lovely summer memories. . .

This salad really brings back memories of so many things. The freedom of moving into my own flat, going to the Willis St market every Sunday afternoon, getting fresh vegetables and making salads on the very afternoon itself, strawberry salsas, slicing radishes with my Henckels slicing knife, and all the other memories associated with that old flat. . .running, relationships, chanting, hours at the beach. . .
And then I was also so inspired by the mozarella+fresh basil leaf combination I had at Joanne's house, that I had to get a fresh plant and fashion it myself. Even though it wasn't the first time I've had fresh basil, it left a distinct, indelible impression that the experience of fresh basil is really nowhere near the dried.

It was also at the old flat that I rediscovered mangos in a new way (eating them in a 100% concentrated way, slicing and eating them with my paring knife, feet up), beautiful salad dressing combinations, and eating watercress fresh (rather than in a Chinese style soup).


I made some teiglach a while ago - a cultural experiment that is quite unlike the usual. The result was actually. . . nostalgic, even though it wasn't something I'd grown up eating. There's something about its super-sweetness, friedness, etc that reminds me of old-world confections, stuff I had as a kid that really aren't fashionable anymore. It has affinities to ma lao (puffy sesame balls with an airy centre), behlehgo (sticky malt on a stick that grandfather would buy from a peddlar on a bike), even pong pia or mahteesu (a dry pastry biscuit with a sticky malt/molasses/sesame filling). And so many others.

Admittedly these were too sweet for my taste, and I don't hardly get that sort of super-sweet cravings anymore that I used to in the past.

Next, halva.

Chocolate crackle cookies

Epicurious has got this perfect chocolate cookie recipe - which uses only cocoa powder, but is so very chocolatey to boot!
The problem is I dusted them with icing sugar and left them in the container - and this is what it looks like. Lesson: if the cookies are to keep, they should remain undusted, otherwise they'll just look dirty.

Salmon with citrus-balsamic glaze

Found an amazingly simple recipe off Epicurious after buying some really fresh, good value salmon at the fish store down Adelaide road. Just sear salmon in an orange-balsamic mixture and voila! I used lemon instead, but the balsamic was just fantastic with the salmon. Got to try orange the next time.
Had in the same meal blanched choy sum tossed with hazelnut oil and roasted garlic. Perfect combination (with roasted garlic!), and I've really forgotten how good choy sum is (or even bok choy for that matter). But then, mum would never have made choy sum with hazelnut oil. This is a winner.

Chocolate-date cupcakes

These are not chocolatey enough, but they were very good. Ate them over the week and the texture stayed wonderfully chewy. Definitely a make again. Very satisfying, but not in the chocolatey way.
Tested them with black pepper, as shown in picture, which had a truly grown-up, gourmet effect.

Rosemary Stilton cookies

Can't remember which base recipe I used, but it resulted in tough cookies. However, rosemary, butter and stilton worked so well, I almost couldn't stop eating them!


Why don't I eat cauliflower more? Cauliflower is wonderful.

Sauted lemon peel, lemon juice, sundried tomatos and capers in oil - then added boiled cauliflower. Excellent combination, especially with capers. Capers added that zest to the mild cauliflower.

Would be terrific with toast, or something dry and starchy.

Fruit compote

Used Sally Schneider's recipe from The Improvisational Cook for pie fruit as a base

- blueberries+plums+thyme works. Added almond essence instead of vanilla. This was edible, but not good.

- Divine with KG's premium vanilla ice cream, but what it's really good for is toning down the acidity - which this compote really was (because I made it with leftover tamarillo-lemon jam).

Banana Bread

Used Epicurious' Low-fat banana bread as a base.

- Substituted oil with walnut oil
- Added heaps of orange peel, some cinnamon, bran and wheatgerm
- Used super-ripe bananas and brown sugar. Super-ripe almost black bananas make a HUGE difference.

Great dense texture, like brown bread and great flavour. Definitely to be eaten not on the day itself. It hardly tasted low-fat at all.

Froze half the bread and it was even better the following week. The centre was incredibly moist and dense, a texture that's hard to find a parallel to. Good on its own, would be good fried. Must make again.

Peach Ginger Cake

Used Epicurious' Maple Honey Cake recipe as the base

- Substituted honey and puree for 1 cup peach puree. Added lots of powdered ginger and almond essence
- Used butter as oil and brown sugar. Looked flat but had a wonderfully chewy, dense texture (the next day) - reminded me of the chewy little cakes (possibly with cornflour) I bought in a Japanese bakery in Singapore. Great combination of flavour. Definitely a make-again.

- Amazing with Killinghi's vanilla ice cream (good with ice cream alone) and tamarillo-peach syrup

*The ice-cream with the syrup is amazing!!!!

Tarragon-Nectarine Chicken with Sauvignon Blanc

- Sugar to sweeten sauce- Caramelised onion, no garlic
- Combination actually works, but I can't tell, because I've never liked tarragon much. Bitter of tarragon, sweet and sour of fruit and wine
- Surprised that nectarine worked so well with chicken, still ambivalent about tarragon working with chicken though.

- Mashed roast garlic in pumpkin with hazelnut oil. Roast garlic is such a great idea.
All cooked at medium to medium-low heat

*Carrot layered with the pumpkin mash is nice

- Don't know that I'd want all three in this combination this time, though each section worked in itself.

Asparagus might have worked better with the chicken.
Then I tested pumpkin soup with butter-sauted mushrooms, and this was absolutely the most awesome combination. To die for.