Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mom's Orange and Raisin Bread

When I was home at my parents', one of my favourite things to do is to look through my mother's recipe collections. It's not exactly a perfectly bind scrapbook but many pieces of hand-written notes and paper. Many of them from years ago when my mother was still a student. I love the old paper and the stains. There's just a mysterious charm about it.

Of course I had to copy some of the recipes and this is one of them. The original hand-written recipe is actually called Raisin Bread, and with being disrespectful, I added the orange element to it.  I had a discussion with mother and baked this bread for her before (with the orange) and she approved!  

I simply adore orange and raisin together; and the scent of warm orange is just so welcoming especially at this time of year. In fact if you want to oomph the orange, you can also add some diced orange peel along with the raisins (mother approved of that too!).

If you're new at baking bread, there is nothing to be intimidated about. This is a pretty easy recipe and even though the method seems long, that's just me rambling around per usual. Any questions, do ask and I'd be happy to answer. Also I've been thinking to create a bread baking video on my YouTube channel. Would anyone like that? 

I do hope you give this a go and enjoy it as much as I enjoy sharing it with all of you. 

Have a great one x

P.S. to all my American readers, I want to wish an early Happy Thanksgiving Day and I wish you all a wonderful day with friends and family with loads to eat and drink!

Mom's Orange and Raisin Bread
Recipe by Mama Toa :)

500 gr strong white bread flour
7 gr dried active instant yeast
2 egg yolks
100 gr caster sugar
75 gr soft unsalted butter
10 gr salt
150 ml water
100 ml whole milk
Zest of 1 orange
100 gr raisins, soaked in the juice of an orange

Start by making a sponge to activate the yeast. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with 60 ml of the water and 2 tablespoons of the flour. Give it a good mix to form a paste or sponge. Cover with a plastic wrap and set it aside for 10-15 minutes or until it starts to bubble which is a good sign; meaning the yeast is alive and ready to go.

In the meantime, zest your orange and set them aside.  Measure out the raisins in a small bowl and squeeze the orange straight to the bowl with the raisins. Also set this to one side.

Measure out the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of your electric mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the orange zest with all the yeasty paste mix to the bowl and start mixing on a low speed. Once all the ingredients come together, increase the speed to medium and continue mixing for few minutes. At first the mix will look quite wet, perhaps almost like a cake batter rather than a bread dough, but this is nothing to worry about. As it continues mixing, the gluten from the flour will strengthen and eventually it will form a nice and smooth dough. This might take around 8-10 minutes. Give the bowl a good scrape every now and then if necessary.

Drain the raisins and add them to the dough. Give it a good mix for a couple minute or until they are evenly distributed throughout. Lightly flour or oil your hands and take the dough out from the bowl. Form into a nice round shape and place into a big and well-buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it prove for an hour or until it doubles in size. This will vary depending on the temperature on your room. 

Once the dough has doubled in size, scrape it out of the bowl to shape. The texture should be bouncy and shiny. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and shape your dough so it fits evenly into a well-buttered loaf tin, seal-side down. Cover with plastic wrap loosely and let to prove again for another hour or so. 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the loaf and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Rotating once after half an hour. It should be beautifully golden all over and it should sound hollow when tapped underneath.

Turn the loaf out and let it cool on a wire rack for at least half an hour. Slice and serve with soft butter or your favourite jam. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

(slow-cooker) Korean Beef and Rice Pot

There's something so satisfying and comforting about going back to the place that's familiar. And for me that place is in the kitchen. However corny this may sound, it is in the kitchen where I feel most secure and content.

Throughout my travel all over the world the past few weeks, as much as I love eating out, playing guest and letting someone else does the cooking (and cleaning), I do miss being in kitchen. So, when I was staying with friends at their home, with a working kitchen, I was so happy. I couldn't help myself to visit the farmer's market, get some ingredients, cook, open up a bottle of wine or two and having a night-in. 

I've been back on the island for a week now and it's been really busy in the kitchen at work, with all the preparation for the high season and the holidays just around the corner. Crazy but at the same time, very exciting. I've been baking new recipes and continuously learning.

Yes, I've been back to the kitchen but not until today on my first day off that I'm finally back in my own kitchen at home. I plugged the stove back in just few hours ago and I made this Korean beef and rice pot from my current favourite book, Simply Nigella by the none other Nigella Lawson. And this is just the sort of food I really need right now. It is a grey kind of day here in the Caribbean and this bowl of beef and rice is just so comforting. The rice pot is a little spicy from the Korean chilli paste often known as gochujang, but not too fiery; just enough to keep you wanting more. 

I will admit that it is not the prettiest of food. Perhaps I could present it better, but I was starving. And the idea of faffing about trying to get a nice picture is just... not now, oh please...

The original recipe is actually called slow-cooker Korean beef and rice pot, but I do not own a slow cooker. Luckily the book comes with a method for 'conversion to oven' which is very handy. Here's what you need to do: mix 500 gr of minced beef with 200 gr short grain brown rice, 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, 4 tablespoons of gochujang paste, 4 tablespoons of soy sauce and 125 ml of water in a heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook in a preheated 180C oven for 2-2 1/2 hours, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Prepare the beansprouts by submerging them in boiling water for a minute before draining and mixing then to the pot. 

Even though I'm only cooking for myself I was happy to make the full recipe which supposed to serves 6 and judging by my leftovers, I have just enough for another two people (don't judge me). I plan to have this again for supper tomorrow night and perhaps with a fried egg too. x

Monday, 9 November 2015

I'm back!

Greetings lovely readers... How is everyone doing? I hope you don't think that I've abandoned any of you :) No, not at all. The thing is, yes, I had been away. If you are a follower on my social media, such as Instagram (@michael_toa) and Twitter (@michaeltoa), surely this is nothing new to you. I've bombarded you with all the things I ate (loads, yes) and you know what I've been up to these last six weeks. 

I spent the last few weeks all over the world... in the States, Singapore, Indonesia and back to the place where I left my heart, the UK. It's great seeing and spending quality time with the family; catching up with many dear friends; and continuously learning and getting inspired about the thing I'm most passionate about: cooking and baking. 

I went to a bread course; got behind the scene of a bakery; ate at many lovely restaurants and pinched some recipes too along the way. I also got to meet one of my culinary inspirations, Nigella Lawson and I look forward to trying many of the recipes from her new book, Simply Nigella.  

There are so many stories and highlights from this trip I'd like to share, and I will do it in the upcoming posts and also videos (www.youtube.com/michaeltoa). 

But six weeks and eighteen flights later, I'm happy to be back on the island. I'm feeling refreshed with new inspirations and I look forward to getting creative again in the kitchen... So, see you around!



Monday, 17 August 2015

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas

Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chili sauce often found in Indonesian cooking. The word sambal simply refers to sauce made with chili peppers which may include an array of secondary ingredients. The word oelek itself or ulek refer to the pestle and mortar traditionally used to grind this flavourful sambal. 

There are many varieties of sambal oelek but the basic recipe includes red hot chili peppers, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, sugar and rice vinegar. It packs a fiery punch but you're getting more than just heat, but also delicious savouriness and acidity which makes this sauce an ideal shortcut to add to many other dishes, like soups and stir-fries.

Today, I'm using the chili sauce to flavour some chickpeas; and topping the chickpeas, pan-roasted chicken. Let's start with the chicken... I use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs here because I prefer the dark meat; also, they are cheaper than breast meat, so what is not to like. The chicken is seared to golden crispiness on the outside and they'll continue to cook to tender perfection in the oven later with the chickpeas. 

To achieve this golden crispiness, I have a couple of notes. One, the chicken has to be pat dry by simply using a kitchen towel before seasoning with salt and pepper. This will ensure maximum crispiness. And two, do it in batches. Over-crowding the pan, and you'll end up with braised chicken.     

Now to the sambal oelek chickpeas. I use store-bought sambal that comes in a jar (my mother would not approve, but she doesn't have to know) which makes it easier. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste. I suggest you get tomato paste that comes in a tube like a toothpaste which I find more efficient; rather than getting tomato paste that comes in a tin. 

This is so quick and easy to make and it's oh-so-good. I was having lunch in front of the TV and had to pause my Netflix show to have my moment alone with the chicken and the chickpeas. 

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons sambal oelek
125 ml water
2 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
Lime wedges, for serving
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with kitchen towel and season with salt and black pepper. Working in two batches, cook until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes per side, transfer to a plate and set aside.

Pour off the excess oil, leaving a tablespoon. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring often. In the meantime as well, preheat the oven to 220 C. Add tomato paste to the pan along with the chickpeas, sambal oelek and water. Let the mixture comes to a boil the simmer for ten minutes or so. 

 Nestle the chicken thighs on top of the chickpeas, skin side up and transfer to the oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take around 20-25 minutes. Top with chopped spring onions and serve with cooked basmati rice and lime wedges for squeezing over. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Time does fly... I find it hard to believe that it's been exactly a year since I arrived to the Cayman Islands.  Looking back, the past twelve months have been a great and wonderful learning experience. I thoroughly enjoy my work as a baker. In fact, I love it. I absolutely love it.  

I still remember baking my first loaf of bread not too, too long ago and I was just fascinated by it. Now, I get to do it (almost) everyday.  The more I bake, read, experiment and learn from mistakes, I have become more confident and I look forward to learning more and expanding my skill set.

I have also surprised myself that I adjust well to this new environment and I could actually enjoy the island life. Friends who know me well, know that I am not keen on the sun and hot weather. I melt like butter. People say, no one comes to England for the weather, but perhaps that's one of the things I miss most from home. Anyway, the turning point was few weeks ago when I was walking home from work one late afternoon. It was a sunny day and I stopped for a moment, I closed my eyes, soak the warm sun and thinking "hmmm.... this is nice".  Strange, I know. 

Anyway, walking home from the gym today, I really fancy something hearty and so I make this barley risotto with sausage and peas.  It's called a risotto but it's much easier to make. There's no need for constant stirring around around the stove. All the liquid goes at once and let the barley cooks until tender. 

Here I use plain pork sausage meat and I add familiar gutsy Italian flavours of fragrant fennel seeds, garlic, red chili flakes, Marsala, lemon and parmesan. Not feeling embarrassed at all, I also use frozen peas here, a must-have in my freezer; and a rather large handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, because I want the parsley to almost become another vegetable in the risotto, not just a garnish.

This is great one-pot meal to serve when having friends around and it can easily be done ahead of time. On reheating, you might need to add a bit more liquid and add it the parmesan just before serving. 

Have a great one my friends...

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Olive oil, regular not extra virgin
200 gr sausage meat
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Celery salt
1 banana shallot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
150 ml Marsala
250 gr pearl barley
750 ml chicken stock
200 gr frozen peas
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons parmesan, grated
A big handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a lug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot that comes with a lid over a medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat to the pan, really breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Fry for a few minutes, or until the meat starts to colour.  

Add the fennel seeds, dried chili flakes and season with celery salt and cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes, or until the meat becomes crisp, golden brown and begins to caramelised. 

Stir in the shallot, garlic and the dried thyme and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Then pour in the marsala wine and really scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.

Turn up the heat and add the pearl barley, mixing everything well. Add the chicken stock and when it comes to a boil, clamp the lid on and simmer gently. After 20 minutes, throw in the frozen peas and give everything a good stir around. Continue to cook with a lid on for another 10-15 minutes. Do add a little more stock or water if the liquid is absorbed before the barley is tender enough.

Remove the lid, stir in the grated parmesan, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Do also check for seasoning and serve immediately.