Saturday, 28 April 2012

A Surprise and Bacon Brownies

Before I left work, I asked my friends not to make a big fuss about it. So last Thursday, we decided to go to the cinema to watch The Avengers Assemble and then perhaps going someplace to eat afterwards.

On the evening, I was told that my friend Adam made a mess with the ticket booking for the cinema and we're now going to a different one that's further away from where I live. Alison and Cian picked me up and on the way we have to fetch Adam too.

When we got to Adam's place, he wasn't ready yet, so we went up to his flat. I was panicking a little bit because I know we're gonna be late for the film and I'm going to miss the trailers at the beginning! But oh well, never mind...

Adam's flat was dark, warm and smelled delicious. That was my comment when I got in. When I opened the door to his lounge, "Surprise!!!" shouted everyone. All my colleagues and friends were there. I was so shocked!!

I never had a surprise party. I've been involved in many, but this one was for me... The room was beautifully decorated with pictures of me and friends, balloons and the food... let's talk about food. The spread was truly amazing. Everybody contributed a dish or two. Some home-made and some store bought.

Alison cooked a delicious slow-cooked beef in hoisin sauce and Chinese 5 spice. Liam made canap├ęs or burritos and chilli con carne. Mark baked fairy cakes. Janet brought her gooey caramel slice. Michelle with the Chocolate cake. Somebody brought salad which was a nice thought but I believe it was untouched... Anyway, that's just some of the food. It was a feast!

Later in the evening, I was presented with a gift that appeared like a book. I opened the box and it was the new iPad! Oh my God! Second shock of the evening. I would be more than happy with a cookbook, but an iPad... I was out of words. I was so touched.

No, we didn't go to the cinema that evening. And that party was just truly amazing. Great food, lots of drinks and wonderful company of friends (and an iPad)... I count myself very lucky that I have such amazing friends. I will miss them very much...

The next day, on my last day at work, I baked Nigella's Bacon Brownies. If you haven't tried this before, I urge you to try it. It sounds strange combining chocolate and bacon, but believe me, it's delicious. All I and Mae West can say is too much of a good thing can be wonderful indeed.

Bacon Brownies
Recipe by Nigella Lawson

125 gr thin rashers of streaky bacon, cut into fine slices
2 tsp golden syrup
150 gr soft unsalted butter
250 gr soft light brown sugar
75 gr best cocoa powder
150 gr plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 large eggs, beaten
159 gr dark chocolate, chopped or use dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 190 C and get out a 25 cm square tin and line it, or do what I did by using disposable foil baking tray.

Heat a pan, preferably non stick and cook the bacon bits until beginning to crisp. Add the syrup, stir again and transfer to a plate.

Melt the butter over gentle heat in a medium sized saucepan and when it's melted add the brown sugar and stir with a wooden spoon.

Take the pan off the heat and add the cocoa, flour, bicarb and stir. The add the eggs and stir again.

The the chopped chocolate or chips and the bacon bits. Fold together then pour into the tin.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until it's still a little gooey inside. Let it cool a little and serve warm.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts and an update...

Apologies for the lack of post and also apologies for haven't been visiting and commenting on your blogs too...

It's been a rather busy past few days... I am in the process of last-minute moving and packing is just not fun. I enjoy the cleaning up bit and throwing away crap I collect over the years, but the actual putting things and wrapping things into boxes... not so much.... Thankfully, it's almost done now.

Here's the thing, sometime ago, I found out that the place where I work for would not be able to sponsor myself and pretty soon my contract will officially be terminated; and that day is very soon coming... by very soon I mean in a few minutes time when I have to go to the office. Today is going to be my last day at work and I am absolutely dreading it... I'll get all emotional I'm sure and I don't do public display of emotion particularly well.

Throughout this time, I remain calm... well, I appear to remain pretty calm at least. I haven't had my "now panic and freak out" moment yet. Maybe that's because I have mixed feelings about all this. I am a great believer that everything happens for a reason... and one day, I will look back at this moment and I'd be glad that it did happen, because otherwise 'that thing' in the future would not happen.

And also, what keeps me really calm is the voice in my head... repeatedly saying, "Michael, don't worry. Everything is going to be OK. Everything is going to be OK". I am sure it will. I don't know if I am being overtly positive but I like the sound of that. Or maybe I have gone mental and started hearing random voices.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working at such fantastic place, surrounded by great colleagues. I am sad that I am leaving, but not sad because I am leaving the job, but because of the people I am going to leave. I am lucky that over the years I have made some wonderful friends and I will miss them deeply. I will miss bringing treats to work that's for sure. I really don't want to get into that now... starting to get emotional just writing about it.

OK, so what's next? Well, I am off on holiday to visit my family in Indonesia... It'll be nice to have a bit of sun and away from the never-ending rain. I am also looking forward to the food there... what a surprise... Not! And then when I come back... I'm gonna be moving to London where I am going to start the Diplome de Patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu. I am beyond excited!

During this time, I'm gonna try to keep you up to date with what I'm doing and will try my best to read your posts too. Just bear with me please...

A couple of nights ago, whilst packing, watching football, spending time with friends, I managed to make some doughnuts. I absolutely love doughnuts but don't make them very often. But when I do make them, I must be accompanied because I can eat lots of them, especially when they're still warm... I always use the same doughnuts recipe from Jamie Oliver. I love the old English spiced sugar with the warm doughnuts which includes cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, lemon zest, orange zest and vanilla seeds; but a simple cinnamon sugar is just as nice.

Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts
Recipe for doughnuts by Jamie Oliver

For the doughnuts
1 x 7 gr sachet dried yeast
70 gr caster sugar
500 gr plain flour
315 ml whole milk, warmed until tepid
zest of two lemons
zest of one orange
80 gr unsalted butter, softened and cubed
1 litre vegetable oil

For the cinnamon sugar
100 gr caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a bowl, add the yeast with one tablespoon of the caster sugar and a tablespoon of the flour and mix in the warm milk. Let it stand for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy.

Put the rest of the sugar, flour, zests and butter in a bowl. Add the yeast mixture and use a wooden spoon to bring it all together then use your hand to mix it into a bowl. Add more flour if it's too sticky. Knead the dough for 5 minutes or until it's smooth and silky. Pop it into a bowl and cover with damp cloth or cling film. Leave it to rise for about one hour. Meanwhile make your cinnamon sugar.... I'm not giving you mockery instructions for this...

When the dough has doubled in size, give it a punch. I love doing this, don't know about you. Then roll on a floured surface until it's an even 1 cm thickness. Use a little cutter, approximately 5 cm in diameter and cut about 25 circles. Put them onto a greased baking tray, cover with cling or damp towel and let it rise again for another 45 minutes.

When the dough has doubled in size again, use a chopstick to make a little hole in the centre. Now heat the vegetable oil in a large deep saucepan then fry the doughnuts until golden brown. This won't take long at all. Two minutes max. While the doughnuts are still warm coat them in the cinnamon sugar and eat straightaway with a cup of coffee or tea.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Rich Chocolate Tart with Salt Flakes

I have had a great weekend. I fed more friends (the usual) and getting fed by other friends too (the unusual). I was invited for lunch yesterday and I don't get this offer very often, so I when the opportunity comes, well, you know... As much as I love to cook and play host, every now and then I do enjoy playing guest as well. Although also yesterday, my patience was truly tested. My lunch invite was for 1 o'clock and food was finally served at 4.15. By that time, I was already digesting parts of the inside of my body. Lesson learned and note to self: must bring snacks next time.

Anyway, on the weekend I also baked another tart with homemade pastry, again! I know, I must have been possessed by the baking fairies (one source told me they do exist). I use the exact same pastry recipe from my Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart, please do check it out if you haven't done so. Practice does make perfect, right?

Chocolate and salt are ridiculously delicious together, so if you haven't tried them, I'm telling you that you are missing out! The tart is not difficult to make, especially if you use a store-bought pastry. You only need to bake the tart shell; and for the filling, a light cooking and stirring, and then two hours of patience for the chocolate to set...

Rich Chocolate Tart with Salt Flakes
Recipe by Jamie Oliver
Serves 4 - 6 (I managed to cut it into 10 slices)

375 gr ready-made shortcrust pastry
300 ml double cream
2 tsp caster sugar
50 gr unsalted butter, softened
200 gr dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa, broken into small pieces
50 ml whole milk
Seas salt flakes

If you are using ready-made pastry, bake the pastry according to the packet direction. Or if planning to make it yourself, click here for the list of ingredients and instructions.

Once the pastry is cooked, let it cool and make the filling. In a large pan, place the cream, sugar and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Then immediately remove from the heat and add the soft butter and chocolate. Let it melt a little and then stir until well-blended. Wait for a couple of minutes before adding the milk and stir again.

Pour into the tart shell and leave at room temperature for two hours to set. Sprinkle salt flakes lightly just before serving otherwise the salt will melt.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart

This month's Random Recipe challenge celebrates the host's aka the brilliant Dom at Belleau Kitchen 2nd blog anniversary. So, since it is a birthday occasion, we've been asked to choose a baking book at random and bake something lovely...

I piled all my baking books and the book or actually the booklet I selected at random is River Cottage: Baking, a Sunday supplement from The Telegraph. And the recipe I selected at random is rhubarb and strawberry tart. Before you ask, I'm gonna tell you that the pastry is.... home-made! Aren't you proud? I often take shortcut and use store-bought pastry, but I thought this time I'd make it myself. It's very straightforward, especially because it's all done in a food processor.

This tart is lovely just by itself, but just because I have some custard (home-made as well, yes *smug) in the fridge, I've got to have it with the tart.

One quick note, when the tart is out from the oven it may look a bit runny. Don't panic. The juices will thicken as it cools.

I will be doing more baking this weekend, so what this space... have a great one!

Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart
Recipe from River Cottage: Baking
Serves 6 - 8

For the pastry
200 gr plain flour
50 gr icing sugar
A pinch of salt
100 gr cold, unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg yolks

For the filling
180 gr rhubarb, trimmed
200 gr strawberries, hulled and halved
40 ml white wine
100 gr caster sugar
1 tbsp corn flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp icing sugar

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the filling and let them macerate while you make the pastry.

To make the pastry, put the flour, icing sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse to combine, just to get rid of any lumps. Then add the cold, cubed butter and pulse again until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add one egg yolk and cold water, a teaspoon at a time and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the pastry with cling film and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Obviously, you can also do this whole process by hand, but personally I prefer using food processor. 

Next, preheat the oven to 180 C. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the pastry to 3 mm thickness and wide enough to line a 26 - 28 cm tart tin placed on a baking sheet. Leave any excess overhanging the rim.

prick the base a few times with a fork and bake for 10 minutes. Lightly beat the other egg yolk, brush it over the pastry, trim the excess and bake for another 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, arrange the tart with the rhubarb and strawberries. Add 5 - 6 tablespoons of the liquid, but don't overfill it. Bake on a low oven shelf and bake for further 45 minutes to 1 hour. The liquid will thickens as it cools. Let the tart cool before removing it from the tin. Dust with icing sugar and serve with anything you like, creme fraiche, double cream or custard.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Buns and Butter Pudding

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend... mine was filled with loads of food and a company of lovely friends, so I really couldn't ask for a better one. I ditched lamb for our Easter dinner this year, and instead I cooked slow-roast pork belly and non of my friends complained. We all love pork belly. And with pork belly and crunchy cracklings, I have to have braised red cabbage with apple, bacon and balsamic vinegar.

Phil from As Strong As Soup suggested to add the pomegranate molasses that I have that needs using to braised red cabbage. And I am glad I listened to him. The pomegranate molasses along with the balsamic vinegar give a lovely zinc to the braised red cabbage; and I always think it's nice to have something acidic to balance the richness of the pork belly. So, thank you Phil!

There were also hasselback potatoes with rosemary and sprouts cooked in Marsala and chorizo, but let's focus on the pudding. The divine inspiration for this (hot cross) buns and butter pudding comes from Jamie Oliver, but I altered the recipe, not too much, to my liking. Wonderful bakers out there I'm sure baked their own hot cross buns around this time, I took a shortcut and bought mine from M&S. I hope you're not too disappointed.

Anyway, some of the changes I made are, I didn't use orange zest, but instead, I slathered the hot cross buns halves in soft butter and marmalade. Then, to the custard I added a pinch of cinnamon and a generous splosh of brandy... oh yeah! How bad can that be? It feels so Christmassy and I do love that time of year. And because I wanted a bit of crunch, I topped the bread pudding with toasted flaked almonds halfway through baking time.

This is one seriously delicious bread pudding. Serve warm with more of the custard....

Buns and Butter Pudding
Recipe by Jamie Oliver
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Pomegranate Roast Chicken & Roasted Cauliflower Salad

So, here's the thing, I have a bottle of pomegranate molasses that needs using. I've used it once in the pomegranate and chicken stew and I still have loads left. I looked through my cookery books and magazines and then I saw this recipe for pomegranate roast chicken from last year's issue of Jamie's Magazine.

This is actually a very nice roast chicken. There's no fuss and all is done in one pan. I particularly love the BBQ-like stickiness from the molasses and the tang from the fresh pomegranate seeds and with that, a hint of warm cinnamon, lots of garlic and peppery rocket leaves. I used chicken thighs only if you're wondering, because I do much prefer dark meats. They're cheaper and more flavourful than white meat, I think, so what is not to like? The original recipe calls for walnuts, which I am not so keen on, so no walnuts for me.

Along with the red onions, aubergines and rocket, this one pan roast chicken is already a meal in itself. However, on the same page where I found this recipe, I also saw a recipe for roasted cauliflower salad which sounds rather delicious, so I gave it a go. However, when I got home, I realised I didn't have several of the ingredients, so I played around with what I have in my cupboard and this is what I came up with...

Roasted Cauliflower Salad
Serves 1, happily

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
Rapeseed oil
1/2 bunch of coriander, leaves picked and finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 200C. Blanch the cauliflower in a pan of salted boiling water, then drain and leave to steam dry completely. Transfer to a roasting tray.

Bash the cumin, coriander seeds and dried chilli flakes using a pestle and mortar, the sprinkle over the cauliflower. Drizzle with the oil, then season with salt and pepper, toss to coat and roast for 15 - 20 minutes until golden.

Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a platter and sprinkle with the chopped coriander leaves, a drizzle of the oil, sea salt and serve straight away.

I also just baked a lemon cake and I'm gonna use more of the pomegranate molasses for the icing... just wait and see. If you have any suggestions to use up the pomegranate molasses, please let me know... thank you.