Monday, 23 December 2013

Spaghetti with Pork Belly, Fennel Seeds and Chilli

How's everyone doing? Are we all ready for Christmas?

We're just about ready I think at home... only few bits of food shopping and that will be it... as far as Christmas eve's dinner and Christmas day lunch.  Looking at my to-do list, tomorrow I only need to make dessert, prep the veg and brine the chickens.... nothing complicated.  In case if you're wondering, we're having chickens for Christmas not turkey... we'll roast a turkey for new year instead.

The past few days, mom and I have been baking and frying non-stop... we have lots of orders coming for homemade cookies and crisps.  Earlier today we baked trays after trays of cinnamon cookies and snow cookies (they're like shortbread but covered in icing sugar). And tomorrow we'll be baking pineapple cookies (nastar cookies) and kastangels which are Indonesian cheese sticks.  Fun day, I'm predicting :)

But even on the busiest day, I never skipped a meal... So, yesterday for lunch I made this spaghetti with pork belly, fennel seeds and chilli.  This is a real gutsy yet simple pasta dish... I love slow-roast pork belly with fennel seeds and I am a pasta addict; so borrowing the flavour elements of the pork belly and combining it with spaghetti, this is most definitely my kind of meal. 

Here's how I make it. In a heavy bottomed frying pan, heat up a splash of olive oil.  Then add in the pork belly slices and fry for a few minutes until the meat starts to colour and the fast has rendered slightly.  Be sure to use a big pan though, or otherwise the meat would braise and it won't colour nicely.

Whilst that cooking, make sure you start boiling the water in a big pot as well to cook the spaghetti.  Also, finely chop some shallots and garlic; and in a pestle and mortar, bash the fennel seeds, chili flakes and salt. Add these to the pork belly and cook until the meat becomes crisps around the edges, slightly caramelized and the spices form almost like a crust on the pork belly slices.

Season your water generously with salt and cook the pasta.  Stir in some dried oregano to the pork belly mix and if you have a bottle open, pour in some wine (I use red, but white is good too) and really scrape the sticky bits on the pan.  Turn the heat down. 

When the spaghetti has cooked to al dente, drain it in a colander, reserving some of the pasta cooking water. Toss the spaghetti around with the pork belly... if it's too dry, add a glug of olive oil and the reserved cooking water to give you a shiny finish.  The only thing I'm regretting is not having any fresh parsley... not only to sprinkle on for the sake of sprinkling/garnish but really to add bright flavour to the dish.  But it's not the end of the world obviously if you also don't have any. 

Anyway, I most likely won't be blogging again until after Christmas, so I want to say Merry Christmas to all of you... Have a wonderful time with family and/or friends with plenty of food and drinks.  And I hope Santa will bring you nice presents :)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Orange and Cinnamon Egg Custard Tarts

One of the baking shortcuts I often buy ready-made is puff pastry.  It's convenient and it saves a lot of time. I first learn to make puff pastry during my work experience as a culinary trainee in a hotel over a year ago. Making puff pastry at home is not too difficult, but yes, it does take time and patience. And I feel cooking/baking is like learning a language, if you don't practice enough, you might forget... just like my rusty French.  So in the spirit of that, I made my own puff pastry for the custard tarts.

I use Paul Hollywood's puff pastry recipe which you can find here.  The instructions are clear but be sure you read it through before you start.  The pastry needs to be chilled overnight twice, so you need to start early with the process.  

What I find most challenging is the weather... something I cannot change obviously. I wish I had the power to control the weather like Storm from X-Men... hmmm... question of the day: what superpower would you want?

Anyway, my point is when working with puff pastry, keeping it cold is crucial. You don't want the layers of butter to melt prematurely, making the dough soft, sticky and difficult to work with. It's hot and humid where I am right now and even though I have a cold work surface (a marble table) and a pair of cold hands, I still have to work quickly before the dough soften too much.  

The custard part is easy... and you can infuse or add any flavours you want.  But for me the scent of cinnamon, vanilla and warm orange is quintessentially Christmas, so I have to go with that.  And topping the custard tarts is freshly grated nutmeg.

Orange and Cinnamon Egg Custard Tart

100 gr caster sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Zest of 1 orange
250 ml full fat milk
1 cinnamon stick

Homemade or store-bought puff pastry

If you're making your own puff pastry, start with that. Once it's made, preheat your oven to 200 C and butter the holes in a 12-hole muffin tin.  Then roll your pastry on a floured surface, neither thin nor thick and cut out 12 discs using a cutter.  Press each disc into the muffin tin holes.  If you live somewhere warm like me, it's a good idea to put the pastry back in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to chill.  Line each one with baking parchment and fill with few baking beans and blind bake for 10-15 minutes.  Leave the pastry to cool completely in the tin.  Leave the oven on.

Let's make the custard.  Warm the milk in a saucepan with the cinnamon stick.  In a bowl, whisk the yolks, sugar, cornflour, vanilla paste and orange zest until creamy and pale.  Slowly pour the warm milk onto the yolk mixture and stir well.  Return this mixture into the pan and cook on a low heat until it thickens.  Stirring all the time.

Pour the custard into a small jug and then into each of the cooled pastry cases, filling almost to the top. Grate the nutmeg on top of the custard and place the tarts back in the oven for 10 minutes.  The custard will form a slight dome during baking which is fine... it'll sink back down when cooling.  

Let the tarts cool slightly in its tin then remove them carefully from the tin... and you know what to do next... (if you're like me, you'll be making a hot cup of coffee and enjoy the egg custard tarts in an air-conditioned room).

Monday, 9 December 2013

Christmas Stollen Bread

I've been waiting for weeks to bake this Christmas stollen bread and it's finally here... Christmas is finally here. I mean you can obviously bake a stollen bread any time of year you want, but to really appreciate the beautiful wreath effect, it's got to be this time of year.

The wreath shape is inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe.  I saw a video where she bakes this stollen bread with her mom a couple of years ago and I thought it's looks so festive that I have to try it and so glad that I did. But since then I have altered the stollen bread recipe with all sorts of my favourite dried fruits and Christmasssy flavours.

I use a mixture of regular raisins and golden raisins, mainly for aesthetic reason... but the best part is, they have been soaked in whisky overnight... so that they plump up again and bursting with booze :) I also use dried cranberries because I like a bit of tang... dried sour cherries will be delicious as well. But speaking of cherries, as you can probably see from the picture above, I also add a good amount of ruby red glacĂ© cherries which I know is old school but it makes me happy... If I had some currants and mixed peel I would have added them as well... the more the merrier.

Nuts wise, I like cashews... but almonds, pistachios, walnuts can also be used.  Whichever makes you happy.

Christmas Stollen Bread

350 gr plain flour, plus more
350 gr strong white flour
6 tablespoons caster sugar
14 gr dried yeast
10 gr salt
200 ml whole milk
140 gr butter
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Zest of 2 oranges
Zest of 1 lemon
180 gr raisins
180 gr dried cranberries
120 gr dried apricots, cut into small pieces
120 gr red glace cherries, cut into small pieces
100 gr cashews, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

In a small saucepan, heat up the milk and butter until the butter is melted.  Set aside to cool a bit.  In a small bowl add the yeast with four tablespoons of warm water and stir to dissolve the yeast.  Let stand for 2-3 minutes.  In a big bowl, add the flours, sugar and salt.  Now add the yeast, warm milk and butter and the lightly beaten eggs to the flour mixture.  Start mixing and knead until fairly smooth on a well floured work surface. I'm gonna admit that I do this first kneading using a machine to save time and then continue by hand...

When you have a smooth dough, put it back in the big bowl and start adding the raisins and all the leftover whisky (if using), zests, dried cranberries, apricots, cherries and cashew nuts.  Knead them some more until the fruits and nuts are evenly distributed. If the dough is sticky, add a bit more flour.

Place the dough in a buttered bowl, cover with clean tea towel and let it rise for an hour and a half to two hours. Depending the temperature of your room.

When the dough has risen, punch it down (I like this bit) and with a rolling pin, roll into a rectangle.  Try to make sure the thickness is even all over. Now, starting with the long side, roll it up tightly, forming a cylinder. Join the ends together to form a large circle.  Then transfer it to a buttered tray or you can line with non-stick parchment.

Using a scissor, make cuts alongside the circle in intervals, about 2/3 of the way through the dough.  Cover it again with tea towel and let the dough rise for half an hour or so.  Pre-heat your oven to 190 C.

Brush dough with melted butter and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Place on a wire rack to cool and dust with with icing sugar before serving.  Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, slice the stollen and you know what to do next...