Monday, June 25, 2007

A Celebration of the Lemon

Have you ever heard the saying, “When Life gives you a lemon, make lemonade”? This is good and well because what it means is ‘Make the best you can out of a bad situation’. I don’t know when this saying came about, but the humble Lemon is one of the most versatile fruit with a myriad of uses. Thus the negative connotation associated with the lemon is really invalid. Besides Chocolate, the Lemon is my next favourite ingredient in sweets. The brilliant Lori Longbotham, author of ‘Luscious Chocolate Desserts’ also devoted a whole cookbook to lemons entitled ‘Luscious Lemon Desserts.”

Used in cuisines around the globe, the lemon is a common sight in both the finest produce market and the cheapest corner store, and is essential to haute cuisine as it is to home cooking. Along with its versatility in cooking, the lemon has been known for it’s medicinal powers. In the 19th Century, the lemon was used in treating medical conditions including enlarged spleen; it has been recorded as a treatment for wounds and skin eruptions, a cure for kidney stones and prevention for scurvy.

The lemon has long been used in the home for much more than cooking purposes. For amazing household uses for lemons and lemon juice see here And this book, tells of the extraordinary uses for the lemon, amongst other ordinary things. For example, did you know that you could get rid of mineral deposits and polish chrome by simply rubbing a piece of lemon rind over it? Watch it shine after rinsing and drying with a soft cloth.

Have you ever gone to the fridge to get some lettuce for a sandwich only to find a soggy mess? Don’t throw it out. Add the juice of half a lemon to a bowl of cold water. Then put the soggy lettuce in it and refrigerate for an hour. This will crisp up the lettuce leaves. Make sure you dry the leaves completely before using it.

In the laundry, lemon juice is a safe and effective fabric whitener when added to your wash water. Your clothes will also come out smelling fresh! Now wait for it, you can also use lemon juice to lighten age spots. Before buying expensive medicated creams to lighten unsightly liver spots and freckles, try this: Apply lemon juice directly to the area, let it sit for fifteen minutes and then rinse your skin clean.

Ok, I LOVE Lemon, we have established that, so I won’t get carried away any further. Today I am sharing with you a recipe for Lemon Cake with a Crunchy Topping adapted from ‘Sweet and Savoury Bites’ by Jane Price. This is the first recipe that I have tried from this book and it was absolutely brilliant. In fact, it’s one of the best tasting cakes I’ve made in awhile. Try it and let me know what you think.

Serves 8-10
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes

250g (9oz) salted butter, softened
200g (7oz) caster (superfine) sugar
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
4 eggs, lightly beaten
250g (9oz/2 cups) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp lemon juice

110g (3 ¾ oz/ ¼ cup) sugar
60ml (2 fl oz/ ¼ cup) lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 170C (325F /Gas 3). Lightly grease a 22cm (8 ½ inch) square cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar in a small bowl using electric beaters until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest, then gradually add in the egg, beating thoroughly after each addition. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Using a large metal spoon, fold in the combined sifted flour, baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt, as well as the lemon juice. Stir until the mixture is just combined and almost smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the tin and turn out onto a wire rack. To make the topping, mix together the sugar and lemon juice (do not dissolve the sugar), and quickly brush over the top of the warm cake. The juice will sink into the cake, and the sugar will form a crunchy topping. Cool.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Strawberry Tart with Creme Patisserie

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree?’ Well, I’m afraid to report that there is some truth to that. I’ve been downloading stuff from the Internet onto my blog this whole week. I’ve become my Dad! I’m a gadget junkie! I’ve downloaded visitor counters, music from Sonific, and most importantly, my favourite song of all time, ‘True’ from Spandau Ballet. I’ve tried to download more songs, but have been unsuccessful. The how-tos are still too complicated for me. The thing is, I find myself LOOKING for things to download. I just hope this isn’t becoming a new obsession! Yikes!

Today, I’m presenting a recipe for a Strawberry Tart with Crème Patisserie, you can use other berries that are in season, if you like. I used Mulberries from my dad’s tree once, and it turned out really well. An idiosyncrasy of mine, if you don’t already know it is that I use Salted Butter for all my baking. I just prefer the overall outcome. There’s a more rounded taste to the baked goods, if you know what I mean, and it doesn’t leave me craving for something savoury after I’ve finished Dessert!

I’ve used a Rich Shortcrust pastry also known as ‘ pate brisee’ for the base of the tart. It has a higher proportion of fat compared to the basic shortcrust pastry and it’s made with an egg yolk and chilled water.

For the Crème Patisserie
3 egg yolks
¼ cup caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp plain (all purpose) flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups milk
2/3 cup double cream

400g strawberries, hulled and halved, then tossed in a 2 tsp caster sugar

For the Pastry
2 cups plain flour
12 tbsp chilled salted butter, diced
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp chilled water

To make the pastry, sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix the egg yolk with the chilled water and sprinkle over the dry ingredients. Mix to a firm dough. Put the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds, until smooth. Wrap in clear film and chill for 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the fridge and place in between two large pieces of baking paper. Roll the dough to the shape required, depending on the tin you are using to about 1cm in thickness. Remove the top piece of baking paper and lifting the dough from under the bottom piece of baking paper, ease the dough onto your tin. Still using the baking paper, press the dough lightly on the base and sides of the tin, and then run the rolling pin over the top of the baking paper to neatly trim the excess dough. Wrap in clear film and chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Remove the pastry from the fridge and prick the base of the pastry, line with baking paper and baking beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for 10 minutes more or until the pastry is a nice golden colour. Leave to cool.

Beat the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour, flour and vanilla together. Bring the milk to the boil in a pan. Slowly pour on the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Pour the custard into the cleaned pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it has thickened. Return to a clean mixing bowl, cover the surface with a piece of clear film and set aside to cool. Whip the cream until thick, and then fold into the custard. Spoon the crème patisserie into the pastry case and spread out evenly.

Arrange the strawberries on top of the crème patisserie. Refrigerate the tart until ready to serve.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Warm up Winter

It’s that time of the year again when I crave for casseroles with thick luscious gravies, steamy hot soups, flaming curries and everything that requires the assistance of my deep fat fryer. Winter has slowly but surely set in on us. If you are like me, this is also the time when you get the odd pimple or two, a sore throat, a runny nose as well as a stuffed one, a tension headache and glistening eyes. Why is it that our immune systems fail us at this time of the year?

The answer is quite simple, really. If you believe in the Chinese theory of Yin and Yang, you would understand that our bodies are designed in such a way that it requires a balance in order for us to be in optimal health. In winter when we overload our systems with ‘comfort foods’ such as those that I’ve mentioned, we ‘over-heat’ our bodies so to speak. The untimely pimple and all the other symptoms are our bodies’ way of screaming out its need for ‘coolants’.

What are these ‘coolants’ you may ask. Here in the Rode-Chong household, we come to the rescue with remedies such as ‘Five Flower Tea’, Chrysanthemum Tea, Barley water, Dried Sugar cane water, Grass Jelly water.. The list is endless. If all this seems foreign to you and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t fret. It’s not Rocket Science. If you do so feel inclined, get to your local Chinese Gourmet store and ask for any of the items I’ve mentioned, say, “ I would like to make.. (Fill in the blanks) could you please point me to the item?” Then get a packet of rock sugar or sugared winter melon strips and you’re good to go. These remedies do come in the form of ‘instant’ sachets but if you choose to go along this path, I am sorry, but you are on your own. JUST KIDDING! But really, you just can’t be sure how much of the real thing there is in those sachets.

All you do now, is rinse the dried herbs (unless you chose to buy a can of grass Jelly, you would cut the jelly into tiny cubes, then add to your pot of boiling water and rock sugar or winter melon strips) under cold running water, then put into a pot and fill with water and rock sugar or winter melon strips. Bring to the boil and simmer. It is as simple as that. Please feel free to email me if you are unsure about anything or everything.

If you simply cannot be bothered (I can think of at least one person here, you know who you are! HA! HA!) to do this, just remember to flush your system with plenty of water. I truly believe that Water is the Elixir of Good Health. Now with this said I feel less guilty in presenting today’s recipe of a ‘Malted Chocolate Pudding’ with melted chocolate and almonds to you. This indulgent winter warmer is adapted from the August 2003 issue of Delicious. The original recipe calls for a mars bar custard and chopped walnuts to be served with the pudding, but I personally prefer melted Valhrona Manjari and sliced almonds.

Serves 4-6

125g salted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain flour
50g malted milk powder
1 tsp baking powder
2-3 tbsp cold milk
1 tbsp cocoa powder (I used Valhrona)
150g milk or dark couverture chocolate (I used Valhrona Manjari)
30g sliced almonds, lightly toasted, to garnish

Grease a 1-litre pudding basin. Place butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in flour, malted milk powder and baking powder. Add enough milk for a dropping consistency.

Place half the mixture in a separate bowl and sift in cocoa. Place alternating spoonfuls of each mixture in the pudding basin, then use a wooden skewer to gently swirl together. Cover the lid with foil and tie with a piece of kitchen string. Place an upturned plate in the base of a large saucepan and stand the pudding on top.

Pour boiling water into the saucepan to come halfway up the sides of the pudding basin. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and steam for 2 hours. Just before serving, melt the chocolate. Turn out the pudding and serve with the melted chocolate and garnish with the toasted almonds.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Tribute to you

As my girls were getting dressed for school this morning, I set out a breakfast of toast, butter and strawberry conserve on the table. Nothing fancy. They are petite little things, my girls, and cannot manage more than a slice of toast or a bowl of Cheerios in the morning. I turn on my Macbook and click on ‘comments’ from my previous post. I have a new comment from Ming the Merciless He writes, “ We need more recipes from you, Carol!” I smile to myself. Ming doesn’t cook a day in his life. I feel a warm fuzzy feeling come through me. This is what blogging has done for me. I have met really beautiful people along the way. I came across Ming’s blog through a comment he left on someone elses’ blog. The pen name ‘Ming the Merciless’ stood out to me because my husband’s name is also ‘Ming’, and he too is known as ‘ Ming the Merciless’. (In his Marketing and Graphic Design Industry.) I never thought that I’d be interested in a blog that wasn’t about food. I have always wanted to visit the US and Ming’s Daily Photo blog has taken me there, well, to New York City, at least.

The girls finish their breakfast and I wash up. I ‘shut down’ my lappie and prepare to send them to school. As the girls chatted along in the car, I pondered on what I had to get done today. There was nothing urgent, I guess, so I decided that I would put up a new post today. I don’t blog as often as I’d like to, because I’m first and foremost a wife and mother, and with that comes the responsibilities which I prioratise. I guess I have come a long way (According to my standards!) since I started blogging and using the computer in December. I managed to set up the Flickr badge with my food photos two days ago without my husband and kids’ help! HOORAY! They are proud of me too. I still have no idea whatsoever about how to highlight blog sites or whatever that I’m referring to on my post so that readers can click on them and be transported to the blog site. BUT I’M SURE SOME REALLY NICE PERSON OUT THERE ON THE BLOGIVERSE WILL CARE TO ENLIGHTEN ME! ( Thanks Tara for educating me! )

I remember feeling very lost when I first started blogging. It was like I was alone in a huge, endless white room with nothing but the echo of my own voice. Then Haalo came by. She was like an ambassador from the Blogospere. I don’t know how she found me, but she was the first blogger to visit and welcome me to food blogging. She made me feel like I was a new member of a club. Haalo’s links took me on an exploration of a bigger food blogging community. I was in awe with Bea, her Food Photography absolutely blew me away. And then there’s JenJen whose blog reflects and embodies her Love of Life. Reading Jenjen’s posts always makes me feel dreamy and warm and for a brief moment, I feel like I’m on a holiday.

We have a long weekend coming up and I can’t wait to spend it with my girls. It would be just the three of us as Ming is going on a hiking trip with his two Business Partners.This will be the third time he’s away from us for a couple of days. Talking about him, he’s just walked in. He looks a billion bucks in his Black shirt and pants and his Grey Versace tie. His grey hair that he refuses to dye makes him look distinguished. He’s had 70% grey in his hair since the age of 20. People who don’t know him well think that he dyed his hair grey deliberately as a fashion statement. The girls and I will miss him but we look forward to when he comes home on Monday because we insisted he took a few days off to be with us to make up for the few days when he’s going to be away.

Recently, I came across Rasa Malaysia, a blog that serves up food that’s close to my heart. I can relate to RM’s heart-warming stories as we share the same culture growing up in Malaysia. And then there’s Melting Wok who ‘speaks’ to me in ‘Singlish’ (a term that refers to the way Singaporean locals speak English) when she comments on my blog, and I play along. More recently, there’s this beautiful french girl, Pom d'api who’s been leaving me sweet comments. Her blog is entirely written in french and I have no idea whatsoever, what it all means. I see pretty pictures of food and so I’ve concluded that we do understand each other. We both speak the language of ‘Yummy’! What I’m trying to say is that blogging has been so much more than an expression of my passion for Food. Thank you so much to all you bloggers out there who have been such an inspiration and encouragement to me. My life has truly been enriched with your friendship and support.

With all that said, I would like to dedicate today’s recipe to you all, it’s the BEST Pineapple Upside-down Cake recipe that I’ve ever tasted. It was given to me by my sister, Jacq who doesn’t cook or bake that often because of her busy and glamourous work schedule, but when she does, it’s always superb! She put this recipe together afer trying a few other recipes that just didn’t ‘hit the spot’! I must apologize for the main photo on this post, the next time I make this cake I will make sure I over-lap the pineapple slices.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Temperature: 170 degrees Celsius
Baking time: Approximately 1hr & 15 mins (if the cake starts to brown too much, cover with foil)
Tin size: 10 inch round

The Topping
1 cup finely packed brown sugar
½ cup salted butter
1 820g pineapple slices (retain juice)

The cake
1-½ cups flour
6 tbsps ground almonds
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups caster sugar
1 cup salted butter (room temperature)
4 large eggs
1tspvanilla essence
¾ cup sour cream

What to do…
Combine the brown sugar and butter in a saucepan on medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add pineapple slices and juice into pan and simmer for five minutes. Remove pineapple slices and arrange around the greased tin, over-lapping the pineapple slices. Leave the syrup to simmer on medium heat to reduce for about ten minutes, then turn off heat and pour enough syrup into tin to just cover pineapple slices. Set aside remaining syrup.

Whisk the sifted flour, almond, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Seperate the yolks from the whites. Beat egg whites until stiff, and then set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until creamy, then add egg yolks one at a time, beating well in between.
Add vanilla, and then dry ingredients, folding and alternating with the sour cream.

Fold in the egg whites, and then pour cake batter over caramel and pineapple in pan.

Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and pour a little of the remaining syrup onto the cake. Stand for 10 minutes to allow syrup to soak into cake. (OPTIONAL) Alternatively…

Remove cake from oven and cool slightly for ten minutes.

Turn cake onto a serving platter. Serve warm with Double Cream. (Do not refrigerate cake. Keep for up to 3 days. Cake tastes even better on the second day!)