Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken

Am I the only one that's been intrigued by the Pei Wei billboards in town advertising their new Vietnamese Caramel Chicken? However given that I am the only one who doesn't care for Pei Wei restaurants that much except for their awesome, awesome chicken wraps ( I HEART THOSE CHICKEN WRAPS!), I thought I would give this dish a try at home first because I stumbled across the recipe in Food and Wine magazine.
I stumbled across two recipes for Caramel Chicken in Food & Wine magazine. Which begs the question, was it the editor's off day? The recipes were somewhat similar, so I decided to mish-mash the two and picked and chose what tickled my fancy.

And we have a winner - I loved this dish. The salty fish sauce was perfectly offset by the sweet caramel sauce resulting in neither a too-sweet nor too-salty dish. Because trust me, I would never be a fan of chicken in sugar or chicken in fish sauce, the latter which would have the aroma of the trap-door to hell.

The folks loved the dish. The hub loved the dish. Crikey, the MIL actually complimented me on the dish. Houston, we have a WINNER! I do have to mention that the kids ran away because I went a little overboard with the chilli (duly noted below). I'll just have to work on that little fault of mine.
Of course, the fact that Joanne is spotlighting Vietnamese cuisine at Regional Recipes was another incentive to try this dish too.

And why do I have those tiny clay pots featuring in the pictures. This dish is traditionally made in a clay pot, so if you are lucky enough to own one, do give it a whirl in that.

Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken (adapted from two recipes in Food & Wine magazine  - "Clay Pot Ginger Chicken" by Chef Mai Pham and "Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken with Caramel Sauce" by Joyce Jue)

3 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup hot water
3 Tbsp vegetable oil (divided use)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, visible fat removed and cubed
3 Tbsp lemongrass stalks, chopped (I used jarred lemongrass stalks)
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, (1 Tbsp crushed and 1 Tbsp cut in slivers)
1 tsp red chilli flakes (this made the dish very hot! Adjust as you see fit)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1/4 tsp salt (omit if fish sauce is salty)
2 scallions, chopped
A few springs of cilantro for garnishing

1. In heavy based pan, heat sugar on medium heat till it starts to turn amber and caramelizes, make sure all sugar has dissolved by swirling the pan. Remove from heat, .
3. Be very CAREFUL with next step, add the hot water a bit at a time, it will cause the caramel to splutter. After all the water is added, return the pan to heat if there are clumps of caramel that did not dissolve and boil until there is a caramel syrup with no lumps. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and reserve.
4. In a bowl, mix 2 Tbsp of fish sauce, cornstarch, black pepper and the chicken. Stir to coat.
5. In a wok or clay pot, heat 2 Tbsp of oil until smoking and add lemongrass, onion, garlic and the crushed ginger. Stir-fry until the garlic and onions are golden. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil.
6. Add the chicken mixture and cayenne pepper and stir-fry until the chicken turns white.
7. Add all the caramel syrup and remaining fish sauce and cook over moderate heat until chicken is glazed and cooked through. Check for salt  and adjust with fish sauce or salt (I did not add any salt, the fish sauce used to this point was salty enough).
8. Add the scallions, ginger slivers and cilantro and mix well. Either reduce the sauce if you do not want the gravy or remove from heat and serve with plain rice.

This recipe goes off to Regional Recipes - Vietnam.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Croquembouche/Piece Montee

Woo hoo! I got to make Chocolate Eclairs because of the Daring Bakers! One of my ambitious projects that has been on the back burner ever since I tasted a delightful chocolate eclair for a little bakery back in the day in Gaborone. Yes, Gaborone as in Southern AFRICA, far cry from a patisserie in Paris.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

So not only did we have to make the eclairs, we then had to build a tower of them to form a croquembouche. I remember a French co-worker mentioning to me that these were the standard pastries at French weddings, in lieu of a wedding cake.

I LOVED this challenge and I am so proud I was able to do it. It took a trial at first because I was sure I would mess up somewhere. I had my trusty little hand held mixer, and when it came in contact with the pate a choux, it groaned and whimpered. So I utilised some elbow grease and hand mixed the dough. It came out runny and was hard to pipe, I even omitted one of the eggs because the texture was too soft. However the eclairs rose beautifully and I was able to experiment with making some mocha crème patissiere/pastry cream (Chocolate and espresso mixed into vanilla pastry cream).

In order to carry the Daring Baker torch higher, I went out and convinced my stingy self to stop stalking Pioneer Woman at all her giveaways and instead, fork up the dough to buy this little beauty....*grin*

Yes, I went above and beyond people! I have added a stand mixer to my kitchen arsenal in the name of the Daring Baker's! Well, to be honest, I was REALLY sore after the hand beating of the pastry in the first trial.

Onto Round 2 - with the mixer to do all the work, I now found my pate a choux to be a little "tough" so I added all the eggs in the recipe compared to my earlier trial. It was still stiff, and proved quite difficult to pipe, so I ended up scooping the pastry with a spoon onto the baking sheets.

I used my Mocha pastry cream again, and glazed the eclairs with a milk chocolate ganache.

I finally put all the eclairs together and made a haphazard attempt at spun sugar (It didn't work out, the spun sugar didn't form threads and all I was able to salvage were some shards which I placed at the bottom of the plate). Some of you may be wondering what my daughter asked ALOUD "Why did you put COBWEBS on the dessert?" In her honor (she graduated Kindergarten today), I prettied it up with pink and some flowers.

All in all a FANTASTIC challenge. Thank you CAT!

This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it.

You will need approximately 10 minutes to prepare the puff pastry, 10 minutes to pipe and about 30 minutes to bake each batch. The crème patissiere should take about 10 minutes to cook and then will need to be cooled for at least 6 hours or overnight. The glazes take about 10 minutes to prepare.

Equipment required:
• several baking sheets
• parchment paper
• a whisk
• a pastry brush (for the egg wash)
• a pastry bag and tip (a plain tip or no tip is best for piping the puff pastry; you can use a plain or star tip to fill the puff pastry with the cream)
• a flat surface such as a baking sheet or cake board/stand on which to assemble your piece montée
• some of the items you may want to use to decorate your piece montée include ribbons, Jordan almonds, fresh flowers, sugar cookie cut-outs, chocolates, etc.

Crème Patissiere 
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk.
2. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
3. Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
4. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
5. Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
* MOCHA Variation
Dissolve 1/2 Tbsp espresso powder in 1 Tbsp hot water. Mix into the pastry cream.
Melt 1 Tbsp chocolate chips in 2 Tbsp hot milk. Mix into the pastry cream as well.
6. Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)

¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.
3. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
4. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

5. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.
6. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.
7. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.
8. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.
9. Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.
10. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

11. Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 Tbsp chocolate chips

1. Place the whipping cream in a double boiler. Add the chips and stir till the chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Cool before using to glaze eclairs.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Orzo "Tabbouleh"

Tabbouleh is a delightful Middle Eastern salad made of finely diced parsley and crushed wheat (bulghur).

This is a riff on the dish using Orzo - a pasta that looks like rice, intended to replace the crushed wheat component of the salad. My brother loudly exclaimed that Orzo was left over spaghetti that had been cut up till it resembled rice. Which is not true. Because seriously, who would want that job.
"Hello. Bon Giourno. I am Giuseppe. Cutter of Spaghetti-er".
But it darn looked like it.

So technically, this is probably not Tabbouleh. . But it "looked" like Tabbouleh. And hence the fine folk at Food and Wine named the dish so. Except they used Sardinian Fregola Sarda, which is a pasta so tiny, it "looks" like crushed wheat.
And I didn't.
I used Orzo, our rice imitating pasta. And I used flat leaf parsley. Because curly parsley was nowhere to be found. So maybe I should rename this dish "Tabbouleh on Steroids".

Make. Eat. It's chock full of greens, zippy with citrus and actually GOOD for you.

For the first time ever, I'm joining in at Pasta Party #165 - that would be Presto Pasta Nights (the brainchild of Ruth at Once Upon a Feast) and which is hosted this week by Rachel at The Crispy Cook.
Orzo Tabbouleh (adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, 2006)

1 cup orzo
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (reduce by half if you don't like strong lemon taste)
1 cup minced flat leaf parsley (chop fine)
1/2 cup chopped mint
1 kirby cucumber, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
Kosher salt to taste

1. Cook orzo (in boiling salted water in a large saucepan) until al dente, about 5-8 minutes. Drain, spread on a plate to cool.
2. Whisk olive oil and memon juice in a seperate bowl. Add parsley, mint, cucumber, garlic and toss.
3. Finally add cooled orzo and tomatoes and toss again. Season with salt and serve immediately.
Cooks Notes - the key is to mince the parsly and mint as finely as you can.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Indian Cooking Challenge - Ras Malai

For this month's Indian Cooking Challenge, we are making Ras Malai which is an Indian dessert made of spheres of homemade cheese (paneer) that have been cooked in syrup and then soaked in cream. ICC is the brainchild of Srivalli, and every month she sets about to challenge members to recreate traditional Indian snacks and sweets that have been long forgotten, or relegated out of the home kitchen to restaurants.

Now I have made paneer (homemade Indian cheese) before and blogged about it. The process itself is straightforward. You boil whole milk, add an acidic agent like vinegar or lemon juice, and separate the curdled cheese that is formed.

I've typically seen or used paneer in savoury dishes like Malai Kofta, so it was interesting to see this same cheese is used in a dessert! its transformation comes about by soaking and cooking the paneer in sugar syrup, and thereafter soaking it in sweetened milk that has been reduced down to almost cream consistency.

I followed the ICC recipe to the letter and I was pleasantly surprised that everything came together so well.
  • Paneer. Check.
  • Sweet syrup and cooking in a pressure cooker. Check. Yes, no explosions or fragmented paneer even with the use of a pressure cooker, which I am deathly scared of.
  • The only part I found a little trying was in making the "Ras" - the creamy milk which is the final abode of the sweet cheese balls. You have to boil. And boil. And boil the milk down till it reduces to half. That was pretty taxing, and I had to constantly scrape out thickened cream that was starting to get burnt at the bottom of the dish.
And finally, the result.

Well, here is where the dessert turns a little sour. I'm really impressed that everything came out so well, but I'm not so fond of the actual taste of the dish. I know, quite a let-down. I think its because I have such a sickeningly sweet tooth, so get this folks, this dessert wasn't sweet enough for me!
I  know. Shoot me!
So, the next time if I make this, I'm toying with trying to sweeten the cheese itself with sugar before proceeding on. I'm sure Ras Malai purists are rolling on the floor with angst as they read this, but hey! To each his own!

Ras Malai (I halved the original ICC recipe)

For the "Malai" - Cheese Balls
1 litre full cream (whole) milk
2-3 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp AP flour

Sugar Syrup
2 cups water
4 Tbsp sugar

Ras - Milk Cream
3 cups full cream (whole) milk
4 Tbsp sugar
saffron, crushed pistachios, slivered almonds, 2 curshed cardamom pods - to decorate

1. Malai - bring milk to a boil.  Add vinegar a tablespoon at a time. The milk will curdle and the cheese will separate out. Only add enough vinegar as to change the color of the separated water from white to a light green color. Drain the cheese in a cloth-lined sieve and place a weight on it to extract a smuch water out. See my more detailed post on making paneer.
2. After an hour of drying, place paneer in a bowl, add flour and knead for about 2-3 minutes. The paneer should not feel wet. Roll into small balls.
3. Bring water and sugar for syrup to boil in a pressure cooker. Add malai balls. Close pressure cooker and cook for about 10 minutes or 2 whistles.
4. Remove malai balls and squeeze gently to remove excess syrup.
5. Heat milk for "Ras" in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick pan, stir occasionally until milk is reduced to half its original volume. Add sugar and cardamom.
6. Add malai balls into milk cream mixture.
7. Decorate with pistachios and almonds. Serve chil

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Waiter...There's An Omelette In My Curry...

My mother-in-law is guilty of it.
My grandmother is probably guilty of it.
My mother is guilty of it. But will probably deny being in such dire straits.
I am in esteemed company. Of opening your fridge on a Friday night and staring at a carton of eggs, half an onion, a tomato (on a good day), some left over rice and nothing else. And three pairs of hungry eyes watching you from across the room.

The universal solution for a South Indian home would be to whip up a spicy "omelette" (eggs cooked with onions and green chilli) and serve it up with the left over rice and some yogurt.
Until I was browsing through Kerala Syrian Christian Favourites, a cookbook I picked up whilst on holiday in India last year, where the very smart authoress Thressi John Kottukappally took this meagre offering one step further, and douses the omelette in a  simple and spicy tomato and coconut milk sauce. Talk about kicking it up a notch!
Now omelette and rice, which may be the most embarrassing offering that housewives in India have coughed up, now gets a deluxe make-over and becomes a "curry" honorable of placement in the middle of the table, and served to guests.
Every dish deserves its day =).

Omelette Curry (adapted from Kerala Syrian Christian Favourites Thressi John Kottukapally and Salim Pushpanath)
For Egg Omelette
5 eggs
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 green chillies, finely diced
1/2 tsp Salt
~1 Tbsp oil

For Gravy
1 small tin coconut milk (6 oz) or substitute regular milk
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 Roma tomatoes (medium) size cubed
1/2 Tbsp ginger, crushed
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs curry leaves
4 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder (add more if you want to make the curry HOT!)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 Tbsp oil
Salt to taste

1. Make Omelettes - Beat eggs with onions, green chillies and salt.
2. Heat a non-stick frying pan, add a little oil. Pour 1/3 egg mixture and spread around pan. Flip over to cook both sides. Fold over, slice into three sections and reserve on a plate.
3. Continue with the rest of the egg mixture in the same way as above.
4. Make Gravy - Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and let them crackle.
5. Add ginger and garlic, saute slightly, then add onion.
6. When onions have turned slightly brown, add tomatoes and curry leaves. Cook till tomatoes become like pulp and most water has evaporated.
7. Mix all the spice powders listed with a little bit of water to make a paste. Add the paste to the tomato-onion mixture and fry. Add salt to taste.
8. Reduce heat to a minimum, add the coconut milk and mix well to incorporate all the spices. Thin out the mixture if you want more gravy with water or milk. Add the omelette pieces and cook for a minute.
9. Do not let the curry boil, else the coconut milk will separate. Remove from heat and serve.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Koesisters - Cape Malay "Doughnuts"

Koesisters are little fried dumplings that are a Cape Malay twist on the more traditional South African pastry "Koeksister".

The Cape Malay community is a vibrant ethnic group that call most of the Western Cape region of South Africa home. They are originally of Javanese descent, brought from modern-day Indonesia as indentured labourers. Their culture and ethnic traditions have left an indelible mark on present day South Africa, from the influence of curry in South African cuisine (and their trademark stamp "Bobotie" almost a national dish of SA) to the presence of Islam as one of the main religions in the area.

Malay "Minstrels" performing at a Street Parade - Pic from

Brightly Colored Malay houses found in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town (Malay Quarter) - pic from South Africa Tours and
The Koesister is a yeasted fried cake which is seasoned in spiced sugar. The little dumplings fry up beautifully and are puffy and airy within, but it is the heady scent of the spices that delicately coat it that makes it a delicious treat.

Another variant without the sugar coating, known as "Fat Cakes", were sold piping hot outside our school gates and even our college "tuck shop" for cents. Some would have a jam filling or cream icing, there were certainly several ways to dress up these treats.

The recipe I used comes from Chef Marcus Samuelsson's beautiful cookbook "The Soul of A New Cuisine". Instead of rolling the koesisters in brown sugar as instructed, I opted for powdered white sugar because I found the brown sugar did not "stick" to my liking.

Koesisters (adapted slightly from The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa)

6 Tbsp warm water
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
2 cups All Purpose flour (plus extra flour for handling dough)
1 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
5 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp butter

For Coating:
1/4 cup icing sugar
2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom

For Frying:
About 4 cups canola or vegetable oil

1. Combine warm water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Place in a warm area for about 10 minutes. Yeast should bubble up.
2. Add flour and salt to the yeast mixture and combine.
3. Beat in egg yolks , mixing well after each addition.
4. Heat butter and milk together until butter melts. Pour butter mixture into flour mixture and mix well. Dough will be very sticky.
5. Cover bowl with damp cloth and leave for about 40 minutes. Dough should double in size.
6. Punch down dough and divide into 20 ping-pong size balls (I found the dough to be very sticky, and so I used  more flour to manage this task). Arrange on a baking sheet and leave in a warm place to rise for about 20 minutes.
7. In the meantime, mix all the ingredients for the coating and keep aside.
8. Heat oil over medium heat and fry the dough balls till golden brown, should take about 3-4 minutes per koesister. Do not let the oil get too hot, else the koesisters will burn and the insides will not cook through.
9. Remove koesister from heat and roll in coating sugar.
10. Resist the urge to pop them into mouth while hot!

These koesisters go to Meeta at Whats For Lunch Honey who is hosting Monthly Mingle - South Africa!

These little beauties are also off to Yeastspotting hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast blog.