Friday, 23 July 2010

Overdue promise

I have been in desperate need of a haircut and finally decided to go a for tidy now that I am back in employment (more on that later!). I have been going to the same hair salon in Soho for almost 10 years - my longterm stylist moved back to Japan a couple of years ago so I swapped to another stylist who has been with the salon for as long as she had. My "new" stylist has heard all the stories of me changing career, heading to Paris, etc.....the last few times I've had my hair cut, I keep promising that I would make some cakes for him. With my previous job sapping all my energy from me, I have been turning up empty handed the last few days but decided that was to end with my next appointment so I dragged my lazy ass out of bed early to bake a batch of madeleines for him. Nothing very complicated but greatly appreciated by him (and the rest of the staff!!) so was very happy......oh, and I got a nice haircut too :)

There are 3 different pics of said madeleines above cos I have finally plucked up the courage to switch my camera to "Program" mode - my fav is the middle one!

Local Thai: Thai 101 Kitchen

JD and I decided to try out a local Thai resto, 101 Thai Kitchen for a pre-cinema dinner after I had read a positive review for it on a food blog. (sorry, can't remember which blog, have been doing a LOT of surfing in my free time and unemployed state!) We were due to go to the 8:30pm showing of Inception so I figured 7pm should give us plenty of time to have some grub and then get to the silver screen. 

Our dinner started off well......I had some yummy fish cakes which tasted more home-made than bought in which is always a good sign. JD plumped for the hot and sour soup with ribs.....not much to look at but a very tasty bowl of soup and a ton of ribs as well! Then things went a little downhill, especially the 20 minute between starters and mains. Unfortunately, we had both ordered mains which required a "bit of work", especially my crab on the got to 8:15pm and I had just finished my 1st piece so decided to forego the cinema and eat the rest of my crab ;)

JD had a main of fish jungle curry, very tasty but a bit of a hassle to eat since the fish was served whole. I ordered the curry crab - also very tasty but the biggest pain in the ass to eat as the cook hadn't bothered to crack any of the pieces.....the biggest duff note of our meal was the fact that the crab wasn't fresh which meant every piece of flesh was stubbornly stuck to the shell, grrrr!!!!

Despite everything, the meal wasn't so bad and we might even think of trying it again on another night......just not when we will be heading to the flicks!
Super sweet but super good longan drink

Fish cakes

Hot & sour soup with ribs

Fish jungle curry

Curry crab

Homebaking - Fruit galettes

I've been trying to make the most of my free time (not much of it left now!!) of late and try out as many recipes as poss. As mentioned in my previous post, the book of choice for me at the mo is Tartine so I decided to brave another recipe from it. Initially, I really wanted to try making the Lemon Cream Tart but not being able to get hold of tartlet rings put a stop to that cunning plan. Instead, I decided to have a go at their Fruit Galettes mainly cos they looked pretty tempting from the pics in the book! It also involved me getting to grips with making a type of pastry which I was unfamiliar with so the challenge was on!! The recipe called for flaky pastry which I found later is a bit like puff pastry in terms of flakiness but without the ability to puff to the dizzy heights of proper puff. The method was not hard, just a little messy and was getting a little miffed in the process with my butter blobs sticking to my rolling pin, grrr! The recipe recommended using fruits such as apricots, nectarines and cherries for the galettes which I pretty much ignored and decided to make half with JD's recom (plums) and half with my idea of strawberry. I chose strawberry partly cos they are in season at the moment and also cos I wanted to see whether they tasted any more intense if they have been baked/roasted?

Everything went as planned.....well, until the galettes were baking in the oven and my strawberry batch decided to spew out lots of juice onto the floor of the oven, grrrr! Since I had ran out of foil at that exact moment, the only way of preventing more juice escaping was to fold up the sides of the parchment and pray ;)

The verdict? A bit rustic looking on the appearance side, pretty impressive pastry (even if I do say so myself!!), more sugar needed to be added to the fruit but otherwise, am happy :)
Maybe a bit labour intensive for my "grand project" so something to ponder......

Homebaking experiment - scones

I have to be honest and admit that I've never been a big fan of scones. Mind you, I think I'm very much in the minority on this one so for the sake of my "grand project", I decided to have a go at making not just 1 batch but 2! The 1st type were typical fruit scone that you will find at afternoon teas (recipe courtesy of Gary Rhodes with Ma Chan tweeks) and the 2nd type was similar to a white soda bread recipe (from my new cookbook purchase, "Tartine").
Scone 1 turned out OK but got a little confused during the making of them - I only used half of the amount of milk needed and the dough was already a mushy mess? After the dough is actually made, it needs to be rested for 10-15 immediate thoughts were, to put or not to put into the fridge? Alas, Ma Chan was not on hand to advise to 1st 5 minutes were spent outside followed by next 10 minutes in the fridge......I was told later that there was no need to put into the fridge (d'oh!) so am thinking now that might have affected the rising......mmmm...
Scone 2 also worked out well so comparing started after both batches were out of the oven. I realised after much pondering that it really is an unfair comparison cos its a bit like comparing apples and pears - the textures are completely different. Scone 1 smells deliciously buttery both uncut and cut, tastes good but was a little on the dense side. All I need to figure out now is whether that was due to my dough handling or the actual recipe.... Scone 2 smelt good uncut but a little strong on soda when cut. It tastes a lot lighter than Scone 1 and has great contrast with the crunchy crust on the outside. The downside is that Scone 2 turns dry and crumbly overnight whereas Scone 1 holds up pretty well.
No absolute winner for me, I think its more a question of personal taste :)   

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


JD and I headed out to town at the beginning of this week for a b-day dinner (not me, him!) at Bentley's, a swish seafood restaurant in Piccadilly. There is the choice of 2 dining areas: the more formal Grill in the 1st floor or the more informal Oyster Bar on the ground floor. After much hmm-ing and ahh-ing (I do that A LOT!!), I finally managed to make a booking for the Oyster Bar which actually worked pretty good as we still got to sit at a proper table....turns out the Oyster Bar is actual bar setting plus a few peripheral tables.

The menu was pretty extensive with lots of yummy things to choose as well as a specials board with c.10 dishes to choose from, cue more procrastination!! I finally plumped for Langoustines with mayonaise as a starter, followed by Roast Cod, Chorizo and Potato. The langoustines were really good - fresh and decent only gripe is that I am not a big fan of ice cold seafood (maybe its a Chinese thing?!), which is why you will never see me sampling a shellfish platter any time soon. The roast cod was also delicious and the accompanying chorizo not too salty, the spud slices so good that I could've eaten a few more! JD plumped for Chilli Squid followed by Scallops with Ham Hock Croquettes which he enjoyed also - sadly, no pics!

Soooo....... anything bad to say about Bentley's? The dessert menu was pretty crap - looks like Richard Corrigan doesn't have a pastry chef in the kitchen if the options are anything to go by so we finished our meal with some tea and coffee instead. Bentley's is definitely somewhere to come back and try some of the other dishes on the menu......I was already eyeing up our neighbour's dressed crab for next time!! :)
Cute logo!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Paris-Brest revisited

I had been planning on making Paris-Brest for a long time but have been knocked back on numerous occasions due to my futile attempts at tracking down praline paste in the big smoke. Basically, it is impossible to get hold of the stuff on the high street and so far, it seems only tradespeople can order it from suppliers and at that, the minimum size is a 5kg tub! Luckily for me, my pesky persistence finally paid off when I managed to track down a company online called Home Chocolate Factory which stocked praline paste in 1kg tubs AND sold to non-trade peeps, woohoo! After a quick phonecall, I managed to get my hands on the last tub they had in stock in superfast time cos they insisted on sending it to me via DHL since it was an edible product!

The next step was to consult my recipe notes from school and surprisingly, there were a few holes when it came to the method of making Paris-Brest. Thanks to the power of email, I managed to track down a few of my chums from school for some advice and managed to plug in my gaps of knowledge (special mention has to go to Won for his "super notes"!)

I had set aside a Sunday to make a Paris-Brest and started off by making the choux pastry. Initially, I had been tempted to make this by machine as the thought of mixing egg into the pastry was already aching my arm but in the end, decided against it and made it lovingly by hand instead! My 1st batch didn't even make it to the egg stage cos I had stupidly weighed double the amount of flour meaning that the mixture was rock hard at the "flour" stage, doh! It was no biggie, just had to weigh out the correct amount of flour and start again  - the egg mixing stage was a lot easier than I remembered which was a real bonus, I have the right muscles/skill to make choux now! :)

I then piped out the choux and popped it into the oven to bake -  my chef's notes on baking times ("Bake until cooked"????) have been notoriously inconspicuous in my recipe book meaning that I had to get reference of times on the internet which called for 15-20 minutes. The choux was looking OK after this time, it had risen and was a nice deep brown colour so I thought "yep, I can take it out". After 10 minutes or so, it then occurred to me that the choux should NOT be soft and that's when I realised that I had been a complete numpty and hadn't cooked it for long enough, aaaagh! The Paris-Brest was then popped into the oven for a bit longer but at this point, it was damage limitation and I was dearly hoping that it wasn't going to stay soggy! :(

Once the choux was cooked, then it was onto making the pastry cream for the Paris-Brest cream - all pretty straightforward there. The final step was to make the Paris-Brest cream which involved whisking pastry cream with praline paste and softened butter - the good news was that my cream didn't lose volume and turn into a liquid like last time!! The bad news was that I had miscalculated the amount of cream needed and didn't have enough for my Paris-Brest, poo! The choux recipe made more than 1 large Paris-Brest so I figured that the Paris-Brest cream was for the whole choux recipe and decided to go for half the amount just to fill the 1 pastry, how wrong was I??? Luckily for me, my Paris-Brest was smaller than the one I made at school meaning that I needed less cream but I was still left a couple of inches short - a bit bummed at that.

Other than that, it came out pretty well and got the seal of approval from the b-day boy so was happy about that. I have a few things to tweak for next time but it's all good :)
   So close and yet so far, damn!!

Now you see it, now you don't hehe! (the bit with no cream is at the back!)

Homebaking experiment 2

One of the first pieces of cake that I tasted in Paris last year was a yummy matcha flavoured sponge filled with red bean paste at Zen Zoo. Having found a recipe for green tea cupcakes in a recipe book which I bought from HK, I decided to have a go at my own version of said sponge.

I used the cupcake recipe to bake 2 sponges in sandwich tins - then took the lazy route and bought ready made red bean paste from the Japan Centre for the filling, along with some freshly whipped cream. For the raspberry coulis, I used Ottolenghi's raspberry jam recipe - it tasted good but unfortunately, it was too runny to cover the top of the cake so I served it as a separate sauce instead.

The cake was tasty, moist and not too sweet. The flavour combinations of red bean paste and green tea were always going to work, but more surprisingly, the raspberry worked too. The only problems this time were presentation so am going to try baking it in an oblong pan next time for a more regular shape and perhaps making the sponge layers thinner or the filling thicker, probably the former as the cake is quite dense and the whole combo is quite rich!  A semi-success story!! :)

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Happy birthday to ya!!

With a little help from my Anglopat friends (merci beaucoup everyone!!), this is my 1st attempt at making Paris Brest since being taught at school - will post later about the trials and tribulations!!!

All things considered, I think it turned out pretty well - it's one of JD's favourite cakes so this one doubled up as a birthday cake Breithlá shona dhuit! ;)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Homebaking experiment 1

Ma Chan has always been a big fan of tweaking recipes to suit her own tastes - since I've had a bit of time on my hands of late, I decided to go one better and try and "create" something on the basis that such experimentation might be needed later in life for my "grand project"! :)

I have to be honest and say that I wasn't particularly adventurous - I've been passing by the fruit and veg stalls near where I live and got caught up with the "romantic" notion that apricots are in season now and wouldn't it wonderful to make a tart with them? I should've known better as the first time I had ever tasted fresh apricots was a few years ago in Italy whilst on a hen the time, they looked great but tasted pretty pitiful. Not wanting to be caught out again, I had a quick taste of these ones before cooking and they actually were not bad!

I started off with making a tart shell with sweet pastry - it was a great feeling to know the skills are still in the digits :)
Afterwards, it was time to move onto making a pastry cream for a filling, turned out good - my previous memory of Paris Brest pastry cream failure continues to haunt me!!
The apricots were then halved and pitted and cooked in some caramelised sugar before being placed on top of pastry cream inside the tart shell.

The end result looked pretty pleasing to the eye but failed to deliver on taste. The pastry was perfect, the pastry cream on the other hand was a little too sweet. The apricots were another disaster - I had thought by cooking them with the sugar and letting them soften a little that I would be left with some pretty yummy fruit but instead, was left with a bitter mess. After a little bit is research on the interweb,  it appears that its the skin of the apricots thats causing the bitterness so I guess I had better blanch the things the next time :)
  Minimal shrinkage - yay!!

Tempting but sadly, not tasty :(

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

你食咗飯未呀? (aka. have you eaten yet?)

Since we have been experiencing a mini heatwave in the big smoke, we have started to live on a diet of salads for summer evenings - healthy eating, if only I can get the portions under control!! 
Mixed greens with avocado, broccoli with garlic and chill, beetroot and sweetcorn and hot smoked salmon

Ditto as above except salad with cherry toms and carrot and peri peri drumsticks

Salad Nicoise

"Sans" salad dinner of lamb chops, green beans with shallots, cherry toms with basil and day-old reheated spuds!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

蛋撻, version 2

After feeling a little underwhelmed by my sponge cake efforts (and also feeling incredibly guilty with all the lovely dinners the head chef in the restaurant had been cooking for us), I decided to have another go at making that HK caff favourite, 蛋撻 (dan tat). The last time I made these babies, it was for my graduation at Ferrandi last year. At the time, my puff pastry turned out pretty good but I was let down by not having the right shaped moulds and as a result, they were a bit of a disaster.......anyone who has ever eaten 蛋撻 could tell you that not having enough filling is pretty much a disaster!

This time, the filling and the moulds were the least of my was the pastry which was giving me headaches! Instead of the perfect layers for butter and pastry that I was hoping for, my initial pastry at "turn" stage looked more like a Jackson Pollock attempt at puff pastry with butter and dough mixing into each other, as a result of my butter "ravioli" cracking followed by dough oozing out. A complete disaster, I thought at the time and also thinking that chef Didier would be not be happy either if he saw this mess!! I decided to carry on with my turns, trying to think positively that everything will turn out OK in the end.......luckily, for me it did but not resting my pastry enough meant shrinkage (aagh!) plus I didn't roll my pastry out thin enough either. All of this meant that even though my 蛋撻  tasted good, they looked pretty poor and again, I wasn't happy enough to share these with other folk. However, after a few comforting words from Ma Chan ("if they can pass my assessment, they are know how fussy I am!!"), I decided to bring them to the restaurant and share them with the people working there. As expected, they were greatly appreciated (what sane Chinese person, especially from HK would not appreciate a good 蛋撻??) so that was a nice feeling.......hopefully, I can learn from these mistakes and make it 3rd time lucky and make perfect 蛋撻 next time!! :)

BBQ at casa Chan

Our 20 yoyo BBQ from Lidl - took forever to build (not helped with instructions as cryptic as a Crystal Maze task!) but yours truly managed it eventually!

Pa Chan doing his best "me man, you woman" impression presiding over the coals! :)

Prawns and mackerel - the smell of them on the barbie had us all reminiscing about Spain/Portugal...grilled seafood by the sea, yum!

Some pretty good steak, as well as that all important Chinese BBQ staple, chicken wings!

Seafood feast chez Happy Garden!

One of the luxuries about heading home is that if I am lucky, Pa and Ma Chan can get their hands on some great seafood which means a real treat for dinner. I got lucky this week!! :)
Fresh lobster stir fried with spring onion and ginger on a bed of crispy noodles

Stir fried crab claws with ginger and spring onion

Deep fried silken tofu (underneath) with enoki mushrooms

Prawn balls with broccolli 

Wedding cake recipe trials

After my wedding cake work experience, I then headed back to the Emerald Isle to visit Ma and Pa Chan. During the last couple of weeks, I was pretty impressed by the cakes we were using to cover for wedding cakes - taking them out of the parchment that they were wrapped in would fill the kitchen with lovely smells of freshly baked fruit, carrot or lemon cakes and to be honest, they didn't taste bad either!! (I was then secretly wishing that I had used these recipes for the wedding cakes which I had made last year!!) Anyhoo, being back at home, meant that I could finally try out some of the recipes so I had a go at making a vanilla sponge, as well as a lemon version. Technically, not very challenging as they are just made using the creaming method....taste wise, they were OK but nothing exceptional (well, Ma Chan did say that my lemon cake tasted better than the version I had covered for a Father's Day cake on the masterclass!) Since I wasn't covering them for a wedding cake, they looked somewhat plain without any decoration and I was pretty embarassed (my French pastry snobbery background shining through!) at taking them to the restaurant to share with people. Nevertheless, people did enjoy them and even complimented me on how light they tasted so some consolation. On my final day of wedding cake work experience, we had a discussion about Rachel Allen and one of the other girls (also doing work experience) commented on how she felt that Rachel was a bit like a Home Economics opinion also echoed by the founder of the cake company. All very well, I thought, but at least her recipes work and have yet to make me feel embarassed about my own baking so who looks the more likely Home Economics teacher now?? 
Lemon cake filled with lemon curd and lemon buttercream (buttercream also on the sides of the cake)

Vanilla sponge with fresh raspberries and vanilla marscapone cream - I preferred this to the lemon cake but the quantities for raspberries and cream were not enough, resulting in a "mean" looking cake, char!!