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Oh dear, it’s been a crazy last few weeks with me travelling for work and trying to get all the Christmas stuff sorted for next week. Blogging has been on the back burner as I’ve hardly been home, unfortunately. And I miss sharing recipes.
When I started this blog, I never realised how much it would become a part of who I am. Last year, I posted a few recipes here and there, mostly for family and friends. Now, this humble blog has readers in over 100 countries.
Being a part of the food blogging community has given me a great sense of pride. If you’ve ever used a recipe from a blog, and it’s turned out perfectly – you’ll know what I mean. I am constantly in awe of the food bloggers around the world who research, test, photograph, painstakingly detail and then share their favourite recipes. There’s a generosity of spirit and a love of sharing good food.
So this Christmas, think of your favourite food bloggers. They’ll never ask for your gratitude, but I know my table has been enriched with their food and their stories. These days I cook from blogs more than I do from my cookbooks, and that’s saying something because I have a whole lot of cookbooks.
Anyway, here’s a recipe that’s great to share as a side to Christmas pudding, or any day of the week in summer – and don’t worry if you don’t have brandy, you don’t (really) need brandy to make brandy snaps.
For someone who grew up in Malaysia, I’m actually pretty appalling at cooking Malaysian. There I said it. The truth is that I never had to cook while I was at home, and when I finally left home I always found Western techniques much more approachable. I don’t know why, but it just seems much easier to learn to make a beurre blanc than it is to make a curry paste.
So, I went back to my consult on all things comforting and homemade – my Grandma – and asked her for her easiest recipe. She came back to me with chicken sambal, and Mum very kindly wrote down my grandmother’s precise instructions and sent it through to me.
It’s a very easy recipe to start making your own curry pastes (a sambal is essentially an Asian condiment, but can also refer to a Malaysian style of dry curry). Whether it’s an introduction to making your own curry pastes or because you need a sambal for your nasi lemak, you’re sure to love this recipe. It doesn’t require any specialist ingredients like shrimp paste (which is in most traditional sambal); in fact you can buy everything you need at a supermarket.
I really hope you try it and that it becomes a staple on your family table. I love when recipes make it from one family to another, and to another – adapting and changing along the way. So here it is, from my family to yours.
Grandma’s Chicken Sambal
for the sambal paste
8 red finger length chillies, or more if you want it spicy
¼ tsp tumeric
1 cm ginger, approx 15g, skin removed
6 garlic cloves, approx 25g
3 onions, approx 250g, roughly sliced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 kg chicken, skin removed (you can use breast or whole chicken, whichever you prefer)
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom third only – smashed with the back of a knife
3 kaffir lime leaves
¼ tsp chicken stock powder
¼ tsp sugar
salt, to taste
freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
coriander leaves and thinly sliced red chilli, to garnish
What sort of cake do you make for someone who can’t leave chocolate alone? (Ok, so that’s most of us, but you get the idea.) Well, this one of course.
It’s a whopping 4 kilos at minimum and covered in chocolate – It took over 45 KitKat fingers to go around the cake. It’s chocolate inside too, of course, and ganached with chocolate for good measure. Best of all, it’s not difficult – think of it as a project where you can mess up the icing and no one will know because it’s completely covered in chocolate.
Whether you’re a kid or an adult (with a kid inside), this cake is sure to please. And it’s pretty impressive to look at too!
Chocolate Kit Kat and M&Ms Cake
serves a lot of chocolate crazed people
from Luscious Chocolate Desserts
for the cake
3⅓ cup + 2 tbsp plain flour
2¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup cocoa powder
¾ cup boiling water
2⅔ cups sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
for the frosting
180g dark chocolate
½ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
¾ tsp vanilla extract
225g butter, at room temperature (cut into 1″ pieces)
2 packets M&Ms
12 packets KitKat (about 50)
1.2m of coloured ribbon
I should start with a big fat disclaimer – I work there. So I won’t talk about the food other than to say that a lot of thought has gone into sourcing great quality produce from ethical suppliers.
The fish is sustainably sourced, and the chicken and eggs are free range. Pasta is made in house every day. Nothing comes into the kitchens without its processes being documented and inspected. There is astounding attention to detail – the locally sourced salumi is made without sodium nitrates because research has shown that the combination of sodium nitrate, red meat and red wine can lead to bowel cancer.
Here are some photos to help you decide whether you’d like to pop in – you know you want to.
Fried three cheese gnocchi – $9.50
Meat plank for three – $40.50
Fish plank for one – $12.50
Tagliatelle bolognese – $19.50
Vongole Tagliolini – $25.00
Land and sea risotto – $29.00
Bone in prime strip loin with truffle butter – $36.50
Creamy panna cotta – $8.50
Epic brownie – $10.00
125 Bunda St
Open 7 days a week, from noon – except Christmas and New Years Day
Book via this link, a phone number will be available soon
Every so often, you find a little happy place that you don’t really want to blog about. It’s small, nondescript and in an unknown suburb. No one else really needs to know about it, right? And when you wander in, it feels a bit like you’ve wandered into someone’s dining room – in a comforting sort of way. You worry that if you post about it, other people will flock to it and you’ll never be able to get a table there again.
But, there’s a part of me that wants to reward great little neighbourhood places like this. It’s good food, reasonably priced. In fact, maybe you even feel like you haven’t given them enough money.
And even better, it’s not just good for Canberra – it’s just good. It’s the perfect local Chinese takeaway that’s there when you need it and good enough to go out to dinner when you want to hang out with friends. And best of all, it does a kickass Peking duck.
Ok, so you have to order the Peking duck 24 hours in advance, but that’s fair I think.
Two courses Peking duck; duck pancakes and san choi bao – $43 per duck
At $43 for two courses, the duck is the cheapest I’ve had. It’s pretty close to the famous Simon’s Peking Duck in Box Hill. The duck is expertly carved into 16 pieces – with a good bit of crispy skin on each piece. The pancakes are a bit thicker than usual, but still very good. And when you’re done with duck pancakes (as if anyone can ever really be done with duck pancakes… there’s the san choi bao of duck – or duck noodles) which is also pretty darn good. There’s also the option of soup as a third course, for an extra $5.
Just to be sure, we had to try a couple of other things on the menu. Shanghai fried noodles (to compare to the infamous Camy’s Shanghai Noodle House) and something intriguingly titled Dry Chilli Beef in Shanghai style.
Shanghai Fried Noodles – $11.80
The noodles, I’m happy to report are better than Camy’s, though I should note that that’s not a particularly high bar to beat.
Dry Chilli Beef in Shanghai Style – $13.80
The beef is good too – crispy, slightly spicy, slightly sweet strips of beef and sweet potato. None of us have ever tried anything like it before.
So, despite my slight misgivings about sharing my new happy place, I can’t help but think that little neighbourhood restaurants such as this should prosper. And I suppose, after all, that’s the job of a good blogger right? To discover lesser known places and share them. And so I pass this on to you, the select/not-very-many readers of this blog.
King Fook is one of Canberra’s hidden gems. It’s good food at not-Canberra prices. Go. Take a friend. Take many friends. And make sure you decide to go at least 24 hours in advance so you can order a duck (or several).
43 Kesteven Street,
02 6258 1877
Lunch: Mon-Sat 11.30am to 2.30pm
Dinner: Mon – Sun 5.00pm to 10.00pm
BYO $2 per bottle corkage, $1.50 per beer
$1.50 surcharge on public holidays
I keep hearing people say that there are no good Asian desserts. Let’s be honest, Asian desserts are essentially starchy or deep fried (nothing wrong with either of those things) – think red bean pudding, mochi or lotus pancake. Then there’s the pseudo-Asian desserts like fried ice cream and banana fritter with ice cream.
I get it, they’re often not as good as their cousins, Westerm *ahem* French desserts but let’s not forget that Asia has limited access to dairy. And the weather means that stuff like chocolate is often mixed in with oily stabilisers to help it withstand the heat and humidity. Take out chocolate and cream, and there go a lot of dessert options.
But Asia does have coconut milk (yum!) and gula melaka which is possibly the best form of sugar ever known to humankind. Combine these two and I’m reasonably sure you can win over the biggest Asian dessert-unbeliever.
There’s are a couple of things to watch out for – buy the right sago and the right palm sugar. It’s the small white sago pearls (about the size of mustard seeds) and are also called tapioca pearls. I’ve seen it sold in supermarkets called seed tapioca. Don’t buy the bigger ones, those are for bubble tea. Similarly, the brown sugar needs to be gula melaka which is dark brown palm sugar as opposed to the light brown palm sugar often used in Thai cooking. And don’t confuse it with coconut sugar either – that’s different. I’ve attached a photo for you cos it’s that important.
Moving on – the last thing you need to be careful of is not over or under-cooking the sago. Undercooked sago is hard in the middle and overcooked sago is just tapioca sludge. Here’s hoping I haven’t scared you off the process entirely. Really, really, hand on heart this is one of my favourite desserts. And for my vegan friends, this is a pretty good dessert option – just omit the egg white.
Sago Gula Melaka
serves 8-10 (about 900ml)
250g small sago pearls
1 egg white (just omit if you’re vegan)
200g dark palm sugar, also called gula melaka
1 pandan leaf (optional)
400ml coconut milk
A year and a half ago, when we moved to Canberra I made these as my first ever cupcakes and took them to a house party. Half of me did it to make friends, but the other
semi-competitive part of me wanted to cement my reputation as the baker in the group. It wasn’t long before people started referring to me as Cupcake Girl – kind of like a food-possessed power ranger.
These have been the most popular use of my cupcake powers by a mile. Not even the peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes beat these ones. I think there’s a little kid inside all of us that these speak to when there’s caramel sauce dripping from your fingers.
For those times when you need to impress, whether it’s high tea or an indulgent dessert – these are just the thing.
They’re very easy, and suit even novice bakers. Don’t be alarmed if your cupcakes look lighter than those in the picture – when you brush them with the caramel sauce, they turn that decadent dark brown colour.
Sticky Date Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes
for the cupcakes
200g dates, pitted
1 teaspoon baking soda
125ml boiling water
125g brown sugar
125g self-raising flour
for the caramel sauce
100g dark brown sugar
dash of vanilla essence
for the caramel icing
125g cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp sauce (above)
Put the chopped dates in a bowl with the baking soda. Pour over the boiling water, stir and let stand for 5 minutes.
When the cupcakes are done, remove from the oven and poke about seven holes in each using a chopstick. Pour a tablespoon of sauce over each cupcakes, making sure to use a brush to coat the top of the whole cupcake.
What do you get for someone who owns a death star tea infuser? As it turns out, despite the first film being made in 1977, Star Wars is still a big deal around here. *ducks for cover*
Despite sitting through all six episodes (under sufferance, I might add), and for a total watch time of 13 hours and 17 minutes I failed to see the magic – though Hayden Christensen did provide some eye candy, though fairly sub-par, Neighbours style acting. But, let’s move on.
Inspired by Gretchen’s Dinosaur Serving Dish, I decided to make a Star Wars themed cookie plate.
It’s pretty simple – purchase one Star Wars themed toy and one $2 Kmart saucer. Glue together using hot glue gun. It’s probably wise to glue all the joints in place too. And it may be prudent to weigh Mr Clone Trooper down with some weights in his legs.
Unfortunately, I did not do either of those things, so he survived for only a minimal length of time standing up. The good news is that he’s just as fun a project sitting down – I should probably have just done that in the first place.
If you’re thinking of doing a similar project, I’d recommend looking for something that has better structure – it needs to be fairly stable, so less tall and more area in contact with the table it’s going to stand on. Heavier is also better, in this case, as it’ll be less likely to tip over.
I’m sure you’ve all had times where you’ve been thinking of the perfect cake to make for a party, but have you ever made a gorgeous cake and then decided to throw a party for it? I have, and it’s a cake worth throwing a party for.
When fellow Malaysian Billy Law threw down the Ombre Cake as his first ever baking club challenge, I must admit I was a tad unenthusiastic. Not because it didn’t look awesome, but because I’m not really one to use that much colouring in my cooking. Even red velvet cake is a stretch for me. But the more I looked at the pretty pictures, the more I wanted to give it a go.
An ombre cake is one that uses gradient in the cake layers, and can also carry through to the icing on top. It’s normally a vanilla-flavoured butter cake, and the icing tends to be some sort of buttercream.
The hardest part, if I’m being completely honest was committing to a colour. Blue – there are no naturally occurring blue foods (technically the blueberry is purple) which is why restaurant kitchen band aids are blue – so you can see if you’ve accidentally put it in food. But I’m getting distracted from my point, I’m easily distracted aren’t it? Yellow just looked too much like sponge cake, and the colour I wanted to do, purple has a tendency to fade to greyish tones. I was worried green would look too healthy (kind of like alfalfa). I bet you’re starting to think I’m on the neurotic side, and you may even be right, but I like to consider all these things before committing to a colour. Pink would have to do then – it’s never been one of my favourite colours and was a bit girly, but hey – I’d invite some girlfriends over and make a night of it. Yes, I threw a party for my cake.
Now I hate to be a downer, but I know there is nothing worse than getting excited over a recipe and then have it not be great. So, I’ll just tell you the truth now – the cake didn’t taste particularly good. I was pretty disappointed. Here we were, a bunch of girls sitting around, ready to watch Magic Mike – and there was no good cake! It was on the dry side, a bit bland and really just tasted like butter, sugar and vanilla. I realise to many people this may not be a problem. I should probably state now my radical belief that I there is such a thing as too much icing. And this was it. If I made it again, I’d do it in chocolate layers, with chocolate or coffee meringue buttercream. See my tips (below) for other thoughts.
Here is Billy’s recipe – I wanted a more obvious gradient so I added an extra layer (making it 5 layers of cake) for effect so the quantities are scaled up a bit.
cake adapted from Billy Law’s Baking Club
makes 5 layers of a 20″ cake
icing from Cake Journal‘s excellent tutorial
makes just enough icing to cover this cake as per the photo (you might want to scale the recipe up a bit if you’re worried)
For the cake
240g self raising flour
180g all-purpose plain flour
a pinch of salt
360g caster sugar
240g unsalted butter, softened
5 medium eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
food colouring (colour of your choice)
for the icing
320g white sugar
220g egg whites
500g butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
food colouring (colour of your choice)
Tips for making ombre cake: