Pink Princess Barbie Cake!

19 Feb

Yes, really. A pink princess barbie cake. I never thought I would ever type that, but there you go … My friend Tins asked her daughter what kind of cake she wanted for her third birthday, and MizZ came up with a pink princess barbie cake. I have an issue with the unrealistic body image associated with most dolls of this kind … but I also understand that at 3 years old, sometimes fantasy is pink and glitter and conventionally pretty. 😉

AngelKitten and I had a conversation, and decided we were up to the task. I would make the cake (this pink raspberry and vanilla swirl cake), and she would be responsible for the exterior decoration, with assistance from me. We went shopping, and found a lovely brown haired doll with a princess crown already in place, and we also picked up a skirt cake mold from Wilton. I practiced my cake, and AngelKitten drew designs and planned a mixture of fondant, royal icing, buttercream and glitter!

We realised pretty early on that the cake skirt mold would not fit the doll – she was too tall for it. So I knew I had to bake three cakes – a base cake (which we buttercreamed and covered in pink fondant), and then a second smaller round cake, upon which the skirt cake would be stacked. We buttercreamed the small cake and skirt cake, and stuck them together, and then added a top layer of vanilla buttercream. We then covered the skirt cake in white fondant for contrast, and then put a second layer of cut out pink fondant over the top to build up a design. We cut out flowers from the pink fondant so that some of the white would show through, and the design worked really well. We used a lovely white and pink flower ribbon I had originally bought for Chinese New Year cakes – this became the border for the pink fondant on the skirt, as well as a belt, a ribbon tie at the back of the doll, and a shawl.

AngelKitten made beautiful roses from royal icing, which we then added to little mini cupcakes, and she also cut out the lettering from white and light purple fondant. We allowed the lettering to dry overnight, and then we attached it to the cake with royal icing (which dries hard and is like edible superglue!) AngelKitten also made four beautiful purple flower cutouts and attached the letters of MizZ’s name to four organic lollypops. She stuck the lollies through the purple flowers, which she had positioned on mini cupcakes. Finally, AngelKitten spent quite a while delicately going over the cake and highlighting it with edible glitter so our pink princess shimmered and shined.

It was quite a massive undertaking, but the end results were lovely, even if I do say so myself. I like the fact that the ribbon we used was quite Asian … and so the princess had an identity which made sense to us. We christened her Princess Theresa-san … and I am not sure who was happier with her, MizZ or her mama 🙂

Here are some photos of the cake. Please do contact me if you want help in assembling your own princess cake for a birthday or baby shower. I think our cake proves that even those of us without much experience can pull it off!

Princess Theresa-san the night before her debut

 

Princess Theresa-san at MizZ's Birthday

Princess Theresa-san awaiting the arrival of the children

The back view - we belted Princess T with ribbon (in part to cover up any fondant mistakes!) and AngelKitten tied a beautiful almost kimono like bow at the back. Very pretty!

Happy 3rd Birthday! Our fondant words, cupcakes, and MizZ's name, not in lights, but in lollypops!

A beautiful purple flower cupcake

Raspberry Vanilla Cake

15 Feb

I have to admit… I love cake. Any kind of cake, really, is a friend of mine. Chocolate, vanilla, carrot, yellow, white, ginger… Damp cake, fluffy cake, spicy cake or pound cake. I am an equal opportunity (cake) lover … and I really enjoy tasting and baking new cakes.

Recently, my dear friend Tins, asked me to bake a cake for her daughter’s 3rd birthday. There were a few pre-requisites. It had to be pink (obviously), have a princess doll theme, and have no nuts. AngelKitten and I decided on that old standard from our childhoods (though they might be decades apart) – a doll cake – the skirt a cake, and a doll sticking straight out of it! We also decided to bake a larger round cake as the base, and fondant the whole thing (in pink) with pretty roses and and decorations.

Hopefully, we will get this right, but I decided to see if I could create a cake that had elements of pink in it too! I decided to see if I could make a raspberry vanilla cake – light yet firm, buttery, scented with vanilla, with a swirl of pink cake in the centre – a beautiful looking cake that tastes good too.

This cake is very pretty – and its perfect for decorating or fondanting because it also has a certain heft and structure. Do bake it the day before decorating to let it set up a bit. It will keep, fondanted, for at least 3 – 5 days. The great thing about this cake, though, is that it is perfect as a tea cake, unadorned, or as a layered celebration cake. Its just lovely, and has now joined my list of favourite cakes to make!

This recipe will yield 2 9 inch layers

  • 3 cups flour (I used 1/2 all purpose 1/2 cake)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (8 oz) butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp (or more) vanilla
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup raspberry puree (approximately – depends on quality of puree)

Preheat your oven to 165C (325F) and line two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper. Set aside

In a small bowl, soft together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

In an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then add the vanilla. You should have a creamy batter, but dont worry if it looks a bit curdled – it does that sometimes!

Fold in (dont beat in) the flour mixture, alternating with the milk.

Divide the batter into half (though if you like more pink, you could go up to 2/3rds  vs 1/3). Divide half the batter between the two prepared cake tins, smoothing up the sides.

Fold the raspberry puree into the second half of batter. You want quite a pink cake, so make sure that the puree gets integrated fully. Add more if you think it is needed. Pour the raspberry batter evenly between the two cake pans, and smooth the tops of the cakes.

Bake for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with scant crumbs attached. Cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, before turning out and cooling to room temperature.

You can ice, frost, glaze, fondant or even serve this lush cake naked! Its delicious and beautiful.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Chocolate Spice Bread

12 Feb

I love zucchini bread – bold in its simplicity and perfectly comforting. Its a good bread, one that is easily frozen and surprisingly easy and quick to make. I thought of this bread when I saw some luscious zucchini at O’Gourmet last week, and thought that it might be a nice idea to try a new twist. I found Bentong ginger powder at PastryPro – organic, sun-dried and so deep and complex in scent its almost overwhelming. I wanted to use it in a bread, and with my beautiful zucchini to hand, I set about inventing a new, enticing version of my beloved old standard.

I have to admit, this new zucchini bread is pretty spectacular. It is damp, lush, complex and dark. I really decided to go all out in this bread … I used dark and light brown sugar, freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon and the amazing Bentong ginger, a touch of ground hazelnuts, beautiful Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and both white and bittersweet chocolate. I realise, its full on! I thought to myself, when I put the loaves in the oven … either this is going to be delicious, or its going to taste like a muddled mess!

Luckily, its a wonderful, complicated, intriguing bread. Its very moist and it will get better over a few days – the flavours compounding and playing off one another. It freezes well, and its wonderful lightly toasted, as a snack, breakfast or tea time treat. Plus, what a wonderful way to get people to eat their zucchini and love it too!

I know that this seems a load of ingredients to bring together. If you cant find ground hazelnuts, or dont want to make them, substitute ground almonds, or even just plain flour. Chop and change as you wish, its a very forgiving recipe. Try though to include the honey and the spices … they really deepen and improve the bread immensely. And who doesnt like chocolate? Hehe … though if you want to be more healthy, try a few seeds or dried fruit instead. And do try and wait at least 10 minutes after you remove the bread from the hot oven – its very delicate at first, and needs a moment to firm up! Says she, who never waits 😉

Makes 2 loaves

  • 2 medium-large zucchini (approximately 2 – 3 cups grated)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 scant cup sugar – half dark brown, half light brown
  • 1 heaping tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod, beans scraped
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried ginger (I used Bentong ginger, which is very flavourful – you may want to up the amount of ginger – may be 1 – 2 tsp –  depending on the quality of your source)
  • 1/2 whole nutmeg, grated
  • 2 cups chocolate chips, drops or chopped (I used half bittersweet, half white, best quality chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Line two loaf pans with baking paper. I usually cut out a large piece of baking paper, centre the loaf pan, and cut in at a 90 degree angle on all four corners. I can then fold in the paper, and have a bit of nice overhang. Set aside the pans.

Set a sieve over a small bowl, and grate the zucchini into the sieve. I use the very fine grater, but depending on the texture youre going for, you might want to grate it slightly more coarsely. Press the zucchini into the sieve to encourage as much water out as possible (you will probably get about 1 cup worth). Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (and reserve both the zucchini and its liquid!).

In a large bowl, place the eggs, vegetable oil, sugars, honey and vanilla. Whisk together well until everything is well combined and integrated. Set aside.

In a small bowl (or large measuring jug, which is what I use) combine the flour, ground hazelnuts, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Stir to combine completely. Set aside for a moment.

Measure out about 1/2 cup of zucchini water.

Stir the flour and zucchini water into the sugar/oil mixture, in thirds, mixing gently but thoroughly. You might not use all of the zucchini water – just add a splash each time to really help the flour to integrate into the sugar/oil.

Add all the zucchini and mix well, and finally add the chocolate and mix well.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf tins.

of Zucchini Bread!Bake, switching the tins in the oven half way through if youre concerned about hot spots, for about 45 minutes – 1 hour. A cake tester inserted into the loaf will either come up covered in chocolate (in which case, wipe down and try again!) or with scant crumbs attached.

Allow the bread to cool for 10 minutes or so before devouring. This freezes exceedingly well, and will stay good in the fridge for a week or more (though its always finished up by the first day or so in my house!).

Enjoy!

 

O’Gourmet Food Hall Sauteed Zucchini + Gratin

9 Feb

Sometimes, you read a recipe, or a friend sends you some ideas, and you immediately want to make it, bake it, taste it, create it. Other times, the idea is welcomed, is intriguing… but it sits in the memory banks awaiting a moment of inspiration and action. My friend Karo sent me an email about her version of Julia Childs’ sauteed zucchini, and how it can be transformed into a gorgeous gratin. I liked her email so much that I posted it here. And I kept the recipe in my head, waiting for a moment to be inspired.

That moment came earlier this week, when I saw the most luscious, green and gorgeous zucchini (courgettes) at O’Gourmet Food Hall. Zucchinis are a member of the squash family – and they are not actually vegetables, but fruit… the swollen ovaries of the zucchini flower. Quite sexy actually, and absolutely delicious. The specimens at O’Gourmet were lovely – crisp and bright green, a nice size and shape. My initial instinct was to bake zucchini bread. I still may do that, but Karo’s Julia inspired letter bubbled to the front of my mind. The key to the recipe is grating the zucchini – it turns it into a totally different vegetable and tastes … of pure green and sunshine.

I love the fact that Karo was inspired by Julia, and she in turn inspired me. Each version is made and remade into the cook’s own style. And each version is dependent upon the quality of ingredients, season and inspiration. Recipes are like stories – they are personal and reflect the cook’s personality and joy. Recipes like this – based on the genius of Julia Child, and her innate ability to bring the best out of simple, classic ingredients – can be deeply personalised, and joyfully shared.

This is actually a double recipe … and it is incredibly adaptable and forgiving. Use the sauteed zucchini as a wonderful side dish – or add a few tomatoes or mushrooms, and serve with rice or pasta as a main course. The gratin takes the sauteed zucchini and gilds them with cheese and cream and egg – bake this concoction, and you create a lovely crustless quiche that is satisfying and delicious. You could of course, pour the whole thing into a crust – or even saute thinly sliced rounds or stops of zucchini and create a firmer base. You could add more cheese on top – or breadcrumbs – or pine nuts. You could dot the whole thing with roasted tomatoes or mushrooms. The limits are you imagination. I do think that the gratin is best eaten at room temperature or even cold. The heat tends to flatten out the delicacy of flavour and texture.

Green Goodness

Sauteed Zucchini

Serves 4 (may be less if greedy, or served as a main course)

  • 3 – 4 medium – large zucchini (courgettes) – about 2 – 3 cups grated
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp + 1 tbsp butter (or use all olive oil if you wish it to be vegan)
  • 1 tsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 small white onion (or shallots or leeks), finely minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • Few tablespoons of white wine (optional)
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • White pepper

Set a strainer over a medium sized bowl. Wash the zucchini well, and top and tail them. Grate directly into the strainer. I grated half the zucchini very fine and half the zucchini quite rough – I like the contrast in texture, but do with it what you prefer. Add a pinch of salt, and allow the zucchini to drain for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tsp of butter together with 1 tsp of olive oil. Add the minced onion and garlic, and saute for at least five minutes or so, or until transparent. If you are using white wine for added flavour, add it now, and allow to bubble into the onions and garlic, and cook away. Season with herbs, salt and pepper.

Squeeze the zucchini in the strainer to remove as much liquid as possible. Reserve the liquid if you are making a gratin. Add the extra butter and olive oil, and add the zucchini to the hot pan. Spread it out in the pan so it cooks, and bring the heat up to high. Saute for five minutes or so, or until just the edges of the zucchini strands are starting to brown. You want to keep the bright green colour, but you also want to make sure that it does not taste raw.

Serve, hot or at room temperature.

Zucchini Gratin

  • Sauteed zucchini as above
  • 1/2 cup milk (or cream, coconut milk, oat milk etc)
  • About 3/4 cup reserved zucchini liquid
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pecorino plus extra for topping if you like – I used a Pecorino Sardo
  • 1 tsp mixed dried or fresh Italian herbs
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • About 1/2 cup melting cheese – I used a gorgeous Raclette from O’Gourmet – delicate enough not to overwhelm the dish. You could use a Gruyere, Emmental, even a light Brie.

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Have a baking pan ready. I used a round glass baking dish.

Spread the sauteed zucchini across the bottom of the pan, ensuring that it covers the entire dish.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, zucchini liquid, salt and pepper, eggs, 1/2 cup pecorino, herbs and mustard. Set aside for a moment.

Chop the raclette into small chunks and dot all over the sauteed zucchini. Pour over the cream mixture, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until puffed and browned. It will just wobble, but be firm as well. About five minutes before time is up, sprinkle some extra cheese over the top if you really want to be decadent.

Serve at room temperature or even cold, with a crisp bitter side salad.

Enjoy!

Truffle Potato Salad

6 Feb

For a Party!Recently, I cooked for my dearest friend Jobby’s baby shower. I wanted to create dishes that would be easy to eat, tasty and also a little decadent to mark the celebration. When AngelKitten and I were talking about the menu, potato salad popped up into the radar, and we put it on the list as a may be. But then, a few weeks later, I found that I was in possession of a divine truffle. And I suddenly thought of that potato salad again.

I knew I was going to be feeding at least 50 – 60 people, so a singular truffle on its own was not going to do much. But add it to the mix of a potato salad (and add some truffle oil to enhance and intensify), and you get something very familiar with a wonderfully luxurious edge to it. The inimitable scent of truffle permeates this entire dish, teasing and seductive. Its lush, and gorgeous, and a wonderful way to celebrate your love for your friends.

If you dont have a truffle (and yes, I know theyre expensive!) use truffle oil in place of the olive oil as well. If you can, prepare early and make home made aioli, which is very very delicious. However, given that I was making the salad for a baby shower (and pregnant women should not eat raw eggs), I decided to use best quality prepared mayonnaise. This potato salad can be made the evening before serving, and refrigerated. And of course, this makes a lot of potato salad! You can easily feed 30 people with this salad as a side dish – and depending on how many other dishes there are, you could feed many many more. Do feel free to halve this recipe if youre not cooking for hordes!

Serves approximately 30 + people

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 truffle
  • 2 kg waxy potatoes (I used Australian chat potatoes)
  • 1/4 cup truffle oil
  • 4 – 6 tbsp very good, very old balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp mixed dried Italian herbs
  • 2 – 3 tbsp mustard seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 6 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 – 3 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup aioli or mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme) – optional

Before you start cooking, ensure that the truffle really infuses into the oil. Place the oilive oil into a small bowl. Grate (I used a Microplane lemon zester) the truffle directly into olive oil and stir well. Set aside while you prepare the potatoes.

Fill a large stock pot or saucepan with water, and a pinch of salt. Place on stovetop, on medium high heat, and allow to come to the boil.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water, and begin to prepare the potatoes. Use only waxy potatoes for a potato salad, as they hold themselves together well. Starchy potatoes will just fall apart. Wash the potatoes under running water, and chop into large chunks. I keep the skins on because I love the flavour and extra texture, but if you really want to peel, go right ahead! Place prepped potatoes in the cold water as you work.

Once all the potatoes are ready, drain well, and place all the potatoes in to the boiling water. Stir well, and allow to simmer until done. This can take upwards of 30 minutes (though its usually more like 20). Taste test every 10 minutes or so just to make sure.

While you are waiting for the potatoes to be done, prepare the vinaigrette that will receive the potatoes. Wipe the large bowl you used earlier down, and pour in the reserved olive oil and truffle oil. Make sure you get every last bit of truffle, and have a whiff of that amazing scent! Whisk in the truffle oil and old balsamic vinegar. The mixture will probably (especially if you use high quality ingredients) emulsify in such a way that it becomes almost gel-like. Whisk in the herbs and mustard seeds and a a good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, cream and mayonnaise. Taste and adjust seasonings if you like. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are done to your liking, drain well, and immediately toss in the set aside vinaigrette. Mix extremely well. The heat of the potatoes will ensure that the vinaigrette is soaked up well, and incorporated into the flesh of the potatoes. Taste, and add the reserved mayonnaise mix. Stir again and adjust for salt and pepper (or in fact any other ingredient that you feel needs a little additional boost).

Let the salad cool to room temperature, and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Just before serving, mix in about half a cup of freshly chopped herbs if you desire.

Enjoy!

O’Gourmet Food Hall Trifecta of Ginger Cake

4 Feb

Everyone loves ginger cake. I certainly havent met a ginger cake that I didnt like, even those slightly stodgy, heavy ones. Its the magical melding of ginger and dark sugar, of molasses and heat that creates layers of flavour. Ginger cake is complex. Its a full frontal experience because the spice perks up the taste buds, while the richness and sweetness tease the palette. I have always loved ginger cake, but when I got a whiff of the Bentong ginger available at O’Gourmet Food Hall, I knew I wanted to try my hand at remaking it anew.

Bentong ginger is considered the best in the world. It is fresh, crisp, stark and sharply spicy, but it has undertones of sweetness. O’Gourmet Food Hall has organic, locally grown and incredibly fresh Bentong ginger. The scent assails you as soon as you peel the root. The firmness of the ginger, the clarity of the flesh, and the taste. Absolutely gorgeous.

I decided I wanted to make a ginger cake with this particular varietal, but I wanted to add more depth to it if possible. I found some ginger curd which has a more muted caramel deep throbbing hum of ginger to it, and some beautiful fresh ground ginger powder which adds a musky beat. A trifecta of ginger in one cake. Would it be too much? Turns out, if youre careful and you add the fresh ginger in stages, you can find a balance of taste that is close on perfect. Add to that the dark tones of brown sugar and molasses, fresh organic eggs, and a frosting of cream cheese and fresh vanilla bean. Sublime. Happy making. And amazingly easy.

Do note that if you want a very simple ginger cake, you could just halve the recipe and leave out the frosting. You will then have what is more like a tea cake, still stunningly gingery but a little more sedate and less full on. If you cant find ginger curd, leave it out, but do try and find the freshest, crispest, firmest ginger you can, and use organic ingredients as much as possible.

For a two layer cake (serving 12 people… or more!)

  • 3 cups organic pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger powder
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup treacle (or corn syrup or honey if you dont have treacle)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp ginger curd (optional but very good)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) butter, melted
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 – 1 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans or 2 tbsp (or more) vanilla essence
  • 1 – 2 tbsp cream (if needed)

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F), and butter two cake tins, and line with baking paper.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, molasses, treacle, ginger curd and eggs. Set aside while you melt the butter into the hot water in a small saucepan, over medium heat.

Whisk the melted butter and water into the sugar/molasses mixture, and stir in the fresh ginger. It really depends on how strong your ginger is – so I always add 1/2 cup first, and then taste. Add more until you get a peppery almost overwhelmingly ginger taste. Remember that the heat of the oven will mute some of that sting.

Stir the flour mixture into the large bowl, and mix until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tins, and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a cake tester is inserted and comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it.

Remove the cake from the oven, and allow to cool, in the pan, for about 5 – 10 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, add the cream cheese to a stand mixer bowl, and beat for a few minutes until it attains a softened consistency. Add the icing sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat. I always like to taste the frosting at each tablespoon of sugar, because I dislike icing that is too sweet. Split the vanilla pods and scrape out the beans and add to the frosting. Beat for a few seconds more until the vanilla is totally integrated. Add a tablespoon of cream (or milk) if the mixture is too stiff.

A Trifecta of Ginger CakeCentre a cake round on a serving plate, and ice the top. Place the second cake round on top, and ice the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until half an hour before serving.

Enjoy!

Foodie Days

4 Feb

Since I first started this blog, life has changed for me. I have become more and more immersed in the pleasures of food and cooking. Its been a wonderful journey, at first taken with little steps, but it has now moved into joyful leaping bounds. I cook most every day, and often I am too tired to blog about it!

So much has happened, in such a short time. I am humbled and awed at this simple truth: if you live your passion, your true self, then everything falls into place. Every day is joy, every moment is a pleasure. In recognising that which resonates inside, happiness becomes normal. And opportunities (and wonderful people) come to you.

So what have I been doing, rather than blogging?

I did a photo shoot with the magificent Lascheersco for Retale magazine – O’Gourmet Food Hall’s Chili Ice Cream for their Valentine’s day issue. It turned out gorgeously (as you can see here), and it was wonderful to work with such creative people. The image is really beautiful, and the process was yet another education in food presentation.

I was given so many good food things! Two of my favourites … The amazing GoddessMoments brought back a tub of dulce de leche from Argentina, which was devoured and savoured… I wish I had been less greedy, and put it in an ice cream, but so it goes. And I recently, GoldenOro gave me a little tub of mastic – the very particularly Greek herbal sweet gum paste. I am currently meditating on how to use it. Perhaps in an almond honey cake – the tart herbal hit an antidote to the sweet unctuous honey richness. Or in an ice cream – refreshing and creamy at the same time. Decisions, decisions!

Our foodie crew had dinner at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio again to celebrate ZaZa’s and Adi’s birthdays. Nathalie is cooking with beautiful precision and artistry. This meal was absolutely phenomenal from start to finish. And, she is continuing the menu into the month of February, so if you havent tried her food (or are aching to go back), now is a good time! They are open for lunch, and two nights this month for dinner – the 11th and 25th. Go, if you can!

The deconstructed french onion soup was so beautifully presented, and delicious. Rich, without being heavy. And the vegetarian main course – an emmental and parmesan custard, topped with darkly sweet and bitter caramelised endive, and a endive and cream foam – I dont have words for how it made me think, and reevaluate, and abandon myself to the pleasure of that dish. And the carnivores were raving about the lamb, the beef cheeks, the fish, the prawns. I fell in love with the pureed peas. I wanted to slather it all over myself it was that good. Each dish was presented with such care and elegance, and yet it never felt artificial or forced. It felt like you could taste the passion of the woman cooking for you … and that kind of experience is soul deep satisfying.

On the way home, Adi and I talked about the joy of that meal, and how strong and confident the food is, and yet utterly feminine. There is an elegance and a grace, a female beauty to the presentation and the taste, which is often missing in the peacocking of some (very good) male cooks. I am a fan of Nathalie’s food (obviously) … but there is a power in a woman’s touch, and a great pleasure in being one of her lucky customers.

The following photos from that night are courtesy of Adi 🙂

Sauteed Endive and Cheese Custard

 

Prawns with a Milk Foam

Lamb

Prettiest Peas Ever (and most delicious)

Lemon Cake with a Cherry Sorbet - Stunning

I also cooked, and helped to host, more than 50 people for Jobby’s baby shower. Ive detailed the menu in a previous post, and will definitely be writing up a few of the recipes – the truffled potato salad, and the fresh ginger cake were particularly lovely. It was overwhelming, and exhausting, to cook for that many people. But the challenge was a wonderful one. It made me stretch myself in a different way, and demanded I plan and consider what to cook, when, and how.

I was so pleased to see how much everyone enjoyed themselves, and ate and ate and ate!  And I was so very lucky, to have once again, the invaluable assistance of AngelKitten. She has a grace, a quiet strength and a wonderful eye. She made the food look good. And MsTK made the whole space look professionally designed and put together – in less than 24 hours!

Here are a few of the things we enjoyed…

Mini Cheese Scones - Served with Fresh Herb Cream Cheese

Chili Spinach Artichoke Bake

Truffled Potato Salad

Cakes! A dark chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip frosting and a fresh ginger cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting

Mini Baked Truffle Cookies (Starry Starry Nights)

And I have cooked, on request, for many friends. And even found it within myself to price and sell what I cook. This was unimaginable for me just a few short months ago. But as I immerse myself more and more in cooking, I recognise that I need to put a value on the time and energy I spend cooking. Its part of valuing myself as a cook. Its been a challenge, but its also been a learning and growing experience.

I made more Yee Sang cakes than I can count in the last week or so for Chinese New Year. They were such wonderful fun – and I still have a few more to make! People really enjoyed the quirky nature of these cakes – a traditional yee sang, it is not. But its a delicious dessert, that holds much symbolism and joy for the New Year of the Rabbit.

I made two versions. The first batch, with the assistance of AngelKitten, were corporate gifts. They had their own bespoke design, and were very beautiful.

Making the World Beautiful Yee Sang Cake

 

And this week, I did a series of cakes based on the original O’Gourmet Food Hall version. I do love that blue porcelain against all that red. Dramatic and gorgeous.

Yee Sang Cake for the Year of the Rabbit

I have also been cooking regularly for friends and loved ones. A hazelnut chocolate cake. The same cake, made into a big birthday cake, stuffed with raspberry cream cheese, and iced with vanilla whipped cream. An easy pasta with tomatoes, spinach, white wine and onions. My semolina white chocolate pudding, with raspberry sauce. A simple bread pudding, elevated with bittersweet chocolate and raspberries.

Each of these moments, these events, these experiences, have consolidated a celebration of myself as a cook. As I near my 40th birthday, I am thankful to have found such happiness. I am looking forward to what life will bring me. And I promise… I will blog regularly!

 

Please note that the photographs from Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio are copyright bigeyesentertainment@gmail.com and the second photograph of yee sang cake is copyright GoddessMoments. None of these images may be used without express permission from their authors.

O’Gourmet Food Hall Truffled Gnocchi

29 Jan

I have always been fascinated by gnocchi – those delicate, pillowy little Italian dumplings made from flour and potato. They seem so simple, and yet they are intimidating. It seems that there could be so many ways to stuff it all up. Because the key to making gnocchi is in the simplicity – some recipes call for just potato and flour and a bit of seasoning – you need to follow directions really closely, and you need to have top grade ingredients.

You can play around with gnocchi, but you really should try a basic recipe first. This one actually is quite simple and quick.  It includes the addition of an egg (for richness and flavour) and some diced truffles, but actually, you can forgo them if you want to. Or add other ingredients – parmesan and butternut come to mind, or spinach and garlic. But do try a basic version first. You need to get the feel of the dough, and the lightness of the handling.

Basically gnocchi have a base of potato that needs to be as dry as possible. There are a few ways to ensure that this happens. First of all, ensure you use starchy, not waxy potatoes. Russet are excellent. Next, bake the potato, dont boil it. Peel the potato after it has been baked, and then mash it lightly with a fork or put it through a potato ricer. Treat it very gently. Add the egg / seasoning if you are using, and salt and pepper. And finally, toss in the flour, a tablespoon at a time. This will ensure that you use the bare minimum of flour, which will avoid thick, heavy gnocchi, and a smooth supple dough.

It sounds like a lot to remember, but really its common sense. Gnocchi are delicate, therefore you need to treat them delicately. Use your hands, so you can feel the dough coming together, and go slow, and soft. It will work out, I promise. Plus, a home made gnocchi, even if it is a little tough, is a thousand times better than a store bought one, any day!

For about 60 – 80 gnocchi (serving 4 – 6 people, depending on greed and hunger)

  • 2 large russet potatoes (approximately 2 kg)
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 small truffle, grated or finely diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 scant cup 00 flour (bread or pasta flour with high gluten content)

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

Pierce the potatoes with a fork, and bake in the oven for about 30 – 45 minutes, or until a skewer or knife goes all the way through with little resistance.

Peel the potatoes while they are still hot. Put the potatoes through a ricer or mash very gently, in a large bowl. You dont want the potatoes gluey – fluffy is what you are looking for. A ricer is the best way to ensure this – and they are relatively cheap (I bought one from Ikea for less than RM50).

Break the egg into a small separate bowl, and finely grate the truffle over. I use a Microplane lemon zester to get very fine strips of truffle, but you can even chop the truffle finely if needed. Add a generous pinch of salt and peper, and whisk. You could add half a teaspoon of truffle oil if you like, but the entire point of gnocchi is to ensure the dough is not too wet, and not handled too much.

Make a well in the centre of the mixture, and pour in the egg/truffle concoction. Toss lightly with your fingers. The egg will not make the potatoes gluey if you have treated them properly to start with, but will definitely make them wet.

Measure out your flour. You will probably only use about half a cup of flour, but its useful to have extra if needed. Add the flour to the warm potatoes and egg by the tablespoonful. Toss gently after each addition with the tips of your fingers. You will see the flour slowly incorporating into the potatoes. After about a half a cup of flour, knead lightly and bring the dough together. Add a little more flour, a tablespoon at a time, to get a smooth mixture that is not too sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work space, and let it rest for a few minutes. Place some wax paper on a large baking tin or cookie tray.

Divide the dough into four equal portions, and work with one portion at a time. Roll the portion out into a long thin sausage, and dust lightly with flour. Using a sharp knife, slice into small gnocchi sized portions. I usually cut about 1 – 1 1/2 inches. Using the tines of a fork, mark the gnocchi on one side, and place gently onto the cookie tray.

Let the gnocchi air dry for at least 10 – 15 minutes. You can store them in a ziploc baggie and freeze them, for up to six months. Or you can use immediately.

To cook gnocchi: Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Work quickly, and be ready to serve immediately. Gnocchi are not good cold! Have a warm bowl at the ready. Work with about 20 gnocchi at a time (or more depending on the size of your saucepan). Once the water is boiling, tip the gnocchi in, and allow them to bob to the top. This should take less than 3 minutes. Using a sieve, fish the gnocchi out, and place in the warmed bowl with a touch of olive oil or butter. Continue with the remaining gnocchi. Once all the gnocchi has been prepared, toss gently with warm sauce and serve immediately.

I served a very simple sauce of spinach, wine, garlic and a touch of cream with these gnocchi. It was sublime!

Baby Shower!

20 Jan

This coming Sunday, I am hosting a baby shower for one of my dearest friends. It was going to be a rather casual affair, but we suddenly realised we have more than 60 people coming! Luckily, we live in the tropics, and the party can spill out into the pool area.

Cooking for those you love is a form of service and joy. I have cooked for birthdays and weddings, for those who are ill and for those who want to celebrate. I dont think I have ever cooked for a baby shower though. This crowd is going to be a lovely mix of women, some who are new friends, and others who I have known for decades.

Making food for a celebration is always special – but to celebrate a new life, well, now, thats just a beautiful moment. My friend is gathering around her all those who mean much, and it is such an honour to be able to provide the food for such a group.

I love cooking for parties, but I have to admit, 60 people is a bit daunting. At least we invited them for tea, and not for a major meal! AngelKitten and I have been working quite hard to come up with a balanced and delicious high tea, that has luxurious and exotic elements to it.

Here is what we are going to serve:

  • Baked spinach and artichoke dip – this one is a standby that is delicious every time we make it. We have adapted it somewhat to suit the Asian palette – we add a lot of very hot chili powder to the mix. It transforms the dip into something very special.
  • Mini cheddar cheese scones – stuffed with herbed cream cheese / chili jam / cranberry cheese – I love these, and they are easy to make and delicious to eat. Stuffing them with a variety of fillings gives variety from a single bake.
  • Avocado and feta dip – salty, creamy, fresh and bright. Avocados always feel luxurious, and feta is the perfect complement to the cool green flesh. A little lemon juice and some herbs make this dip complex, and yet it is so easy to make.
  • Sliced carrots and chips on the side – so that those who want a little indulgence can have chips, and those who want a lighter option can munch on the carrots!
  • Truffled potato salad – because sometimes a new, decadent twist on an old favourite is called for! I like having at least one dish that is different, and that will spark people’s interest and appetites. I will probably use mascarpone with the truffles … simple and deeply flavourful.
  • Starry starry night cookies – these baked truffle cookies, made with bittersweet chocolate, honey, almond flour, eggs and sugar, are my friend’s favourite. They are so good.
  • Ginger cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting – a request from my friend. I have some gorgeous ginger curd from O’Gourmet Food Hall which I am considering using in the cake batter to make it deeper, damper and more delicious. Luckily, we also found some Bentong ginger at O’Gourmet, so I know that the cake will be bright and beautifully gingery.
  • Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting – because you cant have too much chocolate, and because AngelKitten and I were worried that with 60 people, one cake wouldnt be enough!
  • Fruit salad with iced raspberry puree – a fresh alternative to all the rich desserts. We have a watermelon, kiwi and dragon fruits… and we are freezing raspberry puree into ice molds. These will be dotted amongst the salad, and will keep it cool and fresh, as well as add flavour and taste.
  • Iced fruit tea with starfruit

And for thank you gifts for all our guests, I am making blondies – ten per person … Ive just filled about 45 little gift bags, and will do the rest tomorrow.

What do you think? Any other suggestions? 🙂

O’Gourmet Food Hall Yee Sang Cake

18 Jan

One of the things I love about working with O’Gourmet Food Hall is that I am constantly challenged to think differently. Creating new recipes is intense, focused and fulfilling work, but the pleasure is multiplied when one has inspiring ingredients, and people, to work with.

I have enjoyed getting to know the various characters who work at O’Gourmet, and I am always interested in the new products which come in. Its wonderful to be the first to know about the sublime chili brought by hand from Kashmir, or to be introduced to an intriguing cheese.

About a month or so ago, LingCat came to me and told me that O’Gourmet was working on a Chinese New Year booklet, highlighting some of the unique food and drink of the season. She asked me to think outside the box, and come up with an special New Year dish. I love this kind of challenge, and it reflects, for me, the philosophy of O’Gourmet – unique, interesting and tasty, with a twist!

AngelKitten and I had lunch and threw around lots of different ideas, but we kept coming back to the traditional Yee Sang salad. Usually served as an appetiser, the Yee Sang is a very symbolic savoury dish, with each ingredient representing a wish for the new year. Tossed together at the table, the Yee Sang is a communal wishing for good luck and abundance.

However, Yee Sang is almost always served with raw fish – not very vegetarian! So AngelKitten and I decided to up-end this salad, and turn it from savoury to sweet. What would a Yee Sang dessert look like? We wandered through O’Gourmet Food Hall and were inspired by the dried fruits and nuts, and the gorgeous miniature apples and oranges. We decided that we would create a cake that looked like a plate, upon which a “salad” of symbolic fruit and nuts would be tossed. Each element of the dish needed to represent a different hope for the new year, and after some research (and much tasting), we had our ingredients.

We were lucky enough to have the wisdom and generosity of Mama Min (an amazing baker), who introduced us to PastryPro. This professional baker’s paradise was able to print a graphic image of a blue and white china plate on a sheet of icing for us. As we are entering the Year of the Rabbit, we found a beautiful image of an old china plate, with a rabbit front and centre. And of course, since rabbits love carrots, we decided that the base for the cake “plate” would be carrot cake, with a twist. We added a scant amount of 5 spice powder (a common element in the traditional Yee Sang), and came up with a unique and delicious cake which embodied the Chinese New Year.

We chose our “salad” ingredients with care. Dried pomelo, mango, lychee and strawberries, as well as caramelised cashews, chocolate almonds, winter melon, pumpkin and sesame seeds. I also candied some tiny Japanese apples, and caramelised some beautiful little oranges. AngelKitten spent ages painstakingly painting the dried fruits and nuts with gold powder, and I baked, candied and caramelised. We rolled fondant, applied our beautiful printed icing sheet, and sat back and sighed with happiness.

We brought our Yee Sang Cake to the brilliant Ping and Partner whose photographs grace this page. And when we finally saw the recipe in print, it was a feeling that cant be described … pride, happiness, satisfaction. In the end, we created a stunningly beautiful (and very delicious) version of the traditional Yee Sang.

Both AngelKitten and I would like to wish everyone a prosperous and happy Year of the Rabbit!

If you would like the recipe, please pick up a copy of O’Gourmet Food Hall’s “Traditions and Reunions” booklet at Bangsar Shopping Centre, or download the pdf by clicking on this link.

Please note that all images on this post are copyright O’Gourmet Food Hall, and may not be reproduced without written permission.