Gingerbread house 2.0 and a salad

So I decided to make a gingerbread house again, but with my previous experience, I was able to finesse it as much as I can. I used the same gingerbread recipe but spent a bit more time on icing the decorations.  To be honest, I enjoy making the house rather than eating it. Although it has a nice mellow taste of ginger, I was never fond of gingerbread; yet somehow I made three in the span of a month.

ImageThis time I added some almonds to the roof and piped some icicles which actually look quite good. Unfortunately, the gingerbread had lost its brittleness by the time we demolished it. I forgot to cover/wrap it up and it just sucked up the moisture in the air. It still tasted alright though. Image

Because I had work and church in the morning, I didn’t have much time to whip up anything complicated so I just made some stock standard pumpkin, rocket and spinach salad which is always an easy and safe dish to prepare.

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And it seems that other people had the same idea, as my friend later that night also made the same salad.. and also some turkey. So I guess that’s my Christmas feasting complete.

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I hope you guys had a joyful Christmas too. And since I’m off to Tasmania soon, I also wish you have a satisfying and meaningful new year!

Vegetarian lasagne

Last week I met up with some friends for dinner to just catch up and take advantage of our summer holidays. Instead of trekking it to the city, we decided to meet up and prepare our own food. Usually, we would have had a meat-fest around the bbq, however, one of our friends made a recent decision to turn vego so I decided to make a vegetarian lasange and some roasted mushrooms.

The recipe for the lasange was from Neil Perry and having seen it on Masterchef I couldn’t wait to try it out. With ingredients such as roasted capsicum and ricotta cheese sauce, I knew that it would be far from bland. In fact, I thought it was on par if not better than one made with meat. The roasted mushrooms were also simply done, I started them on the stove to brown them with some butter, oil and garlic, then placed it in the oven to finish. Towards the end I added some salt, pepper, parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice for some tang. Yum!

Image My friend who is really into photography helped take this photo so that’s why it is so much better in quality. Also my other friend who reads this blog will probably want to take credit for his featured chips, which were delicious and baked nicely according to the instructions on the packet 😛

Soy glazed barramundi

When I was making Marsala chicken a couple of posts ago, I found that if you coat the meat in flour before pan frying it, the resulting outer crust becomes an ideal sauce-absorber and retains a lot of flavour. While this may not be news to some… I am still learning and picking up techniques in the kitchen.

So in my profound realisation 😛 , I decided to do this with a barramundi cutlet my mum bought earlier from the fishmonger. Usually I like fish steamed, but since the cutlet was a little fishy I thought a glaze would have given it a robust flavour to counteract any potential aftertaste.  The glaze itself was a slightly sweet and sticky soy concoction and coated the barramundi nicely with the help of the crust.

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I haven’t had barramundi many times before, but it is a delicious fish, the flesh is moist and flakes easily and lends itself well to the soy glaze.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 Barramundi cutlet (fillets will work just fine)
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Enough plain flour to coat the cutlet lightly on both sides
  • 1.5-2 tbsp of oil for panfrying

Soy glaze

  • 2 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 2 tsp of sugar
  • 2 tsp of shaoxing wine or sherry
  • 0.5 tsp chicken powder or 1 tbsp stock
  • 1 tbsp water if you aren’t using stock

Finishing garnishes

  • 1 cm of ginger finely julienned
  • 1 tbsp of spring onion chopped finely
  • 2 birds eye chilli chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp of oil can use some neutral oil
  • 0.5 tsp sesame oil

Steps

  1. Clean your barramundi, make sure there’s no scales
  2. Dry it and season with salt and pepper
  3. Coat it lightly with plain flour
  4. Pre-mix all the glaze ingredients in a bowl.
  5. Heat oil in pan on medium heat and carefully place in barramundi. Pan fry for 5-7 min on one side (if you have a thinner fillet then lessen your time)
  6. Turn fish and pan fry again for 5-7 min.
  7. Also remember to fry the sides if there’s skin, that way you can crispy it up.
  8. When the fish is almost almost done, turn down the heat and place in the ginger.
  9. Straight after that, pour in the glaze ingredients near and on top of the fish.
  10. Let the liquid simmer off a little from the heat and then move the barramundi into the glaze and coat the underside.
  11. Turn over and coat the other side. You may want to let the glaze caramelize a little into the fish (i.e., ~1min in the pan)
  12. Take fish out and place on plate. Garnish with spring onion and chilli
  13. Get a new smallish pan or pot and heat oil and sesame oil until hot.
  14. Pour oil on top of the spring onion and chilli to let it cook a little
  15. Serve and enjoy with some rice!

Macarons!!

Macarons. So easy to Make-it-wrong. haw haw haw.

Comedic brilliance aside, these ‘biscuits’ are extremely volatile and easy to stuff up. Out of the 5 times I’ve attempted them, 2 attempts have resulted in almond cookies. As everyone else in Sydney has noted, they became quite the hype when Adriano Zumbo graced our screens in Masterchef.. but I’m not sure whether they are still that popular, I haven’t read a lot of macaron-related posts recently. Although McDonalds do sell macarons in their McCafe, so maybe they have just become a mainstream treat…Nevertheless, these little french creations are quite delicious if done right, and can appear in a limitless range of flavours.

I decided to jump on the “blogging about macarons” wagon to celebrate this blog making it through 1 month. I don’t know about other people, but blogging can be one of those things where you start with great aspirations.. and you tell yourself that you are going to post like everyday… but then its easy to just give up and allow it to fade into some untouched abyss in the interwebz. I’ve had 2 other blogs suffer that fate…

In the past, I’ve tried making popcorn ganache, salted chocolate and pandan coconut for the filling, but this time I decided to make….

Radioactive gloop.

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Ha ha.

I was actually trying to make green tea ganache but thought that it wasn’t green enough so decided to add in ‘one drop’ of green food colouring. Unfortunately, the bottle didn’t have one of those dropper caps and thus, in my shaky over-eagerness I turned the ganache into a highlighter shade. However, I have to say, this time my shells were near perfection and were the best I’ve ever made them.

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I ended up using a recipe from Jo the tart queen (thankyou) who adapted it from Le Cordon Bleu. I halved the recipe but it came out pretty well.

For the green tea ganache, you can use any of the ones you find on google, just make sure its for macarons… you don’t want any runny ganache ruining your beautiful macaron shells. Use matcha powder but if you don’t have any, you can infuse a heaped tablespoon of green tea leaves into the cream when you heat it up. However, it is best to use matcha as the white chocolate (don’t think dark/milk chocolate is a good combo) was quite strong and largely overwhelmed the subtle green tea flavour. 

They are finnicky things and so much can go wrong in the process, but if you are determined/ slightly crazy enough, give them a try!

For those attempting the macaron, here’s some tips. 

  • If you stuff up the meringue, its pretty much over. Over and over again I’ve read that you should:
  • Age the egg whites for around couple of days
  • Whip them at room temperature
  • Make sure your bowl/ mixer is very clean. No grease at all
  • For the almond meal and icing sugar
  • Make sure you sift and break up any icing sugar lumps
  • For the most important stage…the macaronage (mixing the meringue with the almond meal and icing sugar)
  • Sacrifice around 1/4- 1/3 of the meringue to wet the dry mixture first, make it into a paste, this would make it easy to fold in the rest of the meringue
  • Fold in 1/3 of the meringue at a time. FOLD CAREFULLY, this is a delicate stage where we want to keep most of the air in the meringue
  • However having said that, you also have to keep folding and folding until the mixture is lava like in consistency. This is really difficult to describe as most people have not mixed lava before… but the mixture should ooze slightly but still be holding its shape slightly for around 10 seconds. Keep mixing if it still looks like ‘ganache consistency’. It has to have some flow to it. Seriously just go watch a youtube video, its better than this rambling.
  • Piping
  • Pipe slowly if you are a noob like me. Also, if you can’t get a circle shape, try spiralling the piping bag slowly and outline the circle yourself before filling it 
  • Aim for small macaron shells (think 50 cent coin size), this would help fit more on the tray and macarons are enjoyed better if they’re smaller. I find that if they’re too big, they loose their delicacy. Also when you tap the tray of macarons after pipping, they tend to spread a bit.
  • Which brings me to tapping.. give them a hard 3-4 raps on each side of tray. Let out all those air bubbles.
  • Drying stage

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  • Important! Don’t be too excited and pop it into the oven after 15-20 minutes of drying.. Let it dry for at least 30 minutes… thats if its a dry warm day. If it is raining or humid you may need to dry it for an hour or even use the hairdryer from afar. 
  • When the macaron is slightly dry to touch and the mixture doesn’t stick to your fingers (its ok if its a little teensy bit sticky) then you are ready
  • I don’t know if this technique is recommended elsewhere (don’t blame me if it stuffs up pls :/) but I put my macarons in the oven without preheating it. I’m scared that the sudden heat would crack the shells. I guess this would be recommended for those who are not sure if their macaron has dried out enough
  • Also bake your macarons at a really low temperature like for me, I have a fan forced oven and baked it at 100 degrees. Better wait longer than risk stuffing up the entire tray.
  • Don’t open the oven to take a peek etc. You’ve come so far, just a bit more self-control and you’re nearly there.
  • Once the time is up, try slowly twisting or removing one, if its stuck really bad, don’t force it. Bake it for another 3-5 minutes. It’s actually better to overcook and dry out your shells than ripping them from the sheet with half of the shell still stuck to the tray. In fact, when you pipe the filling into the macarons, they will give moisture to the shells again.
  • Also you might want to wait until your shells are done before you start on the ganache. You may be too demoralized to pipe the ganache onto ugly stuffed up shells
  • Waiting stage
  • When the filling is piped in (remember don’t pipe too little or too much, get an ugly pair of shells and trial first with your piping) leave them in the fridge for at least a day, that way the shell will get some of its moisture back. I know that most people (me) can’t wait after their macarons are just done, so try one hehe…. just one though.

And finally enjoy!

If they don’t turn out well, just tell people you made almond meringue biscuits mmm

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Pork ragu pappardelle

I was deciding whether to post this meal up since most of the ingredients were ‘packaged’ supermarket stuff but it tasted delicious so here it is. Besides I took the photos already and it felt like a waste if I didn’t put them up haha. (Note: my photos are still kind of crap, maybe its because I use my phone camera lol. But my friend suggested using some foil to do some reflecting. Don’t know if it did anything substantial but it kind of looks lighter.)

ImageEven though it sounds kind of fancy, the dish is really easy to whip up. its basically the same as making bolognese which I’m sure most people already know how to make. In fact, according to the internet (wikipedia), bolognese is a ragu.

For this dish, I sauteed some onion and garlic then added the pork mince, dried herbs, a can of tomatoes and some run of the mill sauce from the jar (it wasn’t really necessary though). I picked up a tip from Heston where you put in a star anise when cooking the onion, apparently it accentuates the meaty aroma of the dish.

After adding some pepper, salt, sugar and a little water I simmered it for around 45 min. During the last 10 min, I boiled some salted water, chucked in some San Remo fresh pappardelle and chopped up some parsley. So easy yet deliciously filling. However, next time I would like to try making my own pasta when I get a machine…they are so expensive though. I once tried making my own pasta using a rolling pin and failed miserably…mmm boiled strips of rubber.

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Mini gingerbread house

While most may think that this gingerbread house was done in the spirit of Christmas, it was not. Instead, my friend wanted to have a ‘Hans Christian Anderson’ themed birthday party, and the gingerbread house was supposed to reference the candy house in the story Hansel and Grettel. I have never made gingerbread before, so making a house was a very steep learning curve. Thankfully, I found this simple recipe online which didn’t require a resting time for the dough. (Just a side note: how do people choose online recipes? I make my selection based on how many ratings there are and how good the rating is. I find that to be quite reliable.)

This time I struck gold in the online lottery of recipes! The gingerbread pieces held their shape and were thin and brittle. We only wanted a small house (8cm x 8 cm base) to place on top of her birthday cake, so that may have made it easier as well. The only problem faced was making the royal icing which is the glue to the house pieces. I deviated from this recipe and used one from taste.com.au, but it was way too runny. However, after adding a whole heap more icing sugar, the mixture turned out really well and thick. I didn’t even need to hold up the roof to let it dry.

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As you can see, my icing skills may need some improving…but at least the house is standing. The party preparation itself was crazily busy. We were also helping make food the whole day starting from 10 in the morning until the party at 6 and then continuing to serve and prepare food and clean up until 11. It was enjoyable, but as the night went on, my apprehension towards paying for catering decreased at a rapidly exponential rate. However, I have to say that I like spending time in the kitchen at parties, mainly because I am a bit awkward and too self-conscious trying to make small talk and be comfortable with many people at loud social events.. at least with cooking and serving food, it is something I can occupy myself with.

ImageAnyways, if you are hoping to make a gingerbread house in the near future, this recipe is good and simple.