Monday, February 27, 2012

Daring Bakers Challenge February 2012 - Mango & Coconut Loaf

In addition to taking part in Tina's Crazy Cooking Challenge I have also joined The Daring Kitchen's monthly Daring Baker challenge. It seems that in the past the challenges have been a fairly specific item to bake, but for my first one this month it was quickbreads! The rules: no yeast, only loaves/muffins/popovers, and can't take more than 1.5 hours to prepare and bake. Any flavour I want. Yum.

After some thought, I decided to do a mango - coconut loaf. These ingredients are available right outside my door, fresh and locally grown.

I began with my mom's banana bread recipe, which is moist and delicious, but I changed some things. Instead of using oil I substituted coconut cream, added lime juice, and obviously used mango instead of banana.

This loaf baked for a long time! It took 80 minutes for it to finally be cooked through, and when I took it out it immediately began to sink! I turned it upside down to try to prevent it, but that didn't work and it still shrank back down to a fairly low, dense cake.

This was delicious in flavour, but I didn't like the texture of it much. After it had shrank and cooled, it was a bit mushy inside, but the top was chewy. Another Daring Baker suggested that maybe I left the batter to sit too long before I baked it (I was busy pureeing the mango) so maybe next time I'll add a bit more baking soda and make sure I have everything ready to go!

Of course, as usual, I took it to work and nobody there was as critical of my work as I am! I love that no matter how bad my failures are, I know they'll still eat it!

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

Mango-Coconut Loaf

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup coconut cream
1 1/3 c flour
1 1/3 tsp baking soda (try adding a bit more)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 cup mango puree
½ cup diced mango
¾ cup (loose) shredded coconut (fresh from the market in big shreds – thin stuff from a store might need less)
2 tbsp lime juice

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a loaf pan. Beat sugar and eggs until creamy. Mix in coconut cream. Sift dry ingredients and add to egg mixture. Add mango puree, diced mango, coconut, and lime juice. Mix and bake for 80 mins. (I would check it after 60)

This challenge was fun and I wish I'd had time to try this again (I will, eventually) and I'm very impressed by everyone else's creativity. There are SO many flavours to try, both savoury and sweet. If only I had time to stay home and try making all of them!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Millionaire Shortbread

About a week ago I made Sticky Date Pudding for a friend's birthday. This was topped by caramel sauce, which I had made before but my first attempt this time didn't work out!

I left this on my stovetop, not knowing what to do with it. I couldn't just throw it out, so I finally added a bit more water, and reheated it until it all dissolved. I then followed the usual process, added a bit more brown sugar because I took it off the heat too soon, and presto! Delicous caramel sauce.

The only problem now was that I had no immediate use for it, and no space in my freezer. Most people I know here who live by themselves don't seem to have much in their freezers, but mine always seems to be packed. Right now it's a stuff-everything-in-and-close-the-door-as-fast-as-possible-before-anything-falls-out kind of situation!

That meant I had to do something with it right away. After a bit of searching, I found a recipe for Millionaire Shortbread. When I worked at the coffee shop in Edinburgh this was one of my favourite snacks, despite how sickly sweet and fattening it is! (or maybe because of that....) I had actually kind of forgotten about it, but my memory came back quick!

The only problem was that my caramel sauce is quite runny at room temperature, and I didn't want it spilling out of the slices! I had to find a way to solidify it. I poured a bit on some baking paper and baked it in the oven for a few minutes. It bubbled up like crazy, and when I took it out and let it cool down a bit, the edges had hardened into a delicious, crispy, chewy toffee. Yum.

Problem solved. I followed the Millionaire Shortbread recipe I found on (The US version is one of the recipe sites I use most often - I didn't know until now there was a UK version!) but used my own caramel sauce. Once I'd baked the shortbread and poured the caramel sauce on, I baked it in the oven for about 10 minutes, so it would harden a bit, then let it cool before I put the chocolate on.

This was not too different from what I remember, but it came out SO ridiculously sweet I immediately wished for a large glass of milk to drink with it. Perhaps if I'd eaten more of the base, it would have counteracted the intense sweetness of the caramel and it would have been better, but much of the base stayed stuck in the pan. It was quite crumbly, so if I make it again, I'll probably use a different recipe for the base.

Not that any of that matters. I took it to work and it disappeared in no time!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sticky Date Pudding with Caramel Sauce

It seems that I have become known in my circles as "the one who bakes". And, nowadays, more and more, I do. Thus it seems that when someone has a birthday, the cake is up to me! I don't mind too much, because it means I get to hear other people tell me what a good baker I am share my food with other people, and occasionally it opens my eyes to something new.

That's what happened when it was my friend Christine's birthday back in July. I said I'd provide a cake, and asked her what she wanted. She said sticky date pudding. I sat there, staring at her, dumbfounded. I mean, it sounded good, but at that time, I had only barely heard of this dessert, never mind eaten it myself or actually made it. I said I'd give it a try, assuming I could find the dates (remember I live in Hanoi, where most things are available SOMEWHERE, but actually finding them can be a challenge!)

I did find the dates, and my first bite of sticky date pudding was a revelation. How did I not know this existed? I then topped it off with caramel sauce, which was another wondrous discovery. I had no idea that caramel sauce was so easy to make!

Unfortunately, back then I didn't have a blog where I could post about this amazing dessert. Lucky for me, it was Caroline's birthday last week, and considering she's not a big fan of chocolate and can't eat many dairy products, I had the perfect opportunity to make it again!

The first step is to pit and chop the dates, and soak them in hot water for about 20 minutes.

While they're soaking, mix up the batter. Add the dates and their water, and you'll have a fairly runny batter, but as you can see, it bakes up nicely!

This cake is best topped with a caramel sauce. The first time I did it, I was surprised at how easy it was! However, this time, I wasn't so lucky.

If you stir too soon, the sugar just re-crystallizes and you get no caramel. :(

I made myself late for the birthday party, but on my second try I got a smooth, creamy caramel sauce that went deliciously on the cake.

I served it with vanilla ice cream, and the whole thing disappeared within minutes!

Nat and the Birthday girl Caroline about to devour their sticky date pudding!

Sticky Date Pudding

Ingredients (serves 8)
250g pitted dates, chopped
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 cups boiling water
125g butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups Self-Raising Flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line the base of a 7cm deep, 22cm (base) cake pan. Place dates and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Pour boiling water over it, and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold through date mixture and flour until well combined. Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn onto a plate. Make sauce (see below) Pierce pudding all over with a skewer. Pour 1/2 cup of warm sauce over warm pudding. Stand for 10 minutes. Cut into wedges. Serve with remaining sauce.

Caramel Sauce

1/3 c water
1 ½ cups white sugar (or half brown, half white)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups heavy cream (I only used about 1 cup since that’s all I had, it’s fine)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

Bring the water, sugar, and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. DO NOT stir the mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved in the water. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the caramel has turned golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully pour in a slow, steady stream of cream into the caramel while stirring constantly. The hot caramel will boil vigorously when the cream is added and solidify in areas. Add the vanilla extract and salt. Continue stirring over low heat until the caramel is smooth and creamy, 5 to 10 minutes more. Allow to cool for at least half an hour before using.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chicken Fiasco!

One thing that I think is important for all men to know is that women (at least, I think all the women I know) LOVE a man who can cook. While I myself enjoy cooking, a man who can put a delicious meal in front of me and introduce me to new food and recipes is REALLY appealing!

Once upon a time, many years ago, I had a boyfriend who could cook. He seemed to know about ingredients and flavours I had never heard of, having grown up in a family where the most exotic thing we ate was tacos and the same dishes were recycled every week or two (Sorry, Mom, your food's great, but I've since learned about SO many other kinds of food!) Looking back, I'm not sure that boyfriend really knew all that much, but it impressed me at the time!

On our first date, he made me Chicken Fiasco. This is not a dish that anyone else would recognize by name, because he copied it from something he'd eaten in a restaurant and gave it his own inventive name! It is, however, a pretty common combination of flavours.

Although the boyfriend didn't have any staying power in my life, the dish did. Chicken Fiasco is still something I make regularly, all these years later, and yes, I do still call it that!  

I hope I haven't made this sound too fancy. It's not. It's a simple sandwich, but the combination of crunchy fresh toasted bread, tender garlicky herbed chicken, tangy tomato, creamy, gooey melted cheese, and delicious pesto sauce makes my mouth water just thinking about it! Are you hungry yet?

Start with a chicken breast, and cut it into flat medallion-type pieces as much as such a thing is possible. Fry it up in a pan with some olive oil, garlic powder, italian seasoning, salt and pepper until it's just cooked. (Don't overcook, as it still has to go in the oven and you don't want it dry!)

While that's cooking, cut a thick slice of fresh bread, and spread it with pesto sauce. I like to use plenty!

Top it with a layer of the cooked chicken. I like how it seems to fit together like a puzzle!

Top that with a bit more pesto sauce, then a layer of sliced tomato.

I grate some cheddar cheese onto this for an extra flavour.

Then add some thinly sliced mozzarella cheese on top of that, for gooeyness.

Here's what it looks like from the side:

Put this in the oven to bake until the cheese melts. You may have to turn on the grill at the end so the cheese crisps up a bit on the top!

Just like that boyfriend did the very first time I had it, I usually serve this with a salad. This time it was a simple one of spinach, red pepper, button mushrooms, bean sprouts, and ranch dressing.

I eat this sandwich with a knife and fork. Try it! It's easy and sooooo good!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An Indonesian Cooking Class!

I've decided now that in my efforts to learn as much as possible about different foods around the world, wherever I travel, whenever I have the chance, I will take a cooking class. So when I was in a small "town" called Tuk-tuk, on an island called Samosir (the size of Singapore), in Lake Toba (which fills an enormous ancient volcanic crater), in Sumatra, Indonesia, and found cooking classes being offered, how could I not?

I went to the Juwita Cafe, where the class was offered, but didn't mention it at first. It's important to see if the food at this place is any good before I committed myself to a half day of cooking it! The problem was, at the time, it was my first trip to Indonesia, and I had only been there a couple of days. I had absolutely NO IDEA what I wanted to eat!

Luckily, I had stumbled upon some of the friendliest locals anywhere! They showed me through to the back of the restaurant, through a small garden and up some stairs to a table right at the top, overlooking the lake. Sam, one of the owners of the restaurant, came to take my order and when he saw my confusion, sat down to chat and patiently explain what some of the dishes were. I finally decided on Special Gado-gado, a veggie dish with bits of chicken, covered in a peanutty sauce. (It's usually just a veggie dish; the chicken makes it "Special")

Special Gado-gado and my view of the lake.

I took one bite, and was sold on the cooking class. Gado-gado is delicious! As I was leaving I made plans to go back for a class, but just as I was about to walk out the door, the rain started coming down, and I ended up hanging out there with Heddy and Sam for a while.

Heddy cutting banana leaves for cooking.

A couple of days later, I went back for my class. Heddy began by sitting me down and showing me some ingredients. Most were rather familiar to me by now, but a few were new.

The cooking class menu. I chose Veggie Gado-gado, Chicken Rendang, and Fish Pepesh.

A few spices and ingredients.

Heddy also grates her own coconut. Or, at least, the people who do her cooking class do! She didn't waste any time putting me to work scraping out the insides of that little thing. It's quite a workout!

Thankfully, when I got tired, Sam was willing to take over for a while. He was much better at it than I was!

Then it was on to the fish. I had chosen Fish Pepesh, or fish steamed with spices in a banana leaf. I ground up all the spices with a mortar and pestle, then I got a break while Heddy chucked it all into the blender to mash it up well. We then spread some of it on a banana leaf, put the fish on, and I spread the rest of the mixture on top. Once we'd wrapped it up like a present and secured the ends with toothpicks, we put it in the steamer for a while.

Heddy spreading the spice mixture on the banana leaves.

Next I had to make the gado-gado sauce mixture. This meant using a large flat stone and a smaller round stone to grind things together, bit by bit. Again, it was hard work!

Me and Heddy making Gado-gado.

After that it was time to cook everything.

Mixing my Rendang while the fish steams.

The final products! (Ok, so they don't look so appetizing in the pictures, but trust me, it was GOOD!)

Chicken Rendang


Fish Pepesh
SO MUCH FOOD! I made Heddy get a plate and eat some too. Three dishes is too much for one person!

If you ever find yourself in Tuk-tuk in North Sumatra, stop in and say hello to Heddy and Sam at Juwita cafe. I highly recommend the cooking class, but even if you don't want to do that, the food is delicious!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Red Wine Chocolate Truffle Cake

PhotobucketWhew! It's been a crazy month! Having had two weeks away and being pretty busy otherwise, it feels like just yesterday that I was posting about Shan-style Chicken Noodle Soup for the Crazy Cooking Challenge, but yep, it was already a month ago!

That means it's time for the next one! This month's challenge was to make a chocolate cake. Being far too short on time to do anything particularly fancy, when I stumbled across this recipe for Red Wine Chocolate Truffle cake, how could I resist? It was super easy and quick, with minimal fuss or mess, and it combines two of my favourite things - chocolate AND wine! Yum! Oh yeah, not to mention that I had to open a new bottle for this, and the recipe only uses 3/4 cup of wine, so darn I'll just have to drink the rest! 

This recipe came from Angry Cherry, who had originally gotten it from another blog and modified it slightly. I wanted to try Angry Cherry's version because she said it was more moist and truffle-like. Sounds good to me!

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 oz./85 grams bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Grease a 9-inch round springform pan. Melt the bittersweet chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler — set aside and allow to cool. Sift together the dry ingredients; all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, espresso powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl often. Cream in the melted and cooled chocolate, then add the egg and egg yolk and mix until smooth. Add the wine and mix again, until smooth. Gently stir in the sifted dry ingredients until smooth again. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 25 ~ 28 minutes at 325°F/160°C, then (carefully!) cover the top of the pan with tin foil, turn the heat down to 300°F/150°C, and bake for another 12 ~ 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

I only made a couple of modifications to this. I left out the espresso powder, because a) I didn't have any! and b) I don't like espresso. Also, I didn't have bittersweet chocolate but more of a semi-sweet, so I used that and cut the sugar down to 3/4 cup instead. I also found that it didn't quite need as much cooking time as this, but it might have been because I made it in a rectangular pan and it probably wasn't as thick.

Angry Cherry serves this with a red wine syrup, but if I use the rest of my wine making that, what will I drink? I'm choosing instead to go back to something more similar to what's on the original blog that Angry Cherry got it from (Smitten Kitchen) and make a cream cheese/whipped cream vanilla topping.

1/2 package cream cheese (4oz)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of half a lime

Whip together the cream cheese and whipping cream, then gradually add the sugar and vanilla. Add lime juice to taste. In hindsight, although it was yummy, I don't think it really needed the cream topping. It was pretty great all by itself, although next time I might try that red wine syrup just for fun! Oh yes, there WILL be a next time.

This cake was absolutely delicious. It came out very moist, dense, very rich, and SUPER chocolatey, and although the wine flavour was evident it wasn't overpowering. I took it to work, as I usually do with baked goods (kind of insurance that I won't eat it all myself!) and it disappeared pretty quickly so it must have been good! I made them all guess the secret ingredient and Tu and Xuan, our Vietnamese receptionists, were the first to get it! Well done ladies!