Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Earl Grey Panna Cotta - Video

It's amazing what you can do with so little ingredients.... Milk, cream, sugar, gelatin and a flavouring of your choice and you get yourself a scrumptious, classic Italian nursery dessert... Panna Cotta. 

This has to be one of the easiest desserts to make... In a sentence: heat the milk and cream, add sugar, the soften gelatin, pour into moulds and let it set in the fridge. That's really it. Also best thing is, you can make this in advance for a dinner party or for a sole-indulgence moment after a long day. But you should make this in advance anyway, at least for few hours for the panna cotta to set and become fridge cold. 

However, what I find really important in making "the perfect panna cotta" is the consistency. It should be soft-set but firm enough to be unmoulded without collapsing. To achieve this, you do need to follow the exact requirement for the setting agent. 

Instead of using gelatin, I use agar-agar here because it was easier to find back in Indonesia and also it's vegetarian friendly (agar-agar is extracted from seaweed after all). But whichever one you're using, make sure to follow the instructions. Gelatin sheets need to be soften first in cold water before adding it to the warm cream and milk mixture; whereas agar-agar powder reacts to heat in order for the setting to occur. 

Flavour-wise, you can do anything you want really... Vanilla is traditional but you can be as creative as you want... This time round I'm giving my panna cotta an Anglo-twist and infusing mine with Earl Grey tea which I absolutely love. It's light and fragrant with a distinctive bergamot flavour. 

I could happily have the panna cotta by itself, but the same principle that it's always good to have some greens (or some reds in this case) with your meal, I feel a scatter of berries around the panna cotta is appropriate. The strawberries are macerated in sugar and a touch of balsamic vinegar which may sound odd, but believe me and give this a go. The balsamic vinegar brings out the beautiful colour of the berries, making it glisten and truly enhances their strawberry-ness.
And guess what... This is another video recipe! Yay... Please enjoy...
Special thanks to my friend Vincent for filming and editing the video. Vincent is also a brilliant photographer and you can check out his work on Instagram @vincentwilfred.

 Have a delicious day!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic & Almonds

Hello friends, how's everyone doing?! 

It's been two weeks since I moved to the Cayman Islands to start my new job as a pastry cook and it's been... Hmmm... I don't know... interesting, I guess...

I am still adjusting to my new life here on the island. To be honest, I have not seen much of it yet... The tourist attractions and all, but I have plenty of time for that later. The day after I got to the island, I went straight to orientation which lasted for three days. Then I've been working since (I'll get to more details about my new job in a bit). I did have a day off last week but it was moving day for me. After staying in a hotel for a week, I finally found a new home. I also have a housemate/workmate who is also new to the island and it's nice that we're on the same boat and discovering new places together.

It's so hot and humid here, and you know how I feel about hot and humid places... But I'm gonna keep my whining short... So, moving on...

Now, the new job as a pastry cook... I thoroughly enjoyed my first couple of weeks and what can I say, it's brilliant! I work in the bakery section and we bake so many wonderful breads everyday... From focaccia to sourdough, wheat bread, fruit and nut bread, and my current favourite is the fennel and raisin rolls. Ah, it's so good! I thought it was a strange combination at first but wait until you taste it. I posted a picture of it on my Instagram (@michael_toa). 

I have a great mentor and she is so good! She is fast with dough, highly organised, knowledgeable and most importantly she keeps me in line! It takes a different attitude and organisational skill to bake in a professional kitchen compare to baking at home... And it's something I'm still getting used to. 

The transition has not been an easy one if I'm being honest. I get nervous at times surrounded by these professional chefs with years of experience and I'm just a home baker, previously working in an office dealing with immigration issues. I got weird looks every time I'm asked about my working experience. 

Of course I want to do a great job and I try my best to not make a fool of myself but it's all too late... I am not clumsy, but the other day, I was just doing a simple task of rolling a pastry sheet and I wanted to, you know, do it quickly and efficiently like all the other chefs, and somehow my pastry sheet ended up on the floor in front of everyone. *insert swear word here* !!! I was mortified. What an amateur! 

*sigh... It's my day off today and I'm taking it easy. Relaxing at home and looking forward to catch up with my blog reading list. And for lunch I made Nigella's Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds which is incredibly easy to make. You only need to boil the pasta to al dente and the sauce is done in a food processor. 

The sauce is really fresh with the cherry tomatoes, nice bite from the garlic, salty and tangy from the anchovies and capers, but also a little sweet, courtesy of the sultanas. Though I actually use golden raisins in mine. Whichever you have in your pantry. And the almonds and the olive oil bind the sauce together in the same way when you make a pesto. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a little pasta cooking water if it needs it. The only thing that's missing is a little strew of fresh basil on top of the pasta, but it's not the end of the world.  And should you have some in your fridge, pour yourself a nice well-chilled wine and enjoy...

Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic and Almonds
Recipe by Nigella Lawson

For complete list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Monday, 21 July 2014

I am moving...

Hello friends! How's everyone doing? I hope you are all well and eating deliciously...

I am taking a quick break from packing and this time it's the big suitcase that I need to pack because I am moving... 

A couple of months ago I applied for a job which I thought suits my passion and it also sounds like a great opportunity for me to continue growing and learning.  After waiting for few days, I was thrilled when I received a feedback regarding my application so quickly. They wanted to know more about my working experience which I happily explained; and a couple of correspondence later, I was invited for an interview... 

The interview was done over the phone... I was so nervous that day, waiting for that phone call. Finally it's 9PM my time. For the interviewer it was the morning because of the time difference. The interview itself went really well but still I didn't want to get too sure that I was gonna get it.  I mean, I've been to a job interview before where I thought it went extremely well and ended up not getting the job. 

After the interview, I waited for few days... don't you just hate that feeling of waiting... Just tell me already please... I checked my email constantly, refreshing the inbox on my phone like every fifteen minutes... until that email came. I went into my room, I took a deep breath and I opened that email which says "...I would like to go ahead and offer you the pastry cook position...". I was over the moon happy. 

For the past few weeks I've been doing all the paperwork for the working permit and travel documents and it's finally all done last week and I am ready to go and I can tell you where I'm heading to. Next week, I'll be boarding the longest flights in my life... a total of five flights and an approximately 38 hours journey. From Medan to Singapore and up north to Taipei, then cross the Pacific ocean to LA then to Houston where I'm going to take my last connecting flight to my destination at Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. 

To say that I am excited is an understatement. Not only I am excited to see parts of the world I have not been before, but also of course, for the job and the new adventure. And I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all :) 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Parmesan Shortbread with Smoked Paprika and Black Sesame Seeds

Happy Sunday friends! How is everyone doing?

I am currently taking a break from packing and I want to share with you a little something tasty for your next dinner party. These Parmesan shortbread are so good to pass around for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks/cocktails. And I do love to nibble before dinner, you know, little bites to whet the appetite.

I often make this 'plain' with just the Parmesan, but the addition of smoked paprika gives the shortbread a bacon-like flavour... and as Ina Garten would say, how bad can that be?! If you want some heat, you can also add a little cayenne pepper. And I chose black sesame seeds really just for aesthetic purpose. You can omit that if you don't want to risk having black sesame seeds stuck between your teeth, especially when having a party.

The shortbread dough is incredibly easy to make and the great thing is, once the dough is made, you can roll it straightaway without having to chill it in the fridge first. You can also make this a couple of days in advance and they keep well in an airtight container. Just be sure to keep them away from sight because they won't last long :)

Have a great day everyone!   

Parmesan Shortbread with Smoked Paprika and Black Sesame Seeds

150 gr butter
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/s tsp ground white pepper
1-2 tsp smoked paprika, depending taste
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
175 gr freshly grated Parmesan cheese + extra for sprinkling
250 gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing
2 tbsp black sesame seeds

In a bowl, using a free-standing or a hand-mixer, cream the butter, sugar, salt, pepper and smoked paprika until light and fluffy.  Add the one egg and one egg yolk and mix again to combine, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

In another bowl, sift the flour and baking powder. Now, using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients into the buttery cheese mixture until it becomes a dough. 

You can roll the dough on a well floured surface, but I find it easier to roll it in between two non-stick parchment paper.  Roll the dough to the thickness of half a centimeter. Cut it with a knife into bite-size rectangles or use a cookie cutter. Arrange the shortbread on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Brush the shortbread with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with extra Parmesan and the black sesame seeds. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let the shortbread completely cool before storing in an airtight container.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Banana and Almond Ice Cream

Back when I was living in Sunderland, whenever I went to the cinema I like treating myself to a scoop or two of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. My favourite has got to be the Chunky Monkey which is banana ice cream with fudge chunks and walnuts. Hmmm... doesn't that sound delicious?! I just love its nursery sweetness.  

And for some inexplicable reason, I would only have this ice cream exclusively at the cinema; even though the ice cream is widely available in supermarkets.

The other day I went to see the new X-Men movie (such a great movie and I love Jennifer Lawrence) at my local cinema here in Medan. I went to the concession stands to check out what snacks they have... you know, the usual popcorn, nachos, sweets, etc... and sadly, no ice cream :( So I thought, why not try making it at home... and this banana and almond ice cream is what I came up with. 

I was going to use walnuts in this ice cream, sticking to its original inspiration; but when I went to the shop, surprise surprise, walnuts were not available (story of my life...). So, I opted for almonds instead. Use any nuts you like... I suspect cashews or pecans will be nice as well.  Or if you're not a fan of nuts, simply omit them.

I must say I am very happy with this ice cream.  It's creamy, rich and comforting.  And most importantly, it's easy to make. Though you do need to make a custard, but it's not at all difficult.

Question of the day, what's your favourite snack to have at the cinema?

This banana and almond ice cream is also my second entry for this month's BSFIC Challenge hosted by the brilliant Kavey.  The theme this month is fruity ice cream, so if you plan to make a fruit base ice-cream in the next few days, be sure to join in.  My first entry was strawberry and rosewater ice cream.

Banana and Almond Ice Cream

500 ml full fat milk
500 ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
170 gr caster sugar
300 gr bananas, from 3 or 4 bananas depending on size
50 ml milk
75 gr whole almonds or walnuts

Start by making the custard base.  Pour the milk and double cream into a saucepan along with a vanilla pod that's been split down in the middle lengthwise to expose the seeds.  Bring this mixture almost to a boil, then take it off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then take out the vanilla pod.  You can let it dry and add it to your sugar pot to make vanilla sugar.

Bring the milk and cream again to a simmer. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar until the mixture turns thick and pale yellow.  Slowly and gradually pour and whisk in the warm vanilla cream to the yolks. Return this mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over low heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon until it thickens. When it's done, take it off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool slightly. Give it a stir every now and then so that no skin will form on top of the custard.

Make the banana puree by simply blending the bananas with 50 ml of milk so that the mixture isn't too thick. Fold this peanut butter like puree into the slightly cooled custard. If using an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer's instruction. If you don't have one, just put the ice cream base into a covered container and stick it in the freezer. Take it out after an hour and give it a good beating with a whisk. This will prevent ice crystals from forming and you'll end up with smooth and silky ice cream.   

Lightly toast the nuts of your choice in the oven or I just do it on the stove.  Heat a frying pan on the stove and add a single layer of nuts. Do not add any oil. The nuts contain enough oils of their own to cook. Stir frequently until the nuts turn golden brown and you can really smell their aroma.  Remove from heat and let the cool before giving them a rough chop.

After the second hour in the freezer, take the ice cream out for another 'beating' and fold in the nuts. Making sure they're dispersed throughout. Put the ice cream back in the freezer and do this again in an hour for the last time before putting it back in the freezer to chill completely. After a few hours, I think you know what to do next... :)