Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Lemony Day

I love lemons and always like to have some in the house.  However, I have had a bargain-bag of TEN lemons in the fridge for the last week and not got round to using them...  With a bonus Public Holiday yesterday (for Israk Mikraj don't you know?!) in the middle of the last week of term, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get cooking.

Whilst still in my pyjamas I set about cooking lemon curd.  I hadn't made this for years, and had forgotten just how quick and simple it was.  I love how beautiful it looks; it came out a delicate primrose-yellow.

This recipe used whole eggs, hence the pale colour; to get a richer yellow you'd need to use a recipe that just used yolks; but I thought this was gorgeous - and it tasted wonderful too.

On a roll, I decided to continue the lemony theme and make a lemon cake.  Recently I've become a huge fan of Nigella's Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake (which I don't make in a loaf pan, but as a square tray-bake) but yesterday I wanted to try something a bit different.

After a convoluted saga involving having one-too-few eggs to follow the recipe properly, I ended up adapting the recipe to make just one cake instead of the 2 sandwiched together that it is meant to be.  It looked a little disastrous as it came out of the oven (a large section of meringue collapsed off the side, as you can see).

However, with some careful slicing, and a dollop of lemon curd on the side, it made a very respectable pudding!

The recipe can be found here, on Nigella's website, or in her wonderful 'Feast' book.  As I only had 3 eggs rather than the 4 required I made 3/4 of the recipe amount, and piled it all into 1 tin instead of 2. It therefore took a bit longer to cook than specified, perhaps 10 minutes more than the recipe says, but that required a bit of a juggling act with the oven temperatures to ensure that the meringue didn't over-brown.  It all got a bit complex, and I wasn't taking notes!

However, it's a cake I'd definitely try again... and I don't think that jar of lemon curd is going to last too long either!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Impossible Coconut Pie

I suppose it's the mark of a successful recipe when you dig into the dish so quickly that you don't have time to take a photograph of it first!

That was certainly the case with this pudding, the 'Impossible' Coconut Pie, taken from the 'Food and Wine' magazine and passed on to me by my Canadian friend Jody.  Having finally managed to source desiccated coconut here in Brunei (in Le Apple Bakery, for any readers in Brunei who may be interested) I ended up making this dish twice in one week, once for personal consumption (well, I did share it with Rob!) and then once as a contribution to a pot-luck supper with my colleagues. 

Two huge pies, and this was the point at which I finally managed to point my camera towards it:

The 'Impossible' in the name of this pie is down to the fact that it seems to miraculously form its own crust when baking - in fact it forms 2 crusts: a soft and slightly chewy bottom layer, and a cakey top layer.  In the middle is a delicious coconutty-egg-custard.

The recipe can be found here, on the Food and Wine website, but I made a couple of adaptations so 'my' recipe for it follows:

Impossible Coconut Pie

½ cup melted butter, plus more for greasing
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
½ cup self-raising flour
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter two 9 inch glass pie plates, or 1 large pyrex dish.

In a large bowl whisk the melted butter and sugar.

Add eggs and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour, coconut and milk.

Divide mixture between the two pie plates - or pour it all into the large pyrex (the mixture is very liquid) - and bake in the lower third of the oven (unsure if this is necessary when you have a fan-oven as I do...) for about 1 hour until pies are firm to the touch and golden.

My large pie was ready in an hour (when the middle stops wobbling!) but I covered it with foil after about 40 minutes as I thought it was browning rather too fast. 

This is most definitely a 'pudding' - not as glamorous as a 'dessert' - but homely and comforting.  It doesn't look beautiful (in fact it looks rather plain) but tastes divine.  We ate it warmed on its own, cold on its own, and hot or cold with ice-cream, but it would certainly be great with cream or custard too. 

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A Three-Cake Birthday

Last week it was my birthday.  Not a particularly 'special' number, but it turned into a pretty special day.

I never used to tell the children in my class when it was my birthday, but then a colleague once told me that she thought we should - after all, kids get so excited about birthdays, and it also helps them to appreciate the fact that you're a 'real person' too (not just someone who lives in school!).  I thought this was a good argument, so ever since then I've not been shy about mentioning it to the kids - not making a huge thing of it of course, and making sure to emphasise that gifts are not expected (I always give them the 'homemade is best' yarn, and I do love the cards that they make!).

This year it was easy to drop into the conversation as my birthday co-incided with our year-group's Chocolate Day, officially the culmination of our book-study of Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but unofficially just an excuse to eat lots of chocolate and watch a film!

Not only was the classroom filled with chocolate (we had a chocolate fountain!) but at snack time the cake appeared...  not just one, but TWO birthday cakes.

The first was a cheesecake, from my year-group colleagues.  We have a very nice tradition of getting eachother a cake on our birthdays, and getting all 3 classes to come in and sing.  Which made me almost cry (in the nicest possible way!).

And next came an amazing Red Velvet Cake, made my one of the delightful girls in my class, with the help of her Auntie who is a professional baker.

It even came with little Red Velvet cupcakes - so adorable! 

The cheesecake was gorgeous - not too sickly-sweet, and with lots of fruit.  The Year 3 staff polished it off fairly fast.

Helped by 19 children, the Red Velvet cake didn't last too long either, but was really delicious.  Dense and with a hint of chocolate, topped with cream-cheese icing.   And made with love so very special.

Luckily we managed to leave a piece for our special visitor...

Yes, I am currently hosting my 3rd Flat Stanley from Lewknor School.  This one comes courtesy of Poppy, following the example of Polly and Hayden who sent theirs earlier this year.

After the monkey disaster with Polly's, this is as close as Poppy's Stanley has got to our neighbourhood macaques:

Once I got home I started on birthday cake number THREE - one of Ben's legendary Ferrero Rocher cakes.  I had been dying to have another one of these since Rob's birthday in May, so this was the perfect excuse.

I don't think I've ever managed that many cakes on any birthday before.  What a treat - and huge thanks to all who gave them.  I had a wonderful day.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Macarons from Ben

I'm so pleased to have met Ben - and even more so that I am now on his 'list' who receive updates about what he's baking and opportunities to buy the results.  A few weeks back (I'm a bit behind on my blogging...) he posted that he was going to make lemon tarts, and macarons.  Now I've always been a macaron fan, so I just knew I had to try some.

The lemon tart was wonderful - crisp buttery pastry, filled with a layer of dark chocolate, then a layer of pistachio sponge, and topped with the most gorgeous tart-but-creamy lemon cream (a Pierre Herme recipe no less)... but of course we ate it before I thought of taking a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

But the macarons... how could I resist taking pictures?!  They are such things of beauty.

I ended up with a box that contained 4 flavours - pictured above (from top to bottom) are Chilli-Chocolate, Nutella and Coconut-Lime.  There was also a gorgeous pale lilac Cassis flavour one, but it got a little crushed so I ate it sans photo!

These macarons were as good as they looked.  I loved the chocolate ganache that Ben had used as the fillings.  I might have added a little more chili to the Chili-Choc one, but that's a personal thing and I'm a bit of a chili-fiend.

I think my favourite was the Coconut-Lime.  I asked Ben how he had made it, and he told me that he had used the juice of limau kapas, or key limes, mixed with coconut cream and white chocolate.  It was a great combination.

The shells just looked so professional, I was really impressed as I know how temperamental they can be to make.  I'm inspired to have another try myself - roll on July and my long Summer holiday!  I'm already pondering different flavour possiblities...

Monday, 6 June 2011

Basil Cookery School, Chiang Mai

Nowhere is 'cookery tourism' more popular than in Thailand.  I was quite simply astonished by the number of cookery schools just in Chiang Mai offering courses varying from a half-day to a full week.  Thai food is generally pretty simple to make if you have the right ingredients, and it's become very popular around the world.  The sheer variety of schools made making a choice quite tricky...  but I think I chose well!

Quite simply I picked the one with the nicest leaflet.  It was also written in good English, and gave clear menu choices with great photos.  I've since found out that it has a great website, and lots of 'likes' on its Facebook page, so it appears I'm not alone in being a fan. 

I struck lucky in that it was quiet season, so I was the only student for the morning.  1-to-1 tuition!  Boom, the ever-smiling teacher, picked me up from my guesthouse in the cookery-school van and we went straight to a local fresh market to pick up some ingredients for the morning.

I took the opportunity to quiz Boom over what the many and varied vegetables are.  I often find myself standing gormlessly in front of the fresh produce in Bruneian supermarkets, wondering what on earth the various greenery.  It's hard to tell when it's only labelled in Malay.  I think there are a few new vegetables that I can try now.

I also saw some things that I had never seen fresh before.  These are bamboo shoots.  I buy mine in tins!

After our shopping trip it was back to Basil to start cooking.  The school has been open since 2009, and Boom has clearly learnt well from her years teaching at the famous Baan Thai cookery school.  Basil is well laid-out and seems to run incredibly smoothly.

Inside was a kitchen with a large central 'island' for food preparation, plus a row of 6 gas-rings for cooking.  Class-sizes are set to a maximum of 6 so that even when full, everyone can have attention from the teacher.  There is also an adjoining dining room where you can take your dishes to eat fresh as soon as you have cooked them.

Straight onto the cooking for us:  Dish 1 - Drunken Noodles.

I felt that Rob and I were a little short on nice noodle dishes in our cooking repertoire, so it was great to learn this easy dish.  No alcohol involved though!

Dish 2 -Tom Yum hot and sour soup.  This was made with prawns and oyster mushrooms.

When we've made this at home we sometimes add a splash of coconut milk too, to make it slightly less astringent, but this was great as it was.  You end up with a lot of detritus in the bowl at the end though - kaffir lime leaves, chillis, lemongrass and galangal.

Dish 3 - Laab.  An old favourite.  I guess I shouldn't really have chosen it as I make it pretty well at home, I just didn't think.  Never mind, it was still delicious, and good to see that I've been doing it 'right'!

Before we started on dish 4, Boom showed me how to make fresh coconut milk.  At the market she had bought a bag full of fresh grated coconut.  She put 100g into a muslim bag, then we poured on a cup of boiling water, let it cool and then kneaded the bag in the water.

A few minutes later the bowl was filled with coconut milk, and my hands were beautifully soft thanks to the coconut oil!  This coconut milk was used in the curry I was about to make, and the dessert.

Dish 4 - Red Curry with Bamboo Shoots.

This began with making the red curry paste from scratch.  Red and green curry pastes are made in exactly the same way, the only difference being the colour of the chillies used.  There was a lot of chopping before we got onto the grinding...

And then an awful lot of grinding!  "Just another 5 minutes" said Boom chirpily as I showed her what I thought looked like a very respectable mortar-full of curry paste...

Still, the aching biceps were worth it when I tasted the finished curry.  Excellent, though I say it myself!

Dish 5 - Chicken with Cashew Nuts.

This is a favourite of mine at our local Thai restaurant, but we've never quite managed to recreate it perfectly at home.  I realised that one of the main things we were neglecting to do was fry the dried chillies in order to get that lovely 'toasted' flavour.

This is definitely one I'll be trying again at home.

Dish 6 - Black Sticky Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk.

I'm a big rice pudding fan, but this was probably my least favourite dish of the day.  However, this may have been because it was the 6th and last dish I had cooked and eaten during the morning; I'm not sure I could even have squeezed in a wafer-thin-mint at this point!

At the end of the course I received a certificate and - most usefully - a recipe book containing all of the recipes I had cooked, plus many more. 

I'll type up some of the recipes at some point, perhaps as I try recreating them here in Brunei.  I'm looking forward to trying!

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Saturday afternoon, back in Brunei, and desperately craving something somehow 'cleansing' to eat after my bout of illness in Thailand.  I eat Asian food all the time here, but at this point I just wanted something somehow different, although I couldn't quite decide what that was.  My forum-friends came to the rescue of course, with Megan happening to post this fresh and delicious salad recipe from Bon Appétit which I just had to make straight away.

Shaved Asparagus with Parmesan Vinaigrette

Bon Appétit | May 2011

yield: Makes 4 servings

Shaving asparagus with a vegetable peeler transforms the texture of a raw stalk into silky strips. This revelatory technique works well with all kinds of vegetables, from carrots to zucchini.


• 12 large asparagus spears (about 1 pound), trimmed and peeled
• 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan plus a piece for shaving
• 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Working with 1 asparagus spear at a time, use a vegetable peeler to shave spears into long, thin shavings. Transfer to a medium bowl (the tips will snap off as spears get thinner; add to bowl). Combine grated Parmesan and lemon juice in a small bowl and slowly whisk in oil until well blended. Season vinaigrette generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle vinaigrette over shaved asparagus and toss to coat. Divide asparagus salad among plates. Use peeler to shave more Parmesan over salad.

I could only find one decent package of (baby) asparagus - annoying because usually there's plenty around.  However, this produced enough for 2 portions despite being rather a hassle to 'shave' - but worth every second of that hassle I assure you.  

I didn't worry too much about the quantities for the dressing, as they had to be dictated by the fact that I only had a walnut-sized piece of parmesan left in the fridge (we use it so rarely I had completely forgotten we were nearly out).  The dressing was fresh, astringent and lemony, very lemony, but as a lemon-fiend that suits me fine.  Others might want to add the juice judiciously and taste as they go along.  I ended up with half the dressing left over, but stirred it into some shredded cabbage the following evening and enjoyed it again.  I think it would work with any veg.

We served this asparagus saled with a simply-roasted chicken (rubbed with lemon juice and olive-oil, then sprinkled generously with ground pepper) and some roasted cherry tomatoes and baby corn.  Rob also had cous cous, but I fancied a carb-free meal.  It was simple and delicious; simply delicious in fact.  Definitely a 'keeper'. 

Thanks Megan!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Update from Chiang Mai

Well, it's certainly been a trip of contrasts so far... Lots of great bits, but a but of a disaster too as I currently find myself lying in bed in my hotel room after a particularly grim bout of illness. I now understand why people tell you not to buy street-food in Asia... But I've always done so, and never suffered before, so just bad luck I think.

And those Chiang Mai sausages were just SO delicious!

So, aside from the last 24 hours - a waste in so many ways, and so utterly miserable I even considered coming home early - it's been a good trip. My Thai cookery course was excellent and I'm really looking forward to trying out some of my new-found recipes when I get back. I was the only person on the course, so got 1 to 1 tuition! Lots of details and photos to follow.

I also went to see the Giant Pandas at Chiang Mai Zoo this morning. I saw them when I visited in 2005 - there were 2 then, but now there are 3. Thanks to a rather overly-informative display board I now know more than anyone should ever know about panda sex! (Or rather, lack of it - Lin Ping was conceived through artificial insemination, fully documented photographically for all to see!) But what gorgeous creatures they are.

I arrived as they were eating breakfast and stood for ages, watching them enjoying their bamboo. I was very jealous as I wasn't able to enjoy any food at that point - all too risky!

I'm writing this on my iPhone so please excuse any errors, and the lack of pictures - I can't seem to get them to upload from the phone.