Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Scoring points

Being married for a little more than a year, I'm trying to do my best and score some good-wifey- points from time to time. Sometimes it's easy to do something nice for my better half (particularly if it happens to fit in with my own plans), sometimes I actually make myself do something I wouldn't have done otherwise. After all, one shouldn't start to slacken just yet!

What's been surprisingly difficult though, is to make his favourite desserts. Bit embarrassing, isn't it? And I'm not talking about several ill-fated attempts to recreate his mom's best cakes (before you ask, my versions were perfectly edible but unfortunately not half as good as the originals). No, his criterion for a great dessert is quite simple yet I'm still struggling to master it: Whatever you do, it must have chocolate - and loads of it!

Thus, I discovered over the course of the last months that whilst I like chocolate as much as the next person, I'm just as enamoured with vanilla, and come to think of it, I really prefer fruity desserts over anything else. Who knew that it would take just one year of marriage to finally figure that one out.

For our first wedding anniversary (the first of the two) I really wanted to get it right. I borrowed a lovely chocolate dessert cookbook from the library with mouthwatering pictures in it and let him choose a recipe - with only very little guidance in getting to the right chapter, of course. His choice was an American classic: Mississippi Mud Pie!

To my great surprise, this recipe isn't quite as chocolatey as it looks so don't hesitate to up the chocolate/cocoa content. And it's rather nice with vanilla-poached pears, if I might say so myself - after all, marriage is all about compromise!

Mississippi Mud Pie

The ingredients

your favourite shortcrust pastry, enough to thinly line a 20cm-spingform pan

1oog butter
50g dark chocolate, chopped
2-3 tbsp cocoa sifted
1 tsp instant espresso powder
2 small eggs
115g caster sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract (I substituted vanilla sugar for part of the sugar instead)

for serving: chocolate curls and pears poached in vanilla-bean-syrup (optional)

Butter the tart pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Line it with the shortcrust pastry, making a small rim around it. Chill the crust while preparing the filling.

Melt the butter, stir in the chocolate until combined. Stir in cocoa and instant espresso. Set aside

Beat eggs, sugar, and salt until thick and creamy. Add vanilla (if using), sour cream, and golden syrup. Stir in chocolate-butter-mixture.

Pour the filling into the tart shell and fan-bake at 150 degrees Celsius for roughly 25 minutes (check after 20 minutes). It will be done when the filling puffs up and forms a crust. Upon cooling, the filling will sink a little and may crack. On the inside, the filling will be firm but sticky.

The source
Adapted from "Chocolate" by Patricia Lousada

The hint
This pie is quite rich so serve in small doses. We ate it over the course of 3-4 days - texture and taste didn't suffer over time. Once the tart shell starts to soften, slicing will be easier, too.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Hellooo...anyone still out there?

I haven't been at this place for so long that I hardly know my way around it anymore... Well, I won't bore you with a bunch of lame excuses and only state the most exciting one: an overseas trip, first and foremost to attend the christening of my ueber cute nephew no. 2 in Germany (as aunt and godmother, I did bake a few things but sadly, no pictures), and secondly to visit Cambodia on the way back.

In preparation of our trip, I spent quite some time reading our guide book and agonizing over where to go - quite a difficult question when all you've got is a mere week to cover such an amazing country. Pretty high up on my list of priorities was taking a cooking class in traditional Khmer cuisine. Thus on a very sunny and hot morning, T and I walked towards the aptly named restaurant 'Smokin' Pot' in the laid-back country town of Battambang. None of us had ever attended a cooking class before, so we didn't really know what to expect. However, we had eaten at the restaurant the previous night so we knew that the chef's secrets were worth knowing.

The half-day course starts off with a trip to the market. Like chicks running after their hen, we follow our teacher Vannak - one would be lost without a local in this buzzing frenzy. We see all sorts of oddities like hard-boiled eggs cured in salt and ashes or little tubes filled with fermented fish paste and a whole chili. Cambodians, Vannak explains, like to eat this as a snack while traveling on the bus for example. 'Don't try this yourself', he warns us, 'we Cambodians develop a strong stomach.' Another popular snack that I've also seen in the Philippines, is hard-boiled duck eggs - or to be precise, a hard-boiled duck chick, eaten with a spoon right out of the shell, feathers and all. Needless to say, none of us is keen to try that one.

Back at the restaurant, professional equipment is already waiting for each of us: a big round chopping board, an impressive looking knife, and a pestle and mortar. Whilst Vannak explains the three dishes we're going to make, the kitchen staff washes and trims our ingredients so we won't have to work very hard.

However, Vannak does take his job seriously and from now on tells us in rapid, short commands what to do: 'Skin remove!' - that's for the ginger-like galangal. 'Chop into 3cm-pieces' - that's for the snake beans. And before we know it, we're already pounding away in our heavy-duty mortars to get a smooth spice paste for Cambodia's most famous dish: a mild curry called Amok that we make with fish and vegetables. To my great surprise, once the prep work is done, the actual cooking time is very short. After the fish curry, we also make stir-fried beef - lok lak - with salad and a dipping sauce and to finish, hot and sour soup with chicken. Unlike western cuisine, in Cambodia the soup comes as the last course thus bringing all the flavours together. And there's always room for some soup, Vannak says. However, there's no way I can finish three mains in a row - no matter how good it tastes. So I'm all the more happy when Vannak gives out small folders with a bunch of recipes from his restaurant - we will be able to recreate our Cambodian experience at home!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Bread Dumplings with Mushroom Sauce

During the last few days, all of Sydney has been suffering under the sweltering heat - even at night, temperatures wouldn't go down. And without a breeze lifting the suffocating blanket of humid hot air, we had to resort to the fan to be able to sleep at times.

Knowing that, bread dumplings with mushroom sauce might not be the dinner of choice at the moment, I grant you that. Admittedly, I made these in the midst of the Australian winter, some time last June, when the cold rain wouldn't stop for days - then these hearty dumplings are exactly what you need.

I was instantly reminded of them when talking to my family about the pretty rough winter they have at the moment in Europe. Usually my family lives in an area of Germany with a moderate climate so cold it might get but not bone-chillingly so. However, this year the temperatures dropped way beyond zero for quite a while. Listening to descriptions of a walk through snowy landscape while wiping away the sweat on your own brow feels quite funny!

So this one is for all the people that are currently shivering in the Northern hemisphere - enjoy and keep warm!

Bread Dumplings with Mushroom Sauce

The ingredients

In Sydney, I usually never have leftover bread rolls (get eaten too quickly) but leftover bread works just as well. Just make sure to cut it finely - you may have to remove very hard rinds - and let it soak long enough.

10 medium-sized bread rolls (about 500g), cut into fine slices
3/8 to 1/2 l milk, warmed
2 tbsp onion, diced
plenty of chopped parsley
1 tbsp butter
4-5 eggs
1 tbsp flour

Put the finely cut bread rolls into a big bowl, sprinkle with salt and pour the warm milk on top. The exact amount of milk needed depends on how dry the rolls are. The drier the rolls, the more milk is needed and the longer it will take them to absorb it all. The soaking will take at least 30 minutes. Stir the mixture every now and then.

Gently fry the onions and parsley in the butter until softened. Note: If in a hurry, you can skip this step - the dumplings will still taste delicious.

Add the onions and parsley to the bread rolls, followed by the eggs and the flour. If your eggs are very big, use only four. Using a bare hand, mix together until evenly combined. If you can still feel lots of hardened bread roll pieces, let your mixture soak a little longer.

The resulting mixture will be quite soft but should not be too soggy. If it is too liquid, the dumplings won't hold their shape. If necessary add a tablespoon of bread crumbs but don't add too much at a time.

With wet hands, shape the dough into round dumplings. They should be about the same size to ensure even cooking. Whenever the dough begins to stick to your hands, wet your hands again in cold water.

While shaping bring a pot with three liters of salted water to the boil. If you're unsure about the consistency of your dumplings, put only one in the pot, reduce the temperature, and let it simmer for roughly 20 minutes. Check after a few minutes that the dumpling doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. It will be ready when it floats on top.

If you're happy with the consistency of your trial dumpling, simmer the remaining ones. They need to have enough space to float freely so work in batches if necessary.

Lift out the dumplings using a slotted spoon and serve immediately with creamy mushroom sauce or a hearty meat stew.

Mushroom Sauce

Mushrooms of your choice
Dairy of your choice

There's no recipe - it's your choice if you first sautee onions and mushrooms and then deglaze the pan with cream, sour cream, milk whatever or if you make a roux out of butter and a little flour and then go from there.
Just one bit of advice: I've long tried to make a somewhat diet-friendly mushroom sauce - forget it, it always tasted awful. I think that's one of these cases when you need to use real cream!

The source
Hedwig Maria Stuber: Ich helf Dir kochen

The hint
Making dumplings might sound a little irksome but it isn't difficult at all. I don't even bother making a trial dumpling.

If you have leftover dumplings, you can slice them up, turn in beaten egg and fry until browned. Together with a green salad, it makes for a quick and tasty lunch.