Archive for February 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, 15 February 2013

I wrote this post intending to post on Valentine's Day, but then I left it too late. My past few days have been hectic. Friday morning we were woken up by a frantic call from home (Malaysia) with the news that our grandmother had passed away in the night. Twelve hours later, after rushing to get our passports renewed (Galvy's and mine had expired in December, turns out you can do anything for a fee, we got ours done in bout 5 hours), flights booked and bags packed, we were boarding a flight to KL, crying and confused. It was so surreal. So I'm here now with all my family - it's the first time in nearly ten years that all six of us cousins have been home together. Anyway, more on that later - here is the delayed Vday post.

Happy Valentine's Day!

When I was in school, I once made Caitlin an anti-Valentine's Day card that I thought was hilarious. I can't remember exactly what it was but I know it had a lot of black in it, and when I gave it to her she was very, very, very mad.
I had to make her a new card and explain my temporary cynicism and include an elaborate apology to make up for it. I'm not sure why I did it, except that I thought it was so funny and creative before I gave it to her. I have nothing against February the 14th except for the fact that everyone not in a relationship seems to climb right onto the edge of their temper and tolerance scale and perch there precariously all day. This makes me upset because I don't think just an ordinary Thursday should have the power to make people feel this way. ): but anyway, it is what it is I suppose.

I made these thumbprint cookies/jam drops for a picnic I'm going to have with Milo. I've been thinking about them for ages now, and thought this would be one occasion that I could trick him into eating sugar and he couldn't complain (: They are deliciously crumbly and melt in your mouth, and when you eat them warm from the oven, the jam is heavenly. I urge you to get in the kitchen now and make these. Please.

You can use whatever jam you would like to fill these cookies. All the homemade jam had been demolished, but luckily we had this jar in the fridge.

Thumbprint Cookies

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or one vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 cup pure icing sugar, sifted
2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup cornflour
1/2 cup jam

Preheat oven to 180 C and line two baking trays with paper.
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.
Sift in the flours and fold gently until incorporated.
Roll heaped tablespoons into small balls and place on the trays. The dough doesn't expand much but make sure there's room in between the balls.
Using your thumb, make a small indent in the dough.

Fill with jam. Don't overfill or the jam will spill out of its well.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve warm or cooled, either way is delicious.

I also made these mugs for my beautiful friends to remind them that they are special and loved (: I used a red Sharpie and then baked the mugs at 200C for 30 minutes.

Please make these! They are so divine (: and as always, let me know if you do or just say hello in the comments! (:

xx gee

1 Comment »

Chinese New Year Feasts.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Gong Xi Fa Cai/ Happy Chinese New Year!

For my family, Chinese New Year has always been about lots of little traditions and mini rules that we all grew up with. There are the normal ones, like wearing lots and lots of red (I think this is for luck, but Wikipedia informed me otherwise - apparently the color red scared off a mythical monster), new clothes and shoes, visiting family and friends, and of course, the food.

This is how a typical Chinese New Year morning would go. We would be woken up very early by anxious mothers, aunts and grandmothers, hurrying us to get ready before breakfast. We would all be staying at our grandmother's house for the occasion, my cousins and I camped out in our parents' childhood bedrooms. Our parents would get there very early in the morning to prep for the breakfast feast. Hoi Neen roughly translates into 'Start the Year', and is really important in our family, if not in general Chinese culture. My Chinese vocabulary of these event and food names is a jumble of Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien and Hakka, so I apologise if I mix anything up.

There would be a mad scramble for everyone to have showers in the morning to start the new year 'fresh'. And you can't wash your hair. I don't know why. We would all already have had showers the night before after the Reunion Dinner and mandatory playing with sparklers and fireworks, but you don't mess with tradition. Dinner is a chance for the family to catch up before the new year, and everyone flies back to Malaysia from wherever they are - Australia, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Our dinner was usually at the Hilton, where we would have yee sang - a sort of salad that you toss with chopsticks at the table, with sashimi salmon, carrot, radish, cucumber, and other salad-y ingredients, and my favorite dish - battered prawns with this amazing mayonaise sauce we called 'salad prawns', but I don't know what it's actually called. After dinner and the fireworks and our showers, we would all get out our new flip flops - everyone has to have new flip flops for Chinese New Year; we all have a vast array of Havaianas to prove it - and at midnight smack them on the ground to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. (It is actually just really fun to smack your thongs on the ground. Try it and report back)

Anyway, on Chinese New Year Day after everyone is all showered and decked out in their new clothes and thongs, we all gathered around the dining room where the adults would have prepared the Feast. The First Day Feast is vegetarian. I never knew why, but Google told me that it's supposed to enhance longevity. There's rice, peanut and lotus root soup, ho bao dan - literal translation is 'purse egg', more later, jai (a vegetarian dish), mock duck and mock abalone, and tons of other vegetarian food that I can't name. We have to teem fan - 'add rice' - have seconds. This is symbolic for having a year of abundance. Yes, everything means something. I'd always have a teeny, tiny first serving so I wouldn't be too full to have seconds, because the more times you top up your plate, the more ang pau (red packets filled with money) you get.

After breakfast, we'd all get into our respective cars (it became very exciting when my oldest cousin learned to drive, when I was about 8, because she drove all us kids and we had our own kids car) and visit various family members. We'd collect more ang pau, gather in the huge downstairs bathroom to compare what we got, eat pineapple tarts and other Chinese New Year cookies and treats, and drink chrysanthemum tea or lychee juice in poppers (something we were only allowed once every year). After we'd visited all our distant relatives we'd come home, exhausted, sit in the air con for a little bit, and then have McDonald's for a snack (it was okay to eat meat when the adults weren't there) and then go shopping at Mid Valley Megamall with our new cash. (Sales assistants would comment on the crisp, new money from our ang paus, I can't decide if this is embarrassing or not)

The first Chinese New Year I ever spent not in Malaysia was bizarre. It was a school day, as it isn't a public holiday in Australia, so I had some muesli for breakfast before walking to school. I wasn't wearing anything new, or red, or thongs - my blue school dress and black lace up shoes. I had a spinach and cheese roll for lunch, in line with the vegetarian tradition, and read A Midsummer's Night Dream. My best friends back home sent Gong Xi Fa Cai messages, and I felt the oddest sense of displacement. When Galvyn and I got home from school, I made him change right away into new, red clothes. Then I made us baked potatoes in the microwave and we watched after school TV until my mom came home, and we had an extremely ordinary dinner. Completely weird.

Luckily, this year Chinese New Year fell on a Sunday. Yay! So we planned for an epic hoi neen breakfast. My mom made me ask Caitlin if she wanted a traditional Chinese breakfast, or if she wanted bacon and eggs. (We did that once, a few years back, and although it was delicious we all agreed it was strange) Caitlin said traditional. So here's our feast. There are a few dishes missing, because we forgot about the ho bao dan, and also the roast duck. Whoops. (Yes we decided to forego the vegetarian theme again)

We had steamed rice, yee sang, jai, soy sauce prawns, shallot pancakes, ho bao dan, stir-fried vegetables, and the roast duck. The jai dish is a Buddhist dish that's supposed to be comprised of 18 different symbolic elements, but ours had: dried shiitake mushrooms, fatt choy (we call it 'hair' because it's a really fine mushroom/fungus that looks like hair. I absolutely love it), wood ear and cloud ear fungus, fu chuk (tofu skin), wheat gluten and peanuts. That's the dish on the left.

I didn't get a picture of the ho bao dan, but it is basically a fried egg, sunny-side-up, and for the last couple of seconds you carefully fold it in half, making a little 'purse' - hence 'Purse Eggs'. It's supposed to mean your purse will always be full, if you eat plenty of these. We all had one each yesterday. The vegetable stir fry had cauliflower, beans, baby corn and tofu, and the almost-forgotten duck was just purchased from a Chinese BBQ store.

I also made these mini shallot pancakes in the mini frying pans I used to make the ho bao dan. I blended plain flour, sesame oil, an egg, shallots and some water in the food processor and then poured the mixture into a sesame-oil greased pan before sprinkling more shallots on the top. They weren't as crispy as they should be, but were still delicious in the dipping sauce (chili, soy sauce, white wine vinegar, sesame oil). Behind that is the soy sauce prawns, my grandmother's specialty. Prawns (in their shells) in soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic and a teeny splash of tomato sauce.

And of course, we had to have tea (: Special Chinese New Year tea, with a special Chinese name that I have no idea of:

The yee sang: shredded carrot, cucumber, pickled ginger, turnip, chili, capsicum, pomelo, peanuts, sesame seeds, lime-marinated salmon, and delicious keropok (deep fried 'chips' - I just made these with wonton wrappers) on top. We added the sauce to it - a mixture of plum sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. It was delicious, and everyone had a blast tossing.

Tossing. The higher you toss, the better. 
  Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone! (:

xx gee


Fig, Maple and Rosemary Galette

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The other day I bought this giant tray full of figs for $6 at Harris Farm in St Ives. They were also selling them individually, 3 for $4. I had no requirement for one fig, much less 60 of them, but of course I bought them anyway.

I had grand plans for the figs - fig jam, upside down caramelised fig cake, fig tarts, figs wrapped in prosciutto, fig breakfast smoothies, roast chicken and figs, fig salad... Unfortunately the next day half of them were mouldy and seeing the white cotton fluff growing from between the soft, sweet little bulbs nearly made me cry.

But I got to work, picking out the non mouldy ones (everything not in the middle was ok), rinsing them in really hot water, and then soaking them in the sink with water and 1/4 cup vinegar. Then I cut of the stems, peeled and quartered them (there was still about 25 figs left, plus we'd already eaten about 10 so it wasn't a terrible loss), and froze them. TRY AND GROW NOW, MOULD.

As for the mouldy figs, I put them all in a big pot with some leftover potting soil (who knows what will happen) and have been watering them. Yes, I know that's not how you plant figs from seeds, I have some fig seeds drying right now as we speak and will plant them properly when they're ready.

Meanwhile, I have been using the figs in my breakfast smoothies, with banana, honey and walnut, and it is gooood. And also eating them in porridge and salad. But I wanted to make a nice great with them as well, so decided on a galette because they are so easy, and the oven was on.

I had leftover butter pastry from another adventure so decided to use that up on the galette, and also had spare to make mini fig tarte tatins that I brought on a picnic. You can use store bought shortcrust or puff pastry for this, they would both work fine.

Fig, Maple and Rosemary Galette
Serves 6

For the pastry
- 250g flour
- 250g butter, chopped
- 100ml cold water

I've been using this method for a while to make flaky, buttery, puffy pastry. And it is good. What I do is freeze the butter before incorporating it into the flour. So chop your butter up roughly, but into small chunks.

If your butter is unsalted, sift flour with a pinch of salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter very loosely until flour is incorporated but there are still bits of butter. Make a well in the centre and add in the water and combine until the dough is firm but rough. You can add more water if needed. Roll out onto a floured surface. There should still be bits of butter in the pastry. Fold in half and roll out again three times.

Chill for at least half an hour before rolling it out to about 5mm thick. Place in a greased 15cm pie pan and fill with the figs.

For the filling:
- 6 figs, stems cut and quartered
- 25 g butter
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (spray the measuring cup with cooking oil beforehand)
- 1 vanilla bean/ 2 tsp vanilla bean paste/ 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 4 small sprigs rosemary (I leave them on the big twig because I know my brother will pick them out)
- 1 egg white, beaten, or 1/4 cup milk or water
- 1/2 tbsp caster (or any) sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter then add the maple syrup until it slightly caramelises and is bubbling softly. Add the vanilla and stir lightly to combine. Add the figs and let simmer until the figs are soft and caramelised. Don't stir too much or the figs will break down. Remove from heat.

Arrange the figs on the pastry. Add the rosemary and then pour the caramel syrup over the figs. Fold the extra pastry on the sides, pleat so it covers the edges. You don't have to be neat or precise with this at all, I wanted a rustic look. Brush with egg white, water, or milk. I used soy milk because I'm lactose intolerant, and then sprinkled with caster sugar.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden. We ate ours with ice cream, but it's just as good without (:

xx gee


Free Food at the Beach

Friday, 1 February 2013

I've spent the past few days away with Milo's family down the south coast and it's been wonderful. We had a super adventurous day today, spear fishing, walking on the beach, and collecting baby clams along the shoreline.

We grilled the fish with lime and chili flakes, and cooked the baby clams with shallots, chili, white wine and butter. I love adventures and I especially love free food! (:

Proper photos and post coming soon.
xx gee

Add a comment »