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Archive for September, 2010

Ok fine. I admit. I can cook, but I can’t quite bake baking isn’t my forte. As they say, cooking is an art, but baking is all about science. Science and me aren’t exactly best friends. When I was still in Malaysia, I used to bake cheesecakes that my colleagues seemed to have loved. I made the occasional cookie, banana cake and whatnot. But I never really BAKED.

But now. Now that I’m in Italy, baking ingredients may be a lot more confusing and daunting to figure out, but they’re readily available. I have a beautiful Smeg oven in a beautiful little kitchen, what more can I ask for? I have discovered my love for cooking and the slow but steady arrival of my love for baking. The hubs has no electric mixer when I first moved here. So whenever I had to bake, I used the biggest bowl I could find and lots of elbow grease. The thing with baking is that it’s all about precision; getting air in, mixing with the right tools to incorporate ingredients. Winging it just doesn’t work, as I have learnt the hard way. Last week, I discovered what may turn out to be the biggest reason behind my unsuccesful baking ventures. An inaccurate measuring cup. I had been using this cheapo dubious looking measuring cup that the hubs has had from eons ago. I bought a better looking one recently and thought that I would compare it just for fun. Armed with a 250ml can of coke and the two measuring cups, I whooped in joy when the old cup gave wrong measurements while the new one was correct. I pray that THAT’s the reason behind my baking flops 😉

I was craving for something warm and cinnamon-y and chanced upon Joy The Baker’s Cinnamon Roll Muffins. Crossing my fingers, I made them and seeing them rise in the oven, I knew it was a success.

 

And this was right out of the oven.

 

 

Good Lord, these were sooooooo gooooood eaten warm.

Adapted from Joy The Baker

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsp active dry or rapid rise yeast
2/3 cup warm milk (40 celcius ; low fat is fine)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg

Filling/Topping

2 tbsp butter, room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cardamom

Icing
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp milk or cream

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Dissolve the yeast in a measuring cup filled with the warmed milk, then stir milk mixture, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and egg into the flour mixture. Mix well, until very smooth. Pour into prepared pan and let rest for 15 minutes.
While the dough rests, mix together butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom in a small bowl using a fork until all the butter has been incorporated into the sugar and mixture is crumbly.  Divide the batter between 12 greased muffin cups. Sprinkle evenly on top of rested dough and press the mixture down into the dough with your fingertips (or swirl in with a spatula.)
Place pan into a cold oven, then set the oven temperature to 175C.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until bread is lightly browned at the edges and the center of the bread springs back when lightly pressed. Some of the sugar mixture on top may still be bubbling.
Cool for at least 30 minutes before whisking the powdered sugar and milk together to form an icing and drizzling it onto the bread.
Serve warm. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave.

Note:

1. You want to “poke” the filling/topping so it gets into the dough. If you leave bits on top, some may fall off while eating, but if you like it crumbly, leave some filling on top of the dough.

2. I took pictures of the muffin BEFORE I drizzled icing on it. I’ve made it twice since, once without and once with icing. If you like it less sweet, you can always do away with the icing on top.

I made these for some friends and they seemed to love it. The hubs gave me “full marks” for this. He tells his mum that I can cook like a pro but cannot bake to save my life.  Let’s see if I can blame it all on the stupid measuring cup henceforth. And oh I will be getting some AID in the KITCHEN pretty darn soon too. The order has been placed, now I’m waiting for the shipment. 😉

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Ever seen onions THIS huge??? I haven’t! They’re almost as big as a head of broccoli! Had to sneak in a picture 😛

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Indian style okra

I don’t cook as much Indian food as I probably should, partly because of all the chopping it requires. Especially onions. And somehow, I’m always out of tomatoes. Go figure.

I got me some okra at the market, and decided on an Indian style dish. My mum usually makes okra ( more popularly known in Malaysia as ladies fingers) chinese styled. Stir fried with some chopped garlic and an egg. My sisters and I can finish a whole plate of okra each this way. I’ve made this before, but decided to try something different this time around and was pleasantly surprised. You know it’s good when a certain someone pauses his killing computer game to run to the kitchen for another bite. 😉

 

Ingredients

300g okra, washed, dried and cut to desired size

3 cherry tomatoes (or one regular tomato) chopped, juices drained

1 big onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsps mustard seeds

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp chilli powder (adjust to your preference)

2 tbsps oil

Salt, to taste

 

Method

 

1. Heat oil. When hot, add cumin seeds and mustard seeds, stir fry till it starts to pop.

2. Add in onion. Fry till translucent.

3. Add in okra and fry till it is almost softened. Do not add water as it will turn all slimy!

4. Add turmeric powder, chilli powder and coriander powder.

5. Add in chopped tomatoes and fry till okra is cooked through and tomatoes are slightly dried up.

6. Add salt to taste.

7. Serve hot with rice.

 

The thing about Indian cooking is that it requires a myriad of different spices and one unfamiliar to it may be daunted by just the ingredient list. It’s actually very simple cooking that requires a variety of spices. And how hard can it be to toss in 3 different powders? 😉 The time consuming part would be the chopping of the onion and garlic. And some recipes require a blender to form a masala paste, but as I said earlier, it’s really not hard at all.

Sometimes I wish I had four stomachs (minus the bulge) so that I can cook lots of different other stuff. The hubs is always travelling, and when he’s home, I’m always stuffing him till he actually told me once to “prepare the lousy stuff that you make for yourself when I’m not home”. Little does he know that I cook myself gourmet meals when I’m home alone. I want to cook more Italian food, but at the same time, my Indian spices are always calling out to me, and so are my Chinese herbs. Sometimes my Malaysian (Malay) rempah (spices) wave at me. I have such a close relationship with everyone everything in my kitchen, I feel bad choosing one dish/ingredient over another. Anyone else have such a complicated relationship with their food? Geez I hope I’m not the only foodie psychopath out there.

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I have been wanting to write this for some months now, but somehow, things always got in the way. (read: I usually forget) 😛 

The hubs and I quite enjoy our red wines, and living in Italy where wines are good, abundant and rather cheap, one cannot say no to a glass of good wine every now and then. 

We are far, far from being connoisseurs. I do not know if a wine is supposed to taste like plum, currant or cherry, or if it has a tinge of oak, and I can barely tell a Merlot from a Cabernet. For all intents and purposes, I have no desire to learn wine-tasting skills or terminology. What I do want however, is to enjoy a good wine from time to time. 

For our wedding anniversary this year, I wanted to get the hubs a small gift, although we agreed that we won’t be exchanging gifts this year. Hah, I was itching anyway, to get him one. I thought about it night and day for a couple of days. Getting guys gifts is such a pain especially if you have a fussy special hubs like mine 😛 And then I thought about how much he loves his wine. He already has all the basic gadgets a wine lover can have. I did a bit of research online and stumbled upon this Vinturi Wine Aerator on Amazon. Just reading the reviews there, I was pretty much sold on the product. 

Picture taken from Vinturi.com

 

The device is a rather attractive looking oblong shaped plexiglass “funnel” that comes with a handy stand. The two rod-like parts that lay horizontally at the bottom of the aerator isn’t a rod, but is basically a channel which I believe lets in air that aerates the wine that is poured through it. 

The hubs and I had a blind taste test to determine if it really does work. The little skeptic in me was crossing her fingers, hoping it would work after all the hassle to purchase it (more on that later). The hubs poured me two glasses of wine, one aerated, and the other one straight from the bottle. I took one sip from each glass and could immediately identify the wine that had been aerated. The aerated wine tasted much smoother, had greater depth and didn’t have that sharp taste that an un-aerated glass of wine would have. The hubs tasted it and agreed with me 🙂 

The best thing about this aerator is that one does not need to decant wine hours in advance. Sometimes you just feel like having wine, or you may have forgotten about decanting a bottle of wine to go with dinner, and this aerator solves this problem beautifully. Also, one only needs to aerate the wine when necessary, i.e. pouring out a glass of wine instead of decanting an entire bottle/measuring a glass of wine to decant hours in advance. 

Now we just HAVE to use this aerator everytime we have our wines, or else the wines don’t taste good anymore 😛 

One thing I should stress on after reading the comments and reviews on Amazon is about the 2 intentional “cracks” on the aerator. Upon receiving this product, many people had the impression that the product was flawed or broken. It is not. The leaflet in the (classy)box it arrived in stated that this is normal, and I suspect that it is part of the design that uses Bernoulli’s Principle 

  

From Vinturi.com 

Bernoulli’s Principle states that as the speed of a moving fluid increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases. This is dictated by the law of conservation of energy. When wine is poured in the Vinturi, its internal design creates an increase in the wine’s velocity and a decrease in its pressure. This pressure difference draws in air which is mixed with wine for perfect aeration. 

  

 

If you notice carefully from the picture above, you will see a tiny “crack”. This crack doesn’t bother me, as it appears on both sides, and doesn’t affect the functionality of the aerator at all.   

My only regret pertaining to this aerator is that we have a decanter sitting in my kitchen cabinet unused and taking up a lot of space!

On to my hassle purchasing this product. Amazon had the best price for this product, but they charge a bomb to ship to Italy. I got the aerator shipped to my good friend Tony living in the US who shipped it to me (thanks Tony! The hubs loves you for this) 😛 Along with this aerator, Tony sent me a few other items which I had ordered. The rest arrived, but this aerator didn’t. I was quite upset as I was sooo looking forward to surprise the hubs with this. After about 2 weeks, I received a notification asking me to retrieve a parcel from the Post Office. I knew it had arrived, but was rather curious as to the cause of delay. Little did I know I would be taxed! I was taxed EUR10++ by the Italian customs for this tiny little gadget. How infuriating. The amount of taxes one pays in Italy is unbelievable, and I was (am) indignant at having to pay so much in taxes for something as small as this. Funnily enough the other items that Tony sent me (they were Kitchen Aid attachments in a box 10 times bigger than the aerator) were not taxed. I wonder what criteria they use in deciding to slaughter tax someone.

But that aside, we absolutely love this aerator. It would make a good gift to any wine aficionados. If only more people knew how much we loved our wines BEFORE we bought this 😉

Note: I have not been paid to review this item. I wrote this post solely because I love this product, and I realized that not many people (or at least, our Italian friends) know about this gadget. All opinions expressed here are solely mine and may not reflect the opinions of other users.

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Sambal Udang and Petai

Me being me, naturally I had to source for the nearest Asian grocery store in Malmo. Oh what joy it was when I found the well stocked Asien Trading (no, it’s not a typo) in Malmo. They had everything a deprived-of-her-Asian-foodstuff girl could ask for. From the thousand and one types of noodles to the hundred and one types of sauces. And the fridge, oh, the fridge. It was laden with banana leaves, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tofu, bird’s eye chilli, galangal, okra and….PETAI 😉 Petai, also known as stink beans or twisted cluster beans is an acquired taste for sure. I haven’t had them literally in years. I bought two packs of petai, a bag of bird’s eye chili and lemongrass.

The very next day after arriving home from our trip, I got down to the business of whipping up a mean Sambal Udang and Petai dish.

 

Ingredients

 

300g prawns, shelled

1 big onion, sliced into rings

1 cup petai, sliced into halves*

1.5 cups sambal

1 tsp tamarind macerated with fingers with 2 tbsps water

1 tsp belacan

3 tbsp oil

Salt, to taste

Sugar, to taste

 

Method

 

1. Heat oil in pan

2. Add in ground sambal paste

3. Although my sambal paste already has tamarind and belacan, I sometimes like to add more tamarind and belacan for added oomph.

4. Cook over small fire till it thickens and turns a dark red colour & oil separates. Add in onion and cook till they are slightly soft.

5. Add in petai and prawns.

6. Cook till prawns are fully cooked and petai is slightly cooked, but with a slight crunch to them.

7. Season to taste with salt and sugar.

8. Serve hot with rice.

 

 

Note:

1. Always, always slice your petai into halves lengthwise, as per my picture above. Worms love petai and they always burrow into the petai beans and have a siesta there. So cut the beans up so you wont accidently bite into one. Eww. More work, I know, but it beats biting into a juicy fat worm don’t you think? 😛

2. Cooking good sambal takes time, as it may take hours to get it to turn to a beautiful dark red. Make sambal only when you have the time, else you will end up with sambal that is raw tasting – not very nice.

3. I like a slight crunch in my onions, hence I didn’t add them from the beginning. If you like them soft and wilted, feel free to add them at the start.

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