Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Munch Munch....Mussel Spaghetti

Ever too hungry greedy to take photos of your kitchen creations before it's eaten?  Err...that's me.  Especially when its dinner.  Baking cake or bread is a different matter.  They aren't wolfed down immediately.

I fancied Seafood Pasta for dinner today.  Dinner usually is where I rustle things without referring to a recipe.  I may get an idea here and there but when it comes to the creating of the dish it's all heat of the moment and can be a dash of this here....splash of that idea of quantity but what I think looks right at the time. 

I saw a net of fresh mussels in their shells in the supermarket and decided dinner was going to be Mussel Spaghetti.  They are Scottish Mussels which I think are rope-grown, ie farmed or cultivated as opposed to wild.  (Just checked the packaging - they are from Loch Roag, rope-grown in the Outer Hebrides.)

I didn't stop to think of taking photos so I could blog this - it's only whilst I was chomping my pasta and got some appreciatory nods and "Well done dear." from the hubbs that made me think......should've taken photos so I can blog this dish!  You will have to make do with the small portion in a tub which will be hubbs lunch-box for tomorrow.  Hardly very artistic I hasten to add!

If you want to know what I did, read on, amounts are a guesstimate as I don't measure what I create for dinner - baking is more of an exact science so they are often measured.

Mussel Spaghetti

1kg net of mussels
4 shallots - sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
knob of butter
handful of parsley, chopped
50ml sherry (should be white wine, but had Amontillado Sherry to hand!)
4 small tomatoes, roughly chopped (I like on the vine tomatoes)
100ml double cream
Spaghetti for 2 persons

First clean the mussels.  (I placed them in a bowl of cold water to wash them and I pulled off the hairy beards.  I discarded any that had a cracked broken shell and any that were open and didn't close when I squeezed the shell shut.  Then I placed them in a colander.)
Cook the spaghetti according to pack instructions.  (I used linguine and simmered for 9 minutes before draining and returning to the pan.)
Whilst the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the shallots and garlic and fry gently for 2 minutes until they soften and begin to colour.
Tip in the mussels, add the sherry and place lid on pan.  Shake occasionally so mussels can cook evenly.  Let the mussels steam for 4-6 minutes until they open.  (I didn't want to overcook them so they turn tough as they would be cooked again briefly.)
Tip the mussels into a colander and reserve the cooking liquor.  Pick out the mussel meat from the shells and keep aside in a bowl.
Clean out the large saucepan and pour the reserved liquor back into the pan but leave the last little bit of liquid as it may contain sand or grit.  Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and warm through, tip in the mussel meat and pour in any juices that may be in the bowl - again leave last bit of liquid behind in case of any grit. 
Add the chopped tomatoes and cream, stir and cook for a minute.
Stir in the parsley, remove from heat and serve.  Lovely with crusty bread to dip in the juices.  If the spaghetti looks too dry for your liking, add a splash or water or milk to the pan and heat through before serving.

The recipe is basically the same as for Moules Mariniere but with added cream and tomatoes.  The cream adds richness to the sauce but it is classically made with white wine.  I liked the addition of tomato as it not only provided colour but I think it gave a little sharpness to the finished dish.  Fresh parsley always tastes refreshing in a dish too.  It may not be text-book correct but it's what I made and it was enjoyed by my hubbs and myself.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Earl Grey Tea Milk Loaf 伯爵奶茶麵包

White Toast

Been playing around with flour and yeast again today.  I needed a break from cake making as I've made ummmm.... five six cakes in the space of a week?  I had a trial run for a sponge baked in a roasting dish (wanted a shape that can be portioned easily) that ended up being a mango & cream filled sponge for Mum's b'day (belated as I was still "In Confinement" and wasn't allowed to go out and see her); a fruit pastry cake to take into work place to show off baby (I'm still on Maternity Leave); carrot cake for some friends that were visiting; a fruit filled sponge; chocolate chiffon filled with berries and cream (both sponges for my son's Full Month Celebration,) and another sponge filled with cream and fresh fruit for my "Uncle" (long-standing friend of my dad's who is like an uncle to us).  Good job I wasn't eating them all I'd soon look as if I was pregnant again!

I made a batch of 17 hour pre-ferment dough (it makes enough for two 1lb loaves) and I used half to make White Toast (I still couldn't help adding extra flour to the wet sticky dough!) the other half was turned into Earl Grey Tea Milk Loaf.  I changed it very slightly as I forgot I was making half the quantity in the book and made the full amount of Earl Grey Tea Milk Concentrate (7 tea bags steeped in hot milk). As I was out of eggs (can you blame me after the marathon cake-a-thon the past week has been?!?!  Actually, the chickens out in the back garden have some - it was too wet and rainy this morning to go out just for 40 g of egg!?!!) I just used double the amount of milk tea concentrate and skipped the egg part.  I guess it would result in a more intense tea aroma to the finished bread.

The recipe is again from Kin's Book, Natural Breads Made Easy.  (天然麵包香 ~ 獨角仙@藍色大門.)

Looks like wholemeal bread but the colour comes from the brewed tea

The finished loaf was beautifully moist and airy.  The scent of bergamot is apparent but is lost on eating.  However, there is a delicious - almost malty taste to the bread.  Certainly is different and I'm pleased with how it turned out.

See the little bubbles in the bread? 

The White Toast dough

Cutting the pre-ferment dough in small pieces

Adding the pre-ferment dough piece by piece

Adding butter

Butter kneaded until dough is of a stretchable consistency

Earl Grey Milk Tea Bread 伯爵奶茶麵包

Pre-ferment Dough
bread flour             70%   464g
water                    40%   265g
sea salt                   1%   7g
skim milk powder    2%   13g
fresh yeast              2%   13g *

Dissolve the yeast in water. Add bread flour, sea salt, skim milk powder and knead until soft. Cover the dough in cling wrap. Refrigerate to let it prove for 17 hours.

* Author forgot to quote yeast in the book - I'm assuming it is 13g here based on her other recipes.
bread flour              30%   199g
skim milk powder      4%   27g
sea salt                      1%   7g
sugar                        12%   80g
egg                           12%   80g
milk tea concentrate   12%   80g**
fresh yeast                  1%   7g
unsalted butter           10%   66g
ground Earl Grey tea leaves 2%   13g

**Milk tea concentrate: 133g milk, 20g Earl Grey tea leaves (I used 7 Earl Grey tea bags).  Heat milk and put in tea leaves.  Leave to brew for 15 minutes for thorough infusion.  Strain and take the amount required in recipe.  (I heated milk, added tea bags,, stirred with a spoon and left it to brew whilst I did the weighed the ingredients.  I squeezed the bags to extract the tea concentrate.)

  • Cut the pre-ferment dough into small pieces.

  • Knead all ingredients of dough together (except the butter). Add pre-ferment dough piece by piece.  Knead after each addition until soft and smooth. Add butter.  Knead until stretchable consistency.

  • Put the dough into a big bowl. Cover with cling wrap and let it prove for about 25-30 minutes.

  • Divide the dough into six small equal portions. Flatten each portion with your hands to drive the air out. Hand square it and cover with cling wrap. Set aside to rest for about 20 minutes.

  • Flatten each piece of dough with your hands to drive the air out. Roll each out into a rectangular sheet with a rolling pin. Fold about 2cm from both sides towards the centre and roll it out again.  Roll the dough up (the width should be the same as the loaf tin) and put them into the mould.  Cover with cling wrap.

  • Let it to prove for about 40-45 minutes or until the dough has risen to 80% of the depth of the loaf tin. Close the lid. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170-180 deg C for about 30-35 minutes.

    Monday, 20 September 2010

    Double Celebration - Minh's Full Month Party & Our 5th Wedding Anniversary

    The little guest of honor - Minh

    Yesterday was a day of Double Celebration in the Diep Household.  We were holding a Full-Month Banquet for out little "Junior" and it coincided with our Fifth Wedding Anniversary!  Yes, sentimental ol' me picked the date in advance of Junior's birth and decided that would be the day to hold his party.  Recently, I have heard these parties called Red & Ginger parties as they are eaten at these events.  Red is an auspicious colour for chinese and vietnamese alike and the egg symbolises fertility.  Ginger is considered good for the new mum as it dispels wind from the body.

    Minh is exactly 6 weeks old tomorrow and he was was the guest of honour at his party.  We had a small banquet at a Chinese restaurant for family, relatives and a few close friends.  It was a fun affair as there were several children present -all under the age of seven - so it certainly was lively!  Minh did not mind being passed out for hugs and cuddles amongst the guests and it was great!  Some mums are very protective towards their children and seem happy to hug and hold them all the time.  Don't get me wrong!  I love my hugs and cuddles with my son but as I can get that anytime at home I'm more than willing to share him out for hugs whenever there are friends present!

    We certainly had a food feast and I was too busy eating to take photos!  I missed the first three dishes of: Red Eggs & Ginger; Seafood & Tofu Chowder; Braised lobster on a bed of noodles (now, this was a delicious dish and I'm glad I didn't miss any lobster chomping and noodle slurping time by snapping photos!  Heh heh heh!);

    Sweet and Sour Sea Bass Fillets;

    Steamed chicken with Ginger and Spring Onion;

    Yam coated Prawns (yummy!);

    Seafood Rice;

    Stir-fried Scallop and Asparagus in Noodle Nest;

    Braised Chinese Mushrooms with Pak Choi

    and Pork fillets in Chinese Style Sauce;

    Dessert was a platter of Ice-Cream, Mango Pudding and Toffee coated Banana Fritters.  I also made two sponge cakes.  One was an Orange Sponge filled with white-flesh nectarine and mango cream, topped with a mango rose and strawberry starflower.  The other was a chocolate chiffon with a filling of berry cream and finished with blackberry, strawberry and blueberry.

    Mango Rose & Strawberry Starflower

    Berry Nice Chiffon

    It was a fabulous afternoon which went quickly in the company of good friends and family.  It was worth the past two weeks of stressing over guest lists and seating plans and the nervousness of decorating the cakes the night before the event!

    Mya & Minh

    Lastly, I got the most beautiful gift from my husband, a pair of diamond encrusted entwined heart earrings, and 18 long-stemmed red roses.  My gift to him?  A beautiful baby boy!

    My favourite - Red Roses

    Another one of my favourites - Sparkly Things!

    Saturday, 18 September 2010

    Butternut Squash and Sunflower Seed Loaf 南瓜葵花籽包

    After the success of my White Toast, I thought I'd try another of Kin's recipes from her book "Natural Breads Made Easy".  (天然麵包香 ~ 獨角仙@藍色大門.) 

    It's supposed to be pumpkin but I have a butternut squash sitting in the kitchen waiting to be peeled chopped and something done with it.  In all honesty, it's probably been sitting there for at least two months when I had the intention of turning it into a butternut squash soup.  Butternut squash does keep well - I guess due to it's hard exterior but I do think the longer you leave it, the more dehydrated the flesh becomes.

    Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed Loaf 南瓜葵花籽包
    Pre-ferment Dough
    bread flour                   70%          411g
    water                           40%          235g
    fresh yeast                    2%           12g
    sea salt                         1%           6g
    skim milk powder         2%          12g

    Dissolve the yeast in water.  Add bread flour, sea salt, skim milk powder and knead until soft.  Cover the dough in cling wrap.  Refrigerate to let it prove for 17 hours.

    bread flour                    30%         176g
    skim milk powder          3%            18g
    sea salt                          1%              6g
    sugar                             10%          59g
    egg                                3%            18g
    fresh yeast                     1%              6g
    water                             7%           41g
    unsalted butter                7%           41g
    cooked pumpkin puree   23%       135g
    julienne pumpkin            15%          88g
    roasted sunflower seeds 10%          59g

    • Steam half a pumpkin with skin on until tender.  Then peel seed and mash.  Julienne the remaining half of the pumpkin.

    • Roast the sunflower seeds in an oven briefly.  Leave them to cool.

    • Cut the pre-ferment dough into small pieces.

    • Knead all ingredients together (except the butter, sunflower seeds and the pumpkin julienne).  Add pre-ferment dough piece by piece and knead after each addition until smooth.  Add butter, sunflower seeds and the pumpkin julienne.  Knead until stretchable consistency.

    • Put the dough into a big bowl.  Cover with cling wrap and let it prove for about 25-30 minutes.

    • Divide the dough into two equal parts and hand square each.  Set aside to rest for about 20 minutes.

    • Flatten the dough with your hands to drive the air out.  Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a rectangle.  Fold both ends inwards (the two long sides) and roll it out once more.  Roll the dough up to about the same width of the loaf tin.  Spray water on it and coat the dough with sunflower seeds.  Place the dough into a loaf tin.  Cover with cling wrap.


    • Let it to prove for about 45 minutes or until the dough has risen up to 80% of the depth of the mould.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170-180 deg C for about 30-35 minutes.

      I substituted pumpkin for butternut squash as that is what I had at home.  I also found the dough mix very wet and sticky and I ended up adding a further 250 g of strong bread flour just so I could work with it.  I was anxious not to add too much as it will result in a tougher and drier loaf and may not keep as well.  As my dough had increased I ended up making 3 loaves from this batch each weighing just over 500 g each.  I gave each of the loaves away to friends and family so didn't get to sample my hard work!

        Sunday, 12 September 2010

        It's All in the Yeast! Basic White Bread 白吐司

        Every now and again (whilst growing up) I've always wanted to make a big, white, soft, fluffy but chewy loaf of bread.  I've baked Hot Cross Buns which turn out like stones and loaves of bread like house bricks.  I always thought it was because I wasn't very good at kneading the dough.

        Right!  No excuse now!  Hubbs bought me a Kenwood Mixer with dough hook attachment - that will earn it's keep and do the kneading for me!  OK, bread has improved.  Have found if I mix a wet, sticky dough I can get a moist feeling loaf - but it does ooze over the time if over-filled.  I've got photos of dough hanging over the sides like an overweight person spilling over jeans 2 sizes too small - ewww?  You're right.  Not attractive.  Yet, the bread its still grey brown in colour and the texture looks holey in a good way but after 2 days more resembles a cellulose sponge and is fit for nothing but toast albeit a crisp and airy kind of toast.

        I bought some fresh yeast last week after spotting a bread-making book in the local library.  OK, not a-n-y- ol' book, but it's Chinese with English translation!  (Yippee! As my Chinese reading and written is rather rusty these days!)  What better way to start than with the basics?  Labelled White Toast - it's in essence a sweetened white loaf.  Result?  Oh My Word!  A WHITE loaf!  Yes!  It really is white like a supermarket-bakery bought loaf!  It's the same brand of flour that gave me the off-white loaf last month (see here next to the jar of jam.)  Pleased?  I punched the air with delight!

        The secret to my successful loaf is in a 17-hour low-temperature pre-ferment dough.  What?!?!  I hear you cry!   70 % of the dough is kneaded and but in the fridge to prove for 17 hours.  As most of the dough has been proved once under the low-temperature, the final proving time is greatly reduced and the final proving gives a major raise in the dough.  The pre-ferment dough helps give the bread a moist, chewy loaf with a yeasty flavour.   This technique is explained in Kin's Book, Natural Breads Made Easy.  (天然麵包香 ~ 獨角仙@藍色大門.)  I've googled her name and here is her blog.

        It is a process I've never come across before especially as she talks about Baker's Percentage.  For example, the amount of flour used in a recipe is 100%.  Other ingredients are measured by their weight in relation to that of flour.  Total always add up to over 100%.
        So, what she is saying is:
        Flour  = 100%     (1000g)
        Sugar = 3%         (30g)
        Egg    = 20%       (200g)
        Salt    = 1%         (10g)
        Yeast = 3%         (30g)

        This is her recipe:

        White Toast 白吐司

        Pre-ferment Dough
        bread flour          70%          480g
        water                  40%          274g
        fresh yeast           2%            14g
        sea salt                1%            7g
        skim milk powder 2%           14g

        Dissolve the yeast in water.  Add bread flour, sea salt, skim milk powder and knead until soft.  Cover the dough in cling wrap.  Refrigerate to let it prove for 17 hours.

        bread flour          30%          206g
        sea salt                1%            7g
        sugar                   10%          69g
        water                  29%          199g
        fresh yeast          0.5%          3g
        unsalted butter    10%          58g

        • Cut the pre-ferment dough into small pieces.
        • Knead all ingredients together (except the butter).  Add pre-ferment dough piece by piece and knead after each addition until smooth.  Add butter and continue to knead until stretchable consistency.
        • Put the dough into a big bowl.  Cover with cling wrap and let it prove for about 25-30 minutes.
        • Divide the dough into six small equal portions.  Flatten them with your hand to drive the air out.  Hand square them.  Set aside to rest for about 20 minutes.
        • Flatten the dough with your hands to drive the air out.  Roll the dough into a rectangle.  Fold both sides towards the centre and roll again.  Roll it out again until its width is similar to that of the loaf tin, but don't close the lid tightly.  Cover with cling wrap.
        • Lastly leave it to prove for about 45 more minutes or until the dough has risen up to 80% of the depth of the loaf tin.  Close the lid.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170-180 deg C for about 30-35 minutes.
        To fill a 450g loaf tin all the way to all top corners, you need 650 to 660g of dough.  You may fit one to several pieces of dough into a loaf tin.
        The quantity listed in the recipe is enough to fill two 450g loaf tins.  

        Hand squaring is where you flatten the dough into a rectangle shape with the heel of your hand.  Then starting at the top, roll the short end up tightly on itself like a swiss-roll.

        Driving the air out relaxes the gluten in the dough, redistributes the yeasts among other ingredients and evens out the temperature throughout the dough.

        The author uses 3 squared pieces of dough to fill her loaf tin before proving.  

        The author uses a pullman loaf tin which has a lid so the resulting bread is perfectly square when sliced.  I used a regular loaf tin.

        I made half this recipe to try it out and didn't think to take photos of each step as I did so.  Apologies.  Wasn't expecting the bread to turn out so well!  I am planning on making a Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed Loaf tomorrow so I will try and take photos along the way, although the 17 hour pre-ferment dough is already doing it's business in the fridge!

        Thursday, 9 September 2010

        Sticky Moist Ginger Cake

        A deliciously moist cake - surprisingly light too!

        I woke up and I fancied ginger cake.  Strange thing to want - not for breakfast though I hasten to add.  I just fancied baking.  I hadn't been in a cake baking mood for a few weeks.  I guess waiting for Junior to be born put me off!

        Anyway, new Chinese mothers are encouraged to eat ginger after the birth of a baby to dispel any wind in the body.  (I have no idea why and do as I'm told - to a degree!)  So with that in mind I thought of making a gingery cake.

        I made a cake with dates once and it was lovely soft and moist and well....datey!  I thought that it'd be nice if it was flavoured with ginger.  Until now, I never got round to making it into a ginger cake.

        Ginger & Date Cake

        300ml water
        200g pitted dates
        60g butter softened
        175g dark brown sugar (muscovado)
        1 tbsp ginger syrup ( from jar)
        1 tbs golden syrup
        2 eggs
        200g self raising flour
        2 tsp ground ginger (* I would've liked a stronger ginger flavour so I'd probably add 1tbsp next time)
        60g crystallised ginger
        60g stem ginger in syrup (I used 3 blobs)
        1 tsp vanilla extract
        1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

        - Preheat oven to gas 5.  Line tin with parchment.  (I used a 8" square tin).

        - Boil water in a saucepan.  When water boils, remove from heat and add the dates.  Leave dates to soak for 10 minutes.

        - Chop the crystallised and stem ginger into small pieces (about 1cm cubes), dust with a little of the flour to absorb some of the sticky syrup.  Leave to one side.

        - Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream until smooth.
        - Stir in the syrups and add the flour and ground ginger.  Mix well to combine.

        - Break the eggs into the bowl one by one and stir well after each addition.  Stir the chopped ginger into the mixture.

        - Add the vanilla extract to the date mixture.  Blend to a smooth pulpy consistency with a hand-held blender.

        -  Add the bicarbonate of soda to the date mixture then pour into the flour batter.  Beat well to ensure well mixed.

        - Pour into the lined pan and bake in oven immediately.  Bake for 35-40minutes until well risen and springy to the touch.  Remember to check the centre with a skewer to ensure the cake is cooked.  Leave to cool in tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool.  Delicious cold on own, or serve warm with  a drizzle of ginger syrup and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

        I baked chocolate brownie for hubbs to take into work after his paternity leave and also some of this ginger cake.  One of his colleagues commented how he liked the ginger bits in the cake.  I personally would  have enjoyed a stronger ginger hit to the cake and will probably put 1-2tbs of ground ginger in next time.  I might increase the amount of crystallised and stem ginger in too.

        See the juicy chucks of stem ginger and small pieces of crystallised ginger in the cake?