Test kitchen


New year, new experiments.

WITH every new year comes new challenges, new endeavours ... and for foodies like us, new types of food. This month, in keeping with the spirit of new beginnings, the four of us decided to bravely go where we never have before – culinary-wise, that is.

For some of us, this meant attempting a technique that was slightly intimidating. For others, it involved making a dish they had somehow always avoided.

But whatever it was, we simply proved to ourselves the old adage: you never know till you try.

So here’s to a year filled with many new experiments, escapades and adventures in the kitchen.

Pretty sugar

I have a sour tooth, not a sweet tooth. When other children were licking lollipops, I was sucking on asamboi (sour plums). Sweets and candies don’t appeal to me. I spent all my pocket money buying some sour or salty preserved fruit or another. I love preserved ginger and plums – yeah, I must have swallowed enough red dye to addle my brains, that’s probably why I can’t tell left from right on the roads.

At birthday parties, I never clamoured for the cake and always passed on the slices cheerfully. Cake icing is beautiful, but I find their richness cloying (they literally get stuck in my throat, choking me). I am, of course, exaggerating. I do like some sweet stuff, like caramel custard, cheesecake and apple pie. And I am certainly not immune to the charms of the prettily-iced cupcakes that are so popular now.

So, I decided that I will try and do icing for this month’s new year challenge. I didn’t exactly ace it. I must have looked at dozens of recipes, but I still didn’t get it when I finally tried to do icing. I didn’t expect so much sugar, and I think you need practice to know what is the right consistency and how to ice the cakes.

My three iced cupcakes are wonky, to say the least, but here they are. And I kind of enjoyed working on the icing, so I might just try and experiment a bit more.

Check out my blog hungryc.wordpress.com to see if I am compelled to conquer my fear of frosting (that’s what Americans call it). – Blessed Glutz

Basic Sugar Icing (For a dozen cupcakes)

175g icing sugar, sifted 2 tbsp of lemon juice 1 tbsp of warm water

Mix the sugar and lemon juice, and gradually add the water a little at a time.

Stir until it’s all mixed up, and spread over your cake.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

(From Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything)

(For a dozen cupcakes)

8 tbsp of unsalted butter, softened 4 cups of icing sugar 6 tbsp of cream or milk, plus a little more if needed 2 tsp of vanilla extract pinch of salt

Use a fork or an electric mixer to cream the butter.

Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition.

Stir in the vanilla and salt.

If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time.

If it is too thin (unlikely but possible), refrigerate; it will thicken as the butter hardens.

My virgin salad

MY dog Mojo really enjoys a raw pork bone. I swear I can almost hear him singing a happy tune every time I get him one (which, unfortunately isn’t often enough).

Here’s his standard routine with his bone: First, he runs around excitedly with the bone in his mouth for 10 minutes.

Then he digs a huge hole to bury the bone and covers the hole. Soon after, he uncovers the hole and runs with the now sandy bone for another 10 minutes.

Finally, he eats bone like there’s no tomorrow and when he’s done, he always smiles. Unlike Mojo, I don’t eat bones and I don’t do raw. My friends think I am weird for being a vegetarian who doesn’t eat ... no, wait, who hates salads.

“But ... you’re a vegetarian!” is their response when I confess my absolute dislike for raw salads.

My issue, I tell them, is not with the vegetables but with their rawness. Steamed vegetables with seasoning, I like. Roasted vegetables with seasoning, I love. Stir-fries? Yum. But raw vegetables just don’t have enough taste to satisfy my very fussy palate.

So when our challenge this month was cooking (and eating) something totally new, it didn’t take me very long to decide on salad and I didn’t allow myself to cheat by making a fruit salad or a pasta salad or any other cooked salad. My salad, I was adamant, had to have some raw greens but it would still appeal to me.

It wasn’t so difficult. I just made sure that apart from the salad leaves, I had all my favourite salad friendly ingredients: mushrooms (lightly toasted), yellow peppers (roasted), avacados (these were fresh), parmesan chips (cooked in oven for 7 mins) and cherry tomatoes (fresh also).

For dressing, I kept it simple with an Italian dressing with a dose of orange juice.

It was really quite nice and I will probably make it again, though not in a hurry.

The avocados, mushrooms and cheese crisps really sealed the deal for me. And, I do confess, I did experiment with other salads after this one. Check them out on nodessert.wordpress.com – Veggie Chick

The delinquent (and the) salad

Mesculun leaves, an assortment 2 brown button mushrooms, sliced and toasted with a drop of butter 5 cherry tomatoes, halved or whole 1/2 yellow pepper, roasted and julienned Shavings from 1/2 carrot 1/2 ripe avacado, diced

Dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 2 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Parmesan crisps

Assemble a small heap of shaved parmesan on a lined baking tray. Best to use a silicon sheet as nothing sticks on it. Bake at 180°C for 5-7 mins.

Whisk dressing ingredients, and pour over salad ingredients and mix gently.

Garnish with parmesan crisps.

Thank you for smoking

THIS is something you try just once, and you get hooked.

Hot smoking is a technique of cooking over indirect heat, and gives food a delicious smoky flavour.

Smoked food is often labelled as “gourmet”, giving the impression that it is difficult or expensive to make.

But it doesn’t require special paraphernalia and you don’t have to dig a fire pit in your backyard; in fact, apartment dwellers can take up smoking, too.

All you need is a heat source (your stove), a non-flammable container with a lid to hold the smoking mixture (your wok), and something to suspend the food to be prepared (metal baking rack, trivet or bamboo steamer).

If you don’t mind a bit of smoke in the home, at least for a while, an extractor fan is optional.

The Chinese have long excelled at this method and this homemade smoker must surely be their invention, as was the idea of tea smoking, an authentic Szechuan cooking technique that infuses food with flavour.

Smoking has now become a habit, and there are no worries about foul breath, coughing or stained teeth. – Marty

Tea-smoked Salmon

Serves 1-2

1 x 250g salmon fillet, skin on (fattier fish absorb more flavour) Vegetable oil Szechuan peppercorns, toasted and crushed Salt

Smoking mixture (combined)

2 tbsp good quality tea leaves 2 tbsp raw rice 2 tbsp soft brown sugar 2 star anise

Equipment

Heavy-duty iron wok with lid Thick aluminium foil Round metal cake rack, 24cm-28cm

Line the inside of the wok with a double layer of foil so that it comes about 8cm up the sides of the pan. Spread smoking mixture in base of wok.

Grease baking rack and set on top of the mixture.

Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then rub with oil and season to taste with salt and pepper on all sides. Place, skin side down, on the rack.

Place lid on the wok and crimp the excess foil around it tightly.

Turn the heat to high. When smoke appears (it takes about 3 minutes), turn heat down to low and smoke for 15-20 minutes depending on thickness of fish.

Then turn off the heat and leave undisturbed for 5 mins.

Open the lid outdoors if possible as there will be residual smoke.

For more information on smoking and a recipe for smoked tofu, go to martythyme.blogspot.com.

Soup-er good

I LOVE soups – everything from the hearty minestrones and mulligatawny to the rich, creamy kinds and the comforting clear broths. When dining out, I always get a little thrill when I find a place that actually serves good, freshly-made soup (in my opinion, restaurants shouldn’t put soup on their menu if they’re making it from a can!).

I have a confession to make, however: I’ve always been scared to attempt making my own soup.

I can’t really explain why. Somehow I’d always imagined it to be a very complicated process that involved making your own stock, chopping up piles of vegetables and stewing (no pun intended!) over a pot for hours.

And my real fear was that, if I messed it up, I’d have a whole pot of inedible liquid to dispose of. So, despite my soup snobbery, the ones I have at home are usually of the canned variety.

So, this new year, I’ve decided enough is enough. I will have freshly-made soup in my own home even if I have to endure scalds and burns in the process (which, incidentally, I did). As a first step to handling the problem, I bought some vegetable stock.

Next, I settled on a vegetable that was easy to prepare and cook – capsicum. And guess what? I found that it’s one of the simplest recipes I’ve attempted! The payoff, of course, was being able to curl up on my couch with a warm bowl of soup and a glowing sense of achievement. – Miss Taste

Capsicum Soup

(makes 2 servings)

1/4 cup olive oil 2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken) 1 small onion, chopped 4 large capsicum (preferably red, orange or yellow), seeded and diced 1 medium potato, peeled and diced 1 tsp salt 2 tbsp paprika freshly-ground black pepper sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and saute until they are tender. Add capsicum, potato, salt and paprika, and saute for a few minutes. Reduce heat, cover and let the vegetables simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The capsicum should be really tender by then. Puree the cooked vegetables in a blender until smooth.

Next, bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Add in the pureed vegetables and stir until it’s all mixed in. To serve, top with freshly-ground black pepper and a dollop of sour cream. This soup can be served hot or cold.

For more easy recipes for other beginners like me, go to misstaste.wordpress.com.

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