Foodiva's Kitchen: August 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

5-Star Makeover - Bakewell Tart Samosas and Sticky Toffee Pudding Purses

Right after the Olympics theme of last month's 5-Star Makeover Challenge, we find ourselves back in the UK again, this time chilling out over high tea, British style. Tea Party is the theme of this month's 5-Star Makeover. Of course this brought back memories of my student days over there, the many times when my friends and I used to traipse over to our favorite tea room, Bettys, either in York or Harrogate (I was at a University up North). Dressed in our weekend student gear - which really wasn't much different from the weekday clothes, really -  we would feel somewhat elegant surrounded by the cafe's quaint decor, while sipping our fancy-flavored teas and biting into the baked desserts and delicate sandwiches positioned just so between the thumb, index and  and middle finger. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration there, but you get the picture. :)

For this challenge, I really wanted to do a spin on classic British desserts. The first one that came first and foremost to my mind was Bakewell Tart, a buttery tart with a slick of bright raspberry jam underneath a toasty baked almond frangipane filling, originating from Bakewell in Derbyshire. The only thing was, I didn't feel like baking a tart, as visions of substituting butter with something else for the crust just didn't appeal to me. I decided to use filo (phyllo) pastry dough instead to seal the almond and raspberry flavors in and glaze it with lemon-scented confectionery sugar. I've seen some individual-portioned Bakewell Tarts being topped with half a cherry but I didn't have any so I made do with cranberry.   

The second sweet treat I opted to make was based on a modern British 'classic',  Sticky Toffee Pudding, sometimes also known as Sticky Date Pudding. It's a steamed dessert consisting of a very moist sponge cake, made with finely chopped dates or prunes, covered in a toffee sauce and often served with a vanilla custard or vanilla ice-cream. Since I was on a roll with the filo, I thought well why not capture the flavors of the pudding using filo too?

You could use luscious Medjool dates for filling the toffee pudding purses, but I had these yellow dates on hand. I used the browned, soft and ripened ones instead of the fresh yellow ones as the latter are not as sweet and can even be slightly tart.

For the filling, I blended toasted cashews with the ripened dates and added elements of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to enhance the sweet flavor. I made a vegan toffee cream sauce to accompany the parcels out of vegan butter, dark brown sugar and cashew cream. The purses were baked and each one placed in the center of its own pool of thick toffee sauce. So it was all a matter of dip, bite, dip and bite until all the crisp and crumbly morsels are finished...and then you reach out for another one!

If you've ever lived in the United Kingdom, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the British reach out for their 'cuppa' every time they need to destress or resolve life's dilemmas. Well, you won't be far wrong. Having a bad day? Let's brew some tea. The weather's cold and wet... here's a cuppa to warm you up. Your favorite football (or soccer) team lost, or your sweetheart/handyman/publisher (insert relationship preference here) just let you down again... grab this cuppa in between your palms and tell me all about it. Feeling all posh and Fancy Nancy? What are you waiting for...let's head off to high tea!

Bakewell Tart Samosas
Makes: 12-15
1/2 cup toasted & ground almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup raspberry conserve
15 filo sheets, thawed and cut into 7in X 2in 
1/2 cup confectionery sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
15 dried cherry halves (or dried cranberries)

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Place almonds, sugar, zest and oil in a small food processor and process mixture until it forms into a moist and pliable dough.
2. Cut filo dough into 7 X 2 in strips. Place half a teaspoon of raspberry conserve on one end of the filo strip. Top this with a teaspoon of almond mixture, flatten slightly for easier folding. Take one corner of the filo strip and fold it over the filling into a triangle shape. Continue folding down the length of the strip, samosa-style, and seal the end with a dab of water. Do this with all the strips and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until they are golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
4. To make the glaze, sift confectionery sugar into a small bowl. Add lemon juice gradually to get a thick glaze consistency. Dip one side of each samosa in the glaze and place a cherry half on top. Leave to set before serving.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Purses
Makes: 8 
1/2 cup toasted & ground cashew nuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup soft dates (Medjool, or ripe yellow dates)
8 square filo sheets,  thawed and cut into 4in X 4in
filo strips, for the 'ribbons'

Cashew Toffee Cream
1/4 cup ground cashew nuts
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance)
1/4 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. To make the filling, process nuts, spices, vanilla and dates until it becomes a moist dough. Take a heaped teaspoon and roll into a packed ball in your palms. Do this with the rest of the dough.
2. To make the purse, take a ball and place it in the centre of a filo square. Brush the filo just around the ball area with a little water to help seal it. 
3. Take 2 opposite corners of the sheet and bring them together. Do the same with the remaining two corners. Wrap filo around the ball circumference and twist to seal. Tie filo ribbon along the twisted part to secure further.
4. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool for a few minutes before serving.
5. For the toffee cream, blend the cashews with water to form a thick cream. Strain though a fine sieve and set aside.
6. Melt the vegan butter and brown sugar in a pan, then add the cashew cream and bring gently to the boil. Leave to simmer for a few minutes on low heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
7. To serve, spoon a teaspoon of toffee cream on an individual serving plate and place a Sticky Toffee Pudding Purse on top. Serve immediately.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

100th FFWD Recipe - Peach Melba

I know you’ve got my back. I know that you know how intensely my heart burns, how sweet is the honey at the center of my center, how much I am capable of. And God knows (that’d be you) how game I am to collaborate with you to make good stuff happen. 

- Danielle La Porte, A Prayer for Recovering Expectation Addicts

I tried to write this post for two days, but no clever words came. It's already Sunday now, and still no smart or funny prose, but I'm going to go ahead and write this anyway. Show up. Shine. And let it go. That's just become my mantra for my high expectations :).

So it's good old Peach Melba for this week's French Fridays with Dorie. A special occasion marking our 100th recipe assignment (although I must confess that I've done only a paltry number out of the 100). It's a  remarkable milestone and although I joined this online cooking group quite late, in April 2011, I've been welcomed with open arms by everyone. This is a global community of warm, supportive, witty and brilliant cooks/bloggers and we all have something new (cooking or otherwise) to learn from each other every week. Words cannot adequately describe how much I adore my fellow Doristas!

So yes, the peach melba. My version is a vegan, tropical twist to the one Dorie originally had in mind (apologies again, Dorie). Peaches and raspberries are not the easiest fruits to get over here, and even when they do appear in the stores, they're no longer bursting with freshness. So I resorted to using whatever fruits we currently have in season and abundance. My mango tree is currently blooming, I picked them three-quarters ripe - if they are left to ripen on the tree, the monkeys and bugs will devour them before we do (just in case you were wondering) - and used a slightly underripe mango to simulate the peach. Its firm texture is excellent for poaching with vanilla, yet it's sweet enough not to have to add any extra sugar to the poaching liquid.

The raspberries were substituted with dragon fruit balls I scooped out with my trusty melon baller. You simply stick that gadget into any soft fruit, give it a little twist, and it instantly makes any fruit look whimsical. The rest of the fruit with the holes in it got turned into a delicious smoothie, so nothing was wasted.

For the ice cream, I simply employed the easy vegan trick of blending completely frozen banana slices. To make it a bit more creamier, I soaked a handful of raw cashew nuts in water overnight, drained and blended them to make a thick cashew cream. Then I added this to the frozen banana in a powerful blender and blitzed it into ice cream consistency. In this hot weather though, my 2-ingredient ice cream quickly turned to soft serve, and gave me a hard time to photograph it and make it look anywhere near good.

I'm also going to mention that I had been well-organized enough to have made last week's Cafe-Style Grated Carrot Salad, but disorganized enough to have not posted it up. I decided to make carrot ribbons instead of grating it, the advantage being that the ribbons hardly 'wept' and the salad held its form much longer after adding the mustard vinaigrette dressing. Instead of raisins, I added sliced soft, dried figs for that bit of sweetness required to cut into the tangy and savory salad. A sprinkling of toasted walnuts and cilantro completed the dish. Although it might not be truly French-style, I hope I will be forgiven by the French when I say that this was as equally delicious as their traditional version.

So last week was the start of Eid in Brunei and marked a month-long celebration with many gatherings amongst family and friends, and plenty of food. Like with any festivity, it's the children who enjoy it the most because it's probably the one time in the year when they have permission to go on a (fairly unrestricted) sugar high from feasting on all the lovely and colorful cakes made especially for Eid.

Complete sugar high!

Most of the traditional food served during Eid is non-vegan, so for the first time, I found myself at the sidelines, just watching people eat while I stuck to my greens and fruits. The upside was that for once, my waistline measurement didn't budge and my stomach didn't groan and over-react from eating all that rich food. Here I share with you a few shots of my family and friends on the first day of Eid.

Clockwise from top left: With local DJ and close friend, Frankie;  Greek family friends; good friends from Dubai who returned home for the week, and local cookies.

L: My ex-colleagues Mimi and Lena, who'd flown in from London for Eid visits     
R: My cousins enjoying homemade satay

Have a gorgeous weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Speculoos Whole Wheat Churros (Vegan)

Browsing through my previous posts, I noted that the last seven have all been about savory recipes. Now that's pretty troubling for someone with a sweet tooth as big as mine. So I opted to do myself (and probably you) a favor and make this post a sweet one. In fact, it's sweeter than sweet. This is the very reason why I blog, to connect with people, to share my recipes and stories. And occasionally, those people I connect with via this leisurely past time make it to Brunei and they suddenly become real, in-the-flesh people. Or in this case, the real spouse of a fellow blogger.

Sometime last year, I connected with Lilly of Fuzz Free Food blog and our very similar sense of humor made us fast friends. To cut a long story short, her husband Joe has come over to Brunei to work here for several months and she'd sent some foodie gifts from the Netherlands via Joe.

This is Joe, I made him pose for Lilly (taken by iPhone). 

When I finally met Joe, I got the chance to speak to Lilly on Joe's phone and guess what - her energy reverberated across the distance and she sounded exactly as I'd imagined her, full of exuberance and warmth. Later on, I managed to pry from Joe the story about how they had met and I'm sure they wouldn't mind me re-telling this to the whole world because it really is interesting! Joe, an American from Texas, was attending his sister's wedding in Italy (she'd met her Italian husband on a plane - now that's another great story). He'd had some free time around the wedding so decided to tour Europe. Not knowing anyone there, he went on an online forum asking if anyone would be willing to show him around, and Lilly responded to his request! The rest, as they say, is history :). Proof that true love can exist anywhere if you open your heart to possibilities.

So one of the items Lilly sent me was Speculoos spice powder for baking cakes and cookies. The spice blend is made up of cinnamonnutmegclovesgingercardamom and white pepper. The very smell of it reminds me of Christmas treats in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Nowadays, of course, speculoos cookies are available the whole year round and apart from that, some clever guy somewhere had also invented Speculoos peanut butter-like spread (Biscoff)... yay! Unfortunately we can't get any of these (spice and spread) in Brunei, so boo! 

I didn't want to go down the usual cookie route, so I settled on these Speculoos Churros instead. To convince myself that they should be somewhat healthier, I fashioned them out of whole wheat flour and substituted the usual butter with olive oil. Of course, that was before I deep-fried them, dusted them with sugar and dipped them in bittersweet chocolate! Life should be all about balance, I think.

The only issue I had with these churros was that I couldn't pipe them, the whole wheat dough just wasn't as soft as a regular buttery choux. Well I tried, and busted my piping bags three times before it occured to me that maybe they would look as good if I simply rolled them. Much, much easier and they still tasted really good, which was the important thing.

So, many thanks again Lilly, for your lovely friendship and gifts. This recipe wouldn't have been created if I hadn't gotten to know you (and by proxy, Joe) and this is the kind of thing that makes my blogging journey much more meaningful in the long run.

Speculoos Whole Wheat Churros (Vegan)
Makes: 4 spirals

1 cup water
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil (or canola)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon Speculoos spice powder
canola oil for frying

For dusting:
1/3 c. raw sugar or confectionary/icing sugar

1. In a saucepan, stir together water, two tablespoons of sugar, salt, and tablespoon of oil. Bring to a gentle boil, and remove from heat.
2. Dump in flour and stir to make a dough. Let dough cool for a few minutes, work while it is still warm, not cold or it won't be pliable.
3. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Using your hands, roll each dough on a clean surface into a long cylinder (about 1/2-inch thick), then twist to form a spiral. (Due to the absorbant wholewheat flour, this dough is too thick to pipe. I tried and my piping bags just kept bursting open!)
4. In a deep wok, frying pan or deep-fryer, heat frying oil to 350F (or medium high heat).
5. Lift the spirals using a slotted spoon and gently slide into the pan. Fry the strips for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the outsides are a deep, golden brown. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove from oil, and drain on paper towels.
6. Stir together remaining sugar and cinnamon, then roll drained churros in sugar mixture. Serve warm, and enjoy! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Warm (Faux) Scallop Salad with Corn, Persimmon and Basil

I’ll continue to climb trying to reach the top…but no one knows where the top is.
~Jiro Ono, world's greatest sushi chef

I was watching the inspirational documentary/movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about 85 year-old Jiro Ono, the first 3-Michelin star sushi chef in the world and owner of a 10-seat restaurant located in a Tokyo subway. This is a beautiful, thoughtful and engrossing movie of his life but what's amazing about it is the humbling lesson I took away from Jiro. As brilliant as he is, he has never lost track of his craft and is always striving to do better. 

In this day and age, many of us creatives on the other hand, tend to get caught up in social media and all of the other time wasters that technology has brought us (yes, I'm guilty too!) and then we forget the very reason why we're doing what we're doing in the first place. So I've decided, from now on, I am not going to forget. I've come such a long way from 2 years ago when I couldn't cook zilch to now, and will continue to push boundaries with my cooking. Let me tell you something, this is actually very easy to do when you don't know very much to start with and are not limited by rules. The story of my life...

Well, I don't know where my vegan journey will eventually take me but I'm willing to jump in at the deep end and see how far I can make things work by being extra creative in the kitchen. Like for this week's French Fridays with Dorie's assignment, for example, Warm Scallop Salad with Corn, Nectarine and Basil. It's a beautiful assortment of fresh, raw and minimally seared ingredients tossed together to make an exotic salad.

Not so long ago, when I ate seafood, I rarely ate scallops. Now that I'm trying to give it up entirely, I struggle to recall what scallop tasted like and had to think what ingredient I could possibly use to substitute it with. Those giant oyster mushrooms would be a good choice, except that I couldn't find any. Firm tofu is also suitable, but I'm bored of eating so much tofu lately. Then it came to me....eggplant!

Yes, I simply cut out scallop-shaped eggplant pieces with a round cookie cutter, marinated them in a mixture of miso paste and aren syrup that helped with the caramelization process during searing. Maple syrup would be a good one to use for this purpose as well, as it adds a bit of sweetness to the saltiness of the miso and earthiness of the eggplant.

I had persimmon on hand and since it had a very similar texture to nectarine, I used that instead. The persimmon was already sweet, so I didn't bother searing it but left it raw. I actually missed out reading Dorie's instructions about grilling the fruit, but you didn't think I was going to admit that, did you? :) I was concerned that there may be too many sweet elements in my salad - persimmon, eggplant scallop and the sweet corn. But I worried needlessly, because the tangy chili lime dressing and fresh basil coulis balanced this salad out quite beautifully.

Dorie was right in saying that the exotic star of this dish was the raw corn. I absolutely adore raw corn and eat it in many dishes and desserts. However, my other shining ingredient here has got to be the eggplant scallop. It might not have had the exact scent of the sea, but it was close enough in texture and appearance that I'm happy to imagine it was the real deal. It really is worth checking out how the other Doristas interpreted this recipe here.

Have a lovely and fun-filled weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vegan Bún Chay (Vietnamese Noodle Salad) with Tofu Cheese Balls

What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art.
~ Augustus Saint-Gaudens

A few years ago, I was in Ho Chi Minh on a girls' trip away and I remember eating plenty of street food over that period in time (our Asian tummies are well trained for that sort of hardcore feasting). What I enjoyed most about Vietnamese cuisine is its range, the delightfully complex flavors of many of its dishes showcasing contrasts of taste and texture, as well as heat against cold.

So when my Instagram buddy, Joe, challenged me to take a classic Vietnamese dish and put my own spin on it, I immediately thought of this flavorful, yet incredibly simple to create, Bún Chay, or noodle salad. Usually it's made with vermicelli rice noodles, a generous handful of fragrant herbs, julienned vegetables, crunchy bean sprouts, a savory protein such as tofu, and a salty-sour-sweet sauce.

Basil, cilantro & Vietnamese mint

My spin on this was on two aspects: one was to make a more flavorful version of the tofu, in the form of Tofu Cheese Balls. I filled these up with the homemade vegan cheese from my last post and also contained Shiitake mushrooms which gave them a certain depth in flavor. Once fried, they are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and provided that lovely contrast of heat against the coolness of the salad. 

I'd like you to think of this more as an inspiration and a rough guide than a recipe. The tofu cheese balls can be prepared ahead of time and reheated, but if you are strapped for time, you can simply serve the bún with deep fried sliced tofu, which is quick and easy to cook. Variations could include marinated tofu to add more flavor, baked tofu for a healthier version, or adding meat or seafood for a non-vegetarian version. Just feel free to include more or omit some vegetables, use any herbs you like and have available, but most of all, be creative and enjoy creating your customized bún chay.

My second spin on this dish involves a tweak on the sauce. Traditionally, bún is served with a sauce called nuoc cham, which includes nuoc mam, or fish sauce. Here, I've made a quick vegan version using soy sauce and minced nori. This is a trick I've learnt (from watching Heston Blumenthal's Mission Impossible food series) to introduce umami to the sauce and enhance the intensity of its flavor. The nori can work surprisingly well in a variety of other dishes too, and I can't wait to show you in future posts. In the meantime, enjoy!

Vegan Bún Chay (Vietnamese Noodle Salad) with Tofu Cheese Balls
Serves: 2 to 3

100g/4 oz dried rice sticks or vermicelli

1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage and/or lettuce
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup julienned cucumber (I made ribbons)
1/2 cup julienned carrots (I cut mine using flower cutters)
Large handful of mixed herbs, coarsely chopped or torn (basil, mint, cilantro; if available, rau răm or Vietnamese mint)
1 large red pepper, deseeded and julienned

1 sheet nori, minced finely in a blender
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 clove garlic, crushed

Tofu Cheese Balls:
Makes: 15
450g/15oz firm tofu, well drained
150g/5oz soft cheese (I used vegan mozzarella)
1 cup Shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, sliced finely
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
oil, for deep frying

2-3 tablespoons roasted peanuts, chopped

For the noodles
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add rice sticks. Stir and cook until noodles are white and tender but still firm, about 3-5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water, fluffing the noodles to separate the strands. Drain again completely.

For the greens
Prepare the greens and set aside. (May be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.)

For the sauce
In a small bowl, whisk together ingredients for sauce. Set aside. (May be prepared ahead of time kept in the refrigerator.)

For the tofu balls
1. Place all ingredients (except oil) in a food processor and blend until homogeneous.
2. Place about 1 tablespoon of tofu mixture on palm of hand and roll into a ball. If mixture is too sticky, moisten palms with a little water before rolling.
3. Heat oil to 350F/175C and deep fry balls until golden brown. Drain excess oil on paper towel and serve hot.

To serve:
Divide the noodles between two bowls. Arrange greens and tofu balls on top or the sides and garnish with peanuts. Just before eating, drizzle with sauce to taste and toss.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie – Vegan Tomato Cheese Tartlets

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie assignment was easy enough, it’s a concept more than it is a recipe of tomato and mozzarella (or goat) cheese slices arranged over puffed pastry rounds. The perfect dish for when you have an abundance of tomatoes and very little time or idea on how to use them up.

What’s interesting here is that the puff pastry discs aren’t supposed to be cooked to puff-fection but rather, are flattened during baking by weighing them down with another baking sheet on top. They result in heavier but still crisp and flaky rounds, with the flat base making it easier to spread a pesto paste or olive tapenade on them and place the tomato and cheese toppings.

For the spread, I made some fresh lemon basil pesto from my plant that was growing out of control in the garden. It seemed I had run out of ideas on ways to utilize that basil too lately, so what a relief to be able to store some of the leaves in a jar in the form of pesto. 

I’m also slowly trying to give up dairy products (it’s damn hard, given my love for baking and desserts!) so this week, I used store-bought vegan puff pastry and also came up with a quick and easy version of mozzarella cheese. And what is quicker and easier when it comes to setting ingredients in a semi-solid form than agar agar? Yes, it seems odd, but the texture of the vegan cheese turned out very similar to soft mozzarella. Plus it crumbles and shreds too if the consistency is made a little thicker and it sets firmer. Think healthy pizza, yay!

I haven’t shared my own recipe with my FFWD posts in a long time, so I’m happy to share this cheese one with you. It’s basically a mix of silken tofu, agar powder (not flakes), ground cashews and almonds, rice vinegar and garlic. Blitz everything in a food processor, bring the mixture to a quick boil and pour into a mold, leaving it to cool down and then set in the fridge for several hours. If you have access to this non-dairy cream substitute, MimicCreme (I don’t), then just replace the nuts with a cup of this vegan cream and your ‘cheese’ texture will turn out smoother than mine looks here.

The blended 'cheese' mixture 

This vegan tomato tartlet salad, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, tasted better way than I expected. Vegan food in general tends to get a bad rep, because we do expect it to taste bland and often look boring, and as you can see that’s clearly not the case here. In many of my future FFWD posts, I’m going to show you how to bring sexy into vegetarian or vegan cuisine. I’ve had so many successful experiments with substituting ingredients for the real deal that I need to put them down as solid recipes and share them with all of you out there - before I forget it all! The French may not approve of my cheese blasphemy this week, but hey, sometimes I feel we should do what we need to in order to align the outside world with our evolving inner selves. :)

Have a peaceful weekend, everyone!

Homemade Vegan Mozzarella
1 package extra soft silken tofu (about 340g)
1/2 cup ground raw almonds
1/2 cup ground raw cashew nuts
3/4 cup water
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 cloves garlic, finely grated (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
4 teaspoons agar agar powder

1. Place all ingredients except agar powder in a blender or food processor, and blend on high until it becomes a completely liquid consistency. Place the mixture in a small saucepan, stir in the agar powder, and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

2. Bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Be careful, as the hot mixture will sputter. Remove from heat and pour immediately into a baking dish or mold. 

3. Smooth over the mixture as if you were making a batch of brownies, then place into the refrigerator for a few hours until completely set. Use as you would like any of your favorite cheeses. It shreds, slices, and even melts like real cheese under a hot grill!

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