Tuesday, 19 August 2008

All that Zest - Cumquat Marmalade

Photo & Bread by Eva

Cumquat (Aus) / Kumquat (USA, UK) / kin kan (Jap) / aranja de ouro (Brazil) is native to China and means "gold orange". Fresh cumquats can be eaten raw (skin and all) or easily preserved whole in syrup. Sticking to seasonal cooking and keeping with the Beijing Olympic theme, I present to you, Cumquat Marmalade.

Making marmalade is a real winter treat since it’s citrus and slow-cooking season. A refreshing aroma also permeates through the whole house - it's my kind of aromatherapy! But move over Seville, blood and navel oranges....cumquat marmalade is our current favourite. No traces of bitterness and the perfect balance of sweet and sour. However, not everyone likes marmalade, so I am usually slightly hesitant about giving it away as a gift unless I know that the recipient is a fan.

My friend Eva (of Sweet Sins) was the lucky recipient of a jar of this marmalade ("lucky" because Quikong originally wanted to keep it all for himself! He is a marmalade fanatic). I'll link Eva's post here when it's ready so that you can hear what a non-marmalade fan thought about this particular cumquat marmalade and also for Eva's recipe of this gorgeous looking bread. She ran out of rye flour and used maize flour instead - clever girl! (Thanks to Eva as well for these lovely photos!)

Photo & Bread by Eva

Winter Fruit
With mid-late winter being the height of cumquat season in NSW, we were lucky enough to be able to freshly pick (for free!) a kilo of home-grown cumquats at a homestead/vineyard that we were staying at in the Hunter Valley region last month. The lemon I used in this recipe was also home-grown from a neighbour's garden.

Cumquat Marmalade
Adapted from The Produce Bible (by Leanne Kitchen)

1kg unwaxed, organically grown cumquats
1.25L (5 cups) water
1 large lemon, juice (about ¼ cup) & zest
1.25 kg sugar
muslin cloth


(a) 24hrs before – Prepare the fruit:
Wash and dry the fruit. If waxed, scrub the kumquats under running water to remove any wax. Place a sieve over a large non-reactive container (with a lid), pot or bowl. Cut each fruit in half and squeeze out the juice over the sieve. Collect the pips and place it in a piece of muslin cloth. Tie it securely & place it in the container together with the juice. Using a sharp knife (I used a kitchen scissors), cut the peel finely or coarsely, according to your preference. Add the peel and water in the container with the bag of pips and the juice. Cover and leave to soak overnight or for 24 hours. This helps to extract the maximum amount of pectin from the fruit pulp and pips, which will give a better set. It also helps to soften the peel, which will reduce the amount of cooking needed.

Soaking Cumquats Overnight with Bag of Pips

(b) Next day:
- Place 2 saucers in the freezer.
- Place the cumquats, water, pip bag, lemon juice and lemon zest in a large saucepan. Bring the contents slowly to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes.
- While cumquats are simmering, warm* the sugar by spreading it in a into a large roasting tin/baking dish and putting in the pre-heated oven (150-170°C) for 10 to 15 minutes or until warmed through. (I used a microwave).
- When the cumquat is tender, tip the warmed sugar into the saucepan and stir over low heat, without boiling, until dissolved. Return to a boil. Boil rapidly and stir often for 20-30 minutes.
- When the syrup falls from a wooden spoon in rather thick sheets, remove saucepan from heat and put a small amount on a saucer that has been chilled in the freezer and briefly return it to the freezer. Check it in a minute or two - it should be slightly jelled and will wrinkle just a bit when you slide your finger through it. If not, continue to cook until it is. (Quikong prefers a thicker set, so I cooked the marmalade for a bit longer).
- Remove the bag of seeds when the marmalade is done. Wait for about 10-20 minutes before ladling into hot sterilized jars to prevent the zest from floating to the top. You can then safely store it in canning jars, freeze it, or keep it in the fridge. Makes about 6-7 cups.

Store in a cool, dark place for 6 to 12 months. Refrigerate after opening for up to 6 weeks. Too much light is not good for storage, while a damp or steamy atmosphere can cause mould to develop on the surface of the marmalade.

- Use Earl Grey or Jasmine tea instead of water.
- Add half a dried-out vanilla bean to each jar.
- If you like a darker, Oxford-style marmalade, then add 1 tbsp treacle when you add the sugar.

Marmalades are not just for toast:
Don't just spread it on a buttered toast! Warm it up slightly and use it as a glaze for cakes (e.g. cheesecake), swirl it through a chocolate cake mixture before baking it or to fill vegan thumbprint cookies. And don't forget savoury dishes like glazing roast duck, chicken or carrots.

*What do you think?
I’m not convinced that warming the sugar actually does anything, but many recipes mention it. If someone has scientific or even anecdotal evidence to back this up, I’d be interested to hear from you.

Photo & Bread by Eva

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Beijing 08.08.08...Fortune Cookies and Chinese Custard Tarts

In case no one noticed, the date yesterday was 08.08.08 ("8" is a very auspicious number in Chinese culture) and not surprisingly, the date chosen for the opening ceremony of the Olympics held in Beijing. When Quikong invited our friends, N & T, over for dinner last night, I thought that it would be a great excuse to have Chinese as the theme for the meal. And a terrific reason for me to go food shopping in Chinatown! It's amazing the kind of interesting ingredients that one can find there. It certainly fires up my culinary juices.

The Menu:
Starters - BBQ duck buns, Chive dumplings, Scallop siu mai and Prawn gow gee (all steamed)
Mains - Crab Fried Rice, Sweet sour garlic prawns and stir fried baby pak choy
Dessert - Homemade fortune cookies and Chinese custard tarts (recipes below)

The most fun part of the evening was watching our friends N and T crack open their personalised fortune cookies. Quikong was the mastermind behind the funny "fortunes". I don't recall where I got this fortune cookie recipe from. I think that it tasted good and looked authentic but after a day, it lost its crispiness. Perhaps the container that I stored it in was not airtight. If anyone has a reliable Fortune Cookie recipe, please let me know. I am keen to try again because it really is so much fun to serve at dinner parties.

Fortune Cookies
1 extra large egg white
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp almond essence
pinch of salt

- Cut 3- by 1/2-inch strips of paper and write or type your own fortunes with non-toxic ink.
- Preheat oven to 180°C. and butter a baking sheet.
- In a small bowl whisk egg white just until foamy. Add flour, sugar, essences and a pinch salt and beat until smooth. Depending on the size of your egg and the type of flour (it varies in every country), add a few drops of water to achieve the desired consistency.
- Put 2 teaspoons of the batter on buttered area of baking sheet and with back of measuring spoon (or your index finger) spread batter evenly into a 3 inches diameter circle. It has to be rather thinly spread out (almost translucent), otherwise the cookie will not be crispy.
- Bake cookie in middle of oven until golden around edge but pale in center, about 5-8 minutes. - Working quickly, with a spatula remove cookie from the baking sheet and invert onto a kitchen towel. Put a folded fortune in middle of cookie and fold cookie in half. Bend pointed edges of cookie toward each other. Use a muffin tin to hold the cookies in shape as they cool (stick the pointed ends down into the tin).
- Make more cookies with remaining batter in same manner, letting baking sheet cool slightly between cookies. Makes about 10 cookies.

These custard tarts remind me of my childhood. Bakeries in Singapore are commonly run by Singaporeans of Chinese backgrounds so these tarts can be found everywhere. Some were made with shortcrust pastry while others with flaky pastry (similar to Portuguese-style custard tarts); some were round and yet others were oval in shape. My sis was the custard tart connoisseur - we've lost count of how many different eggs tarts she has "tested". We used to judge bakeries by its custard tarts and dinner rolls. :-)

Chinese Custard Tarts
(from Australain Women's Weekly Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook)

Tart shell:
Your fav. short crust pastry/pâte brisée recipe#

3 extra large eggs
1/3 cup
caster (superfine) sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
few drops of yellow food colouring*

#Use half butter/half shortening to achieve a lighter, flakier crust
*This can be ommited but it does give the deep coloured custard that is characteristic of these tarts that are commonly seen at Chinese bakeries and dim sum restaurants.

- Roll out the dough to 3mm thickness. cut out with a 8cm fluted cutter. Put into buttered patty tins. No need to blind/par bake the tart shell.
- Beat together eggs and sugar. Gradually add milk. Add vanilla essence and food colouring (if using). Mix well but try not to produce bubbles. Pour custard carefully intro prepared pastry cases.
- Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 180°C, cook further 10-15 minutes until the custard is set.

: The filling makes approx 30 small tarts.If you end up with leftover custard mixture after all the tart shells have been filled, butter a ramekin and bake the custard without the shell.


As for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics - I was really blown away!!! Did you catch the opening ceremony? What did you think of it? It was also Margot's (Coffee and Vanilla) birthday, so Happy Birthday, Margot!! I hope that you had fun with M & the kids. :-)

Have a nice weekend and a terrific week ahead everyone!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Pacri Nenas - Spiced Pineapple Chutney

Moving from Two to Four Seasons
Growing up in Singapore, we like to pretend that we have seasons – simply categorised as “rainy/wet” or “hot and humid” seasons. This is not surprising since Singapore is just a tiny, tropical island located near the equator. Now that I live in Sydney, Australia, I have been reflecting on how the four seasons has changed the course of my culinary adventures. When I started this blog, one of my intentions was to document this metamorphosis, but it did not quite work out that way....

Seasonal Cooking
Since moving to a Sydney, I also noticed that the seasons or weather does influence what we cook. While everyone in the northern hemisphere are frolicking on the beach and eating sorbet, we are bundled up in several layers and often find ourselves turning to nourishing foods like soups, casseroles, stews, roasts, risottos and curries.

Curry in Winter
How very strange that I now associate curry with cooler weather - I used to eat it regularly in Singapore and it is almost always hot and humid there. I recall that it was the norm to get all sweaty after tucking into a good bowl of curry – it was worth it!

How Hot can You Handle?
Another interesting observation is that Indian restaurants in Sydney and possibly all other countries outside of Southeast Asia label the curries “mild”, “medium”, “hot”. This creates problems between me and Quikong when we eat out because even though he thinks he was Indian in a previous life (he LOVES Indian food), we get into arguments over which curry I am “allowed” to order. He does not like his food (chilli) hot. If you are a regular reader, you already know that I am the opposite - when it comes to certain Southeast Asian dishes, the hotter the better! I usually give in, and try to get my chilli fix another day.

An Accompaniment for Curry
Today, I am not posting a recipe for curry because I am not expert in that department. While my curry skills are getting better and better, I find it impossible to replicate Mom’s curries. What I would like to share is a popular accompaniment for curry or spiced-based dishes such as nasi beryani/biryani. Mom’s combo of lentil dhal and nasi beryani meal is not complete without pacri nenas (pineapple chutney). The combination of sweet, sour and a touch of spice really whets the appetite.

While I was frying the spices, the wonderful aroma that resulted reminded me of Mom’s kitchen and instantly comforts me. In my version, I added some chopped dates and it was a winner with both Quikong (I served it with beef curry) and my neighbours (it makes a great gift!).

Pacri Nenas
(Spiced Pineapple Chutney)
Loosely adapted from Nirmala Magazine

1 fresh ripe pineapple, peeled (about 600g)
1-2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil
1 red (Spanish) onion (or 6 shallots), sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
2 x 4cm cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
2 whole cardamoms
15 fennel seeds
¼ tbsp cumin powder
3cm fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
½ cup water
1 tsp each of salt and sugar
(optional: 100-150g pitted dates, chopped in half)

- Cut pineapple into 8 sections lengthwise. Cut the core off & discard. Slice the pineapple flesh into 1cm thick pieces. Reserve the juices from the chopping board.
- Heat oil in a non-stick pan/wok. Fry the onion and garlic over medium heat till wilted (be careful not to burn/brown the garlic or onion). Add spices, ginger and chillies and cook till fragrant. Add pineapple pieces and till slightly wilted. Add reserved pineapple juice, water, salt and sugar. Cook till pineapple is wilted. Add chopped dates and stir carefully. Let it cool. Adjust seasoning if necessary (e.g. more salt or sugar or dash of lemon juice). Store in the fridge for a week or two.