Prawn cocktail


Upon realizing J is not allergic to prawns, this dish has appeared on our dinner menu at least once a week. Why? It is quick, completes in under 10 minutes, can be made in advance and is delicious.

Good quality prawns were hard to find in New Zealand many moons ago, and you’ll have to pay a premium for them. In the last few years, the market has opened up and it is now very easy to buy good quality and affordable prawns even in the supermarket.

All you need here are the prawns, some ice, and thousand island dressing. For this dish, I prefer using the frozen, shelled but uncooked ones. It offers an easy start for my dish and saves me time. Flavour wise, it does not make a significant difference. It does however make a huge difference in cost when compared to fresh prawns!

It can be served as an appetizer, or like any Asian meals, as part of a wider array of dishes shared amongst the diners. This is a dish S and I had many years ago at a restaurant, when we were still dating. In the end we decided that we didn’t need to order that from a restaurant when we can easily do it ourselves ( yes indeed this is one even S can achieve !!!)

Ingredients
300g Prawns, shelled, uncooked
1 cup of ice
3 tbsp thousand island dressing

Instructions
Defrost the prawns by rinsing them in water, leave it to drain in a colander.

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Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water with 1 tsp of salt and add the prawns in.

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Once the prawns has changed to a pink colour, leave it to cook for a further 30 seconds. Then, strain it and put it in a bowl with the ice. This stops them from over cooking and retains a nice crunch when you bite into it.

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Mix the prawns with the ice and leave it to cool.

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J likes to stir them from time to time.

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Drain the water off and dry the prawns by lightly patting them with a paper towel.
Add the thousand island dressing in, mix to coat evenly.

Refrigerate until service time. Just like macarons, they taste better the next day – but who can wait that long?

Hazelnut cocoa nibs cookies


Today J helped me with some freezer cookie dough. These are the ones I always have in the freezer, to be whipped out in a second when cookies are called for in short notice.

You can replace the hazelnuts with other nuts you like: pistachios, macadamias or cashews.

Ingredients
1 cup hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup valrhona cocoa powder
2 tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liquor)

Method

Combine the butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer, and beat on high for 1 minute until it is smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla extract and frangelico liquor.

Beat in the chopped hazelnuts and cocoa nibs.

Add all the flour and cocoa powder in. Beat on low speed until the flour mixture is well incorporated.

Scoop half of this dough and place onto cling film. Roll into a log and freeze for at least 2 hours before slicing. You can keep this for up to 3 months. Scoop the rest of the dough onto another piece of cling film to form a second log.

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like so…

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celcius.

Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough into 0.5cm thick slices.

Place cookies on baking paper-lined cookie sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes, remove from oven and let them rest on the sheets for about 1-2 minutes further before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

Easiest sugar cookies


I love getting maximum yield out of minimal efforts. The fact that a single batch of cookie dough produces a large amount of little bites that will last our family for a while (er, like 2 weeks) gives me great satisfaction. These are very cute too as gifts at children’s parties.

Ingredients

1 cup (250g) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour (or 2 3/4 cups plain flour and 1/4 cup cocoa powder if you want chocolate ones)
2.5 tsp baking powder

Cream butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg, vanilla extract and beat till combined. Add flour (and cocoa powder if using) and baking powder, mix to combine. Roll dough into a smooth rectangular shape, and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Taking a third of the dough, roll it out on a floured board to a 0.4mm thickness. Using cookie cutters to cut shapes out as desired. Here J is using some Klio ones. Press the cookie cutter down onto your dough to cut out the shape of the cookie.

See the little stick on the centre of the cutter? It has a spring mechanism and when depressed, will imprint some additional patterns on your cookie.

See how J pushes the stick to help get the dough out of the cookie cutter.

Carefully peel the dough off the cutter.

There you have it! Gather scraps, re-roll and recut until you’ve used up the dough.

Bake at 175 degrees C for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

How cute are they!

Tres Macs


This post is about trying a new lighting set up. These were shot in the afternoon.

In these photos, I had a dark brown kitchen bar stool sitting next to my living room sliding door, where the warm afternoon sun is coming in at a nice 45 degree angle, coming through from the left. The reason for choosing the bar stool is for its wooden-palette like stripes, which I’ve seen used in lots of food photography shots.
I used a white foam core board as background, and another one to the right at right angles as a bounce.
I tweaked the macarons a bit to show less chocolate ganache. Is it better?
How about having them flat on the plate, to show off their circular symmetry?
Here’s a photo of the boxed up gift for my colleague in exchange for some sour dough starter. See the shadow? I think I need a better bouncer! Will try the white umbrella with my speedlight next time – time is running out today!
Another shot of the gift with the top off.

Blueberry macaron


Once again I delegated the task of choosing our next macaron flavour to J. ‘What colour macaron should we make this time?’

‘er. Teal!’ ( that being my favourite colour)

Hm how can I get this colour without buying the actual colour gel? A bit of blue and yellow should do the trick! Read my basic macaron recipe:

Macaron shells
90 g almond meal
60 g macadamia meal
150 g icing sugar
58 g egg whites extra

Italian meringue
58 g egg whites (about 1.5 egg)
1 g meringue powder
150 g caster sugar
38 g water
5 drops of blue coloring gel
2 drop of yellow coloring gel

Instead of sifting, I blitzed the almond meal and icing sugar until it is a fine powder.

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Put the first lot of egg whites into your stand mixer.
Clip the sugar thermometer according to manufacturer’s instructions to a milk saucepan. Don’t let it touch the bottom of the pan. Put the water and caster sugar in and dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Some recipes say you should stir this gently – I’ve found that so long as I didn’t splash the sugar around, I won’t even have to stir. Use a clean pastry brush to brush down the side of the saucepan to avoid any crystallization if the liquid splashes up. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.

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To make teal-coloured shells, I added the gel colourings to my Italian meringue. The amount depends on the strength of your gel, what depth of colour you desire and how it mixes with other ingredients. Practice is the only way to test it out. I scrapped tiny balls out using a tooth pick. I used the Wilton brand of gels.

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Cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 70°C. You should monitor your sugar thermometer, and as it reaches this temperature, add the meringue powder to the egg whites and whisk in medium until it becomes frothy.

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Once the sugar syrup has reached 118°C (soft ball stage), take the saucepan off the heat, decrease the mixer speed to medium and slowly trickle the sugar syrup in, down the side of the bowl. (Be warned not to get the syrup onto the whisk as you will then have spun sugar.) Increase speed to high and whisk until the bowl is warm to touch, about 8 minutes.

20120420-121504.jpg Look at that colour! Isn’t it gorgeous?

Add the extra egg white to the almond meal mix, then add the meringue and use a large spatula to thoroughly combine it. Continue folding the mixture to soften the meringue. To achieve “macaronnage”, I mixed the batter about 18 times. Don’t over do this.

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Scoop the mixture into a piping bag (stand the piping bag in a tall glass if you can’t quite scoop and hold the bag at the same time) with a 12mm plain tip. Holding the bag slightly above the tray, pipe from the centre of each template circle to make a 4cm round. Keep it just within the border of each template circle. Do so without moving your tip to ensure your round is actually round in shape. At the end of piping each round, flick your tip from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock quickly to end the piping action. The tip on top should drop back and result in a smooth top. Decorate as you wish the top of the macarons.

Leave the macarons at room temperature for at least 30 minutes until a skin forms. It might take longer in humid days. Preheat your oven to 135°C around 20 minutes into this step (you know your oven best – I use fan force and have it on at 125°C). Test the skin by gently touching the side of a macaron with your fingertip – it should not be sticky. This is important as the skin lifts while the macaron cooks, resulting in the all important ‘foot’! Today I waited for 40 minutes for a nice skin to be formed.

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I fan-baked them at 125°C, for 18 minutes. As I have 3 sheets in total, I decided to bake the first in by itself, and then this time add the two last trays in after 6 minutes to see if that changes the results. The macarons in the trays that were baked last were a little bit stickier than the sheet that went in first but still ok with an extra minute in the oven. I think I will stick with baking them individually next time and only resort to time-cutting measures if I run out of time again.

Once out of the oven, the macarons were left for 2 minutes on its trays before I checked them. They peeled off the baking paper quite easily. I then slid the whole sheet off the baking sheet onto my cool marble counter top. This causes a thermal shock and will make it even easier to peel off.

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I paired this with a chocolate ganache, and the recipe follows:

150g chocolate, chopped
150ml cream
3 tbsp blueberry jam

Melt cream in a pot and pour over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for 2 minutes until the chocolate melts. Add blueberry jam to the chocolate. Mix till the ganache is smooth. Cool in the fridge for 30 minutes until firm for spreading. Use an offset spatula to spread some ganache in the centre of the shells, being careful not to put too much. Once you have half of the shells done, take each top shell and put it on top of one with the ganache, with a twisting motion.

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These need to be kept in the fridge for 24 hours for the ganache to flavour the shells, so don’t eat it yet! These can keep in the freezer for up to 3 months – just wrap a few of them (4 or 6) with cling film wraps and place them in a airtight box. Bring them out an hour before serving to allow them to return to room temperature. The moisture will cling to the cling film and not your macarons.

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Results: I will definitely add the blueberry jam as a separate layer from the ganache next time, as my dear guinea pigs (aka my lovely colleagues) said they couldn’t taste the flavour.

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A blog about my kitchen adventures, photography, family and experiences

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