Saturday, February 23, 2013

Elderflower & Lemon Sponge Cupcakes


Ever since visiting Europe I've been hooked to elderflower cordial! I was never even introduced to it, I simply saw a pretty looking bottle in a convenient store with a pretty name - I was sold, I wanted to try it and I did, it was amazing. Once I got back to Cambridge I bought myself a bottle of concentrate and had elderflower cordial everyday I had class :) 

Going back to Australia was pretty sad since I knew I would probably never get my hands on elderflower again (easier at least) - that was until I stumbled across it during a trip to IKEA the other day AND! It was only $2.99 for 500ml, after getting home I did a quick search to see if it was available anywhere else in Australia and what do you know, elderflower cordial is available at Woolworths but having had that said it is $7.50 for 500mls. So if you want to get your hands on some elderflower concentrate a quick trip to IKEA would be totally worth it

As for these cupcakes, I whipped them up for a super bubbly and energetic friend who was turning 21, she absolutely adores the colour yellow and hence the theme to these cupcakes. I must say that sponge cake has always frightened me - theres something intimidating about them, mainly the fear that they will sink. Having them in cupcake form did not help one bit! In the end of the day these cupcakes did end up being tough, completely my fault - I decided to follow the recipe instead of trusting my instinct. I adjusted the recipe to ensure that that wouldn't happen again. So enjoy  

Elderflower & Lemon Sponge Cupcakes & Cream Cheese Frosting


Lemon & Elderflower Sponge Cupcakes
(makes 12 cupcakes)

Ingredients
1/2 cup sparkling water*
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup plain flour
1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoon elderflower concentrate
4 eggs
*Note: For the sparkling water I used Solo for the lemon flavour, alternatively you can use any bubbly drink, whatever suits your recipe best

Elderflower Concentrate 500ml for $2.99 at IKEA


Method
Preheat the oven to 180C degrees (about 5 to 10 minutes before baking cupcakes)
Ensure all ingredients are at room temperate and well sifted
  1. Combine all the dry ingredients: Flour and baking powder, and set aside
  2. Combine all the wet ingredients: Sparkling water and elderflower concentrate, and set aside
  3. Beat the eggs until a pale yellow, gradually add the sugar in small portions until light and fluffy
  4. Fold in generally half the wet ingredients followed by half the dry ingredients, repeat until all ingredients are just incorporated
  5. Once everything has been folded together, add the lemon juice and beat it for 5 to 10 seconds with an electric beater
  6. Place the batter into unoiled cupcake liners about 2/3’s full
  7. Bake the cupcakes at 170C for about 15 minutes (fan force) 

Lemon & Elderflower Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cup icing sugar
3 tablespoon elderflower concentrate
7 tablespoon butter
250g cream cheese

Method
  1. Beat the butter and icing sugar until well creamed; followed by the lemon zest, lemon juice and elderflower concentrate
  2. Add the cream cheese a couple of small cubes at a time
  3. Mix for about 3 to 5 minutes until the frosting is nice and fluffy 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blueberry Cheesecake

Of late, I've been super indecisive about what to make, there are so many yummy and pretty looking desserts to try and make. Hence I've been asking my friends to make some suggestions and they've recommended blueberry cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. I've decided to make blueberry cheesecake over lemon meringue pie for a couple of reasons: 1. Cheesecake is by far one of the most amazing desserts ever! Yummy, cheesy, not overly sweet, fruity and pretty 2. I've always wanted to make my own cheesecake, its simple enough, a simple biscuit crumble crust, cream cheese filling and some fruits for garnish 3. I had some cream cheese just sitting in the fridge and about 10 egg yolks already - so no more egg whites only desserts

So this was a baked cheesecake, next time I plan to make a no bake cheesecake, reason being these cheesecakes sunk a little in the middle, I mean it works okay for these tartlets since you're filling them with fruits but on a cake I imagine a massive dent in the middle won't be so easily hidden. By the way, I never realised how easy cheesecake was to make, I mean its almost a no fail recipe, even if it does look a little ugly, its so simple to hide and regardless of the way it looks it will taste absolutely amazing! I'm probably never going to buy a cheesecake again and I'm definitely making this the next time I need to bring a plate to someone's house. I mean, you could easily customize this recipe for any fruit, if you have some kiwis at home than turn it into a kiwi cheesecakes, how about cherry or passion fruit cheesecake? The options are endless, you could even fold some fruits into the cheesy part of the cheesecake.


Blueberry Cheesecake
(makes 16 regular cupcake sized cheesecake)


Crust
Ingredients
2/3 cup crumbled biscuits
1 tablespoon caster sugar
3 tablespoon butter

Method

  1. Blend the butter, sugar and finely crumbled biscuits until completely combined
  2. Press the crumbled crust into lightly oiled cupcake lined trays
This crust was so easy to make, it requires no fancy ingredients or even baking! However most American recipes will call for Graham Crackers, these are not easily accessible in Australia, but replacing them with any crumbly biscuit will do just fine. I used some no brand milk/coffee biscuits (they worked marvellously) otherwise you can use Oreos, most of the assorted Arnott's biscuits, some people even use Tim Tams and other flavoured cookies. So feel free to play around, see which flavoured biscuits will enhance your cake and avoid anything that you find to be too overpowering.

Cheesecake
Ingredients
1/2 cup thickened cream
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
250 gram cream cheese
Pinch of salt
Blueberries


Method
Preheat the oven to 175C degrees (about 5 to 10 minutes before baking cupcakes)
Ensure all ingredients are at room temperate and well sifted

  1. In a bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, gradually beat in the salt and sugar until completely dissolved
  2. Beat in the egg until completely incorporated, followed by the vanilla extract and thickened cream
  3. Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared crusted cupcake moulds and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 175C degrees or until the outside is firm but the centre is slightly wobbly
  4. Allow the cheesecakes to cool overnight in the fridge
  5. Garnish with blueberries before serving

Saturday, February 09, 2013

El Loco & Chinatown Friday Night Markets

El Loco at the House
I must say, I really do love festivals - regardless of what they are officially for, whether it be for food, writers, art, music, culture and etc. Why? Well because they always, ALWAYS! bring about some great food offerings. Without great food you can't have a great time, they pretty much go hand in hand. Thanx to the Sydney Festival 2013, I've finally had the opportunity to try out the infamous El Loco (that amazingly awesome taco shop that is probably turning us all into little fatties). I really have no excuse for not trying out the actually restaurant in Surry Hills, I go to work and uni just on the other side of Central Station, yet Surry Hills seems to be that shadowy place that must never be ventured too. This popup shop gave me the perfect opportunity to sample their menu + big bonus that it was at Sydney Harbour, the vibe you get from sitting against the Opera House, staring out at the bridge munching away on delicious little tacos, yum yum.   
El Loco at the House for the Sydney Festival 2013
And here is the shop front, it got extremely busy between lunch time, with all the workers coming out with the munchies, grabbing a couple of tacos and drinks with their workmates, also plenty of families and young children around, seeing as it is still the school holidays and there was a Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat performance on, there was also some entertainment on for the children. I really wish I was there later at night, the fairy lights and the city lights would have been amazing (but I was watching The Hobbit that night, so no complaints there)   
El Loco Popup Shop Menu
A simple menu with a few different offerings, from beef to chicken to prawns and even tofu & don't forget the secret taco! All tacos were $6, there was also the El Loco Hot Dog for $10 and the El Loco Salad for $14. I really really! wanted to try (see, snap a photo of) the El Loco Hot Dog however I couldn't persuade my friend to eat one (after many many years, I think I can conclude that she is not a foodie) - I'm pescatarian so no hot dogs for me  
Carne Asada (Beef Taco, Salsa Verde, Fresca) $6

Camaron (Prawn Taco, Salsa Verde, Pico De Gallo) $6
An absolutely yummy prawn taco, something totally unheard of to me, seafood Mexican - how cool was that, for once I didn't have to get the black bean or eggplant option. Two minor complaints, the prawns were slightly salty (but that could just be me, I think I have a rather saltless palette - I'm a sweets sort of person) and the shells were rather bland and could I also say, slightly rubbery 
Corn Chips (Guacamole & Salsa) $6
This on the other hand was amazing, the corn chips were crispy and light, not overly salty or oily. They tasted almost homemade like and uncommerical. I could probably eat a whole bucket of these without my lips burning. The guacamole was also deliciously creamy - the salsa was just slightly grassy, just a bit too potent. So I stole all the guacamole whilst my friend suffered with the grassy salsa
Cocktail Menu
Pink Cuco (Tequila Slushy with Grapefruit, Lime & Ginger) $13.50
This was perfectly refreshing for the Australian summers, sweet, minty and totally uplifting with a slight ginger after taste
Tropicana Mocktail (Pineapple, Cloudy Apple & Passion fruit) $4
Served with a super sweet pineapple, perfect for the little ones or those of us who absolutely suck at holding our liquor. I cannot imagine myself having any sort of drink (even beer) for lunch and being able to go back to work in less than an hour. They would be able to detect it from a mile away. 

El Loco at the House on Urbanspoon 

Chinatown Friday Night Markets

Ah the Chinatown Friday Night Markets, this was an absolute blast after work or uni on a Friday afternoon, when sometimes you want to just grab a quick bite with your mates and not have to wait out for a restaurant and get all fancy schmancy. This would probably be the only reason I would ever go back to Asia - the night markets: Cheap, delicious street food with a vibe.
I'm kinda sad that I won't be able to visit this place as often any more. Being out of Sydney kinda makes it impossible aye.  

Authentic & Affordable Takoyaki
And to be honest with you, there are only really two places I ever visit when I come to the night markets, the main one is this shop right here. Its smack bang in the middle of the markets and you'll see it from a mile a way, thanx to the massive queues. This place is the only place I know in Sydney that sells authentic Japanese takoyaki. These balls are double to triple the size of the ones you get at sushi trains and Japanese restaurants, they also have nice chunky pieces of octopus not a mushed up purée mixed in with flour like the $2.50 sticks. It also comes with a range of different sauces you can lavish over the top (self serve of course) from takoyaki sauce to chilli to Japanese mayo and don't forget those fish flakes. (Much better than those occasional places that use BBQ sauce) 
Mixed Takoyaki (Two Octopus, One Crab & One Prawn) $6
Best part of all, its totally affordable and don't forget, they also have prawn and crab versions  which are equally as nice and addictive
Box of Octopus Takoyaki (Eight) $10
But of course, nothing quite beats the original! And don't forget to eat them straight away whilst they're still steaming hot and delicious
Potato Slinky & Korean Street Food
The other place that I visit (although occasionally only) is this shop, right opposite the takoyaki store. This place offers potato slinky and they're rather creative around it, you can now get it with a hot dog or sausage centre, with the potato slinky wrapped around it (apologises again, my non foodie friend is one for the boring standard stuff and proud of it), there is also a variety of different flavours including chicken salt, chilli powder, cheese just to name a couple (I forgot the rest)
This place also sells that famous Korean street food, which I vow to try some day, the day I learn how to eat chilli of course. I believe its Tteobokki (may be wrong) but its the glutinous white rice cakes floating around in what looks like a very red and chilli soupy sauce
Potato Slinky ($5) (Tornado Potato)
Apparently that is what they are called in Korea
I normally skip the remaining stores at the Night Markets, mainly because they either offer only meat (I've been told they are absolutely delicious), they do soley yum cha, which I can do at home or in the west for a fraction of the crazy Chinatown prices or they are Asia warm sweets. Actually I'm gonna conclude that its mainly the price that puts me off most of the places.
Besides the food stores, there are also plenty of stores of all sorts - from figurine USBs to quicky Asian decor to tea shops, fashion ware, accessories and makeup, colour and decorative contact lenses, Mario figurines to phone, tablet and computing accessories and the odd fake stuff here and there. 

Hazel Tea Shop
Recently noticed that this shop has re-branded itself, it was previously known as Sweetie and it sold Asian desserts much like Meet Fresh (but it offered sago - only reason we went here instead of Meet Fresh was because my friend wanted sago) the owner seems the same but they now specialise in bubble teas. Also the interior has gone under major refurbishment - new chairs, tables and decor, all decorated in that classical Asian style.

Hazel Tea Shop
We stopped by because they were having a buy one get one free promotion! I can never say no to $2.50 bubble tea, I even turned down half price Starbucks green tea frappuccino for this.  
Left to Right: Pomegranate Green Tea with Herbal Jelly, Blueberry Green Tea with Pearls,
Coconut Milk Tea with Sago & Brown Sugar Milk Tea with Pearls
~$4.50 - $5.50 (Promotion: Buy One Get One Free)
I ended up with two drinks since we had an odd amount of people and whos going to pay for one and not get the other one when its already free. The store had a really wide range of teas on offfer, much more than Easy Way and Chatime, they also had the full range of toppings. 
Drinks wise, anyone who enjoys bubble tea more for the tea than the crazy flavours and sweetness, will probably like this place very much, the green tea I had was very nice, not overly sweet and I actually tasted the tea, unlike Easy Way and it seemed a little stronger than Chatime. The herbal jelly was slightly different, it wasn't the smooth ones you get from Meet Fresh, rather it had some of that rough seaweed that you get with herbal desserts sometimes (never had this type of seaweed anywhere outside the house) 

Emperor's Puffs
Emperor's Custard Puffs (3 for $1, 8 for $2)
Who could visit Chinatown without grabbing a couple of these yummy custard puffs. Little cheap addictive things. The day I was there, the mother had her little girl helping out, she must have been about 8 to 10 and she was dressed in this yellow princess dress (yes I attempted to take a photo, I got told off because the mother thought I was trying to steal her technology - dam Asian stereotypes)
But! the ones in Cabramatta are nicer in my opinion. If you're ever down in the West, try and grab some, they are smaller and probably cheaper but they have a slight crunch and a thinner pastry casing, therefore the custard just oozes into your month, ahh so mouth watering, now I'm craving some after writing about it

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Lunar New Year Sorbet

Lunar New Year is coming up next week, on the 9th Feb apparently according to my parents. I'm super exciting as New Years in Asia is a massive celebration that spans over two whole weeks, filled with yummy food, bright lights, dragon dancing, flowers and of course red pockets! Here in Australia of course celebrations cannot span that long however it is still celebrated with a visit to the Temple at night (if possible), visits to the grandparents and a large dinner or lunch with the extended family. In Chinatown and other cultural suburbs, massive celebrations and fairs occur on  the streets however for me it has always been a family thing.

Normally I never contribute to New Year preparations, one of  the traditional desserts (Banh Tet) is really tedious to make, my Dad makes it every now and than and according to him, really its simply not worth the effort, for about $2 you can get some delicious mini hand made ones from Cabramatta. And naturally I don't like making savoury dishes so here is my twist on Lunar New Years desserts.

I'm making a couple of different sorbets out of very seasonal and traditional fruits available and eaten during New Year. If anyone has seen Lunar New Year celebrations than you've probably notice the trays of beautifully decorated fruit for offering. And! if you have an extra eye for detail than you would have also noticed that there is normally always a watermelon with a red pocket stuck on it. According to my parents, apparently watermelons are used because they are only available during the New Years period and they are red and anything red in Vietnamese culture is lucky! For the other fruits, I'm not 100% sure why they are used, I really need to sit down with my Grandparents one day and ask them about our culture and customs. Anyways here we go, fruity sorbets just perfect for the crazy hot South East Asian heat and well the Australian's too. 

Mango, Papaya, Coconut and Watermelon Sorbet
(makes 1/2Litre each)


Mango Sorbet
Ingredients
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup mango puree
1 egg white
1 cup water

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the caster sugar and water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and allow it to return to room temperature
  2. Once cooled, mix in the pureed mango
  3. Pour the mixture into a container, place it in the freezer for 12 hours or overnight
  4. Once solidly frozen, remove it from the freezer and break it into 5 to 6 medium size cubes, place the cubes into a blender and mix it up slightly, then add the egg white and blend until it is of slushy consistency
  5. Transfer the slushy back into the container and freeze for about 4 hours or so
Coconut Water Sorbet
Ingredients
1/4 cup caster sugar

1 cup coconut water
1 egg white
1 cup water


Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the caster sugar and water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and allow it to return to room temperature
  2. Once cooled, mix in the coconut water (using the coconut meat is optional, otherwise strain it out)
  3. Pour the mixture into a container, place it in the freezer for 12 hours or overnight
  4. Once solidly frozen, remove it from the freezer and break it into 5 to 6 medium size cubes, place the cubes into a blender and mix it up slightly, then add the egg white and blend until it is of slushy consistency
  5. Transfer the slushy back into the container and freeze for about 4 hours or so

Watermelon Sorbet
Ingredients
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup watermelon puree
1 egg white
1 cup water

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the caster sugar and water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and allow it to return to room temperature
  2. Once cooled, mix in the pureed watermelon (straining the puree is optional)
  3. Pour the mixture into a container, place it in the freezer for 12 hours or overnight
  4. Once solidly frozen, remove it from the freezer and break it into 5 to 6 medium size cubes, place the cubes into a blender and mix it up slightly, then add the egg white and blend until it is of slushy consistency
  5. Transfer the slushy back into the container and freeze for about 4 hours or so
Papaya Sorbet
Ingredients
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup papaya puree
1 egg white
1 cup water

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the caster sugar and water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and allow it to return to room temperature
  2. Once cooled, mix in the pureed papaya
  3. Pour the mixture into a container, place it in the freezer for 12 hours or overnight
  4. Once solidly frozen, remove it from the freezer and break it into 5 to 6 medium size cubes, place the cubes into a blender and mix it up slightly, then add the egg white and blend until it is of slushy consistency
  5. Transfer the slushy back into the container and freeze for about 4 hours or so

Note
I've chosen to not mix the flavours into one combined sorbet, reason being I believe some of the fruits including papaya and mango extremely overpowering, on the other hand watermelon and coconut has a really mild taste, therefore if I mix them I will lose the awesome taste of the watermelon and coconut which is way to important to lose.