Merry Christmas Jam with Scones

Merry Christmas!

Today I share with you how a mistake led to lots of beautiful Christmas presents. A few months ago, I’d left out a bag of frozen cranberries by mistake and had to figure out what to do with with them and fast. A quick google showed up cranberry sauce and jam, but I was worried that jam making would be complicated and difficult. Luckily, I hit upon a recipe from 101cookbooks.com (originally from Falling Cloudberries) that seemed easy. It was also convenient since we were having people over for breakfast the next day.

Anyhow, having people over was the perfect excuse to test out my new oven. Put freshly baked scones and freshly made tart cranberry jam together and slather with either clotted cream or butter for a glorious combination. Then have grilled mushrooms and crispy bacon as chaser and it’s a very satisfying breakfast.

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Scones (taken from Nigella)

These need to be made fresh and eaten while still warm. If you have leftovers, they must be heated up in the toaster oven, otherwise will have an awful dense texture. Don’t keep them any longer than overnight because it just gets too heavy to eat then.

Ingredients:

500g flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
4½ tsp cream of tartar
125g unsalted butter (direct from the freezer, oh you mean you don’t store yours there?)
300ml milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220°C.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar together. If lazy, just sift the baking soda and cream of tartar into the flour and salt, that bit is the most crucial.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour. Finish off the process by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers.
  4. Add the milk and stir quickly, kneading very lightly until it forms a dough.
  5. Press out (you can roll if you like, but I normally don’t bother) into about 3cm thickness or about as thick as one finger joint.
  6. Using a medium cookie cutter (5-6cm diameter), cut into 10-12 rounds. You’ll need to reroll for the last few.
  7. Glaze with some milk. I normally smear it on with my finger.
  8. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
  9. Eat as soon as you can!

Makes 10-12.

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Cranberry and Apple Jam (adapted from 101 cookbooks)

I used a bag of frozen cranberries and added some of my own spices. The first round, I used cinnamon and star anise and the second time, lemongrass, lime and clove. Try various combinations and see what works for you. If you’re going to make a lot like I did for Christmas presents, don’t worry about the proportion of apple to cranberry, just make sure you scale the sugar with the cranberries and it should be all good. Another tip: don’t taste the jam immediately after it’s done. It’s somehow very sour and a bit unbalanced then. Let it sit for 30 minutes at least if you’re going to eat it fresh. The flavours will mingle and the sharpness will mellow, then it’ll be all good.

Ingredients:

340 g cranberries (one bag frozen)
120g sugar
spices – 1 stick cinnamon or 2 star anise or 5 cloves or 2 lemongrass sticks, bashed
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Method:

  1. Rinse the berries and get rid of the spoiled (brown) ones. Drain and toss with the sugar, lemon rind, its juice and whatever spices you’re using in a bowl. The original recipe calls for a non-reactive bowl, so anything plastic, ceramic or stainless steel is fine.
  2. Leave overnight and stir a couple of times if you remember to. Otherwise just give a good stir before you continue to step 3.
  3. The next morning, load your clean empty jam jar(s) into the oven and set the oven to 100ºC. Leave for at least an hour until you’re ready to bottle the jam.
  4. Put the chopped apple into a saucepan.
  5. Transfer most of the sugary cranberries into another bowl, leaving most of the juice and sugar behind. Scrape that juice and sugar along with a spoonful or so of berries into the saucepan with the apples, then add the water and simmer till the apple is soft or about 10 minutes. Squish the berries till most burst.
  6. Add the rest of the berries and cook, stirring gently till the jam looks thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Get the by now sterilised jar(s) out of the oven and scrape the jam inside. Screw on the covers firmly, but not too tightly and place upside down on a tea towel.
  8. Leave to cool completely, then wash away any sticky mess and store in the fridge or a cool place.

Makes 1 standard jar plus some for breakfast for 4.

I scaled up the recipe with these proportions: 1.5kg cranberries (4 bags of 340g each added up to that much after washing!), 600g sugar, 3 lemons, 6 lemongrass sticks, 6 star anise, 3 apples. It took longer to cook the apples down in step 5, about 30 minutes or so and the mixture only thickened slightly. Then it took 10 minutes for the cranberries to cook through. It made a huge pot that ended up with 4 big and 4 small jars of jam. Here’s what they look like upside down.

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Merry Christmas!

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A Quick Meal of Xi’an-Inspired Lamb

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I was dreaming of Xi’an lamb skewers but didn’t have the time to find a better alternative to the version at Yang Gui Fei. My take is very much a fusion version of this and is far from the original. Plus, it being nigh impossible to buy good-tasting, deep-flavoured lamb here, I had to stick with the usual supermarket New Zealand lamb. It was passable but not the same. Make sure that you buy a fattier piece of lamb, the fat here is essential, otherwise you won’t get succulent yet charred bits. While this is hardly gourmet food, the beauty of it is that it’s incredibly fast. If you time it right, you could get dinner in 15 minutes.

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Ingredients:
200g lamb leg
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
4 mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup couscous
¼ cup water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill to the highest setting.
  2. Slice the lamb thinly, being careful that each slice gets a fair share of fat.
  3. Mix the lamb and spices together, toss carefully and grill together with the mushrooms (or whatever other vegetable you like) till just about charred on each side, about 5 minutes each.
  4. In the mean time, measure out the couscous, pour in the water and mix in the stock powder. Microwave for 3 minutes and cover for another 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  5. To serve, pour the lamb and juices over the couscous and serve with side vegetables.

Serves 1, with leftover meat.

Quick Eats: Tekka Market

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I like going to Tekka Market. Both the market and the hawker sections have such great stalls. The market side always has stuff open all the way into the afternoon on Sundays, making it ideal to catch some fantastic lunch and then buy groceries for dinner. The vegetable stalls have such a variety of ingredients that each time I go I find something I haven’t seen before. It’s a great place to get ingredients for Vietnamese or Thai food. It’s so easy to find Thai basil and other herby leaves here.

Now the hawker side is chock-full of nasi briyani stalls. Yakader is the place I go to. This was the place I had my briyani epiphany. Before this, I never understood why one would cook nuts and raisins with savoury rice. The nuts would just be soft and the raisins pulpy and sweet, which I don’t fancy in savoury food. It all became clear when I had my first spoonful of their rice. The cashews, though not crunchy, gave a lovely fragrance to the rice, and the not-too-sweet raisin gave it extra interest and texture. Now let’s get on to the mutton. It is amazing how tender this stuff is. At first, it seemed deceptively unyielding to the fork, but once a morsel was hacked off, it fairly melted in the mouth. Spiced just right, this stuff is briyani heaven.

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DC spotted some sup tulang at Hanifa’s nearby and ordered some mutton bone soup. It was very peppery and quite nice to gnaw at. I’m not super keen on chewy tendon (I like mine soft and melting), but the soup was nicely flavoured, though a bit of a shock to the system with the amount of pepper in it. It was so good that the family at the next table asked us where we got it and happily slurped up their order. I’d go back to try the mutton and tongue next time.

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Yakader
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Hanifa’s
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Minang Nasi Padang: Best Beef Rendang Ever

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Shinta and I were in the Arab Street area so we had to drop by Minang Nasi Padang for lunch. DC had raved about it before (he’s now raving about another place, but more about that in a later post). As usual, we ordered too much. Between the two of us we had beef rendang, curry chicken, squid in its own ink, begedil and sweet potato leaves cooked in coconut milk.

It was all very good quality, with the tender, well-spiced chicken and the richly gravied potato leaves being above average. The  dry-style beef rendang, however, stole the show. Its incredibly depth of flavour and smokiness blew me away. They spiced the dish incredibly well and toasted the spices so well that the slightly tough texture of the meat actually added to its allure. Upon further chewing, the meat yielded more flavour. Despite the lack of tenderness, it’s my favourite beef rendang thus far.

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Minang Nasi Padang
18 & 18A Kandahar St
Tel: 9457 7384

Single Malt Appreciation Club: Highlanders and a New Islay

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It was yet another overdue meeting of the newly renamed Single Malt Appreciation Club. In addition to our mainstays of Lagavulin 16 and Laphroaig Quarter Cask, we had a Highland Park12, a Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition and a Kilchoman. Tricia brought the Highland Park from a sojourn to Batam and the Kilchoman from whisky trip to Scotland. Hypodermically and Jam somehow found the Macallan sitting at home.

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It was up to Tricia, the resident whisky expert to line them up for tasting. Her usual impeccable taste was spot-on! The Highland Park first then the other Highland Macallan, followed by the Islay with the youngest Kilchoman first, then the restrained and elegant Lagavulin and last the brash, in-your-face Laphroaig.

I must admit upfront my bias against Highland malts. I’m not so keen on sweet and spicy without the peaty as I find it quite flat and not a great deal different from other liquors. What makes whisky special for me is the complexity that peat brings into the picture. With that, I dismissed the Highland Park 12 (40%) quickly by taking a quick whiff and sip of Tricia’s dram. As expected, it was nothing but sweet honey and fairly one-dimensional.

The Macallan (42.8%), as a Speysider, fared a bit better. I think I’ll enjoy drinking it on off nights where somehow an Islay would be too much work for me. The honey was rounded with spice and orange peel, quite the thing to put in a fruit cake and then enjoy with said cake. The tasting notes mentioned toffee but I didn’t get any, probably because I was still recovering from a bout of flu. Definitely one to try again.

The Kilchoman (pronounced “kil-ho-man”) Spring 2010 Release (46%) was a strange hybrid of honey and peaty smoke. There was something rough and unfinished about it,  I guess that indicates that it would benefit greatly from more ageing. Nonetheless, it was full of promise and I’m definitely looking forward to a later release. Just too bad it isn’t available in Singapore yet.

Giant Spiced Apple Cupcake Surprise

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I was a little tired of the typical twee cupcake thickly coated with icing everyone scrapes off and throws out. (Dudes, icing sugar is expensive yo.) Instead, I went the other way and made giant cupcakes. The good thing is that this method cuts down on the bother of filling a zillion neverending cupcake cases. I made five in this recipe instead of the usual 15 or so. To make things a little special, I soaked some dried cherries in kirsch and filled the cupcakes with these little surprises.

The recipe itself is the same as the Orange Clove Cake, just that I added two grated apples to the cake mix for a fruitier, slightly denser and moister cake.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk
2 red apples, grated

big handful cherries, at least 30
good splash of kirsch or vodka

Method:

  1. The night before, soak the cherries in the kirsch. They should be plump and juicy when ready.
  2. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  3. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  4. Beat butter and sugar till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  5. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter. Stir in the grated apple.
  6. Fill up each giant cupcake case halfway, fill with a generous spoonful of cherries, then top with remaining batter till about ¾ full.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or till a skewer comes out clean.

Makes 5.

Heavenly and Incredibly Easy Poached Pears in Red Wine

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Pear poached in red wine is one of those chi-chi restaurant desserts that’s actually quite a no-brainer to make at home. It’s so much easier yet somehow more impressive than baking a cake. I made some the other night and it was such a revelation!

Here’s where all the leftover red wine stashed in the freezer comes in useful. Or you could just use any cheap not-too-sweet red. Use as many or as few of the spices as you like. I think the poaching liquid ends up like mulled wine with all the spices!

For dessert, I reduced some poaching liquid to make a sauce.  I left the pears soaking in the rest of the poaching liquid overnight. The next morning the pears deepened to the darkest purple ever. This time, I didn’t bother with a reduction and just had them cold as a fancy fruit compote with my thick yogurt. Both were very yummy.

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Ingredients:
½ bottle red wine
4 black peppercorns
4 green cardamom pods
½ stick cinnamon
1 star anise
4 cloves
lemon peel from ½ lemon
½ cup sugar
2 pears

Method:

  1. Combine wine with spices, lemon peel and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer on low heat.
  2. Get on with peeling and coring the pears. Cut each pear into eight.
  3. By now the poaching liquid should be at least warm. Lower pears into poaching liquid and keep on a low simmer for 20 minutes or till pears are soft.
  4. For serving immediately, fish out the pears and boil the poaching liquid till the resulting syrup coats the back of a spoon. Drizzle the sauce over the pears and serve with Greek yogurt, crème fraîche or ice cream.
  5. Alternatively, leave the pears in the poaching liquid overnight to steep. Eat with yogurt for a decadent breakfast.

Serves 2-4.