Thursday, 25 October 2007

Think Spice...Think Saffron

Saffron, the world's most precious spice, has been treasured from the remotest times. It is native to Near East and believed to be first appeared in Crete. Saffron has been cultivated for thousands of years.

The small fall-flowering crocus grows well in warm climates. It has thin long leaves and ornamental fragrant deep lavender, purple-veined flowers These flowers bloom for only two or three weeks in autumn. The flower contains three precious protruding yellow-orange to scarlet stigmas and adjacent part of the style yield the saffron. The intensive colour is caused by pigments of carotenoid type. These must be carefully hand-picked and then dried. Saffron is strongly perfumed, with very intensive earthy fragrant, reminiscent to iodoform but much more pleasant honey aroma. It has a unique pungent, slightly bitter-honey taste.

When I was pregnant, I used to drink milk with saffron. Its just incredible how only a tiny little pinch of saffron could transform the milk into a heavenly tasting beverage. I thought why not turn this concoction from something that I could drink to something that I could eat. Thus, came up with this.......

Saffron Milk Jelly

What do we need:

1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp agar-agar powder
a generous pinch of saffron

How do we do it:

Mix saffron and milk. Set aside for at least 30 minutes for the saffron to steep.

Combine agar-agar powder, sugar and water and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolve. Pour in milk together with the saffron strands. Bring to a boil.

Pour the jelly mixture into a mould or little moulds. Chill the jelly until well set.

To ease unmoulding of the jelly, ensure that the moulds are wet before pouring the jelly mixture.

The Saffron Milk Jelly was lovely. Hubby′s verdict: "Sehr gut!", which means "very good". This is what I am going to submit for the Think Spice event at Sunita′s World.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

A Fruit A Month - Peach

Peaches have been grown since prehistoric times. Native to China, peaches are considered a symbol of long life and immortality. They are found in paintings, the decoration of porcelain, and poetry. Peach seeds were carried all over the world. As they grow best in warm temperate and subtropical regions, they were grown in Persia before being transported to Europe, hence its ancient appellation, Persian apple. The Romans thought that they originated from Persia and gave the botanical name prunus persica.

A peach tree may grow up to 30 feet tall and can live for 40 years. Belonging to the rose family, it is a low spreading freely branching tree that has lanceolate leaves and sessile pink flowers. The fruit is a delicately fragrant edible drupe. On one side of the fruit is a distinctive vertical indentation. The thin, velvety, fuzzy skin of the peach can range from pink-blushed creamy-white to red-blushed yellow. Beneath is a pulpy pinkish-white to yellow-gold flesh that is juicy with acidic tang coupled with sweetness. In the centre of the fruit is a hard stone that is covered with a fleshy substance that is juicy, melting, and of fine flavour when matured and mellowed.

There are hundreds of varieties that vary greatly in colour and flavour. The nectarine, which looks very much similar to the peach, is actually a variety of peach. The texture of the skin is the one that differentiates them. Peach has fuzzy and dull skin, while nectarine is smooth and shiny. Generally, peach is classified into two major types; freestone and clingstone. The pit or stone of the freestone peach separates easily away from the flesh. This type is more commonly found in markets. The pit in the clingstone peach adheres firmly to the fruit. This type of peach has firmer flesh and is widely used for commercial purposes such as tinned peaches. There is also some semi-freestone peach which is in between the other two types.

Though peach is available almost year-round, it is best and cheapest in the summer while the peach season is at its peak from June until the end of September. Peach is harvested when it is firm, mature, and have just enough sweetness. As it ripens, it becomes sweet, juicy and delicious with a sweet fragrance. Choose for intensely fragrant fruit that gives slightly to palm pressure. Select for peach that is colourful. Peach should be thoroughly perused for soft spots as it bruises easily. Also avoid those with signs of greening. To ripen unripe peach, simply place it in a pierced brown bag at room temperature for a day or so until it becomes softer. Adding an apple to the bag will speed up the ripening process. Ripe peaches could be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to five to six days. Bring to room temperature before consuming.

After harvest, commercially grown peaches are mechanically brushed to de-fuzz the skin. This is because most people do not like it. It is also the reason why the skin is often peeled before eating. To do this, just blanch it in boiling water for a few seconds, then plunge into cold water until it is cool enough to handle. The skin will slip right off. The pit can be easily removed by slicing from top to bottom and giving a slight twist.

The peach is a good source of both vitamins A and C. It is fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free. It can be used in various ways. Peaches are tinned in sugar syrup as slices or halves, poached, dried, cooked, baked, frozen, juiced, made into jam or eaten as it is. It could also be distilled in brandy and liqueurs. The Chinese preserve peaches. As an entry for A Fruit A Month event, I have used peach as a main ingredient to marinade chicken.

Peach Chicken

What do we need:

4 chicken thighs
2 skinned fresh peaches or 4 pieces tinned peach halves
1 inch knob ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp chilli powder (or more)
1 tsp mustard
1 tbsp tomatoe paste
1 tbsp honey (omit if using tinned peaches)
1/2 tbsp light soya sauce

How do we do it:

Wash and pat dry the chicken thighs with paper towels. Make 2 or 3 slits lengthwise on them. Place the thighs in a zip-loc bag.

Peach based marinade

In a food processor, process all the marinade ingredients until fine. Pour marinade into the zip-loc bag, over the chicken. Shake well to coat the chicken. Refrigerate for several hours or preferably overnight.

Line a baking tray with aluminium foil to ease washing process. Arrange the chicken thighs on it. Roast in preheated oven at 250°C for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken over halfway through the cooking time and baste with some marinade. Turn the chicken back to its original position, baste again with some marinade if necessary and continue to bake for another 5 minutes or until evenly browned.

Serve immediately while it is still hot.

While roasting, the sweet aroma of peach was lingering throughout my kitchen. The chicken tastes very fruity.

Also check out a lovely Peach Butter Cake that also uses peach as main ingredient.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

For Chikie

It is my sister’s birthday today. Though Suganthi is her name, I call her Chikie and she calls me Chumie. Well, the story behind these nicknames goes back to about more than 25 years ago. There was this Malay language puppet show on television called Chumie dan Chikie, which means Chumie and Chikie. We both were fans of this show. Hence, our father said that I am Chumie and my sister is Chikie. Since then, those names stuck. It’s just the both of us who call ourselves by those names. The rest of the family does not.

I thought of baking something for her. After a lot of thinking, I decided to bake mango cake. I have never baked this cake before but then, it turned out to be very soft, light and moist with a mild mango flavour. For the aroma, I have added mango essence. The reason is because the aroma of mango comes solely from the skin. The flesh does not have any aroma.

Mango Cake

What do we need:

1 cup plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup mango purée
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp mango essence

How do we do it:

Sift the flour, bicarbonate soda, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Stir in the mango purée, lemon juice and the essence. Add in the sifted flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour the mixture into a greased and flour or paper lined pan. Bake at 175° C for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Remove from oven and leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, cool completely on a wire rack.


Sunday, 7 October 2007

Sweetish Reddish Condiment

Recently, I made onion pickle to be served along with murtabak for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party. Traditionally, this pickle is red in colour. So, to keep up to the tradition, I also coloured it RED. Let me share the recipe of this very simple sweet and crunchy pickle.

Onion Pickle

What do we need:

1 large onion
4 tbsp vinegar
4 tsp sugar
1 drop red food colouring (optional)

How do we do it:

In a jar, mix vinegar, sugar and the red food colouring. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

Peel the onion, wash and pat dry. Cut it into half lengthwise and slice very thinly. Place the sliced onion into the vinegar mixture. Set aside.

Within 2 hours the pickle would be ready.

Serve Onion Pickle with murtabak or simply with sambar and rice.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Jihvā for Ingredients - Banana

Banana, the world's most popular and eaten tropical fruit is available at anytime of the year. It has been grown for over 1 million years; probably one of the first plants to be cultivated. Native to Malaysia, banana is also suspected to be the earth's first fruit.

Banana is actually the world’s largest plant without a woody stem. In other words, it is not a tree, rather a giant herb of the same family as lilies, orchids and palms. The stalks grow up to 25 feet high. The stem is made of tightly wrapped leaves and has a terminal crown of large, entire leaves and a hanging cluster or a bunch of fruits containing anywhere from 50 to 150 bananas. Individual fruits are tiered, also known as "hands", with up to 20 bananas or "fingers".

The banana fruit is elongated, pronouncedly 3-angled, curved, hornlike, oblong, cylindrical, blunt and/or crescent-shaped. Also referred as nature's fast food, it comes prepackaged in its own biodegradable protective jackets or outer layer that is commonly called as a peel or skin. Unripe skin turns from deep-green to yellow or red when ripened. The inner portion is ivory-white to yellow or salmon-yellow firm, astringent, creamy edible flesh. It has gummy latex when unripe and turns tender and slippery, or soft and mellow or rather dry and mealy or starchy when ripe. The banana has numerous strings known as phloem bundles which run between the skin and the flesh. They are usually removed individually after the skin is removed. The commonly cultivated bananas are generally seedless with just vestiges of ovules visible as brown specks in the slightly hollow or faintly pithy centre, especially when the fruit is overripe. Wild bananas may be nearly filled with black, hard, rounded or angled seeds and have scant flesh. Sometimes, a black dead flower remains at the end of the fruit.


Banana is wonderfully sweet, mild, sub acid with a distinct apple tone. Even for local consumption, banana is harvested green as it is the only fruit that never develops its best flavour if left to ripen on the plant. After they are picked, the sugar content increases from 2% to 20% because as banana ripe, the starch in the fruit turns to sugar. Therefore, the riper the banana the sweeter it will taste.

Choose plump, evenly coloured yellow bananas flecked with tiny brown specks, which is a sign of ripeness. Avoid those with blemishes that usually indicate bruising. Once exposed to air, a peeled banana will begin to darken. To avoid discolouration, brush with lemon juice. To keep ripe bananas from getting softy and mushy, just refrigerate it. Though the peel will darken, the fruit remains unchanged.

A banana gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy. Just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minutes workout. Banana is a rich source of potassium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and dietary fiber. Being low in protein and fats, banana contains more digestible carbohydrates than any other fruit. This enables the body to burn off calories from carbohydrates more quickly and easily than calories from protein or fat. Banana is definitely a natural remedy for many ills. The inside of a banana skin could be rubbed onto mosquito bites. The juice extract prepared from the tender core of the banana stem is used to treat kidney stones.

In Southeast Asia and India, banana flowers and stems are eaten. The Caribbean and Southeast Asians use the leaves for wrapping and packing food. In Mexico, Central and South America, the leaves are used in cooking. The Indians serve their food on the banana leaves. In Eastern Africa, beer is brewed from bananas. Banana is such a versatile fruit that could be used in any form of cooking and baking. I am a great fan of banana. I just love the aroma of banana being cooked or baked. I have used it in beverages, baking and some Malaysian desserts. This time I have tried banana in pancake that I am submitting for this month's Jihvā for Ingredients event.

Banana Pancake

What do we need:

1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 large banana, mashed
1 egg
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp grated coconut

1 tsp butter

How do we do it:

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.

Mix the mashed banana, egg, coconut milk, sugar and the melted butter together. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Combine the banana mixture with the flour mixture. Gradually stir in the grated coconut. Cover and leave the batter to meld for about 30 minutes.

Lightly grease pan with a touch of butter. Drop a tablespoonful of batter. When the pancake is full of bubbles, flip over and cook for another 30 seconds.

Serve Banana Pancake warm with a drizzle of palm sugar syrup.

Also check out my other entries using banana as a main ingredient:

Energy boosters- Strawberry Smoothie and Banana Chocolate Milk

Baked goods- Banana Bread Pudding and my ever famous Banana Butter Cake
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