Monday, March 29, 2010

Hot Cross Buns and Bunny Buns

Hot Cross Buns

If like me, you are a citizen of a former colonial country, you may well acquainted with the tradition of eating hot cross buns on Good Friday. These simple, sweet buns (sans the cross) are sold throughout the year in bakeries all over the island. On Good Friday, they are dressed with a cross as a reminder of the Crucifixion.

Hot Cross Buns

As a child, these buns were always store bought. Often they were a bit dry. Indeed, you considered yourself blessed to find anything more than one or two raisins in a bun. Meh, I never thought that they were anything special. Perhaps this was because they were accompanied by a Catholic mom's sermon about the torture and subsequent murder of a perfectly nice guy who died for my sins. the next time you put toothpaste into your brother's underwear while he's asleep just remember, YOU killed Jesus!  Not surprisingly my mom wasn't at all put off by Mel Gibson's gory Passion of Christ. I am almost certain that the two of them met over a hot cross bun one Good Friday. From that secret meeting Mel came away with a screenplay for the graphic details of Christ's torture. Oh and in my defense, regarding my torture of my brother, I promise you he always started it.

Hot Cross Bun

So these are Easter buns done my way.  I like them heavy with raisins, fragrant with spices and sans the guilt trip. Although I do anticipate an anti, Easter bunny rant from the Rabid Catholic Woman when I roll up with my bunny buns. Whatever.

Bunny Buns Three

Let me assure you that whichever version you choose to make, you will find that the texture of these spiced pillows of goodness is close to perfect.  I understand. You are reluctant to trust me aren't you? After all, every other bun recipe out there is claiming that the texture of their bun is otherworldly soft. Do me a favour. Go read the ingredients of your favourite mass-produced soft, sliced bead. Chances are you will see an ingredient called gluten.

Do you see it? If you don't see it on the label of your white bread then for sure it will be in your whole wheat loaf. Ever wondered how come your homemade whole-wheat loaf is more brick like than the mass-produced store bought loaf? That my dear friends is the magic of gluten.

Bunny Bun

Gluten is also called vital wheat gluten. It makes the dough more elastic and bakers use it to get a more consistent rise and a lighter textured bread. Click here to head on over to Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Gluten where the science behind this ingredient is explained in more detail. For now just trust me on this, Gluten = lighter, fluffier bread. Now hurry. Go make some buns, only three days left!

Three Bunny Buns

Hot Cross Buns or
Bunny Buns


1 tbs(11g) dried yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
185ml (3/4 cup) warm lukewarm milk
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk at room temperature
50g (1/3 cup) butter, melted
1 egg, lightly whisked
4 cups all purpose flour (maybe even 1/2 cup more depending on humidity)
5 tsp vital wheat gluten
90g (1/ 2 cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 tsp cardamom, freshly ground (about 8-10 pods)
1/4 tsp all spice, freshly ground
3/4 cup raisins
50g (1/4 cup ) mixed peel

Flour Paste Crosses
75g (1/2 cup) flour
80ml(1/3cup) water

Sugar Glaze
2 tbs granulated sugar
160 ml (2/3) cup water

Combine 3/4 cup lukewarm milk the one teaspoon of sugar and the yeast in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 10 minutes or until frothy.

Whisk in the 1/2 cup room temperature milk, butter and egg.

In a large bowl Combine 4 cups flour, vital wheat gluten, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cardamon and all spice. Add the raisins and mixed peel and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until just combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together. If too sticky add up to 1/2 cup flour one table spoon at a time kneading in between.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel and place in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.

Preheat oven to 200°C ( 375°F). Grease a 23cm square cake pan. or a flat baking sheet. Punch the dough down with your fist. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Divide dough into 16 even pieces and shape each portion into a ball. Arrange dough portions, side by side, in the prepared pan. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until dough has risen

Meanwhile, mix the remaining flour and water together in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms. Place in a small plastic bag and snip off the end. Pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, lengthways and widthways, to form crosses. Bake for 10 minutes 200°C . Turn heat down to 160° C (325°F) to bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through (buns are ready when they sound hollow when tapped ).

During the last 20 minutes of baking prepare the glaze. Put sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Simmer until the glaze thickens. When buns are done, transfer buns to a wire rack. Brush tops with glaze. Set aside to cool slightly.

I don't like the taste of the flour crosses. So before serving I peel them off . I then mix some icing sugar with water. I pipe this onto the bun after removing the flour paste cross. 

These are great fresh out of the oven but they also freeze well and are no less enjoyable when warmed in the microwave.

Makes 16 buns or
3 Bunny Buns and 9 hot cross buns


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pretentions and panna cotta

Wild Hibiscus Panna Cotta

We had come to the end of a perfect meal. For a very long time I had held off on patronizing this establishment because it was touted as this that and the other and I had heard that it was very expensive to boot. I got the impression that it was one of those very formal places where I would be made to feel uncomfortable. You know the kind of place where you are embarrassed to ask your snobby waiter about an item on the menu because you don't want to be made to feel like a complete philistine.

As luck would have it, I was the recipient of a coupon for this restaurant. Not at all sure of the atmosphere and deciding that I needed an ally, I invited along my boldest friend.  Lorraine epitomizes the word scathing. Where I might get all tongue-tied in the face of uppity service, Lorraine was born ready to slay dragons. Where I am timorous;  Lorraine is emboldened. Thus, we presented myself at the reception area, armed with Lorraine who with cutting stare and dripping derision was ready to slay any would-be pretentious waiters. 

panna cotta

We were very warmly received and quickly disarmed. There wasn't a hint of snootiness to be detected anywhere, not even when we made it known by way of our coupon that we could not afford the eat there. The maître d' did an exceptional job of making us feel like we completely belonged.

For me the highlight of that evening was the most humble item on the menu. It rather looked like the poor relation amongst the splendour of the other epicurean delicacies on offer. Until that evening I had never before heard of panna cotta which is a simple, Italian dessert of simmered cream.

"What is it? I asked the waiter.
"You know I'm not really sure. Let me find out and get back to you."

After this exchange the chef comes out. He introduces himself but I don't remember his name because honestly the moment he started speaking, I stopped breathing. It sounds like he is singing as he explains the dessert to me in his gorgeous Italian accent. He assures me that it is easy to prepare. He even gives me instructions (which I don't hear) for making it at home. Thank goodness Lorraine was paying attention. On that occasion the panna cotta was served with a blueberry fruit coulis. It was was like silk on the tongue, scented with vanilla and barely there sweet.

Panna cotta

I love panna cotta. It's not a pretentious dessert. It is straightforward and uncomplicated yet elegant in it's simplicity. The pairings with various fruit and spices are limited only by one's imagination.

Click here for the panna cotta recipe and here for the wild hibiscus in syrup.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rise Again

Rise again is a collaboration of Caribbean music artists on behalf of the Digicel Haiti Relief Fund initiative.  Click here to get this song now form itunes.  It only costs  .99 cents to download  and all proceeds go to the Haiti Relief fund. 


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chinese-style Chicken Corn Soup

chinese corn soup

So for those of you who don’t know, Rachel Ray is the Food Network cook that created a buzz in America around 30 minute meals. She’s perky, she’s cute and she puts together meals in “ just under thirty minutes” with an effervescent smile and words like EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) and stoup (pronounced stewp). According to Rachel, a stoup is thicker than a soup but not quite a stew. Huh? Okay I can't pretend to understand what that means.

If ever there was an example of lost in translation it might this. A Trinidadian might be left scratching his head in bemusement if any one served him a stoup (pronounced steup) because however you spell it-steups, stoups or stewps is the vernacular to describe annoyance or disapproval.

This is something that I need to curb my enthusiasm for doing since my son is starting to mimic this gesture. Jamaicans call this kissing teeth. Yes, it is an impolite expression but it's so emphatic and powerfully dismissive that. I dare you to find me something that is as invincible as a steups. 

In the bank, at the supermarket or the movies you will find that queuing is a concept which is lost on Trinidadians. If you don't look sharp, a Trinidadian will pretend that you are invisible and step in front of you in a line. A well timed steups, coupled with a cut-eye can stop a line breaker dead in his tracks.

Steups,( without cut-eye, cause I really do like her ) is exactly what I did one tired evening when Rachel invaded my living room with her 30 minute spiel. I looked around at the chaos that was my own kitchen and thought, just once I would love to see her attempt to make a meal in 30 minutes with a toddler attached to each leg, while 2 other kids duke it out in the living room over whose turn it is to dominate the TV remote.

All kidding aside,  I do appreciate Rachel's message that there are meals one can quickly throw together without sacrificing taste and without resorting to purchasing junk food.

Cooking takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Yet, some days lets face it,  you wish for more hours in the day. Some days the last thing you feel like doing is spending an hour or two cooking.  Some days you just need a moment breathe...just to be.

This is a soup that I make on those days when I don't know whether I am coming or going. Hmm that's a lot of soup. Lol. Pinky promise, it takes maybe 10 minutes to prepare once you've done it a few times or 15 if you have to wrangle kids while cooking. You can buy a version of this at any Chinese restaurant across the country but once I discovered how easy it was to make there was no looking back.  Truly, you will spend a longer time in the line waiting for your soup in a Chinese restaurant than just making it at home.

The recipe calls for pre-cooked chicken. So when I  make roasted chicken I usually use the left overs to make this soup the following day. If you wish, you could omit the chicken or also boil a chicken thigh or breast in some salted water with a little black pepper and cut it up for this recipe but that increases the cooking time.

Yes I know that I recently blogged about another corn soup but that one has a completely different taste and it takes almost an hour to cook. This soup here is super quick and you can toss in a heap of whatever vegetables that you might have at the time. Just remember to put the longest cooking veggies into the pot first.

Chinese Corn Soup

Chinese-style Corn SoupServes 4-6
6 cups chicken stock (low sodium) *depending on your tastes you may substitute half stock with  water.
1 can cream style corn (15oz)
1 can corn kernels (15oz)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 tsp of sesame oil.
1 large cooked chicken breast or two thighs de-boned and cubed
1 cup mushrooms (sliced)
2 cups pak choi or choi sam ( ribbon shreds)

1 large egg beaten
2 stalks chives ( finely sliced)
salt to taste

  1. Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Add the chicken
  3. Add the creamed style corn  and the corn kernels
  4. Add the sesame oil
  5. Add the mushrooms
  6. Toss in pak choi or choi sum.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and cornflour to make a smooth paste. Then stir this paste into the soup to thicken slightly.
  8. Season with salt to taste 
  9. Bring the soup back up to a rolling boil.
  10. Pour the beaten egg in a  very slow stream. Turn off the heat the minute you begin pouring in the egg. Stir rapidly with a fork as soon as you start pouring in the egg. Stir for about one minute.
  11. Serve soup topped with chopped chive and hot pows (bao)on the side.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I've been adopted!

Spicy black-eyed Peas

The  food blogging arena is a crowded place. I don't suppose there is anyway to know for sure just how many food blogs are out there but I googled,  food, blog, recipe  under the blog category and my search turned up    93,377,565  food blogs!   Everyday I stumble across  new blogs that hook me with magazine quality photographs or draws me in with  fabulous writing.  You can set up a blog in just under 10 minutes and I am sure that new ones are being created every day.  Whether anybody other than your BFF and your sister  even cares to read it is another matter.

Because it is so crowded, starting out in the already established food blogging landscape dressed in your generic wordpress or blogger template can be intimidating. It's a lot like you arrived at a party. Late.You're wearing jeans and everyone else is in cocktail dresses and tuxedos. Awkward.

Still the the fact that you've  made your blog  public means that  must you crave some sort of social interaction with like-minded individuals. You know, the sort of people who understand that you sometimes place plates of food on your bed to be photographed because that's the best spot for natural light in your otherwise black hole of an apartment. What? That's just me, oh all right then.

It is intimidating to see your  newbie blog efforts in and amongst the more seasoned professionals and  the superstar bloggers.  Everyone at this fantastic party is already chatting with everyone else. Yet  no one seems even remotely interested interested in 'talking' to you.  The sound of crickets chirping loudly on your early posts are disheartening. You can't help but wonder, what are you doing wrong? Why do people think it cool that Lorraine makes Bacon Jam but there is nary a peep about my monkey cake or heart beat muffins. Like the slighty dorky new kid in high school you wonder, Whhhhhhhhy don't they like me, ma?
Enter the lovely Kristen of Dine and Dish,  who thought up Adopt- a- blogger as a way to have veteran bloggers mentor us newbies.   Meet my sweet, bloggy-guru, Cate, of Cate's World Kitchen who has kindly agreed to make me less of a dork and clue me in on the ways and secrets of successful food blogging.

Cate's  recipes are well organized and easy to navigate. I am intrigued by the way her travels have inspired her cooking and I can't wait to try a few more of her recipes particularly the Asian inspired ones. You can access Cate's recipe here for this delicious spicy black-eyed peas dish .  Cate I hope you can forgive the  substitutions but collard greens aren't available in my country. Instead  I used a mix of two local varieties of spinach, calalloo and bhaji. I also used locally available scotch bonnet pepper instead of the chipotle chillies. I'm not sure why I threw in the okra but I did 'cause I swore that they were part of the recipe until I re- read it and realized I'd made an 'ooops'.

This was served with an amazing Iraqi beef stew from Saveur magazine that I first saw here. I have worked out a easier and healthier version of this amazing stew so you can look forward to that recipe in a future post.

While you are waiting on that, you can go hang out with Cate in her kitchen. So far I have enjoyed chatting and learning about her life. I'm afraid that at some point she may get tired of my emails with my random and usually a propos of nothing thoughts...I suppose I should stay focused and take notes on running a successful organized...... post often...have an about me page... blah blah blah It's so much more fun just hanging out and cooking. Cate I'm afraid you have your work cut out for you;-)