New Hanoian Life… chaos, wonder, and so many rice noodles

Moving to Hanoi is not something that idlers and the idyllically inclined should do.  The city breathes fumes – the thick paste-grey in the sky owes to the never ending rush of scooters that race around the warren-like streets… and is matched only by the billowing wafts of steam and woodsmoke that puff out from every street corner, advertising the specialty of each vendor as you walk past.  The drab parts I understand, for the city itself is over 1000 years old, and you have to admire a place where the roofs are thatched with whatever seems waterproof, and the closer to the dirt you have to sit to eat, the more likely it is to be symphonic with deliciousness. Continue reading

Summerfruits Destiny: Tropical Upside Down Gingerbread, Mango Crisp and Raw Lime Avocado Pie

If I can make something tropical I will do it.  If I can cook something great without picking up a thing outside what I have in the kitchen already, I will verily  do it.  And, when the kitchen contains fruit, I am a happy sun-cheeked girl, and making sweets that are all colours of the rainbow and – although pining just a bit for the promised million kinds of fruits that are available all the time in Vietnam ^^;;;;; – making my kind of worship to the varieties at my disposal here in Quebec, which is still a riotous bounty, truth told.

Any kind of upside down cake is good (yes even, and maybe especially the kind with those little canned cherries) and almost any kind of gingerbread cake is good.  Anything with tropical fruit on it is irresistible, so how could I stop myself from jamsing all these properties together into one moist-tastic clove-kissed flipped-over gemdisplay?  Ya, I couldn’t, and the roommates benefitted.  Vegans benefit too, because I bet you could probably omit that egg, and I know that replacing the butter with Earth Balance works fine ’cause I did that – partly out of necessity and partly because I rather like using high quality solid alterna-fats in certain desserts instead of dairy.  Coconut oil would have been epic!!

Tropical Upside Down Gingerbread Cake

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe in Ready for Dessert.

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 2 kiwis, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 cup of pineapple slices (you guessed it, 1/2 thick)
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • two pinches of salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup of room temperature milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Place the butter for the fruit topping in a 9 inch round cake pan and set it directly on a burner. Melt the butter over low heat, then stir in the brown sugar. Remove from the burner and let cool while you prep the fruit.
3. Evenly distribute the fruit over the brown sugar/butter mixture, taking care to place things artfully in overlapping circles.
4. Make the gingerbread cake: whisk the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 3-5 minutes (until it is light in texture and color).
6. Beat in the molasses, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are fully incorporated.
7. Mix in half of the dry ingredients from the bowl. Stir in the milk, then mix in the rest of the dry mix until just incorporated.
8. Distribute the cake batter over the fruit, evening it out with a spatula.
9. Bake the cake for about 45-55 minutes (be careful not to let the top burn). Test for doneness by inserting a wooden toothpick into the center of the cake (if it comes out clean, it’s done).
10. Let the cake cool slightly before running a knife along the edges and inverting it onto a plate.
11. Serve warm, with homemade whipped cream.

I like apple crumble okay, and with pecans involved I’m SO there, but really – in the summer anyway – my heart belongs exclusively to only one variety.  You could give me mango crumble every day in the warm months and I’d be happy as a bug with a mouthful of crispy coconut-laced nugget chunks.  (strawberry-plum is a close second, but another story).  One day I’ll write down my exact recipe for this mango thing, I promise, but for now, the guidelines are…

Mango Crisp (a rough guideline)

Serves 4

Take 2 fat mangoes and diced them up.  Toss them with 2-3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, the juice of 1 lime, and if you have fresh ginger lying around, you could add a little grate of that, too.  You want it to be just a touch sweet, super mango-y, and tart from the lime juice.  Sploosh that in a baking dish and figure out the dry goods.  What I do is take about 1 cup of oats, 1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut, 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp amchoor (dried mango powder – an indian seasoning, and optional), a good pinch of salt, and enough flour until it is wet enough to hold it’s shape firm when you squeeze it, but still crumbly enough to be, well, a crumble by definition.  Sprinkle over the fruit making sure there are big and little chunks, and bake in a relatively warm oven – 375 F maybe, for about 30-40 minutes until the topping is browned and the filling is bubbling stickily at you.  Serve warm with ice cream, obviously!  Vanilla, or coconut, or green tea, or honey, or fudge ripple or whatever.

Then again, if your fruit collection contains avocados and you have some dietary restrictions to consider, a raw lime pie might be the way to go.  It is way way WAY easier to make than you might think, with only one heavy machinery requirement, and not-very-heavy one at that, since I can attest to a stick/immersion blender’s ability to replace something more serious like a blender.  Even if you don’t have a food processor for the nuts, well….. rolling pin and sturdy plastic bag them!  Excellent stress relief, actually.

Raw Lime Avocado Tart w/Blueberry Swirl

adapted, more or less, from the Crudessence recipe

Coco-Macadamia Crust

  • 1 cup macadamia nuts (I used almonds)
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup dates
  • 2 tbsp water (or more, as needed to make a pliable but stiff dough)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

First grind the nuts, either in a food processor or by putting them in a bag and smashing them with a rolling pin.  Then, process the dates – either with machinery or with your fingers.  If the dates are hard, you can soak them in warm water for 30 minutes (discard the water afterwards).  Moosh the nuts and dates together with the rest of the ingredients until it’s a uniform paste, and then press into the bottom of a greased 9″ pan.  It helps to use a tool like a metal measuring cup or a mug to press the mix firmly into the corners!  Shape a pretty crust around the edge with your fingers and put in the freezer to set.

Lime Filling

  • 300 grams ripe avocado flesh (about 3 medium avocats)
  • 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut butter   OR  1/2 cup raw cashews soaked in warm water for an hour and then drained.
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Blend all the ingredients in a blender or with an immersion blender until very, very smooth and creamy.  Spread into the pie crust and smooth the top.

Blueberry Sa-wirl

  • 1 cup aromatic juicy blueberries
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar

Blend together until smooth (you can strain it at this point if you want a perfectly smooth sauce, or leave the pretty purple skins in).  Pour the sauce in a circular swirl on the top of the lime cream, then drag a toothpick or a knife through the lines to form a spiderweb pattern.

Chill the pie for at least 2 hours, then slice and eat!  It might be cheating to suggest whipped cream, but I’d do it!  ★ ★

Finally, if you’re faced with a surplus of luscious manic-coloured summerfruits, and not feeing the need to break out measuring tools, you could always just cut them all up into wee pieces and have a juicy salad, tossed with a bit of citrus and golden syrup.  It’s how I was raised, and sometimes, simplicity counts.

Of plums and puddings and Christmas…

{ Fruit.  Booze.  Dried fruit, raisins, more booze, spices, more raisins, lots of currants, dates, zests of fruit, apple/pear, tanned apricot, candied ginger, dark dark sugar, butter and eggs. }

I was going to write something about Christmas here.  It is, after all, a Christmas cake we’re looking at up there – straight Cratchett-style, boiled for 8 hours in a pot just like ye olde medieval Englyshe wyves used to do when terrible things like sausage casings and beef broth seemed like a good idea (MMM ^-^), before thankfully we had the option of butter.  But then I remembered that talking about Christmas these days is like talking about religion and politics (yethink?) and having an opinion on it is even worse, and really I’m just giddy for a few certain things like strings of tiny electric lights, drinking with family, and mincemeat.

Have I ever even had plum pudding before I decided to make not one but two of these silly things?  Errrrr.   Well, no.  But given that I’m no stranger to food projects that need babysitting while burblegurgling on the stove (see: canning season), I couldn’t help but just throw a whole bunch of quality fruit and spices together into a gigantic bowl earlier this month with my fingers crossed that whatever bowling-ball-resembling Xmas-bomb that emerged from my double saucepots would be both A: delicious enough to get me off the hook for making cookies this year, and B:  drenched enough with booze to actually do that little immortality trick it’s supposed to (ie; keep in the pantry until next Christmas if necessary).  

And see the annoying thing is that despite everything being an apparent Resounding Success (!), I actually can’t confirm either of those two things until freaking Christmas Day!  Which is like totally unfair and makes me all squirmy and excited like a kid hopped up on candy canes and halfway believing that Santa Claus might not only exist but hand out name-brand merchandise, too.  The anticipation!  Eeeeek.

I’ve even managed to post this in time for others to benefit from a recipe I found that was very nice, that comes with a website for troubleshooting and has all manner of plum pudding minutiae.  Thank you Paul!!

and … don’t be afraid of the ingredients list!  It is long but it is mostly raisins.


My Changes:

I used butter instead of suet.  I used candy ginger and apricots instead of lemon peel.

I used a St. Viateur bagel instead of breadcrumbs, and instead of Guinness I just dumped 1/2 a cup of brandy in there.

These things are true.

SERVES 10 TO 12 PEOPLE  This recipe makes one large steamed pudding in a 2 pint (1.2 litre) basin. and will need a day’s advance preparation!

  • Suet, 4 oz (110 g), you’ll need to order at least 175g, chill first then use a grater or chop with a knife
  • Self-raising flour, 2 oz (50 g) sifted
  • White bread crumbs, 4 oz (110 g) from the Bakery, not the Supermarket (see associated recipes page)
  • Salt ¼ teaspoon
  • Nutmeg (freshly grated) 1¼ teaspoons
  • Cinnamon, 1¼ teaspoons of freshly ground (buy a cinnamon stick/quill and grate this just before mixing)
  • Ground Ginger, 1/3 of a teaspoon
  • Ground Cloves ¼ of a teaspoon
  • Soft dark brown Sugar 8 oz (225 g) (the darker the better)
  • Currants 10 oz (275 g)
  • Sultanas 4 oz (110 g)
  • Raisins 4 oz (110 g)
  • Dates (dried or fresh) or Prunes 4 oz (110 g) cut into pieces, removing the stones.
  • Peel, mixed & candied 1 oz (25 g) chop finely
  • Almonds 1 oz (25 g), skinned and chopped (packet bought is OK)
  • Pear or Apple, 1 small, peeled and grated (remove core)
  • Lemon, 1 LARGE, grate the skin (zest) only the yellow surface layer, not the white bit!
  • Eggs 2, size 1 (large) fresh
  • Guinness 5 fl oz (150 ml) you may use any dark beer. (you MAY substitute the same amount of Milk)
  • Muscat 2 Tablespoons (fortified wine, similar to but not the same as Tokay, but Port will substitute)

The following are optional (much less than a ¼ teaspoon of each!);

  • ground Allspice
  • ground Coriander
  • ground Mace

Very optional;

  • 6 silver Threepenny pieces (be very aware of the danger of choking, add these at your own risk, and warn diners!)

The start…Use a LARGE mixing bowl and start by adding the suet, sifted flour (hold the sifter high to add some air) bread crumbs, salt, spices and sugar. Mix these WELL together, then gradually add & mix in all the Almonds Mixed Peel and dried Fruit, Then the Pear (or Apple) and the grated lemon zest. Make sure you have included everything, as, with all those ingredients around, it is easy to miss one. (I generally put all the ingredients all in a line in front of me).

 Step Two

In another bowl break the Eggs (if you break Eggs into another bowl, you won’t spoil the main mixture if one of the Eggs is bad!)
Add the Muscat and Guinness, and blend or whisk them all together. Add this mixture into the large mixing bowl, and stir. (Add the Threepenny pieces here).
Make sure the mixture is well blended, it should look very light brown and should be fairly sloppy, you can test this by taking a spoonful of the mixture and tapping the spoon handle on the side of the bowl. If the mixture is right it will drop instantly from the spoon.
If in the previous test the mixture stuck to the spoon the mixture needs a bit more liquid. Add a trifle more Guinness until the test is successful!
Leave the mixture in the bowl, press the mixture down so there are no air-gaps, cover with stretch-film and leave overnight, (you can leave in the Larder, or, in the Fridge if you’re in a hot country like Australia!) this is important as it will allow the Dried fruit and Breadcrumbs time to absorb the liquid

Step three, now get the pudding bowl/basin ready….

You will need a 2 (Imperial/British) pint (1.2 litre) clean, dry, pudding basin, lightly greased using some Suet. To make sure the pudding doesn’t stick, after greasing the bowl with the Suet, sprinkle a small amount of caster sugar (or icing sugar) around the bowl to coat the suet, then turn the bowl upside down to remove the excess. When greasing the bowl, pay particular attention to the bottom of the bowl. 

Step four, the next day

Next day pack the mixture into the prepared pudding bowl (see instructions above), the mixture should be within ½” of the rim of the bowl (this pudding doesn’t expand much), cover it with a double sheet of greaseproof/silicone/baking paper (I use GladBake) and a sheet of foil. Tie these securely with string, pudding basins have a rim ideal for string! Tie another piece of string (see photo) to make it easy for you to lift the pudding out of the pot.

Take your saucepan, add your home made “trivet”, I just use a piece of bent coathanger wire to keep the pudding off the bottom of the saucepan (otherwise the pudding burns where it touches the bottom of the saucepan).
Put the pudding in the large saucepan, then add boiling water, (about half to three-quarters of the way up the bowl) set to a high heat and watch it until the water boils. Reduce heat to allow a gentle simmer and steam the pudding for about 8 hours, make sure the lid is on for the whole of that time.

Make sure you keep a regular eye on the water level about once every 30 minutes, and top it up with boiling water as needed.
When the pudding is cooked, remove from the pot, let it get quite cold, remove the paper and foil and replace with fresh ones, duplicating your previous wrapping. (as an optional extra, you can add a top layer of pudding cloth, it makes it more attractive on Christmas day).

Store in a cool dark place, a larder will be fine. NOTE: this will keep for years stored like this!

Christmas Day

To serve on Christmas day, steam for 2½ hours.

Remove from the Saucepan, leave for a couple of minutes for any pressure to escape, remove string, foil and paper, you will find that it’s a dark colour, and smells lovely! give it a little shake to observe how loose it is, (you might need to loosen it a bit using a flexible knife around the sides). Have a warmed serving plate ready, place the plate upside down on top of the pudding bowl, then flip the whole thing over give a gentle shake (you might hear a “slurp” sound, as the pudding releases). Place the plate on the table and carefully remove the bowl. HOORAY, it’s done!
Serve with any or all of the following; Cream, home made Custard, or Cumberland Rum Butter.

And one last bit of festive cheer, c/o anachronistic gastronomic miniseries’d feastmaking:

Merry Skidzmas to everyone!

Christmas Pudding on Citeeze

Panforte and Christmas Candied Fruit Workshop at Depanneur Le Pick Up

In early December, in time for gift-giving, I spent an evening with Laloux pastry chef Michelle Marek learning all about how to candy fruits and preserve them, at one of the Depanneur Le Pick Up culinary workshops.

We learned how to candy quince, pineapple (+vanilla), kumquat, old shoe (just kidding), orange peel, whole tangerine, satsuma, quince again because it is delicious and tastes of jungle perfume, lemon, meyer lemon, mango (I’m assuming this is possible although t’wasn’t in the company that night), grapefruit and … well, anything fairly sturdy would be fair game for this process, I think.  I don’t remember the ratio, but if you boil these things in a sugar syrup for a very long time, until they are saturated with this syrup, then you will have candied fruit… a very versatile substance.  You can even make the syrup a personal thing, flavoured with spices, whole ones, bits of clove and pepper and anise and nutmeg…

I remember thinking that Michelle had such a delicate way of handling her food, almost a reverence.  Natasha of Popcorn Plays was there to melt chocolate and otherwise smooth the events as they passed.  Cookies were consumed.  Spicy and crackly ginger things.  A ridiculously dense and heavily spiced panforte was introduced the room like a large black quarry stone of deeply spiced Valrhona infused candy.  Wait, I have to show you that in full glory:

It hurt the teeth but bolstered the soul, infusing the tongue with a lilting denseness that spoke of christmases without pretense but with a lot of singing and crackly fires/candles/good friends and family who know how to bake whilst sitting in red-plushy corner chairs, watching snow and swirly guitars move past … carollers with style.  The kind of Xmas I think I probably experienced once or seventhrice, as a broadbeaneyed starry kid with feety pajamas and country-life to live.

Anything else?  Oh ya probably but really is good for now to enjoy the sight of a whole candied LittleFruit.  wee!

Disemboweled what for your viewing pleasure.  sweet, redolent, orangey.

The next workshop was all about SAUSAGES you guys.   omg

Panforte di Siena

from David Lebovitz’ book Room For Dessert

  • 5 tablespoons cocoa, plus more for dusting
  • 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 1/2 cups nuts (hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts), toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup candied citrus peel, citron is ideal but orange and lemon is okay
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile pepper (cayenne)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC.)

Line the bottom of a 9- to 10-inch (22-23cm) springform pan with parchment paper. Spray the pan with nonstick spray and dust the inside with cocoa powder, making sure to get it up the sides.

In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, nuts, flour, candied citrus, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and red chile powder.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir it into the nut mixture.

In a pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF (115ºC.)

Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture and stir well. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. I start by using a spatula and as the mixture cools, once it’s cool enough to touch, I use a dampened hand to get it flat.

Bake the panforte for 35 – 40 minutes; the center will feel soft, like just-baked custard, and if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully (sticky edges might tear, so keep an eye out), then let cool completely.

Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands.

Storage: Panforte can be kept for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Cardamom Pear Pie with Lime Caramel Sauce

There are some favours that are hard to refuse, and I always have trouble leaving the cries of “but I can’t make XXXX!!” go un-helped.  Pastry dough – a naff beast if you’re not used to it – can be tamed with the help of a friend or two, and some experience, and a GIANT MARBLE PLANK (to keep things cold), ouahahaha.  Attention to temperature, my friends, attention to temp…

So while my roommate had fond childhood memories of baking apple scents wafting from his oven (thanks to mom, of course), he had no wherewithall to do it himself!  And that wasn’t right, so we dove into making his own idea – a pear pie with cardamom.  It turned out like a dream, too… huge organic pears with loads of spice, cooked soft and redolent inside the most crackly and melting striated crust ever – possibly the best crust I’ve ever made.  Even the bottom was crispy!  And simultaneously suffused with the perfumed juices of autumn fruits cooked to within an inch of their structural integrity.  Mmmmmm gooo..  mmmmmm pie gooo.  (<— good with words, ya?)   (can’t eloquate: too full of pie. :P)

I’m also obsessed with caramel.  Put caramel on a brick and I’m likely to eat it before throwing it, which is no mean feat, cause like, bricks are hard to chew.  But caramel is awesome, and so I make it any chance I get.  This one had lime in it, because….. that’s a delicious thing, and exotic and I like that too.  Reminded me faintly of dusky tents, the lime combined with the cardamom-spice, and yes, I ended up putting some of the rest of this on pecan ice cream laterz, yum.

If you want to make some kinda version of this, it’s terribly easy.  Some of my measurements concerning the fruit are a little intuited, but this sort of thing is kinda of a stir-and-taste as you go procedure anyway (a blessed occurrence whenever it’s found in pastry-world).

Lime Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 2-3 tablespoons lime (or lemon) juice

Spread sugar evenly in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add half the water and a few drops of the lime juice and heat over medium heat until deep amber coloured and just beginning to smoke.  Take off the heat, add the remaining water and lemon juice and whisk until smooth.

Keeps 1 month in the refrigerator.

Cardamom Pear Pie

  • A favourite butter crust recipe, or Chocolate Butter Crust  (enough for a bottom and a lid)
  • PEARS!  lots of them.  soft, juicy, ripe ones.  Anjou’s are best, but Bartlett’s, Concordes or Boscs work nicely too.  About 10 for a modest pie, 15 for a more generous mound (stack it as high as you like – when at home I rather like a big inviting fruity filling).  Peel those, core, and slice thinly.
  • 1/2 cup sugar / 100 g
  • 1 tsp fresh ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • tiny pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsp unsalted butter, for dotting on top.
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • coarse sugar (optional)
  1. Toss the fruit with the sugar, spices, vanilla, cornstarch and salt, then tumble into a waiting pie dish lined with your favourite crust recipe (it’s especially nice if you can keep the bottom crust in the freezer until you’re ready for it).
  2. Dot with specks of unsalted butter, then roll out the top crust and layer gently on top, trimming the edges and forming a nice crust.  Decorate with bits of leftover dough, if you have any!  Brush the top lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
  3. Bake at 400°F until the fruit is very soft and the filling is bubbly (anywhere from 40-60 minutes).  If the crust is browning too quickly, make a shield out of tinfoil to protect the outer edge, and continue baking.

Eat, hot or cold, for the next few days, and with gusto.  !