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Bread making

This was an area that I thought I would never get involved again. I used to work as a chef at a local healthfood store, and I remembered about the breads I handmade using organic flour were almost as hard as rock. At that time I didn’t understand about how gluten worked and how the gluten needed to be relaxed and stretched to create a soft texture. Arm muscle soreness from hours of hand kneading, without knowing the proper methods, really scared me away for more than a decade, until recently when I got my KitchenAid mixer.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I have problems digesting gluten and am allergic to yeast. So basically, I can’t eat any of the normal breads made using wheat flour and yeast. However, the temptation was very strong to try again after reading all the blogs online and facebook photos of my friends producing soft and fluffy buns and breads. So I knew I just had to give it a go again!

While I am writing this, I’ve made numerous batches of breads and buns already. The toughest one was I had to make about 50 – 60 pieces of different types of Middle Eastern bread for a food styling project. I broke my KitchenAid mixer because of that too! And that was the time I found out that my KitchenAid stand mixer is not powerful or durable enough for bread making.

After these numerous attempts, I am proud to say that I’ve mastered the basic skills of bread making, but I would like to bring it to the higher artisan level, which I would like to spend more time exploring.

I’ve kneaded using the dough hook on KitchenAid, using purely my hands, a bread maker (at my friend’s house) and also using both KitchenAid mixer and hand to reduce the stress on the mixer. I have to agree that machine made bread dough is still the best and the easiest, and I’m really eying on getting a proper commercial bread dough and cake peripheral mixer so that I can make bigger batches without the worries of damaging the machine!

Some of the breads and buns I made are for ordering, if you are staying in KL, PJ and surrounding areas. The most popular ones and my favourite buns to make, are the chocolate swirl buns that come in various shapes and sizes (photos below), made using premium quality Swiss, French or Belgium chocolates, and free from added preservatives or colourings. I do not use any artificial bread improver as well.

The pricing is RM40 for 10 buns, minimum order is 10 buns. Local pick up only. Ingredients used include high protein wheat flour, egg, milk, salt, sugar, yeast, premium dark chocolate bar (60% cocoa solids and above), French dark chocolate powder, corn flour, extra virgin olive oil, and white sesame seeds. The buns have a soft but firm texture. They are however, best eaten when still warm! Do drop me an email (cyphang@gmail.com) if you are interested to make any orders! Kindly order 2 – 3 days in advance as I can be very busy at times with my other businesses.

Chocolate swirl buns of various shapes and sizes

Chocolate swirl buns of various shapes and sizes...

Some other breads and buns I’ve made:

Twisted chicken sausage buns

Braided poppy seed milk loaf

Cinnamon Raisin Loaf

Chicken sausage with cheese buns

Cinnamon macadamia brioche rolls

Organic quinoa & veggie salad

I got to try quinoa (pronounced “kee-NO-wah” or “KEEN-wah”) through my friend SM and have been quite obsessed about it ever since. I have long known about it but just did not get a chance to taste it until a year + ago at an organic cafe in Taman Tun.

Essentially a seed, quinoa is more popularly known as a gluten free grain that is bursting rich in essential nutrients such as lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair; manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and a high iron content. Dated back to ancient Peruvian times, quinoa has a mild nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture when cooked. Read more about the goodness and history of quinoa here and here.

You can eat quinoa on its own like rice, or cook it with other gluten free grains like millet, buckwheat, brown rice and amaranth (same botanical family as quinoa) to eat with cooked dishes, or simply make a salad combined with vegetables or other ingredients.

Quinoa is a staple food for me, it is an ingredient that can be found permanently in my kitchen cupboard, and comes in really handy if I need something filling and nutritious. As I have problems digesting gluten-filled grains, this is my best option besides brown rice.

The simplest, fastest and my favorite way to eat quinoa, is to make a quick and simple veggie salad, tweaking the popular Middle Eastern salad, Tabbouleh, made using a variety of vegetables and fresh herbs (tomato, cucumber, spring onion, mint leaves and parsley), bulgur wheat, and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Quinoa is used in place of bulgur as a gluten free option.

You’ll get a refreshing and nutritious salad bursting with a combination of flavours, yet light and filling at the same time. You can basically add anything to this salad. I love to toss in some torn lettuce leaves, avocado cubes, roasted saltless nuts (my favourites are almond and cashew) and torn nori sheets. That would make a hearty breakfast, or a great accompaniment to pasta or mains.

I get my supply of organic quinoa from the healthfood stores. For those staying in KL and surrounding areas, you can easily get them from Country Farm Organics or Village Grocer in Bangsar Village. Country Farm Organics is my preferred store and brand as the grains are really clean and require less rinsing before cooking. Organic quinoa isn’t cheap, but I have not seen any non-organic ones so far, not in KL at least. Pricing ranges from RM14 – 19 per pack (500g), normally comes in either plain white quinoa, or mixed 3 colours.

Recipe
Serving size: 2
Preparation/cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients (organic ingredients used whenever available):
3 tbsp organic quinoa (plain or mixed colours), rinsed with running water in a strainer
1 cup water
pinch of salt

1/2 small cucumber, seeded and diced
5 – 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 – 5 pcs Romaine, iceberg, butterhead or other types of lettuce, torn into smaller pieces
1 small ripe avocado, cubed
1/4 red or green capsicum, diced (optional)
1 stalk spring onion, thinly sliced
2 – 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 – 3 stalks fresh mint (leaves only), chopped
1 large piece of unflavoured nori sheet (the ones you use to make sushi)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Steps:

1. Toss quinoa lightly in a small pot (you need one with a lid) on low heat until you get a nutty aroma. (This step is optional, you can skip this and go straight to step 2)
2. Add water and salt and cook on medium heat for about 5 – 10 minutes, then reduce to low heat and continue to cook about 10 – 15 minutes until you see the grains start to get translucent and fluffy and the quinoa germ separates from the kernel (they look like little white rings). [While doing this, prepare the vegetables and fresh herbs]
3. Remove pot from the heat, fluff the quinoa grains lightly with a fork, cover with the lid of the pot and leave aside for another 10 – 15 minutes. This is to ensure the quinoa grains are properly cooked.
4. Combine all vegetables and herbs with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add in quinoa, roasted nuts and toss well. Top with torn nori sheets.

Below are some of the photos that I took a couple of weeks back, after the arrival of my (new) antique cutting board from France. The cutting board is so well used, rustic, and full of characters that I just had to find reasons to photograph it! The board is seen here with some of the ingredients used to make this simple and nutritious salad.

French Macarons

As promised earlier, I’m posting back-logged photos of what I have been cooking, baking or making in my long absence from blogging.

At one point this year, I was bitten by the bug of macaron making. Like I said in yesterday’s post, I haven’t tried a single macaron when I visited Paris in 2009. However, I did have a bite last year at Shangrila Hotel Kuala Lumpur and thought that it was just too sweet for my tastebud. I didn’t quite fancy the taste, but all the stories and experiences of other bloggers that I’ve read online really prompted me to take up the challenge to make my own. For me, I like challenges, the harder something is, the more I’m tempted to try!

They were for sure, not easy to tackle at all! French macarons are some tough cookies alright! Macs, as they are affectionately called, are typically characterized by the formation of “feet” (or pieds), which are seen as ruffled ridges on two cookie halves sandwiched together with fillings. The cookie shells are made from egg white, ground almond flour, and sugar as a base. I’m not going into the details of making them or provide a recipe as I believe there are thousands of recipes out there on the web or in cookbooks. I’m just going to show the photos of my successful ones.

My success rate is about 50% so far, out of maybe 8 times I’ve tried. By success, I mean the formation of feet, even though most of the macs that I’ve made were probably not that perfect in terms of texture and looks. I made all of them using the French meringue method, but now that I’ve got a KitchenAid stand mixer, I’m contemplating to try using the Italian meringue method, as I heard and read more success stories with this one.

Anyhow, I now leave you with the photos of my successful macs, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I would get to experiment with the Italian meringue method! Till then, feast with your eyes!

Chocolate macarons (with dark chocolate ganache filling), recipe from David Lebovitz

Dark chocolate macarons with passionfruit curd filling. This is a quirky combo, some loved it, some found it a little weird...

Bourbon vanilla macarons with lemon curd filling

Bourbon vanilla macarons with lemon curd filling

Minty dark chocolate ganache macarons

Minty dark chocolate ganache macarons

Since my last trip back from France in 2009, I have been crazy about all bakeries and patisseries French. The irony is that, I didn’t try a single piece of patisserie in Paris. No macarons, no madeleines, nothing, not even chocolates. Even when I was in Provence, I only had lots of bread, ice cream and cheeses. But now when I am really obsessed in making French patisseries, I never stop cursing at myself for not savouring a single piece of famed patisseries in France. I did try some in Italy, but they were too sweet for my liking, so I stopped after a while.

I was crazy about the art (and science) of making macarons a few months back (back logged photos to be uploaded later), and I still don’t know how a real Parisian macaron should taste like. And now I’m into the phase of making madeleines, again, without knowing what to expect. My first experience with madeleines turned out a little disappointing, without humps and didn’t quite have the moist and firm texture I was reading about. So the subsequent and this time, I decided to stick to David Lebovitz’s recipe, and everyone knows his recipes are fool proof, and true enough, they turned out perfect this time!

I modified his famed lemon-glazed madeleines to include fresh passionfruit juice in the recipe, just 1 tablespoon to add a little flavour, so that it’s not too overpowering. David’s recipe can be found here.

I have a few other flavours in mind that I would love to experiment, maybe passionfruit poppy seed (inspired by Steve on Flickr), dark molten chocolate with white Belgium chocolate glaze, and tangy lime.

Till then, enjoy the photos and don’t try to lick the computer (or iPad) screen! 😀

Note: For Malaysians who are not familiar with madeleine, it reminds us of our kuih bahulu, only that madeleine is firmer, more moist and really buttery (and sweeter because of the glaze). The distinctive features of madeleine are the hump (as in whale hump) on one side, and a scalloped surface on the other (without these two features, you can’t call it a madeleine!). It is perfect with tea or coffee…and if you have the urge to dunk it into your tea or coffee, you’re perfectly normal!

These madeleines are available for order (local pick up only). Pricing is RM40 for 12 pcs, also available in orange and lemon zest flavour, and plain lemon zest flavour. Do drop me an email (cyphang@gmail.com) if you are interested! Kindly order 2 – 3 days in advance as I can be very busy at times with my other businesses.

Madeleines in the oven…humps humps humps…yay!

Madeleines piping hot from the oven…

Madeleines cooling

Passionfruit lemon glaze madeleines for morning coffee, they were baked this morning…

Passionfruit lemon glaze madeleine for morning coffee...

Brief updates etc…

It has been ages since I last posted. A lot has happened since my last post on my hometown Teluk Intan, including but not limited to new food styling and photography projects, setting up of my new food styling/photography studio, busy with my simultaneous interpreting and translation work, and of course, traveling.

Just this morning, I appeared on a morning talk show on Bernama TV (The Breakfast Club) hosted by my friend, Shah. Bernama is the Malaysian National News Agency and they run a TV channel specializing in broadcasting news, aired on Astro on Channel 502. It was sort of a urgent notice, but I happily accepted the invitation as it is definitely a good exposure for me and a brilliant way to promote my food styling work.

As it was really a whirlwind event, I didn’t even get to take any photos as I was caught in a horrible jam, took the wrong road and arrived 10 minutes later than the call time. However, I guess I did alright, as Shah is a fun presenter and we know each other quite well. The interview mainly centered around my career as a food stylist, how it got started, my role as a food stylist, and also advice to newcomers who would like to consider food styling as their career.

Shah promised to give me a CD with the footage of my appearance, so I’ll upload that when I do get it from him.

I was given the opportunity to promote my blog (which unfortunately, hasn’t been updated for a long time!) so I hope those viewers that come to my blog after the show would not be disappointed haha…

As I am writing this, I started to recapitulate the objectives of setting up this blog. As the name cookingheals goes, it has significant meanings to me. Cooking has always been healing for me, when I am facing ups and downs of life and work, bogged with personal problems or work challenges, cooking is the first thing I would seek refuge in. From day 1 since the inception of this blog, it has never changed. Old relationships have been reignited and Iong lost friends found me again through this blog. At times, missing someone can be really difficult, but cooking has given me the strength to stay on my feet and be inspired to face the world.

Let me end this post with a photo of the new studio, which was taken much earlier this year, right after I moved in. The studio is fully utilized with me creating more dishes and bakeries than before, now that I have my own little haven. I will slowly revive this blog by uploading back logged photos, some that have been shot by me and published, some which I’ve styled and shot by other photographers, and some I shot for Getty Images, and also those I shot for fun.

I hope you stay tuned and patiently wait for new updates from me! Till then, have fun and live life to the fullest!


Zesty Concepts Studio

It has been ages since I last blogged. Many things had happened over the past 9 months or so, that kept me really busy and occupied – the renovation and moving in to my new culinary studio, busy with assignments and everything else.

In one of my previous posts I talked about the background of my chocolate crafting, that I grew up in a cocoa farm of my late grandpa. This recent Chinese New Year, I went back to Teluk Intan, my hometown, to visit my relatives, and I grabbed the golden opportunity to visit my childhood playground with my camera. I haven’t been back for about two years, since grandma passed away…

To my pleasant surprise, what greeted me at the entrance were blossoms of pink lotus flowers, the most beautiful I’ve seen in a long long time. I’ve always hunted high and low in every country that I go to, to shoot lotus flowers, and now they are just in my backyard!

In my memory, all the streams were planted with white lotus flowers when I was a little girl. I had a lot of fond memories with the streams as I used to catch fish, shrimps, tadpoles and swim in them throughout my childhood.


More surprises were lining up for me…I found out that not only some of the cocoa trees were still alive, they were bearing fruits heavily! I took all the photos I could, even the tools that my grandpa used for fermenting and drying the cocoa seeds.
Cocoa pods on the trees…the yellow ones were ripe and ready to be harvested.

Cocoa pod cut to reveal seeds. The seeds would be fermented and sun dried before being processed.

Tools for fermenting and drying cocoa seeds. The wooden box in the middle is for fermentation, the wooden stands and netting for drying. These are at least 3 decades old…

Not only I got to photograph the cocoa pods, I also managed to taste some durians (king of fruits) and rambutans (same family as the lychee). They were really yummy!

Durian on the tree.

Rambutans in heavy bunches…

All I can say is that I had a really rewarding trip back to my hometown this round. Although I do not live there anymore, it’s a place that left me so many fond memories and will always have a soft spot in my heart, I will hopefully be back sooooon!!!!

Made these today. If you like dark chocolate and kahlua, I think you will like this one… The kahlua blended pretty well with the chocolate and almond, and the bitter taste from cocoa and kahlua lingers for quite some time in the throat….

Trying to improve the problem of condensation for photography, I think I am getting a little results…It’s got to do with temperature…Hope the next round will be better…At least I got the lighting right this time!