Birthday Dinner Woes

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, so at his request I cooked him a special birthday dinner. I’d say that overall it was a learning experience.

The dinner itself was one of his favourites: chicken thighs marinaded in Pataks Tandoori Curry Paste and coconut milk, cooked on the smoker grill (which is finally fixed). Despite appearances, it wasn’t actually burned, although it was definitely overcooked. Now that it’s running properly, the grill heats up better and faster than before, and I failed to take that into account. As sides I toasted some garlic naan bread on the barbecue, and we also had steamed butternut squash with butter and salt. I know I’ve prepared this meal better in the past, but it was still tasty.

The difficult part — and the greatest learning experience — of my husband’s birthday dinner was actually the dessert: a frozen lemon torte. We’d had this dish at a barbecue hosted by my husband’s boss a couple of months ago, and we both really liked it. Sadly, I could only have a mouthful, as it was filled with whipping cream. As we were leaving the party I requested the recipe from my husband’s boss’ wife, and she made sure to send along a copy a few days later. Sadly, I have no idea what recipe book it comes from, since she just sent me a photocopy of the one page.

The challenge for me was making this dish without the use of cow’s milk. I was sure that I should be able to make it with coconut milk instead; internet research indicated that it is possible to make an imitation whipped cream from coconut milk. Strike 1 against me was that the milk hadn’t separated after I’d placed the can in the fridge overnight; most instructions for whipping the cream call for using only the solids from the can. I’m not sure if it’s a canning/processing technique or an added ingredient, but my coconut milk didn’t separate. Further Googling told me that I could probably make whipped cream even with non-separated coconut milk, but I would have to whip it longer (15+ minutes), use a thickening additive, and it would still only form soft peaks. Well, mine didn’t even get that thick. I whipped it with a hand mixer for almost half an hour and just got slightly fluffier milk. By this time it was almost two in the morning and I was exhausted, so I combined all of my ingredients, threw the pan in the freezer, and hoped for the best.

I was really worried about removing the springform pan after dinner, which is why I took photos in advance just in case it all fell apart without support. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did get mushy really quickly. I’d say that the lemon layer, which was supposed to have a mousse-like texture, was a lot more like ice cream. I mean, that wasn’t bad overall, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Also, the lady finger bottom crust, which should have been held down by the mousse, actually floated to the top of the too-liquid lemon mix, and then froze that way. After adding the meringue on top, the cookies ended up being more of a central layer than a crust.

In the end, the torte ended up being more of an ice cream cake with a meringue topping — but at least I could eat it! I really want to have a go at this recipe again, with less of a time limit and more than one brand of coconut milk to try whipping. Actually, I noticed on a grocery store trip today that there is a brand that sells full-fat coconut cream, so that may be the next thing I try. If I ever get the non-dairy version working to my satisfaction, I will post the recipe, I promise!

Taro Jelly

I think I’m still compensating for the lack of food in the house the other day, because I’ve felt the need to whip up more sweets. I don’t generally make desserts unless it’s a special occasion. I think it was that strong craving for Two Bite Brownies that undid me. At any rate, I found some Taro Flavour Jelly Powder in the back of my pantry that I’d forgotten about, so I figured it was time to give it a try.

I’d picked this mix up at T&T some time ago with the intention of making it up for my girls. (Generally, I’m not a big fan of moulded jellies.) I do love taro root, though, especially in Japanese sweets, so I thought I should give it a try too.

I used my vintage Tupperware Jel-Ette Moulds, which make single servings. I wasn’t sure how much the package would yield, since the instructions in English weren’t very detailed. It turns out that you can get five 1/2 cup servings out of one package.

I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t set up right, but I followed the instructions to the letter, and it turned out perfectly! I love the colour and the smell. The flavour was okay, but I think that the texture might have been throwing me off since I’m just not a huge jelly fan. Thing 2 didn’t finish her dinner and hence didn’t get to try, but Thing 1 was excited that she got to taste. She said that it was so different from anything she’s used to that she’s not sure if she likes it or not, but she’s willing to try it again at a later date to figure it out. That’s a very well-considered opinion, if you ask me.

Halloween Bread Trials

A friend who knows me really, really well recently sent me a link to the Necro Nom Nom Nomicon — more specifically, to the instructions for how to make Brimstone Bread. This is totally up my alley, especially this time of year. The photos are spectacular, and the instructions seemed pretty clear, so I knew I had to at least try this recipe for my upcoming Halloween party. That being said, I also thought it would be the better part of valour to give the recipe a try before I depended on it on the day of the party. That’s never a good time to experiment with new dishes.

I was really happy with how the finished rolls looked! I didn’t have any instant bread mix, so I whipped up some of the dough for Nan’s Pan Rolls, which I have baked so many times now that I find them extremely simple. I only made up half of the recipe, since this was just a test, and then I divided the dough in half again to try the Brimstone Bread alongside a second recipe. I found the bread tasted pretty good (not surprising since I rather like Nan’s Pan Rolls), but I wasn’t terribly fond of the taste of the blackened crust. I’m wondering if it would taste better as a sweet roll, like an apple cinnamon roll with a sweeter, spiced topping. I think I need to experiment more on this one for the flavour, but the technique is sound.

The kids loved this roll, and were thrilled to see that the colour was part of the bread and not just an icing or some such. I will probably be making this bread again for the party if only for this reason.

My husband pointed out to me that the dough, when thoroughly saturated with food colouring, strongly resembles PlayDoh. I have to say that I agree. However, PlayDoh doesn’t rise, and it’s a lot easier to shape than a well-kneaded bread. The latter likes to snap back to its original shape.

Another thing to keep in mind when working with high concentrations of food colouring is that it will stain your hands and nails. Most of the colouring wore off within a day or so, but if you have to make a first impression after making these breads, wear gloves. The black dye is especially potent — this photo was taken after thoroughly scrubbing my hands. To protect your clothes, I’d suggest wearing an apron as well, or just wearing clothes that you don’t care if they get stained.

On the other hand, once the dye is worked into the dough and baked, it doesn’t rub off onto everything and stain. This is the complete opposite of coloured icing. It’s a great argument for serving dyed bread at a party when it can be pretty much guaranteed that one of the guests will spill something somewhere, usually on the one surface that you can’t easily clean and yet will show every stain.

The second half of Nan’s Pan Rolls dough went into making a miniature loaf of Voodoo Bread. I was a little worried that the crust might end up being too tough after changing the formula a bit with the dye, but it just ended up being a tiny bit more crispy.

I think I really should have made a full-sized loaf of this one, actually, to show off the internal swirls. There just wasn’t enough dough to do a proper roll. Even so, I am very satisfied with this recipe and I plan to make it for the party. My youngest is even more enthused with the Voodoo Bread than the Brimstone Bread, partly, I think, because she calls it Rainbow Bread. I think that I might try making this bread in different colours for special occasions once I have mastered the swirl technique. Also, I think I’ll use a lighter purple dye for the Halloween party loaf.