Thursday, December 23, 2010

Toasted Coconut Shortbread

Have I ever told you the story about that time a bible fell on my face?

We used to live in this little house in Waverley. It was only three blocks from our cousin's place(!) and only a ten(!) minute(!) walk(!) to Bronte(!) beach(!). It was a house with a big rolling lawn (well it was big when I was about four years old so not sure how watertight that memory is), absolutely perfect for a slip'n'slide. It was the house of fairy dress-up parties, Women's Weekly birthday cakes and Pippy Long-stocking on VHS. 

On my birthday one year, it must have been my fifth, my auntie Sarah gave me a giant (again, might not be so giant in hindsight) children's bible, complete with gorgeous illustrations and a nice thick ribbon bookmark. I tucked the book into the bookshelf above my bed-head and then tucked my little self into bed. I woke up in the morning and was just lying there... as you do... AND THE BIBLE FELL OFF THE SHELF AND ONTO MY FACE!

Just out of the blue, nothing else fell, just the bible. Can you think of anything else more freaky? I can't. 
I must have left it overhanging or something but wow. Gives bible bashing a whole new meaning.

Well these biscuits are something like that, they also kind of slap you over the head, but instead of using religious literature, they use butter. Gorgeous, lightly salted butter. 

The coconut mellows out quite a lot in the oven, when I make these again I think I will add half a teaspoon of coconut essence or oil just to give it a little boost. But they are still full of crumbly butter goodness without it. I swapped half the caster sugar for brown sugar to give it a more caramel flavour and it worked a treat. These are perfect for Christmas gifts (I know I'm pushing it saying this on Christmas eve eve, but just in case you're still stuck for something to give away, try these)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Toasted Coconut Shortbread
adapted from

makes approx. four dozen biscuits

1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
340g lightly salted butter, room temperature (seems a lot but it is shortbread, it might as well be called butterbread, use the best you can find)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
2 2/3 cups plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees c. 
Spread the coconut evenly onto a parchment-lined baking tray and bake in the oven for about 8 minutes or until lightly golden brown (make sure you watch it, it can burn very easily). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugars together in a large bowl until smooth and combined. Add the vanilla and salt and mix again. Beat half the flour into the mixture at a time, mixing well after each addition. Fold in the coconut with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed throughout the dough. Bring the dough together with your hands, form into a thick disk, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour. 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees again. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough at a time to about 2cm thickness and cut out your favourite shape using a cookie cutter. Place the cookies onto a parchment-lined baking tray spaced about 2 cm apart. When all your cookies are cut, bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. You don't want to bake them too long or they will become dry. They harden a lot after removing them from the oven.

Cool on baking sheets for five minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack for half an hour until completely cooled. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week (if they last that long!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thailand Food Highlights

I'm sure you all missed me terribly when I swanned off to the South Thailand Islands for a quick pre-Christmas holiday. I'm sorry I neglected you for so long, but every once in a while it's desperately needed to get out of the Sydney fishbowl and spend time eating and enjoying rather than cooking. It was undeniably invigorating, inspiring, relaxing and a whole bunch of fun.

I had been to Thailand before, years ago, and had travelled up into the region around Chang Mai, where you can stop on the side of the road and eat a plate full of live, wriggling grasshoppers tossed with chilli (I passed). There is a lot of fantastic, lively, regional food in Thailand, and there is a lot of foul, gluggy, sugary pad thai that should never associate itself with the fresh, crunchy, spicy and delicious South East Asian cuisine I was looking to find amongst the palms and coves of the islands. More about that later.

Maybe I shouldn't start the tale of the food we ate while away with a tube of Pringles but I just had to put these up here because they are soft shell crab flavour! Can you believe it? I couldn't. Amazing. The crab flavour wasn't overwhelmingly fishy, it was very subtle, I loved it. I was just so glad to see something better than sour cream and onion.

Our first stop was the Island of Koh Lanta, it's very quiet there. There are no huge clubs and hardly any tourist shops selling that wooden crap you buy because you feel you should and then are left with boxes of wooden dolphins that sit at the back of your cupboard for years.

All there is is a long stretch of beautiful beach, dotted with wooden longtail boats here and there, and lit up by these little beach bars with a seafood BBQ out the front behind the deck chairs and coloured lanterns. We played connect four, drank Tiger beers and ate crisp spring rolls, we moved onto the next bar along the sand for cocktails and sizzling hotplates of chicken and cashew nuts that arrived with a cloud of steam wafting through the restaurant.

Phi Phi Island was next. The above photo was the view from our bungalow balcony. It was literally five steps to the ocean and we went ran down there at 6pm, just as the sun was setting and flung ourselves into the water after everyone else had packed up their towels and umbrellas for the day.

I'm usually a complete advocate for hawker food, I love sitting at little stalls filled with locals and chewing on skewers and freshly tossed noodles. We went to a market held to celebrate the King's birthday and found these little stalls that were selling fried quail eggs. They broke the eggs into those little pans with little indents that you see selling poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) at carnivals, and they served you a little plate piled high with about ten, doused in dark vinegar with a fresh sprinkling of fried spring onion on top, although I only made it halfway through before it dawned on me that i had probably eaten a weeks worth of eggs and it was high time to step... away... from... the... stall...

The seafood is incredibly cheap, these beautiful crabs were about $8 AUD and were so fresh and gorgeous, I had never really eaten whole crab before and ended up with juices running all down our arms and dripping off our elbows but with huge smiles on our faces.

Another winner was this whole fish, gently steamed so that the flesh just collapsed under the tooth, slipped in a zing of lime sauce and sprinkled with a crisp wheat that finished the whole thing off with complete delight. We had some seriously good food on Phi Phi, all washed down with frosty margaritas and a few Tom Collins.

Back to the hawker food, I picked up these coconut and pandan jellies at the local market, I had tried them before and remembered them well, they are called Wun Ka-Ti and are so good. It's a layer of pandan jelly topped with a coconut cream then is all wrapped up in pandan leaves to make a little box shaped jelly. If you're texture paranoid I wouldn't go there but the taste is unlike anything else.

Alright i'm going back to my lunch of leftovers now. Tear.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Ham

My experience with legs of ham has been somewhat sporadic. There are a couple of occasions where ham fits the bill better than anything else, the first is at 21st birthday parties when around 11.30pm the parents take one look at the heaving, sweaty dance floor and hastily produce a cold leg of ham beside a mountain of carbohydrate-heavy baguettes, hoping to sop up the bellies of their guests, awash with champagne.

The next is Christmas day, a stunning staple of the festive season and the family lunch table, for as we all know there's nothing like a Christmas bash without a gorgeously caramelised hind leg, piled high with roasted pineapple and slathered in mustard. It’s even better the next morning, pan fried and sandwiched between two runny eggs and thick buttered toast.

It's a great moment when you get into work one ordinary December morning, sit down at your desk that doesn't face a window, turn on your rather old PC and click on an email from the new CEO wishing everyone a very merry Christmas, employees with surnames A - M can collect their Christmas hampers from the courier dock between 10am - 12pm today.

Que? Hampers? For everyone?

It's true, I could hardly believe it, we were all given a big, squeaky styrofoam box filled with a big beautiful ham, chocolate covered peanuts, cookies, fruit mince pies, mustard and a bag of caramel popcorn that didn't last until lunch. It was pretty much perfect timing as it saved me the $150 I would have spent that exact afternoon running around buying a ham for the party I was having last Saturday night.

Brought out after runny, soft cheeses and fresh cold prawns, the ham was carved and sliced, tiny baby pickles were nestled between champagne mustard and hunks of olive bread. Fairy lights twinkled and there were even balloon hats. Someone found a Santa suit complete with beard and belt and we all woke up in the morning to find the puppy had dragged the leftover ham bone off the table from between the bottles of ruby red wine and the carnival popcorn onto the floor. Never one to miss out, he enjoyed his own feast, complete with roasted pineapple. I didn’t know whether to be annoyed or impressed, that ham weighed about three kilos!

Christmas Ham with Brown Sugar & Pineapple Glaze:
This is my Mum's recipe that she has been making for as long as I can remember, thanks Mama

1 half leg of ham (approx three kilos) keeping the bone in makes for tender meat
1/2cup of Dijon mustard
1 can of pineapple slices
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/8 cup of cloves

To remove the skin of the ham, peel back the front and slide your finger along the inside of the skin, between the layer of fat, and keep pulling back the skin and sliding your finger across the fat, until the skin gradually peels right off. You want to keep most of the fat on because that's what soaks up the glaze and keeps it moist and tasty.

With a sharp knife, remove any excess fat so you have uniform thickness over the whole leg. Score the fat with a sharp knife into a criss-cross diamond pattern. Place the ham into a deep roasting pan. and preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Pour the mustard onto the top of the ham and spread all over the fat with a knife or spoon, so you have an even coating. In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar with half the pineapple juice from the can of slices, and mix to form a thick, gloopy paste. Spread the paste evenly on top of the mustard layer, don't worry if some of it drips into the pan, you will use it to baste. Secure the pineapple slices to the top of the ham with the cloves.

Roast the ham until warmed through, about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours, every 20 minutes take the ham out of the oven and, using a large metal spoon, scoop up the juices and pour back over the top of the ham, so it becomes caramelised in the oven.

Cover with foil until you are ready to serve and carve. Serve with mustard, pickles and thick bread. Merry Christmas!