Friday, June 24, 2011

Chinese Peanut Cookies

Chinese peanut cookies are often baked and given away as gifts to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  They are really easy to make, have a delicious peanut buttery taste and an extremely crumbly texture.

The recipe uses roasted peanuts. Roasting brings out the full flavour of peanuts. You can buy pre-grounded peanuts but I prefer to roast and ground them myself. With spices, for example, they start to lose their flavour when they are ground so it's best to grind your own spices immediately before using them, rather than using pre-ground spices. I think it’s the same for peanuts - freshly ground peanuts taste better than pre-ground. It’s also worth spending the time freshly roasting peanuts so that you can wrap yourself up in the smell of the peanuts roasting in the oven as it permeates through your kitchen.


•    250g whole blanched peanuts
•    200g  plain flour
•    ½ teaspoon baking powder
•    110g icing sugar
•    ¼ teaspoon salt
•    140ml peanut oil
•    egg wash – 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of water


Roast whole blanched peanuts in an oven at ~180C for around 10 minutes until toasted and fragrant (make sure that they don’t burn). Let the roasted peanuts cool and then blend to 
ground the peanuts (the peanuts can be ground to different textures – fine and coarse).

Mix together the ground peanuts, flour, baking powder, salt and icing sugar in a bowl until well combined. Add in the peanut oil slowly, bit by bit, mixing together and using your hands to knead the mixture until it just comes together and forms a dough. The mixture should be moist and oily but not sticky, you should be able to roll a spoonful of mixture into a ball without crumbling.

Roll into 2-3cm balls and flatten slightly, place onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and brush some egg wash on top. 

Bake at ~170C for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

The peanut cookies are a bit like a short and crumbly pastry. It comes out of the oven looking rustic, uneven and cracked.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Raw Brownies

What are peoples favourite chocolate baked good? I think that brownies would be right up there. Moist, chewy, rich, dense and fudgy – what’s not to like about it?

I love eating chocolate and sweets but as someone who spends most of her time cooking and eating, I try to eat everything in moderation. Ever since I took the Raw Decadent Dessert Cooking Class by A Foodly Affair I have been interested in finding recipes for guilt free treats.

Raw brownies are easy to make and a guilt free pleasure. After reading a few recipes I found that raw brownies are basically composed of some dried fruit, nuts, a sweetening/binding agent and cacao powder, then blitz, mould and chill for it to set.  

I found the raw brownies to have a surprisingly good resemblance to a real brownie in that it looked like a brownie, had a nice taste and a chewy texture provided by the mushed up dates. However, it didn’t have that dense, fudgyness of a real brownie. 

Even if raw brownies aren’t ‘real’ brownies, I definitely recommend them as a treat. It’s disgustingly healthy, requires no baking and is a great chocolate fix.

So I dedicate this recipe to people who:
can’t bake
are renting and have an oven which is as unpredictable as the weather
are celiacs, lactose intolerant etc.
are on a diet
are chocohalics

I made a batch and kept some in the freezer. Raw brownies keep well in the freezer and remain moist and chewable when frozen so you can just take it out of the freezer and enjoy.

Raw Brownies

(My raw brownie recipe adapted from various recipes I read off the net)


1 cup walnuts
1 cup almonds
2 cups Medjool dates (pitted and roughly chopped)
½ cup raw cacao powder 
~ 1-2 tablespoons agave
pinch of salt

I used some whole fresh Medjool Dates that I bought from my local fruit and veg store in Mount Lawley. Medjool Dates are the best kind of dates you can get – they have a sweet rich caramel flavour with a sticky texture which lends well to these brownies. I don’t know if you could get the same outcome with a different type of date.


Place the walnuts and almonds in food processor and process until they have become small and crumbly. Add in the chopped dates and process until the mixture starts to stick together and the dates are well processed. Add the cacao powder and process until the mixture becomes dark chocolately brown. Add in the agave which will help to balance the bitterness of the cacao powder and also help the mixture stick together. Process for a few more seconds so that you end up with a mixture that resembles cake crumbs but when pressed will easily stick together (if the mixture does not hold together well, add more dates or agave).

Press the mixture into a lined cake tin and place in the fridge for a few hours to set. Cut into squares.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Using leftover risotto to make fritters

What to do with leftover mushroom risotto and porcini …

I originally googled leftover risotto with the aim of finding out how long I could store the leftovers for, could it be microwaved or frozen? 

I ended up finding out two things – (1) that Italians consider left over risotto a big no no and (2) deep fried or fried leftover risotto is a win.

The Chinese use leftover rice to make fried rice and the Italians use leftover risotto to make fried fritters or deep fried balls aka arancini. So in summary – to make any sort of leftover rice awesome – fry it!

I used my leftover mushroom risotto to make fritters and I found them so good that I will make extra risotto in the future so that I can make these delicious fritters the next day.

Some recipes will tell you to mix the leftover risotto with egg as a binder but I decided to try cooking the risotto as is to see how it would turn out. I don’t think that using eggs are necessary as the cooked risotto overnight had turned starchy and glutinous, and was firm and stuck together so it didn’t need any additional binding agent. You can also cover the risotto with some breadcrumbs before frying but again I don’t think this is necessary.

I heated a frying pan with some olive oil and butter, formed the leftover risotto into patties and fried them until they were heated through and had a golden brown crust. I loved the crispy exterior, it reminded me of a hash brown, and I had put in quite a bit of parmesan into the risotto which along with the use of butter to cook it produced a buttery and cheesy crust which was delicious. The exterior was crispy but inside the risotto was soft and creamy, reminiscent of its original state.

I think that I actually prefer leftover mushroom risotto fritters to the real thing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mushroom and porcini risotto

(My second attempt at risotto 3 ½ years later)

There are many different ways of cooking and dressing up a risotto. I have eaten a few different risottos but if I had to choose one risotto to eat for the rest of my life it would have to be mushroom risotto. I think that mushroom risotto is the king of all risottos, especially with some porcini. Porcini mushrooms are highly valued for cooking as they have a rich savoury flavour, meaty texture and pungent aroma. The mushroom flavours in porcini are enhanced when dried and I think I like it so much because I feel like it's the shiitake of the Italian world. 

This was my second time cooking risotto. The first time was in 2008, about 3 ½ years ago. The context to my first attempt at risotto was that I had to cook something for a pot luck dinner for friends who are vegetarians. I was at a lost for what to cook and someone told me that I could cook risotto. Risotto is vegetarian friendly! However, at that time I had never actually eaten risotto before. I’m Chinese, so I have grown up on steamed rice, fried rice, rice congee etc. but not risotto rice and whenever I ate out at Italian restaurants back then I would go for the pasta or pizza option. Risotto was foreign to me but I was aware of its existence and knew what it looked like. Sauting a flavour base of onion, garlic and celery, and then stirring risotto rice and stock for a while seemed doable, and I was told that the end result would be delicious. 

(My first attempt at risotto back in 2008)

I managed to dig out a picture. As you can see the risotto looks like what day old leftover risotto should look like – a pile of stuck together starchy mushy mess. It didn’t have any of that creamy consistency that “makes it”. I even served it with a side of Indonesian Gado Gado salad because I was feeling adventurous. Talk about fusing cuisines! – what was I thinking? I’ll cook two different vegetarian dishes, any two will do, from completely different cultures and serve them together on a plate. I will then blanch some asparagus and try to stylize the plate a bit by sticking them into the risotto like erect tombstones….and it looks like a cyclone has descended on the plate as some of the asparagus stalks have blown over. 

My friends enjoyed the dish but the truth was that they couldn’t cook any better than me so I was in a win win situation back then.

….fast forward to the future of 2011.

My attempt this time has greatly improved. I am a better cook now and I have also eaten many a risotto so that now I know what it should look and taste like, and what sort of texture in the rice I should be aiming for.  During the last 10 minutes of cooking, I was testing the grains of rice every 30 seconds or so to see when the risotto would have that al dente texture which would indicate to me that it was a done deal. I liked tasting the risotto at different intervals as I was cooking it to see its transformation take place before my eyes and taste buds. Cooking is about tasting tasting tasting all the time while you cook to pre-empt failure. 

(NB: The end result could of had a creamier consistency, maybe I’ll add in one more ladle  of stock before finishing next time or maybe I’d overcooked it a minute or two but I was pretty happy in the end with the texture and taste)

Mushroom and porcini risotto

(Recipe adapted from Breakfast, Lunch and Tea by Rose Carraini - I've added some wine which wasn't in the original recipe)


1 handful dried porcini, soaked in 400ml (1 ¾ cups) hot water for 30 minutes. 
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
500g mushrooms, sliced (mix of portobello, swiss and button mushrooms)
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and ground black pepper
60g unsalted butter
2 onions, finely diced (or 2-3 shallots)
400g carnaroli rice
½ cup (125ml) dry white wine
about 1.5L vegetable or chicken stock
150g grated parmesan


Strain the porcini and reserve their soaking liquid. Set both aside.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms with the garlic and salt and pepper until brown and all juices have evaporated. Set aside.

Put 4 tablespoon of oil and the butter in a heavy based saucepan and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, till the onions are soft and transparent but have not yet started to brown. 

Pour in the rice and cook over a medium heat, stirring to coat and until it becomes translucent (~2-3 minutes). This is called toasting the rice to seal the grain so that you end up with risotto that is creamy but each grain maintains its own shape and it’s not all mushed up together. 

Then add in the wine and let it cook down.

Add the porcini and some of their liquid and the sliced mushrooms. 

Pour in the stock a ladleful at a time and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid before adding some more. Be careful not to let the rice get too dry. Carry on adding the stock until you have a creamy consistency and make sure that you are continually stirring as the stirring creates friction on the grains of rice for it to release a little of its starch - this is the secret to the creaminess of risotto. Before you add in the last ladle of stock, season the risotto to taste. The risotto rice should take about 20-25 minutes to cook - work by tasting throughout the stirring process to check the texture. The rice must be cooked but slightly ‘al dente’ and the mixture must hold together. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan. 

Stir well and check the seasoning. Pour the risotto into bowls and serve immediately.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mandarin, polenta and macadamia cake

Are mandarins better than oranges?

Well mandarins are sweeter than oranges, and are easier to peel and segment which makes them a convenient snack to take to the office, and right now they are plentiful as they are in season. However, mandarins have a shorter life than oranges and also have more seeds.

Mandarins originated in China and were named after the Mandarins, the public officials of the Chinese Imperial Court who wore long, orange coloured robes. Mandarins were originally sought for their fragrance and reserved for the privileged classes.

The Chinese consider mandarins symbols of abundance and good fortune. During Chinese New Year celebrations, mandarins are frequently displayed as decorations and given as gifts to family and friends to usher in prosperity.

I used some imperial mandarins to make a mandarin, polenta and macadamia cake from a recipe I found from the Australian Women’s Weekly. It’s similar to a Middle Eastern Orange Cake that I have made before.

Mandarin, polenta and macadamia cake

(Recipe from Australian Women’s Weekly)


  • 4 small mandarins (400g), unpeeled
  • 2 cups (280g) macadamias
  • 250g butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 cup (220g) caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup (170g) polenta
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar


Cover whole mandarins in medium saucepan with cold water; bring to a boil. Drain then repeat process two more times. Cool mandarins to room temperature. 

Preheat oven to moderately slow (170°C/150°C fan-forced). Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan; line base with baking paper.

Blend or process nuts until mixture forms a coarse meal. Halve mandarins; discard seeds. Blend or process mandarins until pulpy. 

Beat butter, extract and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions; transfer to large bowl. Stir in polenta, baking powder, nut meal and mandarin pulp.

Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. Stand cake 15 minutes; turn, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool. Serve cake dusted with sifted icing sugar.