Baking for a cause: my first ever bake sale/tea party!

During my school days, I remember how we would have “canteen days” to raise money for our school. Each class (of approximately 30 students) would work together to set up a stall selling a variety of food and drinks. Our school was smart, and always had some sort of informal competition amongst the classes where a prize was given to the class with the largest profit margin… Which when you think about it, was an inspired idea because what child doesn’t want to feel like they have achieved something?

I remember my class selling a variety of things, from popcorn (which we popped on site, mind you!), iced lemon tea (which was very popular seeing as Malaysia is always hot and humid), satay, coconut water, sandwiches… And that’s where my memory starts to fail me. Appalling really, considering this was only about 10-15 years ago. What I do remember though was how much fun we would have working together throughout the day, whilst shamelessly promoting the items on sale. I can’t even remember if our class ever won, but I do remember the disastrous first few rounds of popcorn making attempts! Ah, memories.

So when I heard about Marie Curie’s Blooming Tea Party fundraising initiative, I was immediately transported back in time – and knew that I had to figure out how to throw a tea party of my own to raise money for them.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this organisation: Marie Curie Cancer Care consists of nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals. They help to provide care for terminally ill patients in the community and in Marie Curie hospices, thus making it possible for these patients to spend their last days at home instead of in a hospital. They also provide support for the patients families through a time which can be very distressing and difficult. They do a fantastic job, and I certainly have only heard good things about them from patients and their families.

But yes – on to the actual event. After a fair bit of planning, I managed to get a venue and a date. Then came the hardest bit – deciding what food to make! I had so so so many ideas, and I kid you not when I say I stocked up my kitchen extremely well just in case I changed my mind at the last minute (or in case something went horribly wrong!).

Now that it’s all over, I can happily say that everything went really well, which I am very pleased about and am thankful for.

These were the things I served: (apologies for the substandard photos!)

Vanilla cake with raspberry frosting – this was the most popular item on sale, I’m not sure if it was because it was cake, or because the frosting was pink! This was the first time I’d used this recipe, but seeing as it was a recipe by Bill (whose praises I have sung many many times), I’m not surprised that it didn’t disappoint. The cake had a perfect crumb, and rose beautifully in the oven. I honestly think he must test his recipes tens of times, because how else have none of his recipes failed me? The frosting was something I made from the leftover royal icing from my sugar cookies (see below), milk, butter and some homemade raspberry jam.

Chocolate cake balls – I’ve made cake balls/pops several times, and love making them as they’re relatively simple yet very impressive. You can make them with any biscuit or cake – think oreos, tim tams, lemon biscuits, digestives… The list is endless really. This time round I decided to make them from chocolate cake, because 1) they looked cuter than a whole cake, and 2) it would give some variety. I used this chocolate cake recipe.

Sugar cookies – I started venturing into sugar cookie decorating a few months ago, as I was sucked in by the prettiness of it all. I also suspect the precision and patience needed to decorate them appealled to my inner OCD. I chose to use yellow as my theme colour (to match Marie Curie’s logo), and then worked from there. Because I had a ridiculous number of cookies to get through (I think it was approximately 120?) I kept it all relatively simple, with marbled designs. I also attempted to recreate the Marie Curie logo in icing, but can safely say that that bit didn’t go too well. Cookies still tasted good though! 😉

Chocolate cornflake clusters – I was so surprised at how well this went down, considering that it was so wonderfully simple to make. All you do is mix some melted chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk) with regular cornflakes, then spoon them into muffin cases. Ta-dah, you have chocolate cornflake clusters!

Sausage rolls – because I felt there had to be something savoury on the menu. I originally planned to make curry puffs, but worried that they would not taste good when cold. I then remembered that I once saw Nigella making some sausage rolls on one of her tv shows, and went for that instead. The filling was made from sausage meat (I bought sausages and removed the casings), chopped onions, a dash of curry powder, salt and pepper. This was then wrapped in puff pastry, cut into little pieces, then baked in the oven.

Egg and cheese sandwiches – the other savoury item. I just felt that it wasn’t a true ‘tea’ event if there were no sandwiches… To keep it simple and accessible to more people, I decided on an egg/cheese/watercress filling. This was probably the least popular item on offer, and in retrospect I should have just baked another cake instead. Next time. 🙂 Thankfully managed to sell most of it though, so there was no food wastage.

Fruit squash – I had to resort to this for drinks as I was advised to not serve hot drinks due to health & safety regulations. A bit of a shame, as it made this a ‘tea party’ without any tea.

Writing about it now, it seems like there wasn’t very much food at all (primarily because there was only so much I could carry and transport!). I must say that it still took pretty much an entire weekend of baking, and I was completely exhausted post-event. Every single table surface in my flat was covered with cookies or cakes of some sort, which is something that I’ve not experienced before. Having said that, I would definitely do something like this again – especially since it was for such a good cause. Next time around I think I’ll forgo the savoury dishes, and stick to the sweets.

I set a fundraising target of £500, and am happy to say that I have reached this. A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone that has donated so generously (both online and offline), as I could not have done this without you all. A special word of thanks also goes to my friend Neal, who helped me on the day of the bake sale/tea party – it definitely brought me back to the days when we used to work together! 🙂

I am however still trying to get more donations, because at the end of the day, the more I can raise for Marie Curie the better. If any of you have benefited from the Marie Curie nurses, or if you simply want to help – please donate by clicking on the button below. Every donation counts, and you will help to make a difference to someone out there. 🙂



Ham and cheese pancakes

There’s nothing more irresistible than a stack of freshly cooked pancakes. Maybe its the novelty of it being a “weekend” breakfast, or maybe its the excuse to overindulge in maple syrup – who knows?

Some of you probably know that my favourite pancakes are Bill Granger’s ricotta hotcakes. Truth be told, I’ve not made any other types of pancakes since I discovered those little morsels of goodness… (I don’t make pancakes very often – I’m usually too hungry and therefore lack the patience to make them). But since Pancake Tuesday was coming up, I figured that it was time to try something new.

Whilst I’ve got a massive sweet tooth, I do still love a good savoury dish. So I thought to myself “I should try to make a savoury pancake”. And so I did.

I adapted Bill Granger’s (yes Bill again) buttermilk pancake recipe to make these – I left out the sugar, and added some salt and pepper in its place. I also separated the egg whites and yolks, and beat the whites separately before folding them into the pancake mixture. This is because I have found that this results in a lighter, fluffier pancake.

I served the pancakes with some honey roasted ham and gouda cheese, and topped the pancake stack with some salad leaves and a drizzle of truffle infused oil. And you know what, it was a brilliant combination. A refreshing change from sweet pancakes, especially if you’re not a fan of sweet breakfast/brunch dishes. Definitely something I will be making again. 🙂 I might even experiment with adding the ham and cheese into the actual pancake batter…

Do try this if you’re in the mood for something a little different!

Happy Pancake Day, everyone!

Ham & cheese pancake stack
Adapted from a recipe in Bill’s Food

For the pancakes:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 cups buttermilk*
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, separated

To serve:

  • Ham
  • Cheese of your choice
  • Salad leaves (optional)
  • Truffle infused oil (optional)

1. Place the flour, baking powder, baking powder, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Mix well.
2. Add the egg yolks, melted butter and buttermilk to the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Don’t worry if there are still some lumps in the mixture – don’t be tempted to overmix as it will result in a dense and stodgy pancake.
3. Whip the egg whites (in a stand mixer or with a handheld whisk) until they form soft peaks.
4. Fold the egg whites into the pancake batter mixture, until just combined.
5. Spoon 1/2 cup of batter into a oiled non-stick pan over medium high heat. Flip the pancake when bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancake, and when the edges are starting to dry out. Once flipped, cook for a further minute. Remove and keep warm.
6. Repeat with remaining pancake batter, until all the batter is used up.
7. Serve with ham, cheese, salad leaves and a drizzle of truffle infused oil.

*No buttermilk? Make your own – add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Leave to stand for 5 minutes. Voila, homemade buttermilk!

Bill Granger’s coq au vin

It’s not often I look through a cookbook and mentally bookmark at least half of its recipes. Knowing that it can be whipped up fairly easily, and not be left to a day where I have hours to spare in the kitchen. But when I flip through a Bill Granger cookbook, I know that it is something I can do. Plus his recipes ALWAYS work for me. Always.

Some of you probably know about my unadulterated love for Bill Granger. Meeting him was one of the highlights of my 2010, and not one I will forget in a hurry. In fact, meeting the man in the flesh has made me love him more. He’s exactly as you see him on the television, in fact – he might even be nicer! And so, so smiley.

Watching him on Bill’s Tasty Weekends has reminded me that I had this dish sitting in my evergrowing pool of backlogs. As winter is quickly coming to an end, I figured that I should probably blog about it before it became too warm to even contemplate such a dish!

This coq au vin recipe is taken from his latest book Bill’s Basics. As the title suggests, the theme is “basic” food which is easy to cook, yet not bland. He has tried to simplify cooking techniques, minimise ingredient lists, and give classic dishes a more modern twist. The only thing I can criticize about the book is that I much prefer the photography in his older cookbooks, which were done by the amazing Petrina Tinslay.

Bill’s explanation of this dish totally won me over, and as such I’m quoting it here (because let’s face it, I’ll never be able to do it as well as he does):

Traditionally made with red wine and cooked overnight, classic coq au vin always seems to take forever and loses the thing I love most about chicken: the crispy skin. In this version you roast the chicken with lardons, then add white wine and finish off with freshly pan-fried mushrooms. That way you get both the lovely wine and herb infused juices, and the crispy chicken skin with non-flabby mushrooms.

And you know – whilst this is not a “traditional” coq au vin, it was still absolutely delicious. I love chicken skin (I  know, totally unhealthy but I can’t help it!), and this dish definitely brought out the skin in all it’s crispy glory. What made this dish for me was the combination of crispy chicken skin and soft, rich mushrooms. Contrasting textures always work, for me anyway!

If you’re interested in a different take on coq au vin, do try this recipe. It’s very forgiving, and you can add more/less of each individual ingredient as needed (for example, if your pancetta comes in 150g packets, just use the whole amount. Mine comes in 140g packets).

So, who’s your “Bill Granger”? I would love to find out, so let me know!

Bill’s Coq Au Vin
Slightly adapted from Bill’s Basics

  • 1.2kg chicken drumsticks
  • 140g pancetta
  • 10 shallots, diced
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • 250ml white wine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • small knob butter
  • 400g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed

1. Preheat the oven to 220’C.
2. Arrange the chicken drumsticks in a roasting tin, and scatter with the pancetta, shallots, rosemary, thyme and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with some olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes.
3. After 20 minutes, add the white wine to the tin, and roast for another 20-25 minutes (until the chicken is cooked through). Remove from the oven and set aside.
4. Heat the butter and olive oil in a pan, and cook the mushrooms and garlic over medium high heat for 5 minutes till they are nicely browned.
5. Add the mushroom/garlic mixture to the roasting pan containing the chicken, and you’re done! Serve with crusty white bread and/or a salad.


An Evening with Bill Granger

When I was younger, I always used to wonder what it would be like if I had a chance to meet a celebrity. I still remember watching Friends and wishing I could be part of the live studio audience. I mean, how cool would it have been to meet the cast of Friends, and see Central Perk and Monica’s apartment in real life?

Anyway, as time has gone by, I’ve found that the celebrities I’d like to meet have changed – not surprisingly, a number of them are celebrities in the cooking world. For those of you who are regular readers, you probably know that I adore Bill Granger. This naturally means that he is one of the people I would love to meet. So, when I found out that Bill would be hosting a promotional event for his new cookbook in Selfridges, I knew that I *had* to go, because who knows when I would next get a chance to meet the man in all his smiley-ness?

And you know what – I’m so glad I decided to go, because I had a blast (and so did R and Mowie, whom I brought along with me)…

The event was held at Mark Hix’s restaurant in Selfridges, which is on the first floor and overlooks the shopping area. It was actually rather strange to see people shopping in the background whilst we were eating our food! It was co-hosted by Bill and Mark, who appear to be pretty good friends. Despite it being the first event held in the restaurant, it went very well, and there was lots of banter between the two chefs which made for a very enjoyable evening.

The food that was served on the night was based on recipes in his new cookbook Bill’s Basics (which of course, I brought along in the hope of getting it signed).

Warm bread and butter that we snacked on whilst waiting for the appetizers to appear. The staff were quite strict about not allowing people to be seated until 7pm, and as such there was a short period of waiting whilst everyone was shown to their seats.

An appetizer of Maldon oysters with fresh coriander and chilli dressing. Now, I was slightly apprehensive when I saw this on the menu, because I am not a huge fan of oysters. Call me strange, but I find them a tad too slimy for my liking. However, after a bit of ooh-ing and aah-ing, I decided to try one anyway – and it actually tasted rather good! All credit to the coriander and chilli dressing which managed to make the oyster taste a lot less fishy.

A starter of lobster and saffron risotto. This was one of the dishes in Bill’s Basics that stood out for me, and I’m so glad that it was included in the menu. The risotto was beautifully cooked, and the wonderful aroma of saffron wafted up my nose with every mouthful. And of course, the lobster was a very welcome addition – it was cooked well, was very fresh, and complemented the saffron risotto. I’ve since tried to recreate it at home, stay tuned for that blog post!

And then the mains appeared – roast chicken with chestnut stuffing. The star of the dish was by far, the chestnut stuffing which (according to the cookbook) contains fennel, pancetta, chestnuts and sourdough bread chunks. Fennel is such a revelation, I have only recently started to cook with it and am loving its versatility. The chicken was lovely and tender, but unfortunately did not have crispy skin – something I always look out for in my roasts. But the roast potatoes – they were amazing. I’m a massive potato fan (I have an entire cookbook dedicated to potatoes), and these were done extremely well. Crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.

Autumn slaw – one of the two sides served with the roast chicken. I’m not a huge fan of coleslaw (never have been, and never will be), so this was just an “okay” side for me. It did have a nice twist of having raisins in it though.

Everyday green salad – this was a standard green salad, nothing exciting but I admittedly wasn’t expecting all that much from it anyway.

I always look forward to dessert, and I could not wait for this brown sugar pavlova with figs and blackberries to come to the table. In between the main course and dessert, our friendly waitress told us that the pavlova looked amazing, and that she was hoping that there would be some extra plates for the staff post-event. (I hope she did manage to try some, because she was terrific.) I think I let out a little gasp of delight when this was served because it was plated so prettily. A great dessert: crispy pavlova shell giving way to a soft fluffy interior, coupled with the sweet blackberries and figs = heaven. The figs weren’t as sweet as they could have been, but that was the only thing I would want to change about this dish.

In between all the dishes, Bill was a perfect host and worked his way around the room. He went to every single table, shook everyone’s hand, and had a short chat with each person at the event. He also took the time to sign copies of his new cookbook – and it wasn’t just a plain old signature, because he took the time to personalise it. How can you not love him?

There was also an informal Q&A session during the course of the evening, where we found out that this was the first cookbook that he’d written entirely in the UK (and that he’d been living here for the past year!!). He also said that the best question he’d ever been asked was “Are your teeth real?” – to which the answer is “yes”.

My signed copy of Bill’s Basics – I smile every time I open the book to see this! (that’s not sad, right?) He also very kindly signed my copy of Bill’s Open Kitchen, which was the first ever Bill cookbook I owned.

Mowie, Bill, and me! 🙂 I was so excited that we managed to get a photo with him that I even sent a copy of this to my parents, who don’t really know who Bill is… oh well. Now they know.

All in all, it was a fantastic night – great service, delicious food, and Bill Granger. Now I can cross one person of my “to meet” list!

p.s. I think Bill is currently in Australia on a similar promotional event blitz, so if you’re a fan, I highly recommend attending one of his events! You won’t regret it.

For those of you living in UK/US/Canada – have you entered my CSN Stores £50/$75 gift voucher giveaway?

Caramel chicken

My friends often ask me how I find the time to cook dinner as often as I do. The usual reaction is “but cooking is so tedious, how can you do it after a long day at work?”. Well – I do two things. One: I cook in bulk. And when I say bulk, I mean bulk. There are only two of us at home, but I usually cook for at least 4. Occasionally I cook for 6 – I kid you not! This habit originally stemmed from my inability to estimate quantities… and then I realised it was a good thing. Sort of.

The best thing about this is that I either get to freeze leftovers (like these meatballs), or I have a day or two days worth of leftovers in the fridge. Believe me when I say that leftovers are something I’ve learnt to appreciate over the years, as it means I can still eat home cooked food even when I work late. And of course, some dishes taste better as leftovers! Think soups and stews…

And number two: I cook simple food. By this, I mean food that takes no more than an hour from start to finish. I reserve the more complex meals for the weekend (in fact, I try to cook something new every weekend), but weekdays are for simple and fast meals. This caramel chicken dish is one of those simple and fast meals. Inspired by none other than the oh-so-smiley Bill Granger (who has fast become one of my favourite chefs), this dish is easy to whip up and keeps well in the refrigerator.

As always, I tweaked the recipe. Bill’s recipe calls for chicken, onions and garlic. I added peppers and cashews so I could make it a one-pot meal (plus rice). Bill also browns his chicken at the start of the cooking process, then removes it whilst he cooks everything else. I cooked everything in one go – the main reason for this being I didn’t want to wash an extra bowl. It’s terrible that I have such an inherent inability to follow recipes.

Anyway. This dish turned out well, and I really enjoyed the sticky and slightly sweet sauce that coated each piece of chicken. Despite the word “caramel”, this dish is not overly sweet so don’t get too worried! The cashews and the peppers added a nice crunch to the dish – I’m a huge fan of multiple textures in dishes. If you choose to not use cashews/peppers, serve the chicken with a side of vegetables and it should work equally well.

Caramel chicken with peppers and cashews
Based on a recipe in Bill’s Open Kitchen

  • 500g chicken thigh fillets (skinless), cut into bite size pieces *
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil/corn oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup uncooked cashew nuts
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup kicap manis
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • pepper, to taste

1. Place a large pan over high heat. Put the oil, sliced onion and sliced garlic into the pan, and cook until fragrant. (Cooking the onion and garlic in non-piping hot oil reduces the risk of it burning – something I’m prone to doing.)
2. Add the chicken, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. You’re aiming for half cooked chicken at this point.
3. Add the peppers, and fry for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add the kicap manis, fish sauce, brown sugar and pepper to the pan. Stir to ensure all the ingredients are covered in the sauce.
5. Lastly, add the cashews and fry for 1-2 minutes. At this point, your sauce should be rich, dark and syrupy.
6. Serve with steamed rice.

*optional: To make the chicken tender (think Chinese restaurants), add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the uncooked chicken. Leave for 2-3 minutes, then wash off. I know washing raw meat may cause some of you to gasp in horror, but if you’re careful and confine it all to the sink – it’s not all that bad. But as I said, it’s optional.