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The BloggerAid Cookbook

Pandan Jam (Screwpine)

It's strange how food craving can drive one to do things that he would never thought of doing, like learning how to cook Char Kway Teow (a local favourite dish in Singapore), or my mom's Nonya Chicken Curry, mutton curry, Assam Fish, Steamed Fish (Teochew Style), Sweet & Sour Pork, White Peppered Pork Slices (my childhood favourite), Chinese Steamed Buns, etc. Had I still been living in Singapore today, I would have never learned how to cook all these dishes as they are easily and cheaply available at home. The things we easily take for granted until we live overseas!

A few weeks ago, I had a sudden craving for a home local jam called Kaya (coconut-egg pandan jam) - my childhood favourite jam. Making this jam at home requires hours of standing, stirring and watching over it on the stove, letting it cook slowly and thicken like a thick custard. It can easily get scorched if one gets distracted from the job. I have seen my mom make this before at home and trust me, it's a very long process. I don't know why but I found myself talking about Kaya on twitter with Davina & Su-yin. Sweet & lovely Su-yin upon learning my plight kindly shared with me her secret Kaya recipe. To say I was overjoyed is an understatement... I was over the moon about it! So excited I was when I got her recipe, that I immediately set out to make it, only to realize that I had no coconut milk in my pantry. Arggh! I was so determined to have my jam that I just went ahead and made it with full cream milk. That's how desperate I was. LOL! When one is that desperate and craving for their home food, nothing gets in the way!

I only have this to say: Thank You, Cravings! If not for you, I wouldn't have discovered this delicious gem 'Pandan Jam' which I'm so addicted to right now. LOL! So readers, food cravings is definitely good for you - it spurs you to explore, create & improvise with whatever you have in hand and a new dish is born. Below is the recipe of Pandan Jam adapted from Su-yin's recipe. I love the colour of this jam - it reminds me of my wonderful 2 weeks vacation in Ireland in '97. Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day and we are celebrating Paddy's Day Food Parade over at The Daily Spud.

Pandan Jam (Screwpine)
Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 g sugar
  • 120 g full cream milk (half-cream milk will do too)
  • 1½ - 2 tbsp custard powder
  • 1 tsp pandan essence or a few pandan leaves
Directions
  1. Mix a bit of milk to the custard powder in a bowl - stir well to ensure there's no lumps, then stir in the rest of the milk. Set aside.
  2. Whisk eggs, pandan extract and sugar in a pot until combined. Add the milk mixture to the egg while continue to stir until it blends together.
  3. Put pot on stove, continue whisk it over low heat until it begins to thickens and resemble a thick custard. (takes about 4-5 minutes)
  4. If mixture is lumpy, whisk it with an electric handheld beater in the pot, giving you a smooth texture.
  5. Let it cool and keep it in a air-tight container in the refrigerator.
  6. To serve: spread the pandan-egg jam on a slice of bread alone or with butter.
The Verdict

It's surprisingly very good. Rich in pandan flavour (that's to be expected of course) ; the texture is very smooth like a very thick custard as it should be and deliciously good. I was hooked on this jam immediately and couldn't stop eating slice after slice of bread with it. The aroma of this jam even rouse Pierre out of his office upstairs to check it out. Little One loves it too.

Pandan jam (screwpine)
Notes

Right after the jam is done, it tastes a wee bit too sweet for my taste. However, after it has been refrigerated, strangely it doesn't seems to be overly sweet anymore - I have no idea why. If you don't like it to be too sweet, do reduce slightly the sugar quantity in above recipe.

17 comments on this post.

Leek and Potato Soup (Soupe aux poireaux)

Dear Readers, immediately after I rejoiced blantantly to all that Spring is finally here in my post last Friday, winter slapped me hard on my face the next day with freezing cold below zero temperatures. As if that was not enough, winter threw in some snow on us last Sunday, as if to make sure that we understood that it was here to stay for a while longer and to stop dreaming about spring. Since last Sunday, the temperature stayed -3°C with snow fall now and then. On such cold days, the best way to warm ourselves up is to cook a pot of spicy hot curry like chicken curry or mutton curry or soup like tomato or leek & potato.

Leek & Potato Soup is one of the greatest classics of French homemade soups. I can easily understand why, for it is not only delicious, aromatic, nutritious but also inexpensive and filling. Leeks belongs to a vegetable family called the Allium vegetables like garlic and onions. Leeks are a very good source of manganese, vitamin C, iron, folate and vitamin B6.

How to choose Leeks?

Choose leeks that are firm, straight with dark green leaves and white necks. It should not be yellowed or wilted, nor have bulbs that have cracks or bruises. Buy only leeks with a diameter of 1 1/2 inch or less, as large leeks are generally more fibrous in texture. Store fresh leeks unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator in a loosely wrapped plastic bag : this will help to retain moisture and keep them fresh for 1 - 2 weeks. Cooked leeks will only stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 2 days.

Here's the simple version of the Leek & Potato soup that my mom-in-law and sis-in-law often cook at home. Hope you will like it as well. Enjoy!

Leek & Potato Soup (Soupe aux poireaux)
Ingredients
  • 1 big onion (chopped)
  • 4 leeks (washed and chopped)
  • 2 potatoes (peeled & diced)
  • 1 litre water or chicken stock (approx.)
  • salt & pepper
  • sour cream or crème fraîche or milk (optional - for serving)
Directions
  1. Trim the leeks and remove the top tough green leaves, leaving on the tender green parts. Slice each leek longwise twice (like a cross), wash it and chop the leeks from top to bottom.
  2. Heat a pot with some olive oil. When oil is hot, add in the chopped onions. Stir-fry it till fragrant & translucent.
  3. Add the chopped leeks and potatoes to the pot. Stir-fry the leeks until it is soft.
  4. Add in the water or chicken stock to the pot and bring it to a boil.
  5. Season it with salt & pepper. Lower the heat and let it simmer covered for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.
  6. Purée the soup using stick blender. Taste, adjust the seasoning accordingly.
  7. Serve hot plain or with a spoonful of crème fraîche or a bit of milk.
Leeks
The Verdict

This soup is simply delicious - creamy, full of flavour and tasty. Little One loves this soup, even Pierre who dislikes leeks likes it. It's an all occasion soup: as comfort soup or under the weather or just to warm us up on a cold day. It's simple, quick & easy to make and healthy too.

Leeks and potato soup
Notes

The above recipe is the base. You can add other herbs to it or any other ingredients like bacons, mushrooms, chicken or fish, etc if you want. You can also freeze the soup but it must not have milk or cream in it.

Leeks and potato soup
13 comments on this post.

SPRING, How I Love Thee!

WOOHOO! Spring is here! Spring is finally here! I love Spring. It is sunny, soft & mild with every plant coming to life and blooming. Spring, to me, is like St Valentine every day. Trees are greening everywhere and flowers of all sorts show up. It's just so romantic. So when I spied the very first primrose blooming in my garden the other day, I was as excited as a kid, knowing that spring is making its presence felt, chasing Winter away. Then I saw the tulips and daffodils slowly peeking out of the earth in my front yard. To my delight, a single yellow daffodil slowly started to bloom. What a beautiful sight to behold.

I'll share a secret with you: I'm envious of my neighbour's garden - whenever spring is here, their garden is totally covered with different coloured primroses. It always takes my breath away and this is the beautiful view I have from my kitchen. Lucky me - at least I get to enjoy it!

Can't blame me for being excited about spring for it had been a cold winter with lots of snow this year. It's the first time we ever witness Clermont-Ferrand being under snow like this since we moved here end of 2007. Believe me, I'm not complaining (unless I'm the one shoveling the snow. LOL). I'd rather have snow than endless days of non-stop rain and gray sky as we had in Nantes. With snow, at least we can still go sledging, have snow fights and build snowmen. Well, snow is fun but anyway I rather have spring any time of the year.

So here are a few shots of signs of life in my garden to share with you.

primroseprimrosedaffodil
17 comments on this post.

Crispy & Light Waffles

Yesterday we celebrated mother-in-law's 65th birthday. Little One was all excited wanting to put on her best dress - the chongsam that my sis bought for her to wear during Chinese New Year. So she was all pretty and dressed up, patiently waiting for grandparents to arrive and playing on her own while I was tackling lunch. What a little sweetheart!

For the Aperitif, we had Hummus & Pita. I had made Hummus a day or two ago so that's chilling in the fridge, but nearly forgot to make my Pita. Phew! My parents-in-law loved both but they marvelled at my delicious Pita the most, asking me for the recipe. Hehehe! For the entrée, mom-in-law brought 3 ramekins of snails bathed in... mmm... delectable... butter, garlic & herbs. Only 3 of us had this delicious dish while Pierre stayed clear off it. He doesn't like snails or oysters - 2 of my favourite & yummy friends. LOL!

Then came the Main Meal, I made Szechuan Prawns & stir-fried Brussels Sprouts with rice . As mom-in-law wanted something exotic & spicy, Pierre suggested this dish as it has been a year or so since I last made it, plus his parents like this dish very much. This time around, I used ready-cooked prawns bought from the supermarket and used chives instead of scallion/spring onions. Chives are less flavourful than spring onion but it's a good alternative. I tried cooking both prawns and brussels sprouts & rice at the same time but ended up in a slight disaster with frying pan slightly over turning with hot oil on counter top. With limited space for wok, pans'n pots on the same stove top, it's not surprising! So I ditched that multitasking plan and finished cooking rice & prawns before tackling the vegetables later on. I sincerely don't know what's so bad about brussels sprout that a lot of people don't like: it's fresh, crunchy and delicious like cabbage. Little One hardly ate her lunch because she had too much of hummus & pita but all the same, she ate the brussels sprouts that I put on her plate (she refused to eat it during dinner however), while Pierre avoided it like the Black Plague.

As for the dessert, birthday girl wanted Tiramisu for her birthday cake. Originally I wanted to make it from scratch but in a simpler version, then I realized the day before that they were coming for lunch on Wednesday instead of Thursday as I thought. So changed of plans and made everything with store bought sponge fingers & mascarpone. I made this tiramisu in 22 cm springform cake pan lined with baking paper on bottom and sides, and it turned out more beautiful than I thought. We could clearly see the pretty built-up layers of the tiramisu. It was scrumptious as expected but poor Pierre complained that it was not sweet enough for him (I think he had too many of DB's tiramisu challenge).

We almost forgot the presents for her. Unfortunately mine didn't arrived on time. Shh... I got her Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day. Hope she likes it and is able to use it sans problem (don't forget she's French and reading texts in English isn't easy). So we only have Pierre's gift to present to her... She opened it, looked at it thoroughly, looked back blankly at Pierre 'What is this thing? Are you sure it's for me and not something for your dad?' LOL! The look on her face was priceless! You see, Pierre got his mom a small external hard drive for her to backup her data from her laptop - a very useful gift. When we told her what it is, she said 'You got to be kidding me, right? I don't even know how SMS works, how am I going to use this?' Guess either Pierre or my father-in-law have to give her some crash course on using her gift.

So what has all this got to do with today's recipe? There's no connection really. Just thought since we are talking about this delicious full course lunch, might as well add in a heavenly breakfast that I did a while ago. I found this recipe last year online and decided to try it out. Boy, was I glad to have found it - it's the best waffles I ever had in my life. I tried turning this into pancakes one day but it didn't turned out as well as waffles. Guess it is just a waffle recipe. If they are this good, what took me so long to blog about it you might asked. Well, each time we made this, we kept stuffing our face too fast to remember to take a picture for the blog, that's why. LOL! Pierre made a little sacrifice for this, waiting patiently for me to finish photographing his waffles before chopping it down in seconds. Below recipe is my adapted version. Do try it today ; I promise you won't regret it!

Crispy & Light Waffles
Ingredients
  • 1 1/3 cups plain flour
  • 4 tsps baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or flavour of your choice
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • ½ cup (113 g) butter, melted
  • 1¾ cups milk or buttermilk
Directions
  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix well together all dry ingredients.
  2. Separate the yolks and whites. In a separate bowl, whisk whites until stiff; set aside.
  3. Beat the yolks a little bit with a fork before adding to the dry ingredient mixture.
  4. Pour in a bit of milk at the time into the flour mixture and stir to avoid lumps. Add in the rest of the milk & cooled melted butter while continuing to stir the mixture until everything blends and no lumps.
  5. Gently fold in stiff egg whites into mixture.
  6. Ladle mixture into hot waffle iron and bake.
Crispy & light waffles
The Verdict

They are perfect, soft if you cook them a short time, crispy if you wait a little bit longer. Heavenly with Nutella spread...just can't stop eating these waffles. Be warned, they are so good that you might over eat and ruin your appetite for lunch!

Notes

The batter remains good and makes delicious waffles in the even after sitting out on the kitchen counter top the whole day. I have also kept the batter in the fridge overnight and it still stays good.:-) If you are living in a tropical climate, it's best to keep the batter in the fridge rather than leaving the batter in the kitchen the whole day like I did.

Crispy & light wafflesCrispy & light waffles
21 comments on this post.

Tiramisu (made from scratch)

For February, Daring Bakers' host Deeba of Passionate About Baking & Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen chose Tiramisu as the challenge of the month based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obession.

Et bien sûr, nothing is ever simple with Daring Bakers' (hence the name sake), this time around, we aren't taking the easy road like I did with my first Tiramisu in 2007 where everything was store bought and put together. The challenge is to make our own mascarpone cheese and our sponge fingers/ladyfinger biscuits, pastry cream and zabaglione (a cooked one) and piece it all together to make this pick me up dessert.

So what is this famous Tiramisu? As mentioned in my older post, it means "pick-me-up" (metaphorically, "make me happy") made of mascarpone cheese, sponge fingers or savoiardi & zabaglione.

When I first read what is needed to be done for this challenge, I nearly fainted on the spot. I assure you would too when you read the following list. But fear not, it's not as complicated and difficult as it looks. Once I got started, I got into the swing of things very fast and all jazzed up... all too soon, the fun ended and I felt a bit bereaved that it ended so fast.

Making pastry cream was a breeze since I have made it before for a Blueberry Tart last year. However I was unsure how a zabaglione should look like after it is done so I just relied on my ninja chef instinct.

For this challenge, I have split things into 3 posts for easy reference :

  1. Home-made Mascarpone Cheese (make this 1 day in advance)
  2. Home-made Spong Fingers, also known as Ladyfingers biscuits & savoiardi (can be made on the day itself or a few days in advance)
  3. Assembling Tiramisu (below)

As we are making all of it from scratch, it's easier and less stressful if you make the sponge fingers first and mascarpone cheese, zabaglione & pastry cream another day or vise versa. Then assemble the tiramisu the following day. The mascarpone cheese needs to be refrigerated overnight while the zabaglione & pastry cream need to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours. Are you still with me after reading the long list of things to be done? OK, whenever you are ready, I'm ready. Let's go!

Tiramisu (made from scratch)

(Recipe source: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007)

Serves: 6

Ingredients

For the zabaglione

  • 2 large egg yolks (I used 3 medium egg yolks)
  • 50 g sugar
  • 60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp grated lemon zest (finely)

For the vanilla pastry cream

  • 55 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp all purpose flour
  • ½ grated lemon zest (finely)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk (I used 1 medium egg)
  • 175 ml whole milk (I used partially skim milk)

For the whipped cream

  • 235ml chilled heavy cream (I used UHT 35% crème liquide)
  • 55gms sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

To assemble the tiramisu

  • 1 big cup brewed espresso, warmed
  • 1 tsp rum extract or (optional)
  • 110gms sugar (I left it out)
  • 75 g mascarpone cheese
  • 36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Directions

For the zabaglione

  1. Heat water in a double boiler or a bain-marie.
  2. In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or the bain-marie. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency.
  4. Let it cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
zabaglione

For the pastry cream

  1. Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add in the egg yolk and pour in half of the milk slowly while whisking it. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
  4. Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don't worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)
  5. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
Pastry cream

For the whipped cream

  1. Place the bowl (in which cream is to be whipped) and the beaters of the hand held electric mixer in the fridge for about ½ to 1 hour before hand helps to whip up the cream whip very well.
  2. Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl.
  3. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

To assemble the tiramisu

  1. Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or one of your choice.
  2. Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar (I left out this in mine) in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold.
  4. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined.
  5. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.
  6. Dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy.
  7. Line the ladyfinger on the dish, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered. (I sprinkle cocoa powder on top of every layer of spong fingers)
  8. Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
  9. Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer.
  10. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.
  11. To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please on the surface of the tiramisu. Cut into individual portions and serve.
  12. The Tiramisu can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days. Once assembled, it can be frozen till you need to serve it, in case you are not serving it immediately.
Tiramisu (made from scratch)Tiramisu (made from scratch)
The Verdict

It's great! Very creamy and sinful but surprisingly it didn't taste as sweet as I expected it to be. There's not an incredible difference with the one made with your off-the-shelf ingredients, but this one is a bit more subtle and flavourful.

The next time I make Tiramisu, I wouldn't hesitate to make my own sponge fingers (ladyfingers) and mascarpone at home, but assemble it using the simpler version ie. make it with raw egg yolks and whipped egg whites. However if you or one of your guests is pregnant or has aversion about eating raw eggs, I would recommend making tiramisu using above methods with zabaglione and whipped cream.

Update: We defrozed one of the tiramisu totally the other day and found that it indeed tasted a little bit sweeter than usual. I have also just realized that I added all the mascarpone (180 g) I made in my tiramisu instead of the 75 g as required in the recipe. So if you are making this version, please reduce the quantity of sugar indicated in zabaglione and pastry cream or else your tiramisu will turn out to be very sweet.

Notes

Placing the bowl (in which cream is to be whipped) and the beaters of the hand held electric mixer in the fridge for about ½ to 1 hour before hand helps to whip up the cream whip very well.

As there were already sugar in pastry cream and zabaglione, I omitted sugar in the coffee as I didn't want the tiramisu to be too sweet.

You can assemble the tiramisu in wine glass, cups or verrines as you wish. Leave it to creativity and imagination. Obviously a transparent container will show it's layered structure better;-)

Tiramisu (made from scratch)
39 comments on this post.

Sponge Fingers (Ladyfingers or Savoiardi Biscuits)

The other not-so-secret ingredient needed for making Tiramisu (Daring Bakers' February Challenge by Deeba of Passionate About Baking & Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen) is home made Sponge Fingers, alternatively known as Ladyfingers or Savoiardi biscuits. It's a very simple and straight forward recipe to do. Nothing to be afraid of except maybe if you are afraid you can't get your whites to stiff peaks. A little dash of salt in your whites before you whip will do the trick. One of the little problems I encountered was controlling the batter coming out of my ziploc piping bag. I'm not very skilled at piping my batter yet. LOL! The other is that my sponge fingers were baked earlier than the time indicated. So do watch your savoiardi biscuits in the oven. Other than that, making these biscuits is a breeze.

The other thing I want to draw your attention to is CAKE FLOUR is not self-rising flour. Do not confuse these two. Self rising flour (known as farine à gateaux in France) has baking powder in it whereas Cake Flour has none - contains only plain flour & some corn starch/corn flour.

Ladyfingers (Spong Fingers or Savoiardi Biscuits)

(taken from Cordon Bleu At Home)

Makes: approx 24 big ladyfingers

Ingredients
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 75 g granulated sugar
  • 95 g cake flour, sifted (or ¾ cup plain flour + 2 tbsp cornflour or corn starch)
  • 50 g icing sugar or confectioner's sugar
sponge fingers
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 175°C (350 F - gas mark 4).
  2. Lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line it on the baking tray.
  3. Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form.
  4. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.
  5. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork (so that we can easily incorporate the yolks into the whites) Fold the lightly beaten egg yolks into the meringue, using a wooden spoon.
  6. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
  7. Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips leaving about 1" space in between the strips.
  8. Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
  9. Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
  10. Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.
  11. Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.
sponge fingerssponge fingerssponge fingers
The Verdict

My sponge fingers turned out beautifully. It's very soft and spongy on the inside but not crunchy on the outside like it should be. Maybe it's because I didn't sprinkle all the icing sugar on top as indicated. (I only used ¼ of the quantity stated) The ladyfingers taste kinda flat/bland but tasty all the same. It's very eggy - reminds me of Chinese New Year cookies Kueh Bolu. I like to dip mine with tea. I'll definitely add vanilla extract or other flavours when I made these fingers again.

Notes

My ladyfingers are baked way before the indicated time in the recipe. Perhaps I made them smaller or maybe my oven is hotter. Anyway do keep a watch out on your spong fingers, if it's lightly brown on top and springy to touch before the time is up, you should take it out.

sponge fingers
6 comments on this post.

Homemade Mascarpone Cheese

Making home-made cheese is something that I have always wanted to do but haven't got the guts for it - fear of failure I guess and wasting milk. So when Daring Bakers' announced that we have to make Mascarpone Cheese as part of their February challenge issued by Deeba & Aparna, I was excited but at the same time a bit apprehensive about it. I mean, making cheese sounds so professional. Can I do it? Will I succeed? Pushing my doubts aside, I said to myself: I've lots of time left before the reveal date. Well, time flies when you are having fun... and before long, the dateline for Dbs' challenge was staring at my face. Cornered, I had no choice but to face my fear. Frankly, it's just so ridiculous that I get all so stressed up about it. It's just making cheese, for goodness sake! If it didn't turn out right, it's no big deal, just try again, right?. But I guess we all have our own weird phobia of failures. LOL!

Facing my fear I did. Although I did try to duck out of it when seeing in the recipe that we needed pasterized cream and not ultra pasteurization or UHT (ultra-high temperature treatment). A search on the net gave me conflicting informations. Some sites claim that it won't give you cheese (can't remember the reasons behind it anymore) while others say that as long as you are making soft cheese like mascarpone, it can be done. Since I have only UHT cream with 30% fat in my pantry, I decided to just use it following Ninja's philosophy: if we don't experiment with it, we'll never know!

At first I tried Vera's method cooking the cream on skillet but after like an eternity, still no sign of any bubbles - a cue for me to add lemon juice (I don't have a cooking thermometer, you see... *hint*hint* to whoever wants to get me a gift). So I decided to switch to bain-marie - nope, still no bubbles. Anyway I decided to just squeeze a few drops of juice in the cream to see if anything happens...what can I lose, right? And the cream had been cooking for quite long enough. Well, NOTHING was darn happening! Arrgggh! Stir, stir, stir... can't tell whether it is milk scum or is it really thickening, but something was sure coating my spatula. LOL! I was getting pretty desperate at this point. I mean how long can I cook this cream? I decided to ditch the bain-marie method, put it on direct low heat and a few more drops of lemon juice for the road. Blink! Blink! Like magic, it was thickening. (yes, for a minute there, I doubted my own eyes) Hurray! Did a happy cheese dance 'I'm so excited. Yeah yeah yeah!'

OK, now that I had it thickened... How do I know what's the right consistency? Did a little stove dance: burner, off burner, back to burner as I wasn't sure if it was thick enough. LOL! Anyway, after a while, I decided to stop the musical stove with my mascarpone and let it cool for 20 minutes. Miracle! It had thickened. As I had to leave for grocery shopping, I put it in the fridge to cool while it was kinda warm. Came back a few hours later and found a nice thick textured mascarpone. Did a finger dip - tasted fantastic! I didn't have any water dripping from the sieve like some other bloggers did. By the way, I didn't use cheese cloth for this - don't even know where to buy it here in France so I used the alternative: hub's good old cotton handkerchief. And yes, it's a freshly cleaned one if any of you were wondering. It works like a charm.

MASCARPONE CHEESE

(taken from Vera's Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)

Makes: 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

Ingredients
  • approx 500ml or 2 cups whipping pasteurized cream with 25% to 36% fat (I used UHT cream with 30% fat)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
Directions
  1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering.
  2. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet.
  3. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 87.7°C (90°F). If you do not have a cooking thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface. It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating.
  4. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles.
  5. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. The whipping cream will only just thickens, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover the back of your wooden spoon thickly.
  6. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. If you don't have cheesecloth, use a cotton kitchen towel or a cotton hankerchief.
  8. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time).
  9. Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours. (Vera's notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it'd been cooked enough, because of itscustard-like texture . Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.)
  10. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.
Home made Mascarpone CheeseHome made Mascarpone Cheese
The Verdict

I like the tastes of home-made mascarpone better than the one bought from the store. It's creamy and silkenly delicious. I don't really know how to describe but it just taste differently good.

Notes

If the above method doesn't work for you, cook the cream on direct very low heat. But be careful not to burn it or else you will get a burnt flavoured mascarpone cheese.

If you don't have any cheesecloth at home, you can also use cotton kitchen towel, a big handkerchief or any coarse cloth. You can also use those newborn cotton nappy cloth that we often us as diapers, light blanket or wipers etc.

Home made Mascarpone Cheese
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Poulet à la crème comme en Bresse (Creamy Chicken)

Canada is buzzing with excitment... an euphoria so different from the sombre mood that kicked off the Winter Olympic 2010 on 12 February, with the loss of life of a 21 year old Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run a few days earlier. For the first time in Canadian history, an olympic gold medal was won on home soil by Canadian mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau. This is the 3rd Olympics held in Canada but the Canadians never won a gold in any of those Olympics. What a big celebration that must be for them!

We too, at BloggerAid, are buzzing with excitment of our own kind, cheering alongside all the athletes who have trained so vigorously and represent their respective countries. No, we aren't putting on our skiis or skates. Our sport is FOOD, so we'll be woking & whisking along with them in BloggerAid-CFF Culinary Olympics - an excellent idea by Val and Giz, the founders of BloggerAid :

« In many ways BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine (BACFF) members are also athletes. We represent over 60 international countries who have created and developed a communication and friendship that has brought our world a little closer together with a mission to raise awareness. What better way to come together than to create a Culinary Olympics where we can share our pride for our nations cuisine. »

Did we say FOOD? Now, you are talking to the right person. We, Singaporeans pride ourselves in knowing our food - it's sort of a National pride and past-time. Oh, an advice: never start a food conversation with a Singaporean. Go down that road if you dare but don't say I never warned you.:-) Cuisine of almost all cultures can be found on this tiny island called Singapore. Hence we earn ourselves the name 'Food Paradise'. Bon! Today, we aren't going to talk about Singapore but France - the country of LOVE and its haute cuisine - as it is the place that I call my home today.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn some interesting facts about the country I'm representing, like:

  • Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin (1 Jan 1863 - 2 Sept 1937) founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and was considered as the father of the modern Olympic Games. He also created the official Olympic Rings & Flag, wrote the Olympic Motto, Oath and Creed.
  • The first Olympic Winter Games, originally known as "Winter Sports Week" (but was later officially recognized as "Olympic Winter Games" in 1926) was held in Chamonix, France in 1924. It was a great success attracting 10,004 paying spectators.

All these calories burning winter sports commands a good winter dish to energize us back in form like Cheese Fondue or the Poulet à la crème (creamy chicken) that I'm going to introduce to you today. This recipe is traditional of the Bresse region and is particularly simple to dish up - created by Eliza Blanc, a very talented cook famously known as la mère Blanc who cooked exclusively with only simple and fresh products found in Bresse. In 1929, She was awarded a Star by the Guide of Michelin. In 1930, she was bestowed 1st prize in le Touring Club de France's culinary competition. And in 1933, the Prince of Gastronomy, Curnonsky declared that la mère Blanc is the best cook in the world. She was also the grandmother of great French chef Georges Blanc.

Poulet à la crème comme en Bresse (Creamy Chicken)

(from Ma Cuisine Des Saisons by Georges Blanc)

Ingredients
  • 1.8 kg whole chicken (deboned & cut meat into medium sized pieces)
  • olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 to 3 tbsp plain flour
  • ½ litre (500 ml) thick cream or thick crème fraîche
  • 3 egg yolks (to mix with thick creme)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove
  • 1 small branch thym
  • ½ bay leaf
Poulet a la creme comme Bresse
Directions
  1. Put the chicken carcase in a pot with some water. Cover and let it brew. Keep some chicken stock aside.
  2. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces.
  3. Heat up some olive oil on a big pan or wok on high heat and lightly brown the chicken pieces.
  4. Add in the onion prick with a clove on it, thym and bay leaf.
  5. Add in a bit of butter or olive oil, stir in the plain flour. Mix, let it blend and cook for a minute or two.
  6. Add in some chicken stock, enough to cover the chicken pieces (half way) but not submerging it nor cover 3/4 of it.
  7. Stir and bring it to a boil. Stir to blend it together. Cover and cook under low heat for about 30 minutes.
  8. At the end of 30 minutes, take out the chicken pieces and put it aside - keep warm.
  9. Filter the sauce with sieve to filter out the herbs and spices n onions.
  10. Reheat the sauce, add in the thick cream already mixed with egg yolk. Stir to blend it. Cook it under low heat so that it doesn't boil.
  11. Adjust the consistence of the sauce according to your taste by diluting it with a bit more stock or thicken it with more cream.
  12. Adjust the seasoning according to taste and complete the seasoning with a light squeeze of lemon juice.
  13. Serve immediately hot with rice or pasta.
Poulet a la creme comme BressePoulet a la creme comme Bresse
The Verdict

This dish is very rich, creamy and deliciously aromatic. The chicken has to be top quality here, you'll taste the difference. I would highly recommend to add in morsels of mushrooms (morilles is my favorite with this dish).

Notes

Alternatively, you can simply chop up the chicken pieces with bones on it and cook as per above but just add water instead of chicken stock. If you use a good quality chicken for this recipe, you won't need any commercial chicken stock to make this dish taste good. I didn't take out the chicken and sieve to filter out the spices from the sauce.

Poulet a la creme comme Bresse

The members of BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine have published a cookbook BloggerAid CookBook where 100% of the proceeds target children and education through the World Food Programme called School Meals. The highly successful BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine Cookbook continues to be available through the Create Space e-store. The e-store is a direct connection of Amazon but the book cannot be found directly on the Amazon.com site. We have chosen to deal exclusively with Create Space where our children in the School Meals Programme will benefit the most! This professional cookbook makes an excellent gift for family and friends. So let's keep the momentum going. Tell your friends, who will tell 2 friends, who will tell another 2 friends...

BACFF
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Hummus & Pita

Before Little One entered our lives, Pierre & I dined, quite often, at Le Baalbeck, a small family restaurant specialised in Lebanese cuisine, down the street from our apartment in Nantes. Each time, without fail, we ordered our favourite apetizer, Humus and Moutabal even though we knew that we would struggle to finish our main course afterwards, like always. LOL!

So when Michele of Veggie Num Nums, Daring Cooks' February host, challenged all of us to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Dugid, needless to say, I was thrilled. I have always wanted to make Hummus & Pita bread but never got around to make it. Especially the Pita, as my skills at making bread is somewhat a hit & miss... most of the time, it's a miss.

For those who aren't familiar with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, Pita (means bread in Aramaic) is a round pocket bread which is used to scoop sauce or dips such as hummus or to wrap kebabes, gyros or falafel like a sandwich. It is baked at very high temperature causing the flattened dough to puff up like a puffer fish, thus creating a "pocket". And when the bread cools and flattens, this pocket in the middle remains, creating a space used in various dishes.

Hummus is a Levantine Arab dip made of chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. It is served as part of a meze or as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant. Hummus is high in iron and vitamin C with a significant amounts of folate and vitamin B6.

Hummus & Pita

(Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden and Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)

Serves: 6 - 8 people

Ingredients

Hummus

  • 1½ cups dried chickpeas (soaked in cold water overnight) or well drained canned chickpeas
  • 2 lemons (juiced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed or pounded)
  • a big pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • some olive oil

Pita

  • 2 tsp regular dry yeast
  • 2½ cups lukewarm water
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
Directions

How to make Hummus

  1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Skip this part if you are using canned chickpeas.
  2. Drain, but reserve some of the cooking liquid.
  3. Puree the beans in a food processor (or use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
  4. Add in lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt & tahini and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
  5. Lastly, stir in some olive oil to get a smoother & creamier paste.
  6. Serve with pita.
  7. If not serving it immediately, keep it covered in refrigerator.

How to make Pita

  1. In a large bowl, pour the warm water over the dry yeast. Stir to dissolve it.
  2. Stir in 3 cups of flour - 1 cup at the time. Stir it 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes or as long as 2 hours.
  3. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well.
  4. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir.
  5. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. To check if your dough is elastic, pinch a small bit of dough, lightly coat with flour, spread it out. If it spreads easily without breaking into holes, your dough is done. If not, continue to knead.
  6. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1½ hours.
  7. Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F - gas mark 8).
  8. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and set half aside covered.
  9. Divide the other half dough into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands.
  10. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.
  11. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious.
  12. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.
PitaPita
The Verdict

The Hummus was perfect - creamy and tasty as it should be. However I added more tahini in my hummus than indicated in the above recipe to balance the taste.

The Pita was perfect too - tasty and beautifully puffed up like it should. The only thing that disappoints me is that it didn't get a bit brown like those in the restaurant. Perhaps baking it at higher temperature like 330°C under the grill for a minute or so might do the trick. I'll try this out next time.

Notes

For Hummus, it only takes about 15 minutes to make this if you are using canned chickpeas. Keep the leftover hummus covered in the refrigerator. Mine still tasted great on the 3rd day kept in the refrigerator. The bottle of tahini I bought from a local store is just grounded sesame seeds with water and not oil.

Hummus & PitaHummus & Pita
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Red Velvet Cake (with beetroot juice)

Red Velvet Cake (RVC) is a mysterious cake to me. Why? Because lots of people crave and rave about it, not to mention even bake it and eat it. But not me.... why not? I don't really know but that bright blood red looking slice of layered cake simply doesn't turn me on. Quite the opposite: my immediate thought was that there must be a horendous amount of food colouring in it. So how come I'm making one today? Well, it all started one day while twittering: Davina, who loves RVC, upon hearing that Aparna & I have never made one before, urged us to try it. That got Aparna & I talking about it, how did RVC got it's red colour, it's origin etc. Little did we know that our curiosity would turn into adventure with Alessio & Asha on board (aptly named the " 4 Velveteers"), each of us trying to make au naturel RVC.

So what is Red Velvet Cake? It's apparently supposed to be a rich, moist layered chocolate cake with a dark red, bright red or red-brown colour with either cheese or buttercream frosting - very popular in Southern U.S. The red colour in question comes from either uses of food colouring to get the artificial bright red colour or chemistry reaction between ingredients to get the natural crimson colour - the acidic vinegar and buttermilk brings out the red anthocyanin in the cocoa. From what I understand, with the use of more alkaline « Dutch Processed' » cocoa, the red colour is more prominent. It is said that the natural tinting might have prompted the name 'Red Velvet' or 'Devil's Food' and other similar names for chocolate cakes.

My quest to make an au naturel RVC took me through a sea of recipes on the net - all demanding a lot, I mean really a HUGE, amount of food colouring like 6 tbsp to 4 bottles of food colouring. All the recipes are quite similar from one to another so I decided to ask Davina for her favourite recipe. And this is what I used and adapted from there.

Red Velvet Cake
Ingredients
  • 207 g cake flour (not self-rising flour)
  • 113 g butter (melted)
  • 250 g sugar
  • 4 eggs (separate egg yolks and whites)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 9 tbsp beetroot juice
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 180 ml buttermilk

Cream Cheese-Mascarpone Frosting

  • 180 ml heavy whipping cream or crème fraîche
  • 114 g cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 114 g mascarpone cheese (room temperature)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • a few tablespoon beetroot juice
  • 55 g icing/powdered sugar
Directions
  1. Preheat oven at 175°C (350°F - gas mark 4 ).
  2. Lightly greased 2x 22 cm cake pan, lined the bottom with baking paper.
  3. In a small bowl, mix well the cake flour together with the cocoa powder. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with sugar, vanilla extract and buttermilk until it is light and double the volume.
  5. Slowly beat in the cooled melted butter and beetroot juice.
  6. Fold in the flour mixture into the batter until combined.
  7. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a dash of salt until the peaks are stiff.
  8. Gently fold it into the batter until all is combined.
  9. Divide the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  10. Let the cake cool on the wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting it.
  11. Once the cake is cooled completely, spread a layer of cream cheese-mascarpone frosting on top of the 1st cake. Gently placed the 2nd cake on top of the 1st cake, spread a layer of frosting on tope and the sides.

Cream Cheese-Mascarpone Frosting

  1. Process your cream cheese and mascarpone cheese either in a food processor or handheld mixer until smooth.
  2. Add beetroot juice, vanilla and icing sugar until smooth.
  3. Add in the whipped cream, whisk until stiff peaks form. Your frosting is ready to be used.
Red Velvet Cake
The Verdict

The cake came out surprisingly well. There is indeed a hint of red colour - not the chemical red kind. It's more of a earthly red tone - I kinda like it. Maybe it would be dark red if I had added beetroot puree instead of juice only.

The cake has a kinda spongy like texture which is quite nice, however it is lacking in the taste department. There was only an extremely light hint of chocolate taste in the cake but Pierre would beg to differ on that, finding it really bland. LOL! The frosting is OK but we aren't a big fan of rich creamy frosting like this either.

Do I want to make another attempt to experiment with it to get a better taste and colour? No, I don't believe it is even worth it. When I asked Pierre that question, his immediate reaction was: 'Oh, no. Please get over it and move on.' LOL! That sums up how much we love this cake. So we still don't understand why all the Red Velvet Cake lovers out there are willing to hand out their money for an artificially heightened Red Chocolate Cake. If it is chocolate cake you want, might as well get a real rich chocolately cake sans 4 bottles of food colouring in it, no?

Notes

To make your own cake flour: for every cup of plain flour, replace 2 tbsp of it with cornflour or cornstarch. Sieve it together at least 5 times or more to make sure it is well incorporated together.

To make beetroot juice: Cut your beetroot (cooked) into small pieces, process it in food process until it is a puree. Put the beetroot puree in a muslin cloth, twist it and press out the juice.

Red Velvet Cake

Now that you have seen mine RVC, let's check out the other 3 Red Velveteers: Aparna (her eggless RVC using beetroot puree), Alessio (using his genius brain to create his raspberry RVC) and Asha (tried her hands at chemistry) and see how their experiment turned out.

Psss... this is just the beginning of the adventures of us 4 Velveteers. Remember to keep a look out... you'll never know what we are up to next!;-)

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