Saturday, April 28, 2007

Steamed Eggs

The supermarket I frequent has been selling a tray of 30 eggs for $2.85! So different from the days when bird flu was a scare here. Since I can't resist a bargain, I've been cooking with many eggs.

I'm also using this opportunity to take part in A Taste of Yellow, an event being organised by Barbara at Winos and Foodies as part of LiveStrong Day 2007 on May 16th, which is when the round up will be posted. Check it out!

When I get sick, I turn to comfort food and steamed eggs is simple fare that does just that. Growing up, my mother used to cook this in the rice cooker using a trivet that raised the dish above the steaming rice, cooking everything at the same time. My sister and I were happy to eat these eggs with only rice and soya sauce. A simple pleasure.

It wasn't until I started living on my own that I learnt how to make these. I had a flatmate whose grandmother told her the proportions of egg to water to ensure a smooth soft texture - for every egg used, fill 4 half shells with water and combine. Basically, for every egg, add 2 parts of water.

Although I loved it plain as a child, I now prefer it a little more jazzed up. I've steamed this with minced pork, prawns and even corned beef.

I'm using only eggs for this recipe. The eggs pictured are salted eggs on the left and century eggs on the right.

If the salted eggs come covered in charcoal, they can simply be washed under running water before being hardboiled.

The century eggs are covered in clay and rice husk. It has to be removed by firmly knocking it against a hard surface, much like for hardboiled eggs. It doesn't need cooking, its ready to eat. However, the taste may take some getting used to.

Steamed Eggs with Century Eggs and Salted Eggs
serves 6

4 eggs
350ml water, or twice the volume of eggs
2 salted eggs, hardboiled
2 century eggs
pinch of salt

Chop up the hardboiled salted eggs and century eggs (I used an egg slicer) before mixing in with the eggs, water and salt. There's no need to beat the egg mixture or there will be an excess of bubbles on the steamed surface.
Distribute into individual portions or steam it all in a shallow dish for 10-15 minutes or until set.

When ready, drizzle with sesame oil or soya sauce, garnish with chopped spring onions. Serve this together with rice and other dishes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

aka Refund Muffins

In keeping with the exploratory spirit of the last post, I wanted to try out my heart shaped silicone cups so I made Snickerdoodle Muffins from one of my favourite food bloggers, Peabody.

Besides a great fondness I have for cinnamon, a ridiculous comment that resulted from that post also got me itching to try the recipe out. Peabody was actually presented with a bill from someone who tried the recipe and found it a failure! How's that for absurd, ludicrous, nonsesical, outrageous, preposterous? You get the picture.

Subsequent posts here and here have expressed what I already feel so I just wanted to bake these muffins to see if there was ANY validity in that complaint.

Well, here are the results of my efforts. I made 26 muffins from the recipe using the silicone cups. I can't say if they're a complete success or not since I've never eaten Snickerdoodle cookies but they sure look like the ones everyone else made. They taste great (I like mine dipped in the extra leftover cinammon sugar) and the texture was light and moist. I brought it to work to share and my colleagues LOVED it. They said it went very well with coffee and they are asking for more.

So there, no need for refund!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Trying out new things

While waiting for new cookbooks to arrive in the mail this week, I wanted to try out some recipes that I had read on other blogs and at the same time, break in my silicone baking products.

Reading the title on this post was advertisement enough to attempt the recipe for Bacon Brittle from here. This was my first time making toffee so I stuck to the recipe.

The silicone baking sheet was very useful especially when removing the toffee. I had to peel mine off because despite putting it into the fridge for a while (where it hardened up beautifully), it quickly softened and I couldn't break them up into chips. An air-conditioned kitchen would be nice.

However, the bacon brittle was awesome! After pouring out the toffee bacon mixture, the chopsticks that I had used to stir it over the heat had fused so instead of soaking it, I had a toffee lollipop on a chopstick! I had to quickly pack some for my colleagues before I consumed it all by myself.

Next up was Tartlette's recipe for the Ultimate Lemon Pound Cake. She used a 12-cup bundt pan while my silicone one was smaller, 8-10 cup. I was prepared to do little loaves with the extra batter but it worked out fine and turned out beautifully. Removing the cake was a breeze and I'm a total convert to silicone baking products.

Verdict: The cake was everything as descibed and I only gave away a quarter of the cake so far. Let's see how long it lasts!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Brown Sauce Noodles (Zhajiang Mian)

Yesterday, I went for lunch at a famous Taiwanese restaurant that has branches all over Asia and the U.S. While the steamed pork dumplings were good, the Zhajiang Mian was rather disappointing. I thought I should be able to do better since I've made it before so I went back to this book.

The author likened this dish to the Chinese equivalent of the Bolognese sauce and I totally agree. Just like making the Bolognese sauce, this is just as easy. That's why I'm submitting this for Presto Pasta Night hosted by Once Upon a Feast. Look out for the round-up!

Getting the right type of noodles is important. The recipe recommended fresh noodles but I could only find the dried versions at my supermarket. Basically, the noodles are the Asian equivalent of pasta, whether fresh or dried. Look out for labels like Shanghai noodles or if all else fails, ramen should also do.

I couldn't find any brown bean sauce as in the recipe so I substituted it with crushed salted soya bean which looked sort of like a brown bean sauce.

Brown Sauce Noodles (Zhajiang Mian)

serves 4

4 tbs crushed salted soya bean
1 tbs hoisin sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 cup spring onions (including white part), chopped
1 tbs garlic, finely chopped
500g (1 lb) minced pork
300g dried Shanghai noodles
1 cucumber, cut into long matchsticks

Mix the crushed soya beans, hoisin sauce, stock and sugar. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the garlic and 3/4 cup of the spring onions until the garlic is starting to brown. Add the pork and stir fry. When pork is almost cooked through, add in the bean mixture, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cook the noodles in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and divide into serving bowls.

Serve the sauce over the cooked noodles together with the remaining spring onions and cucumber matchsticks.

Verdict: The sauce was quite salty but it went down well with the noodles and cucumber. Do a taste test and add more water, hoisin sauce or sugar accordingly. This was SO much better than the one at the restaurant and I'm glad I got that craving settled.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chai White Chocolate Mousse

According to this, my recipe should actually be Masala White Chocolate Mousse. In any case, I love chai! I'm not much of a coffee person and when I drink tea, its most often tea flavoured milk, preferably with some spice.

When I found Chockylit's Chai Spice Mix, I soon set about making some for myself. I'm already on my second batch and steadily using it up. Tweak the spices to suit individual tastes because I added more cloves and cinnamon, my favourites.

Chai Spice Mix

4 tsp cloves, whole
2 tsp fennel, whole
3 tsp cinammon, ground
2 tsp ginger, ground
3 tsp cardamon

Put everything into the food processor and grind. Before storing, use a fine sieve to remove any bits not ground up.

While going through recipes for mousse, I discovered that there were generally two types, those made with egg whites and those that used gelatin. The main difference was in the texture and its really a personal preference.

Chai White Chocolate Mousse (with eggs)
serves 4

1 cup / 5-6 oz white chocolate chips
1 tbs milk
3 eggs, separated
1 tbs sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp chai spice mix

Melt the chocolate chips with the milk in a double boiler then blend in the egg yolks until creamy and set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and sugar until stiff. In another bowl, whip the cream then add in the chai spice and the melted chocolate mixture. Fold the cream and chocolate into the egg whites. Divide into containers and chill for at least 4 hours. Dust with more chai spice before serving.

For the gelatin version, I follwed the Donna Hay recipe posted by Tartlette but since I didn't have single or pouring cream (18% fat), I did the math and figured a cup of cream (35% fat) and a cup of low fat milk should be able to replace it.

Although this seems more custard than mousse-like (or did I mess up?), this is the version I prefer.

Chai White Chocolate Mousse (with gelatin)
serves 4

3 tbs water
2 tsp gelatin powder
1 cup / 5-6 oz white chocolate chips
1 cup cream
1 cup low fat milk
1 1/2 tsp chai spice mix

Place water in a bowl, sprinkle with gelatin and let it stand. Melt the chocolate chips in the cream and milk over low heat. Stir in the gelatin until dissolved then add in the chai spice. Remove from heat and whisk for a few minutes until cooled. Divide into containers and refrigerate for about an hour.

You might want to stir the the mix in each container after chilling for 20 minutes or so. This is to prevent the spices from settling to the bottom, which was the case in mine.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Baked Mini Cheesecake

Since stumbling onto a food blogging event on cheesecake, Hay Hay Its Donna Day (HHDD#10), there were so many recipes that intrigued me but I decided to start with the Mini Rasberry Swirl Cheesecake entry because I had just bought the same foil cupcake liners and I wanted to try them out.

The recipe originally came from Taste Magazine but I adapted it. I had already opened a pack of Arnott's Chocolate Ripple which was not going to last much longer despite being kept in an airtight container (nothing stays crisp in the humidity here). Use any finely ground biscuit as the base, preferably not too sweet since the cream cheese mixture takes care of that. Pressing the biscuit into the bottom of the foil liners was made easier using the base of a small plastic cup.

The sugar has been reduced since the original recipe used lemon and the tartness had to be taken care of. I topped these cheesecakes with melted white chocolate but any fruit puree should work well too.

Mini Baked Cheesecakes
makes 12

1 cup finely ground biscuits
2 1/2 tbs butter, melted
375g cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup white chocolate chips, melted

Preheat the oven at 320F. Mix ground buscuits and melted butter, divide among 12 paper or foil cupcake liners, pressing down firmly. Bake for 5 minutes then remove and cool. Reduce oven to 260F.
Beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy then add the eggs and combine well. Fill each of the cupcake liners almost to the top then drizzle with the melted white chocolate. Bake for 40-50 minutes until just set and no longer wobbly. They expand a little in the oven and shrink upon cooling.

Verdict: I like to eat this straight out of the fridge when the base is firm. The flavours were as expected and the cheesecake texture was not too dense although the shrinking didn't make it so pretty.

My Magnolia Fairy Cake

I was again inspired by the lovely pictures of Nigella's Fairy Cakes in her book and I decided to make them for a childhood friend's birthday dinner tonight. As a doctor, the birthday girl regularly reminds me to lose weight so I decided to cut down on the sugar in the cupcake recipe because the icing on top would more than make up for it.

I tried Nigella's cupcake recipe last night and it was a disaster. After I compared it with the cupcake recipe that I have adapted from Magnolia Bakery, I realised that Nigella's recipe had 1/2 tsp more baking powder and a lot less milk. They had a beautiful mushrooming dome in the oven which promptly fell flat and even sunk when cooled.

Anyway, here's the version I usually rely on. It makes a little more than the usual 12 but I find this helpful just in case a couple of them turn out less than perfect (as in the case today) or it leaves me with 2 more to eat or give away. The recipe can also be easily doubled if I'm baking for a party.

Vanilla Cupcakes
makes 14 cupcakes

1 cup or 125g butter
3/4 cup or 150g sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups or 150g flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract ( just a tad less of you want a milder vanilla flavour)

Preheat the oven at 350F. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs then sifted flour, baking powder and salt. Finally, mix in the milk and vanilla extract. Scoop into cupcake liners, half full to leave room for the icing.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
The cupcakes will shrink a little after cooling.

I had also read in a blog somewhere that icing could be made without egg whites, using just lemon juice or milk to bind the icing sugar. So it was experiment time again. I started small and made 3 batches of the following recipe to ice all the cupcakes I made.

Easy Icing
makes enough to cover 4-5 cupcakes

1 cup icing sugar, sifted
2 tbs milk or lemon juice
colouring or flavouring of choice

Combine all the ingredients just before icing and work fast because a 'skin' forms over the icing surface quite quickly. Decorate with lay ons or sprinkles.

The next time I try this, I will make a more flavourful icing. Maybe with rose or lavender...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Moist Lemon Almond Cake

Finally, I had the time to try Nigella's Damp Lemon Almond Cake yesterday. I've renamed my adaptation of the recipe because here in the tropics, "damp" invariably brings on visions of mould.

Another reason why I have tried more and more lemon recipes is due to the Microplane Fine Grater, zesting is such a breeze now! It great for hard cheeses too.

The original recipe called for the cake to be baked in a 21-23cm Springform tin for about an hour, loosely covering with foil for the last half of the baking time. However, I decided to experiment so I divided the batter to fill 2 mini loaf tins while the other half filled 12 cupcake cases.

Moist Lemon Almond Cake
makes 4 mini loaves or 24 cupcakes

2 cups or 225g butter
2 1/8 cups or 225g sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup or 50g flour
2 1/2 cups or 250g ground almonds
1/2 tsp almond essence
2 lemons, juice & zest

Preheat the oven at 350F. Cream the butter and sugar until almost white. Beat in the eggs then the sifted flour and ground almonds, mix well. Lastly, stir in the almond essence, lemon zest and juice.
If using mini loaf tins (6 x 3 in), bake for 35-40 minutes, cover loosely with foil after 20 minutes. For cupcakes, bake for 25-30 minutes, covering with foil after 15 minutes or so.
After cooling, the cake will shrink from the sides of the tin or cupcake liner.

Verdict: The cake is moist and very crumbly. Its got a bite to it due to the ground almonds and while the almond taste is apparent, its not overpowering. Its very fast to put together and I love it! Will definitely do it again.

Update: The cake tastes even better today after being fridged for a day. Can I say again how much I love this cake?

Why Lemon Almond?

I had been toying with the idea of starting a baking blog when I was browsing through my newly purchased book from Nigella Lawson. Her recipe for a Lemon Almond Cake just grabbed me and I knew that had to be the first thing I would make from her book.

It also occurred to me that this would be a great name for my new blog! Lemon and almond are flavours I’ve always enjoyed. While chocolate is sometimes a favourite (depending on the time of the month), lemon and almond are perennial. It also describes my kitchen - almond countertops and lemon coloured cabinets.

Of course, my future posts will not focus only on lemon or almond flavours. I look forward to being motivated by the many food blogging challenges that I hope will inspire me to try new things.

In my kitchen, I rely on a trusty old Kenwood A701A to do most of my mixing and whisking. I also strongly recommend an oven thermometer because temperature guesswork sometimes results in frustration and grief.

With the variety of cookbooks and recipes out there, its sometimes hard to figure out the proper measurement of the quantities needed. I prefer to use volume measuremets in my recipes simply because I’m too lazy to take out the weighing machine and have one thing extra to clean.

These are some approximate equivalents that I use:
Butter: 1 cup = 227g = 2 sticks = 8oz
Flour: 1 cup = 100g
Sugar: 1cup = 200g
1 egg = 3tbs (2tbs white, 1tbs yolk)

In addition, I also refer to this useful chart for converting volume and weight for all sorts of other ingredients.

So ends my inaugural entry. Look out for more good stuff!