Monday, July 23, 2012

Mini Raspberry Lemon Cheesecake

I'm not particularly a cheesecake lover, especially those super rich cheesecake.  Usually, I will go for something lighter, sponge-like cheesecake or those with lemon topping.  So, I'm making this lemon cheesecake recipe again, this time in petite portion.

Instead of using digestive biscuit crumbs, I used a thin slice of chocolate sponge for the base.  I did a half recipe and yields about 12 mini cheesecakes.  These are great party finger food too.  Make them in advance and serve chill.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Seafood Stew with Fennel

Here is another dish that I cooked with fennel.  I read that fennel goes well with seafood, so I put together fresh scallops, fish and prawns.  

I prepared smoked salmon salad to go with my seafood stew.  And yes, there's fennel in this salad too - very thinly sliced fennel ;)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pan-Fried Fennel Pork Rolls

This is the first time I buy, cook and eat fennel.  I know nothing about this vegetable, except for the few times that I watched chefs preparing fennel in some cooking shows.  Most of the time, it is cut into quarter or chunks, toss with olive oil, salt/pepper, mix with other root vegetables and roast in oven.  My understanding of the fennel stops here.  In the past, I hardly see fennel in Singapore, other than Cold Storage (now also available at NTUC Finest and Giant).  So, it is a rather foreign vegetable to me.  And the price is SO eXpensive ... Why should I pay so much for a bulb that looks like onion (w/o skin) with leaves on top and taste similar to celery?  

But when I was window-shopping at the Queen Victoria Market during my recent Australia trip, I was thrilled to see big bulbs of fennels in the market.  They were huge compared to those that I have seen in Singapore.  And yes, they were much cheaper too.  Happily, I bought two bulbs.  

The first dish that I prepare with fennel is these pork rolls.  This is one of my favorite dishes to prepare.  Simple and delicious.  I tried with Enoki mushrooms, but find the texture of the Enoki too springy or elastic.  I prefer to use some parboiled carrot, celery, mushrooms and spring onion.  Cut all the vegetables into thin sticks and roll them up in thinly-sliced marinated pork shoulder.  

You will need:
Pork shoulder - thinly-sliced (I used frozen pork, ready sliced)
Carrots, fennel, Chinese mushrooms, spring onion
Sauce - soy sauce, coca-cola, grated ginger, water


1) Cut carrot, fennel, Chinese mushrooms, spring onion into thin sticks.  For carrot, parboil in hot water for 2 minutes.

2) Take 2 sticks of vegetable each, place them on a thin slice of pork shoulder and roll up.  Seal the edge with a little cornstarch.  (Marinate the pork with soy sauce and pepper for an hour).

3) Pan fry the pork rolls over high heat (place the seal-side down) till brown.  Pour in seasoning sauce - I used a combination of soy sauce, coca-cola (I happened to be drinking Coke while cooking....) and grated ginger.  The sugar in the coca-cola helps to balance the saltiness in the soy sauce, giving the dish a nice flavour plus colour.  

4) Remove the pork rolls and place on dish.  Cook the sauce further to thicken it.  Stir a little cream to the sauce.  Pour over the pork rolls and serve hot.

When pan-frying the pork rolls, make sure the pan is heated up on high heat first.  The high heat helps to seal the meat juice and lock in flavour, plus of course, creating that wonderful aroma in the dish.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Easy 3 plus 1 menu

I have not posted any weekend 3 plus 1 menu for quite some time.  Most of the time, I'm too busy with cooking, so did not bother to take any pictures.  Here is my simple 3 plus 1 dinner, which leaves me ample time to snap some pictures before dinner:

Winter melon and corn soup (冬瓜蜀米汤)
Stir-fry celery with mushroom and minced pork (西芹炒鲜菇)
Steamed chicken with Chinese mushrooms and sausage (冬菇腊肠蒸鸡)
Pan-fried brinjal with kicap manis (香煎茄子)


1) Winter melon soup
Winter melon on its own is very bland, so you need to borrow some "flavour enhancer".  I don't mean you go and grab a packet of MSG.  The usual chicken/pork/bones give the soup flavour, but somehow you don't get the aroma or depth.  So in addition to the usual pork/chicken/bones, I will add a few pieces of dried oyster or a small piece of Chinese ham (金华火腿) and 1 to 2 Chinese mushrooms.  They do wonders for the soup.  Since I'm using Chinese mushrooms for my steamed chicken dish, I just cut and throw the mushroom stems into the soup.

2) Stir-fry celery
This is everyday food, i.e. healthy, easy and affordable (read: cheap!).  If you want to make it more appealing on special occasions, use large prawns (西芹虾球) or fresh scallops instead of minced pork.  Instead of using MSG, borrow a ladle of "instant, MSG-free stock" from your winter melon soup!  It tastes so good that I did not even need to use any oyster sauce as seasoning.  Maybe just a tiny pinch of salt or to taste.

3) Steamed chicken 
Marinate the chicken at least 3 to 4 hours before cooking.  Stir-fry the Chinese mushrooms and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.  Cool completely before adding to the marinated chicken and steam over high heat.  Pre-cooking the mushrooms is an extra step, but it gives the dish a better aroma and flavour.  And don't forget to squeeze some grated ginger wine over the chicken before steaming. Click here for details to prepare this dish.

4) Pan-fried brinjal
This is a wonderful idea from Sonia.  If you like a healthier version, you can always steam the brinjal instead of pan-frying it.  Or if you like it spicy, here another way I prepare this dish (click).

Click here for more menu ideas.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Marble Butter Cake

I do not bake butter cakes as often as I bake sponge cakes.  The previous butter cake that I baked was a 2-tier wedding cake for my cake decorating class.  Personally, I prefer sponge cake for the softer and lighter texture, and also the lower fats content.  No kidding, one 8" butter cake will need a whole block of butter (250g!).  That is the amount needed for making two 8" tart shells or three 8" sponge cakes. 

Marble Butter Cake, baked in chiffon mould

If you read any butter cake recipes, most will begin with creaming the butter and sugar till light and fluffy.  Thereafter, you either add in whole eggs (and continue to beat for a few more minutes) or use the egg separation method, i.e. the egg whites are whisk till stiff before combining with the beaten butter/egg yolk mixture.  I have also try beating egg yolks separately from butter/sugar before combining the two, as in my earlier walnut butter cake.    Egg separation method yields softer and lighter butter cakes due to the added air in the whisked egg whites.  Nevertheless, all these methods involves creaming the butter and sugar together.  I have also seen rubbing-in method used for making butter cake at a demo session.  Butter is rubbed into flour till it resembles fine breadcrumbs, before adding in buttermilk and eggs.  Surprising, it also yields light texture, perhaps with the addition of buttermilk (though not as soft compared to the creaming method).

Soft and light butter cake

The first lesson I learnt for making butter cake is how to cream the butter and sugar together.  Very often, we read that we need to cream the butter and sugar till "light and fluffy", "pale white" or "creamy".  Sounds familiar?  But just what is light and fluffy?  How pale is pale?  Can we fixed a time required for creaming the butter, say 5 or 10 minutes?  Should we cream the butter when it's cold and hard (straight from the fridge) or let it rest at room temperature to soften?

I'm glad to have learnt from Mr Richard Goh.  He is a very experienced baking instructor and most importantly, he is willing to share his experience and tips with his students.  It was from his baking classes that I learnt the basics and understand why at times my cakes fail.  I will share a few points here on baking butter cakes, which will be useful for new bakers.  But, don't ask me why your cakes turn out this way or that, cos I may not have an answer or expertise to know why.  Instead, I will recommend you to sign up for his classes, which are available at various community centres - check online.

When baking butter cakes:
1) Use cold butter from the fridge, no need to rest at room temperature.  Cut into smaller chunks before creaming.  It makes sense to cream butter when it's cold, especially in our hot tropical weather.  This is to prevent the butter from melting (since it takes some time to cream the butter till fluffy) and cause your cake to be oily.  If you want to soften the butter a little before creaming, I guess there's no harm doing so, as long as you keep an eye on it while creaming the butter.

2) There is no fixed time for creaming butter/sugar.  A handheld mixer with smaller power capacity will take a longer time compared to a stronger mixer.  I use a Kenwood Chef and it takes about 10 minutes to cream 250g butter, before addition of eggs.

3) Light and fluffy, pale white -  this is really a matter of good judgement.  I am still learning how to judge this.  But a general guide will be, if you spread the butter mixture with a palette knife, it should look creamy and smooth.  If your butter cake is hard after baking, most likely you need to cream the butter mixture for a longer time.  If your butter cake looks oily, make sure you use cold butter and do not over-cream the mixture.

4) Fine sugar or caster sugar?  In the past, I had the impression that caster sugar must be used for baking cakes (that's what written in most cake recipes!).  If you master the proper technique of creaming butter (or for sponge cake - whisking the eggs and sugar together), fine sugar works well too and it's much cheaper. I don't know, I did not do an experiment to compare cakes baked with fine sugar vs. caster sugar, but I'm happy with using fine sugar.

5) Another interesting point - cake flour, plain flour, top flour or self-raising flour?  Now, I used mainly plain flour for my butter, sponge and chiffon cakes.  Plain flour works! It's much neater than keeping packets of unused flour in your pantry, plus it's cheaper too.  Sometimes, I will mix a little top flour with plain flour for making chiffon cakes or Swiss rolls, but with no significant differences noted (I understand that top flour is actually the same as plain flour, except it's finer).

6) If using egg separation method, make sure you have folded and combined well the egg whites with the cake batter.  For this step, maybe I should have given my cake batter just a few more folds - see some "holes" in the cake?

And now, the recipe:
(adapted from Richard Goh's Golden Butter Cake)

This butter cake has a very light, soft and moist texture.  It bakes well too, no cracks, no humps etc.

227g unsalted butter (can use salted butter, but I only have unsalted one)
100g fine sugar
1/4 tsp salt
5 egg yolks
50g evaporated milk
1 tsp rum extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

(B) Sift together:
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

(C) Whisk till stiff:
5 egg whites
60g fine sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

(D): 1 tsp chocolate paste (for the marbling effect)

1) Cream butter, sugar and salt at medium speed till fluffy (see pointers above).
2) Add in egg yolks, one at a time.  Add in the evaporated milk, rum and vanilla extract.
3) Add in sifted flour and mix well to combine.
4) Whisk ingredients (C) till stiff and fold to combine with the cake batter.
5) Pour cake batter into greased and lined baking pan (8 or 9" pan), leaving a small portion of cake batter to mix with the chocolate paste.  Pour the chocolate batter into the cake pan and swirl the batter with a palette knife or chopstick to create the marbling effect.
6) Bake in preheated oven at 160C for about 45 to 50 minutes.

Happy Weekend to all!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Asian-Style Ratatouille

Cooking is really about playing a mix and match game.  Last year, I paired eggplant and zucchini in a baked rice dish.  The vegetables were first grilled, then placed over a bed of rice, covered with cheese and tomato sauce, before baking till piping hot.  Now, exactly one year later, I have another idea to cook eggplant and zucchini.  

I give a two thumbs up for this dish.  One to Wendy, for introducing me to this colourful vegetable dish.  I did not watch the cartoon, Ratatouille and never knew that it is also the name of a vegetable stew.  One thing for sure, I'm having trouble pronouncing and spelling this word!  All I remember: there was a colourful "rata....." dish on Wendy's blog.  

Another thumbs up to Sonia, our Nasi Lemak Lover, for giving me the idea to add an Asian twist to this traditional French cuisine.  With just eggplant and sweet soy sauce, she created an amazingly delicious dish.  Simple and nice.  And so, with borrowed ideas from two of my favorite food bloggers, here is my grilled eggplant and zucchini with kicap manis, or Asian-style Ratatouille.

My hubby, who is not really fond of eating eggplant and zucchini, commented that this is very delicious.  He loves how the crispy Sakura shrimps, the sweet soy sauce and the grilled vegetables come together to give that aromatic flavourful bite.

1 yellow zucchini
1 green zucchini
1 eggplant
(Note: try to get similar size and length for the above vegetables)

Sakura shrimps, fried till light brown and crispy
Chopped spring onion, chilies
Fried shallots, plus a little shallot oil
Sweet soy sauce (kicap manis)

Cooking oil, salt

1) Cut all vegetables to thin round disc.  Soak the eggplants in salt water for a few minutes.  Drain, then toss the eggplants with a little cooking oil and a small pinch of salt.  Toss both the yellow and green zucchini with a little cooking oil and pinch of salt.

2) Heat a grilling pan on high heat.  Sear the vegetables on both sides to lock in the moisture (You can also pan fry the vegetables using a frying pan).  

3) Arrange the seared vegetables on a plate (I placed my ceramic plate on the hot cooking stove to keep the plate and vegetables warm).  

4) Garnish with chopped spring onion, chilies and fried shallots.  Drizzle sweet soy sauce (about 1 to 2 tbsp) and a little shallot oil over the vegetables.  

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