Everyday Cooking

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheesecake Pops-A Daring Bakers Challenge

I was still feeling a bit dejected from stuffing up last month's Daring Baker challenge when I saw Elle and Deborah's April dare. It promisingly looked delicious and fun- Cheesecake Pops. I've never had these before, let alone attempted making them.
The pops looked like the perfect treat to take to our favourite twins' fourth birthday party. The do was to be held over the ANZAC long-weekend which means I get an extra day of playing around lest things don't work out the first time around. I need not have worried. These were actually quite easy to make.

Basically, one makes a baked cheesecake, let this firm up, scoop balls out of the cake, freeze the pops and then dip them in chocolate and then decorate. See, doesn't that sound easy? I made less than the specified quantity in the original recipe but this recipe seems quite amenable to adjustments. I wasn't very strict with the measurements and ratios but the cheesecake turned out beautifully light (for a cheesecake anyway. None of that dense texture which I don't particulary enjoy) and yet firm. Instead of using 5 tubs of cream cheese, I only used 3. I used 3 eggs (instead of 5), 1 egg yolk (instead of 2) and 1 cup of sugar (instead of 2). These quantities produced 25 pops.

Oh and I baked the cheesecake for 70minutes, instead of the recommended 35-40mins. I used a spring-form tin, wrapped in three layers of foil to avoid water getting in. I have to say, this is the very first successful cheesecake I have made, no cracks- the top was as smooth as a bub's bottom.

The recipe also calls for scooping out balls of cheesecake but I decided to slice up the cake into cubes. Less wasteage and mess that way, I reckon. The cheesecake morsels were coated in white and dark chocolate from either end of the luxury spectrum. The 250g of white chocolate was a cheap and cheerful, store home-brand. The dark chocolate was Couverture. They were what I had in the cupboard, not really because there was some well-thought out reasoning behind the choices. Curiously, both kinds of chocolate turned out very well after melting them with a tablespoon of shortening. They formed sweet, crunchy shells over the frozen cheesecake cubes.

As for decorating, the pops, no sophisticated bling on mine. Just a sprinkling of colours from rainbow choc chips, butterfly shapes and hundreds-and-thousands.

The pops were a hit at the party! It wasn't a particularly warm day and they held up well on the wooden craft sticks I used. These just make such cute nibbles for the little ones but the taste was much appreciated by the grown-ups. Thanks for a fun challenge Elle and Deborah.

Here is the original recipe from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor.

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mixed Vegetable Bhaji

Onion Bhajis are quite popular as a snack or appetiser item in the UK. Like most Indian dishes that could be found in the west, I'm not really sure about the authenticity of the recipes used but they taste great :-)
I am taking more liberty with the bhaji, adding more vegetables in the mix to make these crisp, mildly-spiced fritters. I hope my Indian friends won't mind...
These are best made with chickpea flour (gram flour, chana besan). I suppose plain flour could be substituted but one would miss out on the sublte, nutty, chick pea flavour.

Mixed Vegetable Bhaji

2 cups chickpea flour
1 cup thinly sliced brown onion
1 cup julienned sweet potato
1/2 cup julienned zucchini
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
cold water
oil for frying

1 tsp mint leaves, chopped finely
1/2 cup natural yogurt

In a bowl, mix together the flour and spices. Add the vegetables and mix well. If the batter is too dry, add some cold water, a tablespoon at a time. You do not want a runny batter, it should be thick enough to make patties out of.
Season with salt. Take a tablespoon of the batter at a time, form into balls and flatten with your palms to form patties.

Heat up the oil and deep-fry the patties until crisp. Let the fritters sit on paper towels prior to serving.

In a small bowl, pour the mint leaves into the yogurt and stir. Serve the bhajis with this dip.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blue-Eye Cod with Cherry Tomato Stew

Fish. I just don't cook it enough. I love it but my creativity with fish usually stops at baked salmon. Having found a fish I love will definitely change this, though. Blue-eye cod (Trevalla) is firm, delicately-flavoured and just lends itself to so many ways of preparing.

Blue-eyes are huge for eating fish. The four cutlets I picked up from the fish monger weighed almost 1.6kilos. That's 400g of succulent fish meat in the photo above. I'd normally stay away from large fish as I haven't really got the knack for preparing them. Tuna and swordfish seem to always turn out too dry, obviously from overcooking. However, Blue eye was easy to get perfectly crisp on the outside yet moist and tender on the inside.

I was going to prepare this simply fried with a bit of tartare sauce on the side but the husband came home with an interesting loot after a fishing trip on the river. No, he didn't manage to bag a decent catch (the bream were too small and had to be tossed back in) but his fishing buddies sent him home with a bucket of beautiful, juicy cherry tomatoes and a few fresh bay leaves from their garden. These went nicely into a ratatouille-style vegetable stew that beautifully-complemented the fish.

Blue-Eye Cod with Cherry Tomato Stew
serves four

olive oil
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1 medium brown onion, sliced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c very ripe cherry tomatoes, chopped finely
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
3 bay leaves, torn
1 yellow capsicum, sliced thinly
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 x 400g Blue-eye cutlets
1/2 Tbsp tumeric (optional)
1/2 c flour
salt and pepper

To prepare the vegetables, heat up the olive oil in the pan and toss in the fennel and onions.
Cook until soft. Add the garlic, chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, sugar. Mix around until the tomatoes are soft. Throw in the bay leaf and cover with the heat on low. Simmer until the sauce has thickened up.
In the last few minutes of cooking, add the capsicum and cherry tomatoes. Mix around until thoroughly heated up. Do not let the tomatoes get overcooked. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

In the meantime, lightly dredge the fish cutlets in a mix of flour, tumeric (if using), salt and pepper. Fry on both sides until golden and the outsides are crisp.

Serve with the tomatoes and capsicum stew. Garnish with flat-leaf parsley.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Lamb Shank and Lentil Stew

Old friends from Zurich were on a flying visit to Sydney last week and we were lucky enough that they had time to pop over for dinner. Aaahh, it was good to reminisce.
Over some lovely wine and soft candle light, we talked about cushy jobs and corporate jollies, drinking Weissbier and getting gas, ski trips and some cranky swish Swiss, dwarves (don't ask!) and weddings. Which are all in the past.

As if on cue, one of the four-year olds in the next room screams which brought all three sets of parents running. Nothing serious, it was just your run-of-the mill pre-schooler fight on whose turn it was with the Hula hoop/Charlie and Lola book/kitchen knife. And just like that, we were jolted back to the present. Beer-brain has been replaced by nappy-brain. Mortgages, jobs, kiddy tantrums, petrol prices....
Yet, everyone is happy and content. Which is what counts.

When I found out that my friends were visiting, I got concious of the fact that I am several kilos heavier than when they saw me last. The vain person in me wanted to make it out as though it was the new look I was going for- you know, the curvy Nigella Lawson-sort of domestic goddess...'Dahhling, let me pop one more of those gorgeous deep-fried chocolate eclairs in my mouth'
Seriously, I just wanted to give my friends a taste of a flavourful, rustic, home-cooked meal that they must be missing while travelling. Nigella's creations, though mostly 'celery-challenged' (as one journalist puts it), are downright comforting and would fit the bill nicely.
One of the things I made for the night was adapted from Nigella Lawson's Aromatic Lamb-Shank Stew recipe.
I thought the use of soy sauce in a (non-Asian) stew was a bit dubious but I loved the resulting flavour. I also had some Chermoula on hand and adding it packed a bit more complex punch.

Lamb Shank and Lentil Stew

olive oil
6 pcs lamb shanks
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1tsp minced garlic
1tsp minced ginger
1Tbsp Turmeric
1 Tbsp chermoula
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp Marsala wine
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp honey
1/2 c lentils (I used split mung bean)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat up some olive oil in a dutch oven/cocotte and brown the lamb shanks. Take the lamb shanks out and drain on absorbent paper.
In the same oil, cook the onion and garlic until soft. Then add the ginger, tumeric, chermoula and cinnamon. Stir around for a minute or so but do not let the spices burn. Add the Marsala and soy sauce and stir until it starts bubbling up. Stir in the honey.
Put the lamb shanks back in the pot and then cover in cold water (around 4 cups).
Let it get to boil and then turn the heat down to low. Simmer covered for approx 1 hour, or until the meat is tender.
Add the lentils and simmer uncovered for a further 20mins. Season with salt and pepper.

*I like to cook this stew in advance and then skim off the fat after it has been sitting in the fridge overnight. The flavours develop better upon re-heating.

** I served this with spinach rice. I sauteed the spinach in butter and cardamom and mixed in some cooked rice then topped with almond slivers. Next time, I will go back to serving this with polenta. I prefer something a bit 'more bland' as a backdrop for the various flavours.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

DB March Challenge- Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake

It's that time of the month again when the Daring Bakers unleash their creative audacity to interpret a single recipe in a thousand and one ways. Our March host is Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts, who has chosen Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake recipe. Dorie Greenspan is supposed to be somewhat of a baking legend in the US and the fact that we were challenged with one of her well-known recipes excited my fellow Daring Bakers who were already familiar with her books (I'm not one of them). The recipe for this challenge comes from this book.
The recipe was straighforward enough- the batter calling for cake flour,butter, buttermilk/milk, egg whites and sugar. The original version had the sponge and Swiss meringue butter cream icing flavoured with lemon. The cake was to be assembled in four layers with raspberry jam and buttercream sandwiched in between and then finished off with a coating of sweet dessicated coconut. Morven gave us a lot of leeway for presenting our own version, with the only proviso that it remains a layer cake.
When I first saw the recipe, I got quite excited as I imagined ending up with a giant white lamington (me heart lamingtons) . Now THAT would be a party cake. Unfortunately, my version turned out to be a deflated kill-joy, definitely in no mood to party :-(

Because of the coconut, I decided to go with an all-tropical flavour. I substitued lime for lemon and I used the last of the mango and lime jam I made around Christmas time.

Apart from going with the different flavours, I followed the recipe to a T and kept in mind all the other DB'er tips, using low-protein flour (for biscuits and cakes), whipped the egg whites prior to mixing with the buttermilk, etc. As soon as the batter was ready, I already had my doubts. There was just not going to be enough to fill two 9-inch pans. I plowed along nevertheless, pouring the batter into one pan and hoping that it would rise enough for me to get two layers out of one cake.

Alas, 35 minutes into the cooking time and it was still looking stodgy. I gave it another 10 minutes and a knife came out clean when I insterted in the middle of the cake so I took the cake out. The cake just fealt heavy and dense when I turned it out onto a rack to cool. Oh dear.

I tried to not think about the cake and got on with making the buttercream. Ahhh, that's more like it. Just as the recipe promised- fluffy, smooth and shiny. It was delicious with lime juice swirled through it. Woohoo!

When it came time to assemble the cake, it became more apparent that this was a disaster. Slicing thru the cake to get two layers, I realised that it was undercooked, it had the texture of fudge in the middle. I knew that the crumb was supposed to be tight but not like this. This was on the eve of Easter and I had a million other things to make for my son's Christening the following day and there really was no time to sulk . So, I dress the little party cake up by filling up the two slices with jam and buttercream (again, yum!) , slathering on some more buttercream on the outside and lightly showering the cake with dessicated coconut. I topped it with a chick and a couple of Easter eggs, put it in the fridge and out of my mind.

The following day, I let the cake sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours before cutting into it. Despite that, it still felt heavy as I cut thru it. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't even taste it. The texture was so unappealing to me that I wanted to bin it straight away. A couple of aunts ate a few bites and said that it was 'ok, the subtle lime flavour was nice'. I wasn't convinced. No photos of the slices either. I am not sure where it all went wrong but I will attempt this again when I have a bit more time. I am determined to bake my party cake and eat it, too.

Despite my failure in this challenge, I am happy to say that most of my fellow Daring Bakers had much fun and success in making their party cakes. You will be drooling over some of the combinations-I promise! So go out there and ogle out everyone's party cake. ' Til next month!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prawn and Green Mango Salad

Here I am desperately clinging on to summer and what better way to defy the seasons than by enjoying the last of the harvest? Sadly, ripe mangos have again pretty much disappeared from the fruit shops but I was lucky enough to stumble upon some cooking mangos.

Filipinos have an affinity for green, sour, under-ripe but crunchy mangos. They are usually simply sliced, dipped in salt or bagoong (shrimp paste) and enjoyed with puckered lips. The more sour they are, the better. Little did I know, though, that Filipinos didn't have the monopoly on the pleasures of this masochistic snacking. Trying to introduce green mangos to an Indian friend a while back, she said 'Oh yeah, we love those back home dipped in salt and chili'. A Kenyan friend declared, 'Hmm, delicious with salt and sugar'.

These days, green mangos are available not only in the Asian shops but at most green grocers in Sydney. Then I came across this Thai recipe for enjoying them with prawns. Bingo! It could only be a winner...

Prawn and Green Mango Salad

300g cooked prawns (shelled, tail left on)
1 cup julienned cooking mangos (the flesh should still be firm and green or very pale yellow)
2 stalks spring onions, sliced
2 red birds-eye chillis, finely chopped
2 Tbs chopped coriander leaves
2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves
3 c salad greens


1/4 c water
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp minced ginger
2 Tbsp fish sauce
juice from 1 lime
dash of sesame oil

To prepare the dressing, simmer the water, sugar and ginger on low heat until the sugar has melted. When the mixture has cooled down, add the fish sauce, lime juice and sesame oil.

Assemble the salad by mixing together the salad leaves, coriander, mint, spring onion and chillis. Top with the mangos and prawns. Drizzle the dressing over and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Garlicky Tarragon Chicken Goujons

Let's not kid ourselves.. this is just chicken nuggets! Pardon my attempt at pretence, I only wanted to distance this from what everyone now accepts as chicken nuggets. Those 'gems' made of ground-up unnameable chicken parts and peppered with 'E' flavourings and preservatives have scarily become staple offerings as part of 'children's menus'. Why? It is so easy to batter up some real pieces of chicken and bake them in the oven, there's really no excuse to enjoy anything other than home-made chicken nuggets.
Here's my version. I used tarragon as I realised that I simply have not cooked much using this herb. It really is lovely with chicken but I think, it works best as part of a creamy sauce. Nevertheless, it still added an interesting dimension to a simple mid-week dish. Serve with a simple green salad.
Garlicky Tarragon Chicken Goujons
400g chicken tenderloins (sliced up chicken breast can be substituted)
2Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp chopped up tarragon
1 c garlic croutons (for crumbing)
Oil for frying
In a bowl, marinate the chicken pieces in the sour cream for a couple of hours.
Make the croutons by baking cubes of stale bread, tossed in oil and garlic, in an oven until dry and crunchy. When cool, roughly grind up into crumbs by running a rolling pin over it a few times. Mix the tarragon leaves in with the crumbs.
Coat the chicken pieces in the crumb and herb mixture. Fry in oil until golden. These can also be cooked in a 200deg C oven for approximately 20mins or until golden brown.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chunky Smoked Salmon dip

Oh how I've missed posting and interacting with you my bloggy mates. I can't say I am back with a vengeance, for I am still time-poor and barely hanging on to my sanity just to keep the machinations of housekeeping going while holding down a paid full-time job.

I just thought I had better post some of the things I've made recently (or not so recently) before I forget the recipes.

Smoked salmon. Ah! I love this stuff. I made a dip to take to a friend's baby shower and couple of the ladies asked for the recipe. So, here goes...

Chunky Smoked Salmon dip

200g smoked salmon
1 baby fennel bulb
2 Tbsp creme fraiche
2 Tbsp chopped dill
1 Tbsp finely chopped spring onion
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

Roughly shred the smoked salmon into small pieces. Chop the fennel bulb into very fine cubes, you'll need approx. 1/2 a cup.

Mix the creme fraiche, dill spring onions and salt and pepper well.
Add the smoked salmon and fennel and very carefully toss together.

*The richness of the salmon is great with the fresh, crisp and slightly sweet bits of fennel. I served this with some store-bought crackers (baked with bits of caramelised onion) but this would also be lovely with thin pieces of white bread toast.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie-January Daring Bakers Challenge

Lemon Meringue Pie (LMP) IS my favourite dessert. I will have it anytime, everytime if its on the menu. So when Jen, the Canadian Baker announced this month's Daring Baker challenge, I had to haul myself out of blogging semi-retirement and bake myself one of my beloved pie.

Weird how I have never attempted to make this myself. I guess I've been of the mind that if a good one could be had very easily, then why bother. LMPs are a staple at Sydney coffee shops and I am very easily pleased. If it's tangy and the meringue has a hint of a crunch, I would be appreciative.

Unfortunately, with all that's going on at home, I didn't get the chance to plan making my LMP out too well. I made it for a little get-together with friends for the Australia Day weekend. I was hoping to make tartlets and pipe the meringue on but I had to resort to just making a large pie and slather the meringue on top hoping this 'free-styling' would at least make the grade.

This pie was a bit tricky as I couldn't make it the night before the barbecue for fear of ending up with a soggy crust. As things panned out the morning of the party, I was still stirring the curd as my guests stood at the door. Oh well. Pile the curd on to the base. Have a little drink and nibbles with guests while waiting for filling to cool down. Whip up the meringue. With another glass of Chardy on hand, chat over the whirring of the stand mixer. Slap the meringue onto the crust with a palette knife (while trying to look competent in front of friends). Bung that pie into the oven. Have another drink and wish for the best....

A sad meringue. That's what I ended up with. It was so sad that it wept.
A few other Daring Bakers seemed to have had this problem. Despite following the suggestion of spreading the meringue right to the crust edge, I didn't escape the little pool of syrup that's been the bane of my fellow Daring Bakers. As for the taste? The crust was OK. It was biscuity but it would have been nice to have something a little bit more buttery, almost short-bread like. The filling was deliciously tart. The balance of sweet and sour was to my liking but there was something wrong with the consistency. It didn't cut smooth when I sliced the pie. Perhaps the 1.5 hours it sat in the fridge after baking just wasn't enough to set it properly. The meringue was well... meringue. I didn't get the crunch on the edges which I love from the LMP coffee-shop versions but my meringue top browned a little too quickly.

All in all, this pie was OK and I enjoyed the experience (albeit hurried and distracted) of making it. I would be trying other recipes, though, and try and get a better consistency for the filling.

Sorry for the lack of photos and for the poor quality of the only one I have. I had guests to entertain and by the time for dessert came around, my hands were already a little bit shaky from one glass of wine too many ;-)

Go and enjoy all the other LMPs out there by the Daring Bakers...


Lemon Meringue Pie
(from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver)

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Daring Bakers Extra Challenge: Free-Style Lemon Tartlets
(from "Ripe for Dessert" by David Lebovitz)

Prepare the recipe as above but complete the following steps:

To roll out tartlet dough, slice the dough into 6 pieces. On lightly floured surface, roll each circle of dough into a 5 inch disk. Stack the disks, separated by pieces of plastic wrap, on a plate, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To bake the dough, position rack in oven to the centre of oven and preheat to 350ºF (180ºC). Place the disks of dough, evenly spaced, on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely.

To finish tartlets, first place oven rack in the upper third of the oven and increase heat to 425ºF. Divide the lemon filling equally among the disks, mounding it in the centre and leaving a 1-inch border all the way around. Spoon the meringue decoratively over each tartlet, right to the edges, in dramatic swirling peaks.

Return tartlets to oven and bake for about 5 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Waving not Drowning

Despite the lull in posts, I am still here. Dear Sweet Margot of Coffee and Vanilla noticed my absence and I have been amiss in failing to warn my lovely bloggy friends of the (unintended) break.Here I am popping my head up to say a quick hi. All is well, though I have been very emotional about trying to cope with the new routine the new year has brought in.

After 13 months of spending almost all of my waking hours with my two angels, we are preparing for my return to full time work. The kids are now at daycare a few hours each day, five days a week to get them used to it. After a week and a half, there are still tears from the little boy at drop- off and of course, I am a mess by the time I get back to the car.While they are out of the house, I am busy with speaking to resource agencies trying to line up a suitable contract for myself. We are also busy preparing for my in-laws' arrival. Hubby has been busy renovating our guest accomodation and I am looking around for things to fit the flat out with.

I am still cooking! Just have even less time now to take photos and write about it. I am terribly missing my favourite blogs and seeing what everyone is up to. Rest assured, I will be back to see what you wonderful foodies have been up to. I will also be scouring your sites for quick and easy meals for my family.
Keep on cooking!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sweet Potato and Raisin Muffins

More healthy stuff. You have been warned. And this is the worst kind - eggless, butterless and no cow's milk. Shock, horror with an extra gasp for good measure!

There was a time when I used to chide a friend whenever she ordered a 'decaf-lite-soymilk cappucino'. A 'triple-no-fun' I used to refer to her beverage of choice. My, how my tune has changed. Well, when it comes to the matter of health (especially of my kids), I would like to think that I have reasonably learned to compromise, but not on taste. Decaf coffee (there are some good blends out there) I've had to accept since I started getting heart palpitations even when David Beckham is not on the television screen. Then my gorgeous little boy was found to be allergic to eggs and dairy. My heart went out to the poor little mite, envisioning his lifetime deprived of calorie-laden, rich and creamy treats. But that's just me and my tendency for drama. Firstly, he is expected to grow out of his allergies. And in the meantime, I can try and be creative with the 'treats' I make at home so he can also enjoy them.

Enter my 'triple-no-fun' muffins. Made with mashed sweet potatoes,part-wholemeal flour, olive oil and soymilk, these are good for everday guilt-free munching. They turned out absolutely moist but light and springy to the touch. The texture turned out better than my normal muffins which have a tendency to fall into crumbs when eaten. These are not overly sweet, with minimum sugar enhanced by the natural sweetness of the raisins and sweet potato.
As the ads say, 'Try them and you might be pleasantly surprised' :-)

I am sending this over to this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Vani of Batasari. It was fun finding another use for sweet potato, which I normally only use roasted in salads. Varieties of this humble root crop has been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years and is now popular in most parst of the world especially south east Asia and Polynesia.
Being a reliable and relatively easy crop to grow, it has become a staple in many cultures. Nutritionally, it is high in fiber, vitamins (Vit A specifically), minerals and is low in sodium.

Sweet Potato and Raisin Muffins
makes 12

1 c wholemeal flour
3/4 c self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c castor sugar
2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 c raisins/ sultanas
3/4 c pureed sweet potato (steam potato pieces and then whizz in a food processor)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 c soy milk

Preheat oven to 180deg Celsius.

Sift together the wholemeal flour, self-raising flour and baking powder. Add the sugar and cinnamon, mixing to combine ingredients well. Add the raisins and mix to ensure that the fruit pieces are dredged in flour.

In a bowl, mix together the sweet potato puree, olive oil and soy milk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix but do not overdo it.

Spoon the mixture onto muffin trays lined with muffin paper cups. Bake for 20 mins or until an inserted skewer comes off clean.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Pan Fried Snapper and Asian Slaw

The Holiday Season has finally sneaked out the back door, leaving lots of fun memories of great company and indulgent eating. Unfortunately, as it does every year, it has managed to leave some memento, most of it evident around my midriff.

New Year's resolutions? I won't even go there but as the new year brought warm days, it's been a lot easier to eat light and fresh.

I love this cabbage salad for the colour and the crispy tang of the dressing.

Pan Fried Snapper and Asian Slaw
serves 2

2x 150g red snapper fillets
1Tbsp plain flour
1/2 Tbsp corn flour
salt and pepper

1 c shredded Wong Bok (Napa cabbage)
1 c shredded red cabbage
1/2 c julienned crunchy vegetables (I used carrots and red beets)
1 Tbsp finely chopped spring onions
handful of fried noodles , or use nuts for crunch instead of the noodles
1 Tsp toasted sesame seeds

salad dressing

1/2 c olive oil
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp fish sauce
juice from 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp sesame oil

Make the salad dressing ahead by combining the olive oil, vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil and mix well.

To prepare fish, lightly dredge the fillets with the combined plain flour, corn flour, salt and pepper. Fry in olive oil until cooked through, approx 5 mins on each side.

Toss all the salad vegetables together in a bowl. Add the dressing and mix well. Just before serving, top with the fried noodles and sprinkle some sesame seeds.
Serve with the fish.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Arroz a la Valenciana

Filipinos love rice. My husband still marvels at the mounds of white rice consumed every time the family gets together for a meal. There really is nothing more filling and satisfying than steamed white rice with a sauced meat dish and some patis on the side.

Apart from the daily steamed staple, rice is also enjoyed in various conconctions, whether it be savoury or sweet. One of my favourite rice dishes is Arroz a la Valenciana or Valenciana, for short. There are also various Latin American versions of this Spanish dish of rice, meat, a tomato base and vegetables but the Filipino interpretation is very much Asian-style with the use of sticky rice, coconut milk and fish sauce.

Valenciana is a dish usuallly made for fiestas in the Philippines- it is truly a special occassion dish, being colourful, rich and very filling. I made this for New Year's Day dinner. I actually hesitated trying to make this as my childhood memories of Valencianas were of perfect creations. Chewy sticky rice, tender meat redolent of rich tomatoes and bay leaves. Those were either made by a great aunt (who used to cook for rich families in Manila) or my late grandfather. Having made this now, the process, I feel is not that complicated but I still have to make this a few times before I get the consistency exactly right. Valencianas are supposed to be crusty on the sides (I remember aunts fighting over the tutong, the blackened, crunchy overcooked bits) and beautifully chewy but moist in the middle.

To further get a Filipino flavour, I searched for banana leaves to line the pots with. The authentic process involves cooking the rice in broth and coconut milk in one pot, stirring until the liquid is absorbed (as in making risotto) and then finishing off the cooking in the pot lined with banana leaves. The fragrance as the rice was steaming in the leaves was beautiful. I also experimented with wrapping individual serves, finished off in the oven instead of the stove top. This is an easier option and the parcels are easier to transport as baon for picnics and can even be thrown on a barbecue for re-heating.

The end result was quite tasty but the rice turned out too soft. I gave in to the temptation to add more water than what was required after seeing that the rice was already quite sticky but still raw in the middle. I did not realise that there was more than enough moisture in the banana leaves to cook the grains to perfection. I have noted this for next time.

I am sharing this at the Lasang Pinoy December edition. The theme being 'Rice to the Challenge', I'm sure Filipino food bloggers worldwide would be in their element. Be sure to check out the round-up by JMom from Cooked from the Heart.

Filipino Style 'Arroz a la Valenciana'
serves 12

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 c sliced chorizo
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 medium very ripe tomatoes, chopped finely
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
6 bay leaves
1.5 kg chicken pieces
2 Tbsp fish sauce
4 potatoes, cut into chunks
2.5 c sticky rice (soaked in water for a couple of hours)
1x400g can coconut milk
1c chicken stock
salt and pepper
1 large red pepper, sliced
1 c green peas
boiled egg for garnish (optional)
Banana leaves

Line a pot or deep pan with banana leaves and set aside

Heat oil in a pot and fry the chorizo until brown. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
In the same oil, sautée garlic and onion until browned slightly. Add the chopped tomatoes paprika and bay leaves. Mix around and simmer with the lid on until you get a thick sauce, around 5 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces and fish sauce. Mix around until the chicken pieces are slightly cooked. Add the potato, stir and cover to simmer for around 10 minutes.

Drain the sticky rice and add into the pot. Stir until the grains are well coated in the sauce. Add the coconut milk and stock.
On medium heat, keep on stirring until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, approximately 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the cooked chorizo, red pepper and peas then transfer the mix into the banana leaf-lined pot. Further cook on low heat for 30-40minutes until the rice is cooked and very sticky.

If making individual serves, spoon some of the rice onto banana leaves, wrap then tie with twine. Place in a baking tray and cook in a 150deg C oven for 30 minutes.

To serve, garnish with sliced boiled eggs.