Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chestnut Mousse & Ganache Cake

Happy Birthday Curry! Another year gone and another year come, you are stuck with me till old age and I hope you have many good days to come and wishing you success in everything you do and good health to last forever so that someone keeps my nagging worthwhile!

I was always reluctant to make birthday cakes for anyone as I find the expectation is too high and I might screw it up and spoil the birthday person's day by making something terrible and inedible. However, after so many trials and errors, I think I can manage one this year and since Curry has everything he needs and can afford, I figured that I can make him the one and only special birthday cake in this world, made for him with love, gratitude and best of wishes.

I have been thinking on what type of cake that might suit his palate. Curry is very discriminatory when comes to food and buttercream cakes is not his cup of tea. Once in a while I love to eat those mile high cakes made up of layers of sponge, sandwiched with buttercream and slabbed with a coating of the same that sends my body mass index shooting up and I was tempted to make one today but since it is Curry's day, I have to do the right thing. I had a box of vacumn packed steamed chestnut, purchased from Trader Joe's in December which I didn't manage to try making the mont blanc swiss roll for X'mas and I resorted to use it for this cake. My plan was to make a manly cake, without all the frills and piped florals and of course, rich in taste and not skimpy on the calories. I believe that all men love food with substance!

I always get a bit nervous when working with chocolate. Partly due to the fact that I tend to rush into doing things half way and gets a bit clumsy when handling the melted chocolate and getting it all over the place, including my face at times! The cleaning up is another detering factor too! Today's effort was no difference but Ganache is infact one of the easier things to make with chocolate. No tempering and no time calculating, just heat the heavy cream with the butter and pour into the semi sweet chocolate blocks. Whisk away till melted and thick and that is it.

I used the whole pack of cooked chestnut and by simmering them in milk and sugar to soften and then blended and pureed to thick consistency. I didn't bother to pass them through the sieve to get rid of the grainy bits as I like the texture of the mousse to be richer. I added a bit of gelatine into the puree and then folded the whipped cream into the chestnut puree. As this was my first time making chestnut puree, I didn't expect it to be so thick and was wondering then if the mousse will be light. The whipped cream did magic and as soon as it was folded into the puree, it lightened the consistency instantly. The cake was the same recipe as my strawberry swiss roll and it was easy to cut without being crumbly but firm enough to hold the chestnut mousse and ganache. The sandwiched sponge cake was then covered with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge till the mousse firmed up. The ganache must be at room temperature and I used a baking pan on the bottom and let the cake stand on a cooling rack when pouring over the ganache. Raspberries, shaved white chocolate and confectioner sugar completed the garnish on the ganache.

Instead of a 9 inch size cake, I made 2 smaller ones, measuring a little less than 4 inches each. I always make my cakes this way as I think it will be easier to finish up and they don't take up space in my fridge. And for today, Curry can have one whole cake to himself and eat to his heart's content.



Friday, February 20, 2009

1 year Old!

I started this Blog exactly a year ago. Looking back, I started without a definite goal on what I wanted to blog or write about. Hence, I just lived with the motto 'Live, Love & Learn', meaning that I have to live on no matter how mundane or ordinary my life is, love myself, family and friends and learn something everyday till I am gone from this world.
I guess I have to thank my kids, Missy E and Prince D for driving me nuts most of the time and making me realized that this life is not all about them! Without them, I might not even have tried to find my interest and blog about it, let alone persevere this long! And of course Curry who is always ready to taste whatever I made, good or no good.
I don't like to boast but I think I did pretty well so far. With this blog, I managed to keep my sanity, learned to appreciate art and food, enthusiastically pursuing new ideas all the time, re-connecting with friends and long distance family members, making friends along the way and knowing myself better.
I hope the 2nd year will be better in all aspects and of course, a big thank you to all who comes and read this blog of mine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February Bento Days (5)

What do people do to release their stress? One thing that I really detest is that when some people with paid salary in the working world think stay home mom stress is imaginary and only a mediocre matter compared to theirs with bossess and colleagues. Seriously, dealing with kids 24/7 and 365 days with no avenues for complaining my day and knowing that I cannot delegate nor expect team work for contribution of time and effort except for a little evening time and weekends from Curry, I am proud that I haven't collapse and drop dead from this everyday stressful life of mine.


Yesterday was a stressful day with the usual story of kids and their unreasonable behaviors and forgivable mischieves. Most of the times, I can hold my anger and composure and even appear stoic under cats & dogs situations but yesterday was beyond what I could handle! The mood was so bad that I did nothing for dinner and let Curry prepared dinner and to de-stress, I resorted to my kitchen at 9pm to do my prep work for today's Bento box. 1 hour into doing it, my stress was gone and most importantly, the 2 little human who caused the 'commotion' in my life had gone to bed! All in a day's work and fearful the day will repeat itself the next day!


The first thing that really captured my attention when I first looked into kids Bento was the character of the baby chick hatching out of the egg. I was so amazed on how people came up with such an idea. The idea of making the yolk appearing as the yellow baby chick and the egg white as the cracking egg shell is so playful and brilliant. Perhaps I overcooked the eggs as the yolk's color was murky rather than bright yellow. The jagged edge that forms the cracked egg shell look was done by making small incisions with the tip of a sharp knife. I made some chicken rolls by first pounding a large piece of chicken breast meat and rolling it up with nori and carrot sticks, which were then steamed for 15 minutes on medium heat.


I made a bear's face out of ham and cheese slice for Missy E's box. The right side ear was a bit loop sided from the melting of the cheese after I placed it on the warm sushi rice. For Prince D's box, I just punched out the bear and claw shapes on the nori.


Today's Bento boxes were completed with fruit and boxed raisins. It was the first time that I got to pack complete Bento boxes for my kids to bring along to a playdate. Afterall the stress I had with them, I still go back to putting them first in everything I do without me realizing it! Sometimes I do wonder if I still have my own life and yet at times, I try to imagine what will I do if I was given a whole day to myself without the kids.... I will sip coffee and eat cake at a quaint little shop and yet I will still hear 'Mommy' in my mind...... huh! the life of a mother. Love it or like it but you CANNOT hate it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Strawberry Swiss Roll

I will pay high price for 2 types of cakes only at the cafe or bakery. Mousse Cakes and Swiss Rolls! Anything to do with lots of egg white beating, lots of cream piping and moulding also counts. Personally I think these 2 cakes require the most time in preparation and involves alot of steps and procedures before the end product comes out in one piece and presentable.

I have been thinking on what cake to make for this year's St. Valentine's Day for the past 2 weeks. I wanted the idea of fresh, simple colors and something light in the mouth and yet represents substantial love given into making it. Mousse cake was my first choice but there is another occasion this month that I will like to save that for and swiss roll was the next best option.

Long gone are the days when surprise flower bouquets and lovey dovey candle lit dinner tops my wish list for Valentine Days. These days, I am very happy to stay at home, eat at home and jump into my PJ and watch a soapy melodrama for the day. I think Curry is the same and we have come to terms with the idea that no matter what we do or want to do, we will always have to consider 2 little 'light bulbs' and if we cannot enjoy the day like all Lovebirds out there, we will just include them. Afterall, Valentine's day is all about love regardless from who to whom, as long as everyone is loved and appreciated in a special way.

The first time I attempted swiss roll was about 20 years ago in Home Economics class when I was still in my high school days. It was a failure, the cake was hard as a rock and impossible to roll. Indeed, I had phobia of making it again till this week but with so many lovely recipes flaunting in front of me, I was so tempted. My old friends from school knows about my phobia and I think they are happy for me now that I have succeeded in making one! To Dine and Cindy................this one is for you!

I tried 2 recipes, the first one contained less eggs with more cake flour and it turned out heavy and difficult to roll without cracking. The next recipe contained more eggs and less cake flour with more steps involved where the 5 eggs were first separated and beaten separately with respective amounts of sugar. The addition of vegetable oil to the melted butter kind of helped to lighten the cake batter more, resulting in a very soft and malleable texture which was a breeze in the rolling part. If I would have to do it again, I will use a kitchen cloth towel to roll as I find the parchment paper a bit difficult to handle and the light brown skin that is visible on the outer part of the roll seemed to stick and slowly peeled off sticking to the parchment paper when I started to roll it. The cake itself didn't crack but without the whipped icing on the top part, the cake didn't look very pretty. But I am very happy that I finally know how to make a cotton soft cake that is moist and light, just like those at Asian bakeries in Japan and Hong Kong. My palate is towards the Asian style where I prefer things light and not overly sweet in taste.

Lucky for me that I have the Kitchen Aid mixer to do the egg white beating. I was doing the yolk and egg white beating simultaneously, one with the hand mixer and the other with the Kitchen Aid Mixer. As egg whites were involved, putting the ingredients together needed to be done very quickly and carefully. The baking took only 12 mins with once rotating pan and at a very high temperature of 400F. I let the cake cooled off on a cookie rack and applied the inside cream when it was at room temperature. As with my terrible sushi rolling technique, I didn't managed to get a perfect round shape of the roll. The cake was left in the fridge for 2 hours to firm up and it was much easier to cut if done so. I did the piping freehand without any piping tips, hence the irregular strands.

Perhaps I used big sized strawberries, after the slicing, I had to take some time transferring each slice into the aluminum casing and they were a bit heavy to stand still. I love the strawberries, they kind of represent the red heart (although upside down in this case!) and the white cream that symbolizes something clean and pure. And all those strawberry chunks that I wrapped into the roll are all the everyday bits & pieces in my life, sweet and small but important to make the whole picture of love complete! Excuse me for being a bit melodramatic!

To all you out there, Happy Valentine's day. Sip something sweet, take a bite of something creamy, feel and give love to whomever you want to! And remember to say 'I love you' .


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

February Bento Days (3) & (4)

Rising and rising.... the temperature ! That is a sure sign that old man winter is leaving soon and I am so ready for some warm around here. And longing to see those plant and flower buds popping out in anticipation of spring.

For today's Bento boxes, I aimed to do something of a spring nature with lots of bright colors and especially green. The more I do these Bento dishes, the more I realise that there are indeed so many wonderful ingredients and food that can be put together and the aesthetic side of it is endless. I like the idea that I can create the Bento only once and if I had to do the same pattern again the next time, I will never be able to create an exact replica. Everytime is different and sometimes the ingredients may all be the same and yet the patterns are all different. Flexibility of ingredients and constant creativity are the main features of preparing Bento boxes and I am enjoying this form of food crafting.

Curry's Bento box was easier to prepare as I used left over taro duck and blanched some Baby Bok Choi with crimini mushroom. As the taro duck was already soft in texture and impossible to be re-crisped , I used the left over sauce and added in more ginger and cornstarch to thicken it as to give a thick coating over the taro duck. The Taro absorbed the sauce with its gingery taste and I included a mini bottle of dark soy sauce for the blanched vegetables. If anyone knows the way to refill the little sauce bottles with soy sauce, tell me as I find it impossible to pour in that 2 mm sized hole without wasting! Curry was excited about that little bottle! Of all the things, he never fails to surprise me with his weird and technical mind of his!

Contents of Curry's Bento Box
Taro Duck, re-steamed & poured over with ginger sauce; Blanched Baby Bok Choi and crimini mushrooms served with black soy sauce; Plain white rice with nori strips and baby tomatoes.


Fruit boxes of strawberries and grapes



For the kids' Bento boxes, I attempted the character of Ladybugs in view of St. Valentine's day and ladybug is the LOVEBUG with its passionate red and playful black dots! Maybe not as bright & chivalrous as the real thing, these food crafted ones are not bad either. It took longer time to prepare this one as I had to handle the face part which was made up of cut out cheese slice and punched out nori shapes. And I thought tweezers were made for my eyebrows only until I discovered Kyaraben! The fillers were all the same with blanched cauliflower, steamed pork siu mai, carrot & peas. The ladybugs were placed on top of sushi rice.The body of the bugs were cut out from Turkey Ham and the antennae were food picks.

For Missy E's box, I made the face more girlie with heart shaped eyes and eyebrows included! The antennae were red food pick. For Prince D's one, I snipped punched out nori rounds on the side to make a more pleasant smiling eyes, without eyebrows. Indeed I had his face in my mind when I made it and it does look like him... big eyes and round face! The antennae were blue.
Strawberries is just naturally beautiful and its red is very striking wherever I put them and I always like the combination of white & red together. The cauliflower has a milky white and should be blanched for a short period only to retain its crunchiness so that the kids will love it.







Sunday, February 8, 2009

Taro Duck

To end our Chinese New Year celebration and in observance of the gathering dinner for the 15th day of the celebration, I attempted this dish. I don't remember when and where I had this dish before but I definitely had it before. Perhaps at one of those elaborate restaurant dinners where everyone just sit around the table, chat and waited to be served.

This is a Cantonese dish where the duck is first steamed with all the required sauces and spices and the taro is steamed and mashed separately and lastly both are put together and deep fried to crisp texture on the outside and tender meat in the inside with the soft taro as top coating. The preparation took a lot of time and luckily today was Sunday and Curry can entertain the kids while I attended to the almost 4 hours from start to finish of this dish.

I adopted the technique I used in the making of the Taro Puffs to this dish and this time I got the deep frying oil right from the start. This dish normally looks flat where the duck is deboned and cut to very thin slice and then coated with the mashed taro but I was too ecstatic that I managed to separate and deboned the breast meat from the whole duck carcass in 2 solid pieces and couldn't be bothered to thin cut it like those prepared in the restaurants. Afterall, who doesn't like chunky pieces of meat and this is what homemade is all about, stuffed and satisfied must be the last word after the meal! For a 3.5lb duck and minus the bones, I managed to get 2 oval plates sizes of this dish where one was more meaty with the breast than the other that I made with the scraps and pieces from the shreading of the remaining parts of the duck. The sauce is derived from the 2 hours steaming of the duck which was thicken with cornstarch and served with scallion and lettuce. I love taro and duck and this dish managed to combine the 2 into a complementing taste with the soft taro giving a slight tinge of sweetness and earthy taste while the duck is gamey and the slight chewiness of its meat together with its heavily flavored sauce which is soaked up by the taro, makes it a mouthful.





Ingredients :

Part A
3-1/2 lb duck
2 star Anise
pepper
1 knob ginger, sliced to thin sticks
2 scallion, cut to thin pieces
2 cubes of Chinese fermented Red Tofu ('Nam Yue')
1 tbsp chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce

Part B
1-1/2 lb steamed taro
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 cup wheat starch
5 Tbsp Vegetable shortening


1 egg beaten
cornstarch (1 tsp cornflour added to 2 tsp water)
4 to 6 cups oil for deep frying


Method :
1) Clean duck, cut off the back side which contains the most fat. Pat dry with paper towel.

2)Mix all the rest of the ingredients in Part A in a bowl and wipe and pat all over the outside and inside of the duck.


3)Tuck the duck with the breast side up and tie the legs together with twine (this was done because my steaming plate was small and to avoid the duck fat dropping into the steaming water).


4)Prepare a steamer till water is boiling, steam the duck for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, till tender and meat easily separated from the bones.


5)Remove the duck from the steamer once done and let cool a bit for easy handling. Cut off the twine and reserve the liquid from the plate which will be the dipping sauce. Steam the taro next, for 15 to 20 minutes till it is tender and can be mashed.


6)While the taro is steaming, debone the duck. The breast part should be easier than the rest. Cut slowly so that the breast detach from the bones in one piece. I used up the rest of the duck meat, hence I made 2 plates and if only the breasts are used, save up the rest and bones for making duck soup.


7)When the taro is cooked, mash it up and add 1/2 cup of the Wheat starch together with the vegetable shortening and the rest of the seasonings. Mash and combine all thoroughly with masher and hand. Finally add in the remaining 1/2 cup of the Wheat starch and combine evenly.


8)Beat the egg and add in the cornstarch. Dip the breasts and duck meat into this egg wash and take some taro and pat onto the duck, encassing & wrapping up all over.



9)Heat wok with the deep frying oil till very hot and bubbly. Use a chinese spider skimmer or huge frying spatula and deep them into the hot oil before placing the taro duck onto them for the deep frying. This avoid the sticking of the taro paste to the utensils. Fry each breast for 1 to 2 minutes, turning on both sides till brown but do not over fry. They cook very fast. Drain them on paper towels and let cool for handling and cutting into pieces.

10)Heat the reserved sauce in a pan and thicken with cornstarch (1 tsp cornflour dissolved in 2 tsp water). Add chopped scallion and serve with lettuce.



Serves 6 to 8 persons



Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February Bento Days (1 & 2)


Today I attempted 2 Bento boxes, one for Missy E for her extra hours in school and one for Curry. I always believed practice and a little talent makes perfect and I kind of wanted to train myself to work faster with preparing lunch boxes in view that Missy E will soon be taking lunch boxes to school everyday and the fact that her box contents will be slightly smaller in size and different in presentation than Curry's ones, makes my prep work start a day earlier and doing 2 different Bento Boxes on a daily basis certainly require some planning and early prep work.

After a few practices with the kids Bento boxes, I suddenly find it difficult to do Curry's Bento. The fact is that I am too smitten with the colors and patterns of Kyaraben and forgotten on how to do a mature and manly Bento! I was so tempted to put in all the girly and frilly stuffs into his box today and I can imagine his face if I did. Like my friend AK commented that making a children's Kyaraben box is like putting a picture jigsaw puzzle together, the more color the better but for an adult's lunch box, substance counts more. And so I made Curry's Bento first before Missy E's Valentine box so that I don't get too distracted.


Curry's Bento box contents:


Deep Fried Tofu pouches (Inari) & Shiitake Mushrooms stuffed with minced meat, prepared & flavored with soy sauce, sugar, pepper, sesame oil and cornstarch. And steamed for 25 mins with gravy poured over in the box to keep moist. Blanched broccoli and cauliflower with carrot, peas and baby tomato. The omelette was rolled up tightly and garnished with peas and served with plain white rice.

I love the tofu pouches as I can substitute any fillings and it holds neatly in the lunch box. Stuffed Shiitake mushroom is a Chinese way of cooking and its natural cup shape holds fillings perfectly too with the help of cornstarch applied to the meat and rim before the steaming process.







Missy E's Bento Box Contents :

Sushi Rice mixed with beet juice and garnished with nori pieces. Turkey ham pieces, punched with mini heart shape cookie cutter and cavity refilled with cut out Monterey Cheese pieces. Blanched carrot flowers and broccoli with fresh strawberry and baby tomato. The omelette is similar to the one in Curry's Bento box which was made from one egg only.
My attempt at making a heart shaped rice was not very successful but I hope the punched out nori pieces complemented and made it looked better. I am not very keen in using food coloring unless absolutely necessary and I find that beet juice is really useful here which gives a tinge of sweetness to the rice. But I am not sure how it turned the white rice into hot pink instead of its original red. Indeed, sushi rice holds any shapes better than jasmine or other types of rice because of its sticky nature. It doesn't dry out after a while at room temperature, holds everything that is put onto it, as in this case the nori pieces. I tried to fill every nook and corner with peas and corn so that everything stays in place, even in the clumsy hands of a little girl.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chicken & Bacon Pasta Bake

Finally.... January is over! It was the longest month ever with all those snow days, indoor kids and cold & cough season. I am not kidding myself, February can be brutally cold and bad too but the idea that spring is approaching and one cold month gone really makes my mood and days better. Even looking at the calendar with only 28 days can give me comfort.

The news on TV recently reported on what the survey people predicted on the trend towards eating in this depressing economy situation. Sometimes I wonder, who the hell needs all these surveys, I mean.... don't we all know that sugary and sweet food makes us fat and fast food chains have always been associated with unhealthy choices of food and its much publicized inexpensive meals? Talking about nanny states, America is certainly one. And blaming it on the economy for getting us all waistline expanded and unhealthy just don't make sense to me! It just bears a bad sign on us human.... neither good in money management nor choices in lifestyle. Eating healthy even in this situation is a no brainer thing....switch to water instead of soda, buy fresh ingredients rather than processed food with costs of packaging added to the price, invest in a slow cooking pot and make the best stew which is a time saver for those who complain they have no time like me. Sacrifices need to be made in certain times and those indulgences can still be enjoyed once in a while but good health is really a non-negligible item that we can take for granted!

Initially I planned to make this pasta dish for a playdate today but all our guests were sick. I made it anyway, enough for lunch and dinner. I am a very big fan of one pot meals and once in a while I get very lazy to cook dinner after the whole day with the kids alone. As you may have noticed, I couldn't wait till summer to taste the strawberries and just had to get a box when I saw them at the grocery store. Surprisingly, they were sweet and juicy. To make a complete meal, I cut up some cherry tomatoes and serve it with salad leaves. As the pasta was already creamy, I didn't add anymore dressing to the salad.


Ingredients:


1 can of cream of Mushroom
4 cups of cooked Rigatoni shaped pasta
1/2 cup of frozen peas
2 chicken thigh meat, cut to small pieces
6 strips of bacon slices
pepper & salt
1/2 cup grated cheese



Method:

1) Heat some cooking oil in a pan. Put in the bacon and saute for 1 minute. Add in the chicken and toss thorougly till combined and cook for 5 minutes.

2) Add in the frozen peas and mix. Add pepper & salt. Cover pan and let cook for another 5 minutes.

3)Add in the pasta, mushroom cream and 1/2 of the grated cheese. Mix thoroughly and let simmer for 5 minutes.

4)Preheat oven to 375F. Dish up the pasta & cream mixture into a baking dish, distributing the chicken and bacon pieces evenly. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.

5)Towards the last 10 minutes, remove foil, scatter the remaining cheese on top of the pasta and continue to cook without the foil covering in the oven.

6)Remove from oven and serve hot or warm with salad.

Serves : 4 persons

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