Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pancetta Baby Tomato & Herbs Tart

For a while I thought I will never come back here and blog. Throughout the whole week since my last post, I have been busy working out on my new diet and exercise plan that I barely have energy left to cook and let alone, blog about anything. I have been plump and big all my life and something just hit me this year that I want all the fats all gone from my body for good and just intuitively, I am pushing myself to the stage that I would never thought I can survive and yet I am actually staying longer and longer on my threadmill each day. I cannot say I love my threadmill but it is just part of my life now, love it or not, it is here to stay and I better learn to appreciate it.

I baked this tart for a playdate today and it was very good with a nice textured tart case made of a combination of flour and whole wheat flour. Crumbly and sandy, it just held the filling perfectly and with lots of thyme and curly Parsley, the tart itself is lovely on a warm spring or summer day. Pancetta is Italian bacon and I pan fried it with the herbs prior to putting it inside the tart to bake. This will avoid the bacon from cooking inside the egg and cream mixture which will drip out its fat and soak up the base of the tart.

Recipe :

Ingredients :
50g Whole Wheat Flour
100g All Purpose Flour
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg

2 large eggs
7 oz (210ml) Heavy Cream
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp curly parsley
4oz sliced Pancetta, cut to thin strips
15 to 18 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
Black Pepper to season

Pastry Tart:
1)Put both type of flour and the butter pieces into the food processor. Process till resemble coarse crumbs.
2)Add in egg and process till a soft dough forms. Remove and flour lightly the working surface.
3)Grease an 8 inch removable base tart pan and trace a circle onto the parchment paper. Cut out the circle. Preheat oven to 425F.
4)Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer and line the greased tart pan. Tuck in the sides with your fingers and cut excess with a small knife. Poke the bottom part with a fork. Line with the parchment paper circle and fill with baking beans.
5)Bake for 7 mins, remove from oven and remove the baking beans and parchment paper. Return to oven to bake for another 7 mins. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 325F.

1)Heat the frying pan with 1 tsp of cooking oil. Pan fry the Pancetta pieces with the thyme and cruly parsley. Pan fry till dry, about 5 mins. Remove and place on kitchen paper towel to soak up grease.
2)Beat the eggs and the heavy cream together, season with black pepper.
3)Scatter the Pancetta and herbs inside the tart case. Distribute the tomato pieces, with some cut sides facing up. Slowly pour the egg and cream mixture into the tart case to fill it up. Place the tart pan onto another large shallow pan.
4)Bake for 35 mins till set. Remove from the oven and serve warm. Garnish with more thyme.

Serves : 4 to 5 persons

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Granola Cranberry & White Choc Chip Cookies

One thing I like about American cookies are that they are chunky and fulfilling. Just one piece can fill me up and no, I haven't adopted the way of dunking one into milk yet! I was looking for a dessert to make for a playdate today and decided on these big lovely cookies. And well enough, they tasted so good that I ate more than one.

I adapted this recipe from the back of the package of dried cranberry I had in the pantry! These type of recipes do actually work and usually, you would have all the other ingredients in your pantry too. I am trying to eat healthy these days and granola with a mixture of oats and nuts is my current craze. This cookie is both crunchy and slightly soft inside and I just like the blend of the tart dried cranberries with the sweet white choc chips.

Recipe :
Ingredients :
1-1/2  Cup All purpose flour
1-1/2 cup granola
2/3 cup light brown sugar
10 tbsp cold & malleable butter
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp Baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup white choc chips
1/3 cup dried cranberry

1)Preheat the oven to 375F.
2)Beat the butter and brown sugar till light and creamy. Add in the eggs, one at a time and beat to combine.
3)Mix the flour, granola, baking soda and salt together in one large bowl.
4)Spoon the flour mixture into the butter mixture in 2 batches. Stir in to mix thoroughly. Add in the milk and stir to combine.
5)Scatter the white choc chips and dried cranberry into the dough mixture and stir to incorporate.
6)Using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop the cookie dough onto a large cookie pan, leaving at least 1-1/2 inch space in between the cookies. Continue with the rest of the dough and should be able to yield 18 to 20 cookies.
7)Bake for 15 to 18 mins. Remove to cookie racks to cool completely before storage or serve warm.

Makes : 18 to 20 cookies

Friday, April 23, 2010

April Bento Days (4)

Only managed 1 Bento for Curry this week. The kids are not complaining as they get to eat ice cream almost all week long!

For this Bento I used left over pan fried trout from last night's dinner but jazzed it up with some Japanese sweet cooking seasoning and soy sauce. This improved the color and definitely the taste. I wrapped up some beef dumpling with grated ginger and scallion and boiled them. The thing with dumpling is they stick to each other after a while of cooking. On the side is pickled cucumber and carrot slices with peas in rice. I used scallion inside the omelette and completed the Bento with cherry tomatoes.

Cocoa Shortbread Cookies

It was a busy week. April has gone very fast and next week will be my kids' spring break! Not much planned as one week is not too short and not too long afterall. After this Spring break, Miss E will end her Kindergarten year soon and I cannot believe how she has grown so much and will be given the title First Grader in September. By then, my days will even go faster juggling morning routine of Bento and breakfast up to dinnertime! Good thing I have started to go on a strenuous regime to get fit and slim starting now or else I will never ever be able to concentrate and lose my fatty pounds.
I made these cookies during the week for my friend's birthday. I hate to get gifts from the stores and I believe mommies like me has a wide range of things they like and don't like and it is better to let their hubbies get them those gifts and so the only thing I can make specially for them are from my kitchen. Afterall, I am known to cook up a storm everytime I invite them over for lunch and baking them some cookies and cakes on their birthdays just comes naturally.
I used the same recipe as my Lemon shortbread cookies but omitting the ingredients of lemon zest and lemon juice and adding 4 tbsp cocoa powder with 3 tbsp milk. I needed to cover the cookie dough while I worked with one batch as the cocoa can clump up and the air dries up the texture of the dough which makes it crumbly to roll. As the birthday girl loves chocolate, I thought cocoa will be on the lighter side compared to chocolate chip cookies and I am sure she makes them herself all the time! This recipe yields about 3 dozen small round cookies.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Roast Beef

Sunday lunch is a thing in UK when the family members and grandparents alike gather to have a proper lunch together at home, prepared with love and shared with much joy. I didn't grow up eating alot of meals together with my parents and brothers on one table and I remember I loved it very much every first morning of the Chinese New Year celebration when we all got to sit together on the dining table and feast on lovely and varieties of food. Although we were a family of little words, the warm feeling of being able to sit next to each other while our chopsticks and spoons slowly savoring the yummy food was very comforting. I hope to start the Sunday lunch tradition with my kids this year and expose them to more varieties of food besides the usual staples of rice and noodle.

I think what most people fear about preparing roast beef is producing a piece of tough and dry meat that simply tire the teeth of chewing and spoils the natural taste of the beef. After reading many tips from my magazines and watching chefs doing it on TV, I thought I might give it a go. And true enough, there was nothing complicated about a simple roast beef, flavored with a mixture of rubs and herbs, slowly roasted at a constant temperature of 380F for more than 1 hour. The tips that I found very useful when I prepared this beef roast are:
 (i) Don't ever marinate the meat with salt overnight as it drains out the natural juices and will produce a dry and tough meat;
(ii)Always know the weigh of the meat itself so that you can set the roasting time right and
(iii)Cover the meat with aluminum foil once it has been cooked in accordance to the time specified and let it sit at room temperature for at least 20 mins for its juices to finish cooking the meat itself, which produces a juicy and tender medium rare meat.

On the roasting time part, the rule as recommended by Good Food Magazine is 15mins per 450g plus extra 20 mins for a medium rare piece. And so my piece of Boneless Top Round roast was almost 3lbs (appx. 1350g) and I roasted it for about 1 hour 10 mins. I just mixed the potatoes, carrots, green beans, with grated garlic and minced shallot in another pan and put them into the same temperature oven for 35 minutes of roasting. To cook it faster and evenly, always place on the bottom rack. If you need to use a meat thermometer, only poke it in after the 20 minutes resting period as that will be more accurate than at the time when you first taken it out from the oven. I simply used 1 tbsp of a mixed rub that I had in my pantry with 1/2 tsp of cumin powder and ground black pepper and marinated the meat overnight. As the rub already had salt in it, I didn't see the need to further season the meat with salt on the day of baking. I used a few sprigs of Thyme and it is such a lovely herb, milder than Rosemary and yet fragrant. The dish was a hit with the kids and Curry and Miss E already told me that she wants a Sunday lunch every week! Good start.

Strawberry & Grenadine Cream Cheese Tartlets

A rainy weekend makes us all lazy to go out and rather laze around in our PJs watching TV and playing board games with the kids. But it is also these rainy days that makes us the parents spend quality time with our kids of which I find it even difficult to do for a stay home mom during the weekdays when they are so occupied with school and extra activities outside the house and I myself totally exhausted by mid day running errands and doing housework. And now more when I have to stick to an exercise regime everyday that practically sends me dozing off on the sofa by 9pm! I used to watch Korean dramas around bedtime and now I think of it, I wasted so much of my beauty sleep and energy on chasing cosmetic manufactured idols and should have slept early and build up my own natural beauty!

Today I started a new thing called Sunday lunches. We usually stay at home or walk and play around the neighborhood areas on Sundays unless the weather is very good when we will drive to somewhere and spend the day. Since Sunday is the only day when we can really sit down as a family to eat together without any rush to anywhere, I thought it is a good idea to turn off the weekend TV and set aside the laptops for an hour or two on the dining table and let my kids chat happily to Curry and myself about their thoughts and imaginations. And the best thing is after lunch, we all take a stroll to settle down and let the day goes by slow and relax without the fuss of dinnertime while the weekend ends and slips into another busy week ahead.

For teatime dessert, I served up individual Strawberry tartlets which were shaped into muffin tins, just the right size for everyone after a nice roast beef lunch. Although our local strawberry farms are yet to open, the supply at the grocery store is abundant and cheap. I cut some up in small chunks and mixed them into the grenadine flavored cream cheese and spooned them into the pre-baked tartlets. It is a bit of a work to load the tart dough into the muffin tins but the end result is more prettier than a big tart. I used the largest biscuit cutter that I have to cut out the dough and patted it into the tins. It is very important to grease the muffin tins or else it will be difficult to remove the baked tartlet cases without breaking it. I like the rustic look of these tartlet cases and the huge individual strawberries sitting on top of the lovely pink cream cheese which makes them so sweet in color and of course, cream cheese flavored with the subtle sweet smell of the grenadine syrup, sweet in taste and fun with bits and chunks of strawberry pieces blended into its creaminess. Cheers to springtime showers!

Recipe :

Ingredients :
Tartlet Dough/Cases :
1 cup All Purpose Flour
4 oz Cold Butter (1 stick)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp sugar
1 extra egg, beaten

Grenadine Cream Cheese filling :
8 oz Low Fat Cream Cheese (1 pack)
1-1/2 tbsp Grenadine Syrup
1 tbsp sugar
5 to 6 strawberries, hulled and diced to small pieces
10 to 12 strawberries for garnish and some spearmint leaves

Method :
Tartlet cases :
1)Cut the cold butter into smaller cubes and place into the food processor. Pour in flour and sugar and process till resembling coarse crumbs, about 45 seconds on high.
2)Pour in egg and continue to process for another 30 seconds till all the crumbs come together and clump up to become a dough. If feels dry and not coming together, add in some water.
3)Take out dough and knead for 20 seconds, shape into a disk and place in plastic bag and let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 mins.
4)Grease 8 to 10 muffin pans. Trace the bottom of the muffin tins onto parchment paper and cut out 10 parchment rounds. Set aside.
5)Take out dough and let it stand at room temperature for 5 mins before starting to roll it out. Flour the working surface and roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Using the largest round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out 10 circles . Lift one and place into the muffin tin. Using your fingers, slowly pat in the dough to the sides of the muffin tin. Continue with the rest. Prick the bottom of the dough with fork. Cover with cling film and return to the fridge to rest for another 30 mins.
6)Preheat oven to 375F. Take out dough and place one parchment paper round into each of the dough lined muffin tin. Place some baking beans onto the parchment rounds. Bake for 15 mins on the bottom rack.
7)Remove from the oven, and take out the baking beans and parchment rounds. Return to the oven and bake for another 12 to 15 mins till cases are slightly browned.
8)Turn off the oven and take out the baked cases. Beat one egg and using a brush,egg wash the inside bottom and sides of each tartlet case (so that the tartlets will not turn soggy when filled and placed in the fridge). Return to the oven to dry up for 5 mins.
9)Cool completely before filling in the cream cheese mixture.

Grenadine Cream Cheese Filling :
1)Beat the cream cheese and sugar till creamy.
2)Add in the grenadine syrup and continue to blend.
3)Spoon in the diced strawberries and distribute the filling into the tartlet cases.
4)Garnish each tartlet with a strawberry and mint leaf.
5)Place in the fridge before serving.

Makes : 8 to 10 tartlets

Friday, April 16, 2010

Potato Foccacia Pugliese

I adapted the recipe for this wonderful Italian bread from BBC Good Food Magazine.

I used red potatoes and sliced them thinly with a mandoline and instead of Rosemary, I used my pot of Spearmint plant that was overgrowing in my little flower pot!

The taste was great, chewy and coarse textured bread with a crisp topping of layers of potatoes. The spearmint didn't withstand the heat and baking but added a great color and touch to the bread. A very easy to make bread and will definitely substitute with other ingredients!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April Bento Days (3)

I have been following Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution show on TV since it started 3 weeks ago. America is indeed a market for convenience food, from fast food chain drive up to packaged dinners that stocks up 1/3 of the supermarket spaces here. I think the fact that Jamie Oliver finds it very hard to create an overnight success to his call of serving fresh cooked food to our children is highly due to the reason that most parents in a household works and of course, the school budget system is always tight everywhere, hence the option is to take the easy way out with cheap and doubtfully prepared packaged food. To see a 13 year old kid who is almost 300lbs is very disturbing to me and I believe the government branch of this area should do more to promote good eating programmes by involving the parents, limiting the type of food served at our schools and perhaps train more people like Jamie Oliver to spread the word of the dangers of obesity as I am really shocked on how so many people in this first world country can be so ignorant on what types of food are good and bad for them!

Everytime I prepare Bento boxes for my kids, I think about the ingredients first. It is difficult to completely diss the usage of processed food and I can only try to limit their presence in my kids lunches. Sure, we take ham, meat franks and processed cheese products all the time as I, myself a busy mom also find these products time saving. But I go the extra mile to boil the sausages and wash my slices of ham to rid of some salt and nothing sweet in the Bento boxes except fresh fruits. Little steps like that comfort my mind and hopefully my kids will pick up good eating habits in their adult lives.

I didn't plan well for the kids Bento boxes today and used what I had in the pantry and fridge. I mashed up a can of salmon, seasoned it with salt and pepper and mixed in some Japanese bread crumbs Panko and chopped chives, and made them into patties. Pan frying them was quick as the salmon is already cooked. I used Beef frank or more known as hot dog sausages for the sushi rice filling. One thing about these type of franks, there are plenty of varieties and I usually stay away from those that is made of mixed meat of different kind and always boil them for a few minutes before using, even though they say it is ready to eat.

For Curry's Bento, I made a shrimp salad by mixing mixed peas, corn and cut carrots with the cooked shrimp and dressed it with pepper, Dijon mustard and mayonaise. With some homemade beef and chive dumplings, pan fried first and then cooked in oyster flavored sauce and ginger, stir fried green beans and nori omelette, this Bento box was fast to put together as long as I wrap the dumplings the night before. The rice was flavored with Furikake and toasted garlic slices.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Raisin & Lemon Curd Bread

I had some Lemon curd left from my Easter Lemon Curd tart baking and thought of using it up by this week. Since the bread supply is running low, I made a bread today. I think if I am given a farm, I would have rear chickens for eggs and milk the cow too! All these constant baking and cooking has saved me alot of money of buying store ready stuffs and I feel happy to be able to take a few simple ingredients and make something out of it. Believe it or not, I started buying the 50lbs bread flour sack from Costco and since last September till now, I am now left with 1/3 of the content. So, plenty of bread and buns are yet to be baked!

Before I venture to another bread dough recipe in another bread book, I wanted to test the same bread dough that I used for the past 3 months to make a loaf bread and see whether the outcome and texture of it in a loaf shape is the same as the buns. Interestingly, the texture of the bread appears more coarse than the buns but soft in bite. Definitely, the process of water roux bread is better for a softer loaf than this recipe, where the water roux produces soft strands that is visible when pull apart. This loaf is more crumbly when cut apart and very good if toasted. I just divided the bread dough into 2 parts and spreaded the lemon curd on each, rolled them up in logs and placed in 2 loaf pans. After another 30 mins of rising, they were baked for 15 mns.

Green Tea & Red Bean Cream Cupcakes

Everytime spring comes, there is one thing that I have to go through. Itchy and runny nose, teary eyes and abrupt sneezing!  I swear that it got better last year but this year seems to be a bit dramatic with me finishing up boxes of tissue papers in the house faster than any winter seasons! I would like to think that my body is trying to get used to my over exertion of energy on my threadmill regime and for this past week, the extra walking time on it had really tired me out like never before. My thighs are stretched to their limits and I feel my arms and bones are all worked up. This is what they call 'No pain, No gain'! And with the allergies, I feel a bit weak but hopefully another week of routine workout, I will get used to it.

Despite my determination to lose pounds, I cannot give up baking! And I can prove that you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak! Sometimes I think the more uptight I am about losing weight and counting calories, the more I will fail. And so, I never count my calories when I eat but I do count when I am losing it on the threadmill. I eat everything but moderately or 1/3 portion of what an adult normally eat, that way I won't envy others and still get to eat what others eat. All my little strange strategies seem to be working fine these past 3 months since I started watching my diet and exercise. And that is why, I can still go on baking every week without much guilt!

I have some red bean paste left in my fridge and it gave me an idea what to make today! I felt like having a cake but not over buttery and of course light and yummy. I like to use yogurt in my cakes as it gives the cakes a tangy bite to it and at the same time really lighten up the texture while maintaining the moist inside the cakes. I find that sour cream and buttermilk do the same thing but low fat yogurt is my preferred choice as I always have a tub ready in the fridge and I can always use the flavored ones for different types of cakes.

These cupcakes are inspired from the Japanese pastry ingredients of red bean and green tea which they use extensively in their patisseries. I took a gumpaste class before Miss E was born and after almost 7 years, my gumpaste tools are still around and I thought it would be fun to try to play around and make cherry blossom flowers for these cupcakes! When I started this blog, I have always wanted to start re-learning and making gumpaste flowers again but just couldn't find the time and patience to do it. But after a few years of playing PlayDoh with my kids, I think my skills should be put to the test again with this edible sugar clay and it is indeed very fun to do. I used Wilton's GumPaste powder, mixing 3/4 cups to 1 tbsp water to get the dough. One thing about gumpaste, they must be covered if not working on it as it dries up pretty quickly and will start to crack. I love the pearl white Non Pareils and just poked them into the shaped flowers as soon as they are formed without any need of egg white to attach them. I placed each flower on the measuring teaspoons to dry for an hour so they will curve up nicely to mimic the sakura flowers. One thing is that I think I over colored the pinkness and should have gone easy with 2 drops only instead of 4!!

Making the red bean paste can take alot of time and any type of buttercream can be substituted. Instead of heavy butter, I used whipping cream and whipped 1-1/2 cup of it with 4 tbsp icing sugar and 5 tbsp of the red bean paste. Buttercream will be more appropriate if these cupcakes are served on a hot day as whipped cream needs to stay cool all the time. I used 1-1/2 tbsp of green tea powder to get the real taste into the cake and I always think that green tea is quite a finicky ingredient to bake with as I can never get my baking rise or expand much if green tea is present! Same with my previous attempts with Macaron, these cupcakes just didn't rise much even though I had filled up the cupcake liners to 2/3 full. I reduced the sugar content in view of the addition of the sweet whipped cream frosting. The taste of these cupcakes are tangy with a tinge of bitterness from the green tea, complemented with the subtle sweetness from the red bean whipped cream. Definitely not a heavy teatime treat!

Recipe :

Green Tea Cupcakes:
150g Cake Flour
100g Almond Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1-1/2 Tbsp Green Tea Powder
100g fine sugar
75g softened Butter
2 large eggs
225ml low fat plain yogurt
Method :
1)Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line 12 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
2)Sift the cake flour with the almond flour, baking powder and green tea powder into a large bowl.
3)Cream the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs and continue to mix for 1 minute. Scrap down the sides of the bowl. Pour in the yogurt and mix for another 1 min.
4)Spoon the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture and stir to combine.
5)Divide and spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, up to 2/3 full each.
6)Bake for 25 to 28 mins. Remove cupcakes to racks to cool completely.

Red Bean Whipped Cream Frosting
Ingredients :
5 tbsp of Red Bean Paste
4 tbsp Icing Sugar
1-1/2 cup Whipping Cream

1)Whip the cream for 1 min. Add in the icing sugar and continue to whip till soft peak.
2)With the beater still on, spoon in the red bean paste and beat till mixed for another 3 to 4 mins on medium speed.
3)Refrigerate till ready to use.

Makes : 12 cupcakes

Friday, April 9, 2010

April Bento Days (2)

Rainy days on a Friday can be good or bad. The bad is that the kids will run the whole house and indoors down to the ground and the good is I slowly move into the groove of  a lazy weekend and loving it!

My kids expect Bento lunches every week and although most of these boxed lunches are eaten at home rather than at school, I don't mind doing it as it is only possible for me to make detailed Bento boxes when I have time and by next year when Miss E has to bring lunch to school everyday, I doubt I can be so creative in so little time in the morning.

When I started buying Bento boxes and tools 2 years ago, I had to use them even before my kids qualify for kindergarten! And so the interest stays on till today and I feel better having put them to use for 2 years now, knowing that my money is well spent!

For today's Bento, it represents the arrival of spring with ladybugs as the theme together with small butterflies and frogs. I am very pleased with the outcome of the Japanese rolled omelette today and indeed 2 eggs are not enough to make a perfect roll.  I used 3 eggs instead and pan fried some diced long green beans before starting pouring over the eggs to cover it and making the rolled omelette. After numerous practices on this dish, I finally can do it! Now, I just wonder when will my sushi making be better! For the ladybugs, I used imitation crab sticks, of which I steamed in the microwave for 1 min to get it softened and then using a small parring knife, I sliced through the outer red skin and removed it from the inner white flesh. This is pretty tricky if you have shaky hands! And using a small cutter, I cut out the small oval shapes and placed them on a cut out cheese to make it more stable, as it tears easily if moved too much on the rice. To attach the cheese to the rice balls, I spreaded a little mayo on the rice, this gave it extra flavoring. For the frog and butterfly strips, I just took punches and punched out the shape on the nori wrapper and wrapped it around the rice ball while it is still hot. The side dish is pan fried salmon, marinated beforehand with Japanese sweet seasoning Mirin, pepper and dark soy sauce.

For Curry's Bento, it was easier as I used left over dishes from the fridge. To speed up things, I just boiled some water and poured it over the bok choy and let it cooked with the bowl covered for 7 to 10 mins. That way the Bok Choy will not be overcooked and maintains its crisp texture. I made a large pot of sweet soy beef dish for last Easter weekend and just scooped them into the Bento box. As always, the yellow egg must be present to make the Bento complete and I made chive in omelette. Deep fried tofu is a lovely ingredient especially for warmer days and since it stays dry even after cooking, I didn't have to put them in a separate side container and just slotted them in here and there. I included Dijon mustard for the dip.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chive & Radish Rice Cakes

I think I am eating more vegetables now than my younger years. I don't really dislike vegetables but sometimes I find them boring and very few ways to cook them except stir fry, blanch or steam. At least the warmer days leave me with choices of eating raw and leafy vegetables like lettuce, arugula with a combination of raw fruits or eating them cooked, saute or stir fried. And Curry is a big influence in my eating habits these days as he must see greens on his plate at dinner time and I am left with no choice but to cook a big plate of greens everyday.

I have never used Chives in my cooking and would like to think that it is used more like a herb rather than a vegetable. But I love chives and cabbage Baos that are sold in the Asian groceries and would love to try making them one day. Rice cakes are not normally eaten in Malaysia and I have only tasted them once long time ago. I got the idea of this recipe from an old Dim Sum book of which I added radish and preserved radish to make it more flavorful.

The texture of these rice cakes is chewy and according to my kids, gooey too! According to the recipe they need to be steamed first and then pan fried. I tested both ways by steaming it first and then pan fried and also the shortcut way of filling the rice dough and pan frying it straightaway. I didn't find much difference in texture of the rice cakes which tasted doughy and just like cooked rice but mashed and patted into a patty! Perhaps some people like it steamed straight out of the heat but I like mine pan fried thereafter to give the slight crisp crust on the surface of these rice cakes.

The radish released moisture during the steaming, hence the filling remains moist with the slight sweet taste of the chive and its subtle aroma giving the plain rice cakes a better taste. The preserved radish added the savory part and definitely cannot be omitted as it is a lovely ingredient to add into any plain tasting ingredients like rice. It is best to roll the rice dough a bit thinner than 1/3 inch and not to overstuff with the filling as the dough cannot really stretch as with wheat dough and easily tear during the wrapping of the filling. My way to do it is to roll it round about 3 times larger than a teaspoon and use a heap of teaspoon filling for each rice cake. To seal it up, gather up the rim and sides slowly and pinch to close. Turn the cakes smooth side upwards and flatten slightly with your palm to form a disk shape.  It is best to serve these cakes warm as after a while exposed to the air they can become hard and needs to be reheated again. Snip the rice cakes to 4 parts before serving for a better presentation and serve with chilli sauce.

Recipe :
Ingredients :
2 cups Rice flour
1/2 cup Corn Flour
2 cups water
8 oz grated Daikon Radish
1 cup of chives, chopped
1/3 cup Dry & Preserved Radish, diced
1/2 of a shallot, diced
1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Cooking oil

Method :
Filling :
1)Heat 1 tbsp of cooking oil in a large frying pan. Saute the shallots for 30 seconds.
2)Add in the grated Radish and preserved Radish and stir to mix and cook for 5 mins.
3)Scatter in the chives and stir in to mix. Season with the 5 spice powder, pepper and salt. Cover with lid and let it cook for another 3 mins. Remove from heat and let the filling cool to room temperature.

Rice Cake:
1)Sift the rice flour and corn flour together.
2)Bring the 2 cups of water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the flour mixture. The flour will absorb all the liquid and produce a white gooey mass, keep stirring for 3 mins. Let it cool for 10 mins.
3)Using your hand or the heavy mixer with the hook attachment, squeeze and knead the dough for 5 mins. Flour your hand lightly with rice flour if too sticky but  the dough will get more smooth and doughy after you start working with it. Divide the dough into 10 to 12 equal size balls. Place in a bowl and cover while you work with one at a time. Grease a large steaming plate with some cooking oil. Prepare the steamer.
4)Take one rice dough ball, gently roll it out to about 1/3 inch thick and 3 times larger than a teaspoon. Place one teaspoon of the filling in the middle and gather up the edges to seal. Do this gently as the rice dough easily breaks and tear. Turn the bottom smooth side upwards facing you and lightly pat the rice cake flat to a disk. Transfer to the greased steaming plate, cover and continue with the rest of the rice dough and filling.
5)Once the water is hot, place the rice cakes into the steamer for 10 mins on medium heat. Remove and let cool or can be served warm with chilli sauce.
6)Alternatively, let the rice cakes cool for 10 mins, heat up some cooking oil in a frying pan and pan fry the rice cakes, 5 mins on each side. Dish up and cut each rice cake into half or quarter parts and serve with chilli sauce.

Makes : 10 to 12 rice cakes

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mung Bean Dessert Soup

When the weather changes from dry and cold to wet and warm, my throat and digestive system usually goes through a change too. As the Chinese really based everything on the idea of 'Yin & Yang', there are certain categories of food that we believe can do good to our body when we are under the weather!

Mung Bean is said to have a cooling effect and my mom always make this sweet soup when the weather gets too hot in Malaysia. It is believed that green bean dispels excessive heat built up in the body system and this dessert is good served hot or cold. It is thick and smooth when served hot and when left overnight in the fridge, the liquid thickens and can be diluted with a little water before serving. The Mung Bean must be soaked at least 4 hours or overnight to soften it but not too long or else they will start to sprout. I used Chinese brown sugar bars but brown sugar can be substituted. I added dried seaweed kelp or more known as 'Kombu' in the Asian market as this is the Cantonese way of doing it as to add more benefit to the dessert, which provides as a dietary fiber. The kelp must first be soaked in water to hydrate it and get rid of the salt before adding it lastly to the soup. A very simple dessert to make for a warm spring day.

Ingredients :

1 cup Mung Green Bean (not yellow split beans), soaked in 3 cups water for 4 hours
2 bars of chinese brown sugar (or substitute with 1 to 1-1/2 cup brown sugar)
10 cups water & 2 cups water
1 piece of dried seaweed Kelp/Kombu (to yield 1/2 cup) (rinsed and soaked for 20 mins)

1)Rinse the soaked Mung bean in a colander under running water.
2)Boil 10 cups of water till rolling boil stage. Pour in the Mung Beans and let it simmer for 30 mins at medium heat. Do not cover the lid as it will boil over.
3)Stir in the sugar and let it boil another 30 mins. Add in 2 cups of water.
4)Cut the kelp to thin slices and add into the boiling soup and boil another 10 mins. Turn off the heat and serve hot or cold.

Serves: 4 person

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lemon Curd Tart

Happy Easter. It is the time when all things are bright and lovely again. Every year we gather with friends to celebrate Easter, complete with a table of potluck dishes and easter egg hunt for the kids. This year we are lucky to have a very good and warm weekend to celebrate this holiday and able to dine al fresco style surrounded with budding greens and warm and breezy air of the lovely spring season.

This year my kids were very happy to see their GrandAuntie Marina from Canada who stopped by for a day at our place. Having family members visiting is always a big deal to me and I cherish every visit as my kids don't get to see many relatives over here and it is always interesting to see how my kids getting all curious on who is who and connecting with the people who are related to their grandparents and parents.

I haven't made a tart since last year and with the summer berries available together with very affordable lemon in the grocery, I made this Lemon curd tart to celebrate Easter at our annual potluck gathering. I have always wanted to make lemon curd but because of its richness in eggs and butter, I kept the idea at bay till I have a reason to make it and able to share the calories around! Lemon is a  year end season fruit and yet it is so summer in nature with its bright and fragrant rind and luscious juice. The blackberries were huge and on sale and amazingly sweet and juicy and I used them and mint leaves to decorate this 6 inch tart.

The only mistake I made with this tart is that I made the base of the tart shell a bit too thick and it was a bit difficult to cut out a slice unless and until I leave it out to reach room temperature before cutting. Other than that, I am pretty satisfied with the rim and sides of the tart case which was the perfect thickness and the lemon curd was tangy with just enough sweetness to make it a good dessert for a warm day.

Recipe :

Tart Case:
1-1/2 cup All Purpose flour
6 tbsp cold butter
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 to 5 tbsp cold water

Lemon Curd:
5 eggs
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
4 tbsp butter
about 26 blackberries for garnish
spearmint leaves

Method :
Tart Case:
1) Put the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir with a fork to mix.
2) Cut the cold butter into small pieces and drop into the flour mixture. Use food processor to process till coarse crumbs or using hands to rub the butter into the flour mixture.
3)Starting with 2 tbsp cold water, add into the butter and flour mixture and continue to process or mix with hands till a dough is formed. Add in the remaining water by one tablespoon each time till a dough is formed and all the crumbs clump together.
4) Remove and form into a ball and cover with cling film and let the dough rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
5)Preheat oven to 375F. Remove from fridge and roll out to a large circle, about 1/4 inch thick.  Grease a 6 inch tart pan with butter lightly. Lift and place the rolled out dough onto the tart pan, with sides overlapping the pan. Gently tuck the dough into the tart pan and cut out excess dough. Prick the bottom with fork. Line with aluminum foil and baking beans.
6)Bake the tart case for 15 mins, remove the baking beans and aluminum foil and bake for an extra 15 mins.
7)Turn off the oven and let the baked tart case remain in the oven for an extra 10 mins. Remove and cool completely on a rack.

Lemon Curd :
1)Place the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice into a small cooking pot. Turn on the stove to low heat and start stirring and mixing the ingredients together, Continue to stir or whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture starts to thicken to heavy cream consistency, about 10 to 12 mins. Do not stop stirring or else the eggs will curdle. Remove from the Heat.
2)Immediately add in the butter pieces and continue to stir till the butter is totally melted and blended in. Let the curd cool to room temperature, cover with foil or cling film and keep in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

To Assemble :
1) Spoon the lemon curd into the cool tart case. Smooth out with a small angled spatula.
2) Garnish with blackberries around near the rim and add in mint leaves.
3) Place in the refrigerator till ready to serve.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Bento Days (1)

I rised early this morning to make 2 Lunch Bento and 1 snack Bento. Talk about wife and motherly love and duties, I think I am doing pretty good!

Today is Prince D's first time staying back in his pre-school for lunch and I made a simple Bento for him. He is 3 plus and he always says he is a big boy while I think he is still a baby. Miss E doesn't like to see anything Winnie the Pooh anymore in her Bento Box but Prince D is currently smitten to the honey bear character.  To me Winnie the Pooh depicts the pure innocence of childhood with all its lovable curiosities and huggable cuteness. Which is exactly how I look at my own son!

Despite his serious and unfriendly face at school, I find that he has opened up alot since January and infact enjoying school but in his own terms. Raising a son is very different from a daughter and same as me, Prince D's teachers are still waiting for that crack of smile each morning he goes into school, greeting them without any prompting. Till then, we just have to wait for that magic moment to happen!

I made some patties from ground pork and dipped them in egg and panko before deep frying them. Actually I wanted to bake them but it will take longer to cook and I still had to prepare Curry's Lunch Bento. Preparing more than one Bento at a given time needs some planning and time flies before I heard the gang getting up on the bedrooms floor and crying for breakfast! For the Pooh's face and all the cut out carrot stars, with the jello cup, I did it last night as they take up the most time if I had to make it this morning.

Curry's Bento was made up of rice, braised chicken drummets and shiitake mushroom together with blanched Bok Choy and pickled seaweed. Dried seaweed shreds are available in packages at Asian stores and said to be loaded with iron and minerals. It must first be soaked and rinsed before cooking to get rid of the salt content. I usually use it in making the Asian dessert of green bean soup and for this cold salad like side dish for the Bento, I boiled some vinegar and sugar and poured into the blanched seaweed kelp strips and let it marcerated overnight.