Sunday, April 24, 2011

Baked Vanilla Cheesecake with Strawberries & Pistachio


Happy Easter! As with the idea of Easter, I pray for peace and respect among mankind. Seems difficult to attain with the ever growing greed for power, status and unrests all over the world these days. But I believe if one does good, a chain effect always ensues. Although my kids don't really grasp the real meaning of Easter yet besides the bunny and eggs, it is a sure way to talk to them about religions, hopes and teachings.

As with every Easter, we have potluck gathering with our friends, followed by the Easter egg hunt. Dampened with rain this year, the eggs were hidden in the basement! Anyway, it was fun. For the dessert, I made this cheesecake. I have lost count on how many cheesecakes I have made this year but each and every one that I made deserved mention and a part in this blog! I just love these group of cakes,whatever you throw in with the cheese mixture, baked or chilled..... it just gets cheesier everytime (in the yummy sense)!



I used Ricotta cheese for this one. The texture was not as smooth and velvety as in using cream cheese, but equally hefty and lovely in taste. It has a more curd like texture and bite and for people who doesn't really go for the stronger smell of cheese, Ricotta is the best substitute. Heavy cream was added for the in-depth flavor. Strawberries and pistahio nuts are the decorative accents on the top while the main flavor of the cake itself is Vanilla. I put it 2 tbsp of Vanilla paste and a few drops of lime juice. I used less sugar for this cheesecake but this can always be sweetened more with powdered sugar sprinkled on top just before serving.

Recipe

Ingredients

Bottom Crust
15 pieces of Honey Graham crackers, crushed to crumbs
100g Melted Butter

Cheesecake
475g Skimmed Ricotta cheese
200ml Heavy Cream
3 eggs, large
100g Regular sugar (for sweeter cake , use 150g or more)
2 tbsp vanilla Paste
2 tbsp Lime juice
8 to 10 strawberries, hulled and sliced, fanned out
60g Pistachio nuts, chopped roughly
2 tbsp Strawberry jam

Method
Bottom Crust
1. Mix the honey graham crackers crumbs with the melted butter.
2. Pat the crumbs into an 8 inch springform round cake pan. Set aside.

Cheesecake
1. Heat the oven to 350F.
2. Beat the egg with the sugar till it is not grainy anymore.
3. Add in the Heavy cream and beat for 30 seconds.
4. Spoon in the Ricotta cheese, Vanilla paste and Lime juice and fold in to combine thoroughly with the egg & cream mixture. Pour the batter onto the base crust inside the springform pan.
5. Bake for 45 to 50 mins. The cake is done when it is set. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake cool completely inside the oven for 1 hour.
6. Remove and garnish with the strawberry slices. Heat the strawberry jam and brush as glaze onto the strawberries slices . Sprinkle with the Pistachio nuts. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight before serving.
7. If not sweet enough,sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

Serves : 8

Candy Molds by Spinning Leaf


I am not a very big candy fan and prefer plain chocolates. But I like to look at lovely and colorful assortments of candies, hard or soft, large lollipop or squiggly gummies. I believe there is another world outside there that connects and glorify candies like I praise cakes and live for good Artisan breads! Anything to do with sweet will have an army of followers for sure!

I first noticed candy molds when I started fondant cake making but never gave thought to it till last year. I bought some plastic molds from my local craft store but they seemed flimsy and pretty much warped after one or two uses. And the designs and motifs were pretty limited. Through the internet, I managed to search and locate Spinning Leaf, an awesome company that supplies molds for crafts. I love the many designs they have and also the most sought after themes for holidays and celebrations. And most of all, the candy molds are very sturdy and I can bend them to get the molded candies out easily. The molds are pretty durable and  easy to use.


Working with more than 1 colored candy  takes more prep time but worth it as the end result is stunning. These candy molds are specially made and sized for Oreo sized cookies and my favorite is the white cream filled ones rather than the original Chocolate cookies. How to do it :

1. Get ready the mold, a new clean food paint brush and the candies  together with the cookies.
2. Melt the first candy color over a double boiler or microwave according to the package instructions. I prefer the double boiler as it melts more evenly.
3. Remove the melted candy and dip the paint brush into it and paint onto the flower motif. Leave to set for 5 mins.
4. Melt some dark chocolate wafer with a double boiler. Take 1 small spoon and pour some dark chocolate onto the pink flower motif. Drop in an Oreo cookie and gently push down so that the cookie is partly submerged into the chocolate. Fill up with extra melted chocolate to cover the whole cookie. Leave to set for at least 15 mins.
5. To release cookies from mold, bend the mold a few times.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tart Rings

Of all my bakings, I sure have made alot of Tarts.Whether it is sweet filled with pastry cream and topped with fruits, savory baked with vegetables or plain simple custard ones, I love them all. When I first started making the tarts, I was more concerned of making a steady tart case that can withstand moisture when I needed to store it in the fridge. After trials and errors over the years, I think I have perfected the tart crust and now I am into making beautiful tarts, incorporating lovely colors of different ingredients and trying out all shapes of tarts.

Recently I got these type of Tart Rings and have used it twice within a week. All this time I have used those fluted ones and I love this ring shape that yields a smooth side which looks very neat and just like the professionals would bake their tarts. As there was no bottom part, I had to use an extra baking sheet on the bottom and to contain the whole Tart Ring itself. I like the quality of these Tart Rings as they were made of sturdy stainless steel. They are pricier than the usual fluted tart pans and may take one to practise a few times to get a hang on using it.



For the first try, I wasn't sure on how much extra tart dough to leave overhanging the rim of the Tart ring as there will always be some shrinking during the baking. I overlapped it to 1/2 inch and hoping that I can kind of cut or saw it off once it is baked. I think I poured too much of the Hazelnut Frangipane filling into the lined Tart ring and during baking, it overflowed to the rim and the extra overhanging tart dough was baked in.



For the second try, I made this Vegetable Tart of which I didn't overfill the lined tart dough before baking. And I still left a 1/2 inch extra dough overhanging at the rim of the Tart Ring. This time I was able to get an almost perfect looking tart until I try to cut away the extra baked dough on the rim of the tart. I think that if I bake the tart case prior to putting in the filling might do the trick of giving me a perfect looking tart. My idea is to blind bake the tart case and take it out and cut off the extra overhanging dough then while it is still semi-baked and soft to cut. Once the tart case is baked, it was totally impossible for me to cut off to yield a perfect rim.


My verdict for these Tart Rings:

Pros:
1) They are made of good quality Stainless Steel and easy to clean with one swipe of the sponge and soap as compared to the fluted tins that require more attention to cleaning the many fluted crevaces.
2) The tart looks clean and bakes evenly.

Cons:
1)Require greasing prior to lining the tart dough.
2)An extra flat firm large pan is required to hold the tart ring.
3)Lifting the baked Tart out of the ring after the baking is a bit difficult, especially when there is extra dough baked onto the rim of the Tart ring. Precision in cutting around the rim is required as not to damage the sides of the tart. This is more easily done with the fluted pan that has a removable bottom.

What I will do next: Practise!

Grape Tomatoes with Asparagus Tart

I am  on the Tart mode now, which is anyway suitable for the spring and summer weather like cooking. I don't have alot of ideas baking nor cooking with vegetables and the same is for seafood. But I believe some ingredients are best lightly cooked on their own with the least seasonings and preparation and they themselves simply shine through in taste in their natural and wholesome goodness. I love baby tomatoes and they come in alot of varieties these days and very colorful too. These Grape tomatoes, which are aptly named for their grape shape is very juicy and sweeter in taste than the cherry tomatoes. Infact I even think they can be used in sweet desserts and sweet tarts, maybe I shall keep that idea for next time. There was some left over tart dough from my previous baking of the Peach Hazelnut Frangipane Tart and using the same 6 inches tart ring, I used up the tart dough. I like this tart dough recipe as it didn't need any prior or separate baking from the filling and we all know how we hate to line the tart with parchment paper and baking beans! It just saves up so much time to be able to do all baking at one go and less mess too.

For the filling, I simply made up a combination of egg, heavy cream and fat free Ricotta Cheese. It turned out very soft custard like and if you prefer a quiche like filling which is more solid and firm, just add some all purpose flour to thicken it. I have left overs of almost everything in the fridge despite getting the smallest tub or package of everything. That is the dilemma trying to lose weight and at the same time I cannot give up baking or eating. I can go restless if I don't see any butter left in the fridge, knowing that I always want to make a cake. And with a little bit of Ricotta cheese left here, a bit of Heavy Cream there, I just had to incorporate them in this recipe. Yes..... I can be very experimental at times.


Recipe

Ingredients
Tart Dough (ingredients & method)
see here for the Tart Dough Recipe (if making a 6 inch tart, you will only need 300g of the dough,  the rest can be frozen and thawed later for further use)

Filling
100g Tender Asparagus (about 15 to 18 stalks)
150g Grape Tomatoes (about 10)
1 Large egg
125ml Heavy Cream
75g low fat Ricotta Cheese
1/2 tsp All Purpose Flour (optional for firmer custard)
Salt & Pepper

Method
1. Clean the asparagus, remove tough bottom side and cut the spears into half.Cut the grape tomatoes across with 2 to 3 slices from each.
2. Prepare the tart dough, roll out and line the dough in a 6 inch tart ring/pan. Alternatively use an 8 inch if you like. Always grease the tart ring/pan. Preheat oven to 375F.
3. Beat the egg with the heavy cream and ricotta cheese till well mixed. Season with salt & pepper. Add in the flour if you are using.
4. Arrange the Asparagus and Cut tomatoes inside the tart pan. Slowly pour in the egg & cream content. Do not overflow.
5. Bake for 40 mins.The filling will set nicely.
6. If the edge of the tart is browing too fast, turn down the oven to 350F and complete the baking. Once done, turn off oven and let the tart sit in the warm oven for a further 10 mins. This will set up the filling.
7. Serve warm

Serves: for 6 inch (4 person)/ for 8 inch (6 person)



Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jelly Fish With Thai Basil

Andrew Zimmern's new Season of his Round the World Bizarre Food eating just got better! I think he has almost covered all the bizarre items and ingredients in most cultures and I find it most exciting everytime he goes to Asia. I laughed when he couldn't take Durians, the 1000 year old fermented egg and of all things, Walnut pastries! Those I find it Nothing compared to his more outrageous takes on Balut, the duck egg complete with underdeveloped embryo complete with baby feathers, the pounding heart of a frog and raw meat. Before his show started, most of the Western world find this idea of eating outside their conventional food and cooking simply abhorrent. There are plenty of food and travel shows on TV and most have not much substance nor interesting enough and in my opinion both Andrew Zimmern and Tony Bourdain have really revolutionized the idea of food and travel in the American people.

I am on the mild side about tasting bizarre food types. As long as they are cooked properly and without any heads attached, not bloody and not nightmarish looking, I can eat it. I can take very strong smell and now even very spicy if I dare. There are a few ingredients in the Chinese cooking that uses some unconventional ingredients and I would like to attempt all of them one day.

Jelly fish cooked into a salad and appetizer is ubiquitous in China, Japan and Korea. Mostly served together with other types of appetizer in larger plates or as a side dish, jelly fish is simply mixed with some dressing and garnished with toasted sesame seeds and sometimes even dressed with creamy dressing like mayo and mustard and most of the time served cold. The texture is both crunchy and slimy and by itself presents no taste at all except the briny sea smell. It is advisable to cook the jelly fish prior to preparing it with the dressing since it is highly preserved in salt and has a long shelf life. They come in small packages of a big slice of the jelly fish body or readily shredded slices. For the one piece kind, although they might look hefty in their packaging, they are not alot and buying more than 1 packet at a time is recommended. I bought one packet that weighed almost 400g but after soaking, washing and shredding, it only yielded about 2 cups worth of jelly fish and I can easily finish it on my own! Just increase the other ingredients proportionately with the quantity of the jelly fish.


Recipe

Ingredients
1 pack of Jelly Fish (preserved), about 400g.
1 red Shallot, sliced
6 Thai Basil leaves, julienned
75ml Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1/2 tsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Light Soy Sauce
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp white sesame Seeds, toasted

Method
1. Remove the jelly fish from the package and wash under running water a few times. Cut and shred into thin slices with a knife.
2. Soak the shreds in a bowl of water for 2 hours, changing the water every 30 mins.
3. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Put in the jelly fish and let it cook for about 7 mins.
4. Remove and drain in a colander.
5. Heat the Rice Vinegar & Sugar in a sauce pan. When comes to a rolling boil, add in the sliced shallot and julienned Thai Basil. Stir for 1 min.
6. Add in the Soy Sauce and Sesame oil. Stir to rolling boil for 2 mins.
7. Place the jelly fish in a glass container or bowl. Pour the rice vinegar mixture into the container and using a chopstick, mix in thoroughly into the jelly fish. Mix for about 1 min. Taste, if needed sprinkle in some salt.
8. Let the contents chill in the fridge for more than 2 hours.
9. When ready to serve, plate up and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Serves: 2 person as small appetizer

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Glass Lock Food Containers

When the Bento idea first hit me, I went all out to search a container that will contain types and quantity of food that will feed a man's appetite. My Hubby is blessed with a very slim physique and even though he is past his 40 year old mark, he doesn't allow himself to have a beer belly nor an extra inch of tummy flab by running on the treadmill everyday after work. And lucky being a man, he can eat alot and has higher metabolism rate than me who used to be heavier than him for the past 10 years that we are married.

The first food container that I bought for him was this Glass Lock , which was made of breakable glass with a Lock Lid which snaps tightly on all 4 sides. A few years ago, there were not alot of choices of Bento boxes for men like today and so I thought a heavy duty one without the frills surely will serve my purpose.

I like this Container particularly for its depth of which I can insert large rice balls with side condiments and meat together with vegetables. And of course the seal tight Lock in feature was so tempting when I tried to pack soup for him to work. Seriously, the content doesn't spill at all even if I turn the container upside down.

The downside of this Container though is the weight of it that really measures up with the Bento filling. Sometimes it is a bit impossible to fill up the container to the top so as to look neatly tuck with nice presentation of the filling. And to make up, I tend to over pack and Hubby would come home complaining he ate too much for lunch.

Now, I have another more lighter Bento box for him and this Glass Lock is used more in storing leftover dinners and sometimes stews. I like to use glass container to store any leftovers in my fridge as compared to using plastic ones as most of the times, plastic boxes will stain. And when I prep Bento for my kids and Hubby for the week, I like to prep early and slice up my vegetables like bell peppers, cucumber and carrot and store them in this container. They do keep very fresh as the Lock feature keeps out moisture and air.

There are many sizes and colors of this Glass Lock containers in the market now. If you live in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts area, the best place to shop for these containers is at Home Goods. They come individually and also in a sets of 2 or 3 which are very reasonably priced. I am planning to ditch all my Tupperware one day when we move house and get a couple of these Glass Locks. They are heavy duty, durable and does not stain.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Peach Hazelnut Frangipane Tart


April Fool's day for all in New England. It snowed! After 2 weeks straight of brilliant cool mornings warming up to lovely afternoons, and shovels and winter boots are all stashed away, the white flakes fell overnight and schools were cancelled. Spring time was kept at bay while old man winter ruled the day. Mother Nature's prank was sure a talk of the town. To make things better I set my mind to believe that weekend started early despite my 2 kids driving me nuts with their under used energy inside the house. They are now at that age where bickering, screaming and shouting at each other seems to be the only way to communicate and bond.  Within minutes they are buddies again and before I know it, an hour passed and the whole ball starts rolling again about a toy, a chair or whatever they think worth of their loud voices.

I got some new Tart rings and wanted to test use them. My all time favorite to make is Tarts. Whether it is small, big, sweet or savory, there is just something about tart that appeals to me. With the warm buttery smell of the tart case and the lovely creamy filling of pastry cream or quiche like custard baked into the tart itself, cutting a slice to eat is just heaven. There are many variations of tart crusts and I am yet to attempt it all. And talking about tart tins and pans, I have all fluted shapes and different sizes too. I have been wanting to get these tart rings for a while now and finally I got 2, one measuring 6 inches and the other 9 inches. I was a bit unsure on how to use the rings as they have no bottom part to hold the pastry dough and their sides which is less than 2 inches made me skeptical. I just have to practise a few more times to get it perfect. For a first, I made up this Frangipane Tart using Hazelnut instead of the usual Almond nut for the filling. If possible get the ready roasted and cleaned ones to save time. Hazelnut is very unique in taste with a subtle floral aroma to it, which is light in the palate.


Recipe

Ingredients
Tart Pastry Dough
300g All Purpose Flour
150g Cold Butter, cut to cubes
1 Tbsp Sugar
1/4 Tsp salt
1 large egg
3 Tbsp Cold Water

Method
1. Sift the flour together with the sugar & salt. Place them in the food processor.
2. Drop in the butter cubes, process for 10 seconds. Do not overmix.
3. Lightly beat the egg and pour into the flour & butter mixture. Process for another 10 seconds. Do not overmix.
4. Add in the cold water and process for 10 seconds. As soon as the dough comes together in a clump, it is ready. Take out and pat into a disk and cover with plastic wrap, put in fridge to rest for 1 hour.
5. Grease a 6 inch or 8 inch tart ring or pan. Set aside.

Hazelnut Frangipane Filling
100g Roasted Hazelnut, cleaned
50g Sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp Cornstarch
1 egg
40g Butter, Room Temperature
300g  Canned peaches, remain as wedges
1 Tbsp Sugar

Method
1. Put the Hazelnut into the food processor together with the sugar and cornstarch. Process together till the hazelnut is cut into mealy state.  About 10 seconds.
2. Lightly beat the egg and put into the hazelnut mixture and add in the butter. Process to mix for 20 seconds till it turns creamy.
3. Preheat oven to 350F.

To Assemble The Tart
1. Take out the tart pastry dough. Roll it out to a large circle. Lift it up and line the tart ring or pan. If using tart ring, the bottom of the lining pan that holds the tart ring must be greased too.
2. Always leave excess overhanging the tart ring/pan as the dough will shrink during baking.
3. When ready, spoon the hazelnut cream mixture into the tart dough, spreading evenly with the back of a spoon or spatula.
4. Arrange the peach slices around and gently pushing to the bottom into the hazelnut cream. Do not bury the peaches but leave some showing for better presentation. Sprinkle sugar on top of the peaches once all are arranged.
5. Bake the tart for 40 to 45 mins. The filling will brown and set.
6. If still soft to the touch, turn off oven after time is up and let the tart sit in the warm oven for another 10 mins.
7. Remove and serve warm.

Serves: 4 to 6 person


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