Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Treats

Yesterday I whipped up a batch of mocha chocolate muffins with cream cheese frosting for OCT's colleagues. They are meant to be halloween treats.Basically, I just need an excuse to bake something. Since I was only going to bake 12 muffins, in which all would be bring to the lab, I figured I would be out of the temptation of chowing a couple down myself.

This is the second time I used this muffin recipe. I really like the depth of chocolate flavor intensified by the instant espresso powder. I remember reading from a book that instant espresso powder helps to bring out the chocolate flavor in the baked goods. I couldn't agree more. Maybe I will sneak in a tablespoon of espresso powder in my next biscotti project.

The generous batter gave me 14 muffins. Which means I had 2 extra. After I frosted them generously with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles, they went staight to the fridge. Other than the ocassional licking of cream cheese frosting, I hadn't been tempted by my sinful creations. Not yet. But you know, my determination is gone by the time I woke up this morning! In case you wonder, yes, I have eaten one this morning. Right after I woke up, and before I even brushed my teeth.

And as I am typing this, the one left in the fridge is calling me out! I must focus on something healthier. Speaking of which, I have worked out twice this week at my apartment's newly installed gym. They even installed cable, which naturally comes with Foodnetwork, my favorite channel! So now, I can sweat and pant on the treadmill while watching Ina Garten make a smoke salmon fritatta. Not a bad way to spend 40 minutes.

Mocha Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Pecan
Adapted from Bon Appétit April 1995

1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips (I used half milk chocolate and half semi-sweet chocolate)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (about 4 ounces), toasted (omitted)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line twelve 1/2-cup muffin cups with paper liners.

Stir 1/4 cup hot water and espresso powder in medium bowl until espresso powder dissolves. Add buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended.

Mix flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add buttermilk mixture and stir just until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and pecans.
Divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups.

Bake until tester inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 25 minutes.(mine took about 20 minutes)

Transfer muffins to rack and cool.

The recipe of the frosting, can be found
Makes 14 muffins.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

A week worth of dinners

I couldn't believe that I haven't jotted down anything we ate for the week. Time just flies with lightning speed, and I really didn't do much this week. Procrastinating is bad. Now I can't remember exactly what I made for the week.

Let see. We had roasted chicken thighs with root veggies for dinner on Sunday night.

Monday, we had an excellent spicy turkey cake with horseradish aioli and potato, corn and leek chowder.

Tuesday, I started to get crazy about bread making and made a loaf of thyme focaccia.Dinner was a self invented, non picture worthy ham and pepper pasta with white wine sauce.

Wednesday, after a little success with my first focaccia, I went wild and made 2 loaves of pumpkin and walnut focaccias. Nevermind that both OCT and I don't like to eat pumpkin at all. Dinner was an old recipe of teriyaki chicken from Cook Illustrated. It wasvery good. I made a mental note to remember to make this fast and easy teriyaki chicken more often. Probably we can have a Japanese theme dinner and we can pair it with Japanese short grain rice. I could make some sushi too. But I think I need more than these two items to substantiate my Japanese theme dinner. Something to ponder about.

Thursday, we have enough leftover, so I didn't cook. But I baked some Chockablock cookies (from Nov issue of Bon Appetit)for OCT's lab meeting on Friday, some apple strudel turnovers and my self-invented nutella, mango and kiwi in phyllo cups. I have high expectation on the apple strudel turnovers, but my first encounter with the phyllo dough turned out to be a disaster! They were oh-so-delicate to handle, and didn't seem to be able to cover my apple filling. The end products were pretty horrendous. I was discouraged after making a dozen of these and decided to give up. But I was supposed to bring a dessert tonight, so I cut the phyllo sheets into small squares and make them into phyllo cups. Then, I added the very sinful Nutella on the bottom of the cup as glue, and top them with mango bites and golden kiwis. Voila! Tasty and simply. I should have done this instead of the time consuming apple strudel turnovers! These easy treats proved to be a hit when everyone took a second pieces after the dinner.


Apple picking on Saturday

Something was wrong with blogger and the whole entry I typed about apple picking was gone. To keep the long story short, it was a fun day for us! The trip was initially cancelled because Dilip's son was running a high fever. After a few hours of rest, the fever subsided, and he called to tell us that the plan was still on.

It was my first encounter with apple trees. And I was suprised by how short apple trees are. We were led to some Fuji Apple trees. It must have passed the peak apple picking season, as we didn't see many apples on the trees. Nevertheless, there were enough for everyone to munch, and pick for later consumption.

While we were there, we saw many apples being discarded on the floor. In fact there were more apples on the ground than on the trees. OCT and I were thinking on the same thing : How nice if these apples could be recycled and send off to countries where food is scarce and people are dying from hunger every second....

Let's hope that someday food would be distributed evenly in the world.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Apple picking!

Do you believe in one good turn deserves another? I do!

Just when I am hoping that someone will organise a apple picking trip, OCT's colleague Dilip asked if we would be interested to go this Saturday! It was so nice of him to offer, as he knew we don't have a car and definitely won't be able to go on our own. I am excited about the new experience, as usual. I must start to pull out all the apple recipes so that I will know what to do with my fresh, hand pick apples!

By the way, Dilip is the guy whom I made a birthday cake for last week, while testing out a workable recipe for my friend Gerrie.

Anyway, I guess I will bake him something again this weekend.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bacon, Spinach and Feta Quiche

If you think you are eating healthier by eating at home, think again. Yes, you are cooking your own meal and have perfect control on the amount of ingredients used. But, there are certain food that just scream : "FATTENING". Tonight's dinner is a good example.

I made a quiche, using all the sinful ingredients I can ransack in my fridge. It was delicious. Because it was so, I started to worry that it may not be enough for both of us. So I went ahead and baked some frozen "beer-battered fish" because that seems to be the easiest thing to do when time is of the essence.

Of course all these were on top of the pot of rice I cooked and the oily chinese style chicken soup on the stove. I don't see what's healthy in this meal. But I will take note to make something lighter for tomorrow's dinner. I will try...

Though fatenning, this quiche is tasty and easy to make. I like to indulge in it once in awhile, or make it when we have guests over for dinner. There are many possible combinations in quiche, which is something I love about it. Versatility is important as far as budget is concerned. One thing that I like in my quiche is spinach. So I make sure I use spinach in every quiche I make. That's the only healthy ingredient in my quiche I guess.

Bacon, Spinach and Feta Quiche
the original recipe is

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cold vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tablespoons ice water plus additional if necessary
6 oz bacon, cooked and coarsely cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups packed fresh spinach leaves, trimmed and washed thoroughly (about 5 ounces)(I used frozen spinach)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream or milk (I use half cream and half non-fat milk)
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons of light cheese spread

Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a bowl with a pastry blender or in a small food processor blend together flour, butter, shortening, and a pinch salt until mixture resembles meal. Add water and toss until incorporated, adding additional water if necessary to form a dough. Pat dough onto bottom and one half inch up sides of a 7 1/2-inch tart pan with removable fluted rim or a 9-inch pie plate and bake shell in bottom third of oven until set and pale golden, about 7 minutes.

While shell is baking, in a large skillet sauté spinach over moderately high heat until cooked. Remove skillet from heat and season spinach mixture with salt and pepper.Try to squeeze out as much excess liquid from spinach as possible and stir in one to two tablespoons of cheese spread. This helps to loosen up the spinach.In a small bowl whisk together eggs and cream.

Sprinkle feta over bottom of shell and arrange spinach mixture on top, follow by crumbled bacon. Pour cream mixture over spinach and bake quiche on a baking sheet in middle of oven 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F. and bake until set, about 10 minutes.

Serves 2.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mango Mousse Cake

It's OCT's birthday today, I promised to make him a mango cake as his present.

the shepherd playmobil featured here is OCT's current favorite. He is posing with the present our friends gave him for his birthday. Initially I asked him to pose with the present, but he refused. Instead, he sent his playmobil buddy to represent him...

This is the first birthday cake I make for OCT. I am a bit nervous, because I never made a mousse cake before. To complicate things, the mangos I bought on Saturday were not fully ripe by the time I need them. So I was not too optimistic about the outcome eventhough I really wanted to make this perfect.

In the end, I pureed some fresh mango with some frozen one for the filling. Ironically, the inexpensive frozen mango was sweeter than the fresh one. I think I will use the frozen one next time should I need to make a mango cake again. I suddenly miss home, where we never run out of juicy, sweet mangos. I am sure the mousse will turn out ten times nicer using those mangos.

No wonder I don't see many places offering mango related desserts in their menus. The mangos here simply do not make the cut.

Anyhow, OCT was touched by the gesture and ate 2 big pieces of the not-very-tasty cake.
This is how the interior of the cake looked like

For dinner, we had sesame chicken chow mein, something that symbolizes longevity, according to the Chinese tradition. OCT has noodle every year on his birthday. It's a little tradition he keeps. Because we have run out of the chinese longevity noodle he usually eats, I used thin spaghetti instead. Both of us like this version of chow mein very much, this is going to be in my repertoire. Please pardon its appearance, I guarantee that the photo doesn't do my chow mein justice.

A quiet evening for the birthday boy, just the two of us eating a simple home-made dinner followed by the birthday cake and candle blowing. Just the way OCT wants it. Happy Birthday OCT!


Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday Dinner

Nothing spectacular. We had a simple focaccio sandwich with roasted vegetables for dinner. The nice foccacio was store bought though. With the cooler temperature now, I intend to try out some bread recipes soon! And foccacio is definitely on my to-try-list.


Pumpkin Scones

I have a copycat recipe of Starbucks Pumpkin Scones for quite sometime. Since I am not a big pumpkin fan, and have never tried the real thing before, I decided to wait until I sampled the real thing.

On one lazy Tuesday morning, while waiting for my cup of coffee, I saw the pumpkin scones on the fridge display. That was my first pumpkin scone from Starbucks. It was light, with just the right touch of pumpkin flavor. Pumpkin is relatively new to me, and I find myself needing more time to get use to its flavour. Anyhow, after trying the real thing, I decided to whip up a batch on Sunday morning. And it tasted just like those from Starbucks. OCT who doesn't like pumpkin had one, and told me that he liked the texture of the scone.

Although the recipe used canned pumpkin puree that's readily available all year round, Starbucks only have the pumpkin scones around this time of the year! Maybe pumpkin is inseparable from fall, just like pears and apples. Speaking of apples, I haven't seen an apple tree yet! I hope we will get a chance to go to an Apple Orchard before we go back for good...

Copycat recipe of Starbucks' Pumpkin Scones
It has been a while ago when I first gotten this recipe, so I can't recall its origin.

2 cups all purpose flour
7 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 tbsp half and half
1 large egg
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into cubes

Plain glaze:
1 cup + 1 tbsp confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp whole milk

Spiced Icing:
1 cup + 3 tbsps cofectioners'sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of ground clove

Preheat the oven to 425F, and combine all purpose flour, granulated sugar, baking powder salt, nutmeg, ground cloves, ground ginger together in a large mixing bowl.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half and half and egg.

Cut butter into the dry ingredients, using a pastry cutter, until it resemble coarse meal. Fold in wet ingredients in the medium bowl and form dough into a ball. Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1-inch thick rectangle that is about 9-inches x 3 inches. Cut into 6 triangle slices of dough. (Freeze dough for 30 minutes or upto 1 month if it's too soft and hard to handle at this point)

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until scones turn light brown.

While scones cool, mix ingredients for plain glaze, using mixer on medium speed, until the mixture becomes smooth. Brush glaze over scones, when they are cool.

As the white glaze firms up, prepare spiced icing, with mixer on medium speed, mix until well combined. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scones and allow the icing to dry before serving.( at least 1 hour)A squirt bottle works great for this, or drizzle with a whisk.

Note: I find the scones having enough sweetness from the white glaze, without the spiced icing. Hence this step is omitted.

Make 6 large scones.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Weekend breakfast : buttermilk pancake

Nothing speaks weekend to me more than pancakes for breakfast. This is one of the new "tradition" we intend to keep in our young family! I like the idea of cooking or baking up something hot for a leisure morning. This is the kind of thing we can only do on weekends, when nobody is rushing anywhere.

We have tried a few pancake recipes but nothing beats Ina Garten's version. Today's recipe comes from Gourmet magazine. It is a basic pancake recipes, and I think it's not too bad. Nice with maple syrup and a cup of hot coffee.

Basic Buttermilk Pancake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Vegetable oil for brushing griddle

Preheat oven to 200°F.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, egg, and buttermilk until smooth.

Heat a griddle or a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot enough to make drops of water scatter over its surface, then brush with oil. Working in batches and using a 1/4-cup measure filled halfway, pour batter onto griddle and cook, turning over once, until golden, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer to a heatproof plate and keep warm, covered, in oven.

Cooks' note:
Batter keeps, chilled and covered, 3 days. Thin as necessary with additional buttermilk or water, 1 tablespoon at a time, before using.

Makes 14 (3-inch) pancakes


Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine

I like Friday, because I can cook whatever I want without worrying about the next day lunch. From Sunday to Thursday, I have to make sure I cook enough so that OCT can bring the leftover for his next day lunch. Normally, I like to cook pasta or make pizza on Friday night.

Tonight's recipe is something that caught my eyes for almost 2 months now. But one thing leads to another, I haven't got a chance to try it until tonight. I will give it 3.5/5. It was spicy and creamy, but with plenty of room for improvement. It was ok, but we probably won't cook it again.

Time to plan for next week's menu. Hopefully this time round I can stick with my plan. One thing for sure, I need to make a mango cake for OCT birthday.

Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine
Adapted from Cookinglight Sep 2006

1 cup water
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
6 ounces uncooked linguine
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
1 large red bell pepper, cut into (1/4-inch-thick) slices
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Combine 1 cup water and broth in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Break pasta in half; add to pan. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes. Add shrimp to pan. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes or until shrimp are done; drain.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and pepper to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until moisture evaporates. Add flour, seasoning, and salt to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in half-and-half; cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add pasta mixture and parsley to pan; toss.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pizza my way

OCT is working late tonight, so I get to play around with some pizza dough.

I made a ham and pesto pizza, top with gouda and feta cheese. I like it a lot. But I have a feeling that OCT prefers something more conventional..


Friday Treat : Oreo Truffle

This is really irresistible! And super easy. All you need is a pack of Oreo cookies, a block of cream cheese and a block of good quality chocolate.

First the Oreo cookies are crushed to fine crumbs, and mixed with softened cream cheese. Roll them into 1-inch round. I got about 36 rounds. Then, melt the chocolate in microwave, and roll the cookie balls in the chocolate. Use a stick to take out the chocolate coated balls, and dry on wax paper. I added some chopped almond on top before the chocolate dried.

This is really a treat....


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The second birthday cake in a week

I made another birthday for our friend Gerrie's birthday. Alright, I need to make a confession. The first one I made for Dilip, was meant to be a test for Gerrie's. I wanted to be sure the recipe works before giving it to her. Somehow, the first batch didn't turn out the way I liked and I was suddenly stucked with 3 9-inch cakes. OCT suggested that I frosted them and he would bring it to the lab October birthday party. I am glad I did! According to OCT, his colleagues liked it a lot!And my cake was the only cake they had for the party. Can you imagine if OCT didn't bring the cake, the borthday party would be one without a cake? That would be very strange!

On Saturday night, I repeated the recipe, and paid more attention to the detail this time. The cake turned out lighter than the first one, which was good. Sunday afternoon, while OCT busied himself with work, I whipped out a batch of chocolate ganache to fill the cake. I think I like the whipped chocolate ganache better than the cake. It was just the way it was described by the author : light and dense at the same time. I then frosted the cake with a rich chocolate frosting. And OCT helped to decorate the cake.

I hope Gerrie likes it. The next cake will be for OCT!


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sao Bao

I made a batch of sao bao for our Mid-Autumn Festival gathering yesterday. I remember mum used to make these for gatherings too. But the filling of mum's version was slightly different from mine. I intended mine to be more like BBQ pork bun. Of course it didn't turned out the way I wanted. But it wasn't too bad for a first attempt either.

I think I must have been spending 2 hours on the pastry rolling and enveloping the fillings into the pastry. It was such a time consuming project. And I didn't remember mum spent so much prep time.....I must ask her next time.

Here's picture of my sao bao. I forgot to take a picture of the filling.But I am sure I will make it again soon.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Happy Birthday Dilip!

I made a birthday cake for OCT's colleague. It's a super chocolatey cake. I hope he will like it.

On a healthier note, I spent 35 mins on treadmill this afternoon! I am sure I didn't burn much calories, but at least it's a good start. A few friends had asked if I gained weight after I showed them my vacation photos. I guess the answer is pretty obvious. After all the feasts in Disney, it's now pay back time.


Cheddar Green Onion Muffins

I cooked too much for Tuesday dinner that I actually didn't have to cook on Wednesday night. This gave me a reason to try a new recipe : Cheddar Green Onion Muffins, which was a savory side dish. I figured that it would go well with the leftover tomyam soup.

I was a bit hesitated initially because of the mixed reviews on this recipe. But I went ahead nonetheless. It was ok. Not something outstanding. I like the way it soaked up the tomyam soup. Now that I get it out of my head, I don't think I will make it again. And I certainly discourage you to try this so-so recipe. I am not posting the recipe for this. In case your curiousity get the better of you.


The curious incident of the missing bay leaves

I am sure I have it somewhere. Because I used it not long ago to cook beef stew. But I just couldn't find it anywhere in the kitchen when I needed it on Tuesday night. I have searched through all the cabinet for 3 times and there was no sight of the bay leaves.

Strangely, all the recipes I read now seems to use bay leaves. Have you ever have the same experience? When you are sure you have certain ingredients, and go ahead to prepare the rest of the recipe, then find that you couldn't find one of them? It's frustrating. I went ahead to cook my beef stew without the bay leaf. It was not a make or break ingredient. But I know the stew would taste better with it. Distracted, I forgot to add another ingredient, which I have - crushed garlic. Luckily the beef stew turned out nice. Even without bay leaf and garlic......

I also made a seafood pancake for dinner. But it wasn't noteworthy. I will post the recipe when I master the dish. Meanwhile, this was how it looked:


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Back to the kitchen

Everything is back to normal after our return. I cooked a simple meal which comprised of Indonesian Chicken and stirfry root veggies. Even after all the good food in Walt Disney World, we find comfort in our simple homecook fare.


I am back!

We are back after spending a week in Walt Disney World! The experience for a huge Mickey fan is beyond words. Everything in Walt Disney World didn't fail to amaze us. I came back inspired. Been to Disney was like a brainwash. It made me believe all dreams are possible, if I firmly believe in them. Some people said Disney World is for kids. I must beg to differ. It's really a place to show people with imagination and those who are young at heart that , with knowledge, imagination and optimism, dreams do come true.

I did some research before we went, so we went prepared, with full plan of where to go and what to eat in mind. (ok, I am obsessed with research and knowing everything about the place I am going to visit) The effort really paid off. OCT and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! Because we were on the dining plan, we had the freedom to choose whatever restaurants that strike our fancy. As a result, we sampled German, Italian and African fare. And all of them exceed our expectation! We also had 2 character meals, where Mickey and his friends, and Pooh & friends dropped by our tables to interact with us!

Check out the food!

There were more than these, which we forgot to take the pictures before we digged in. After all the walking, all we thought of was to stuff all the yummy food into our mouths!

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