Thursday, May 31, 2007

We eat dinner too!

I just realised that I haven't been posting our daily dinners for some time now. Well, in case you wonder, we eat dinner too! More often than not, they revolve around rice as the main source of carbohydrate.

I don't post about them nowaday simply because they are all simple dishes, and I wonder if people will cover their mouth to conceal a chuckle if I even post the recipe up. Anyway, I guess I will just upload some photos to record what we have been eating, without the recipes.

To a large extend, what we have for dinners depend on what are on sale at the grocery store for that particular week. I think it makes sense to buy pork tenderloin when it's three dollar per pound while on sale rather than five dollar per pound at other time. Same goes to chicken, beef and other stuff.

We also find that going to Chinese grocery store helps to stretch our money further. Fresh prawn for example, is two dollar cheaper per pound than the usual store we go to. So are some of the staples required in a Chinese pantry. Of course they also have the Pocky and prawn crackers that I can't find any where else.

There's one down side though. This means I seldom have the opportunity to try the more fanciful recipe. Well, theoretically I could, because cooking at home is still much cheaper than eating out. But I have enough recipes to keep me occupied than worry about the more exquisite recipes involving expensive ingredients.

Insteads of thinking about fanciful recipes, I am more interested to find ways to transform the leftovers into another meal. After a night of eating baked curry drumsticks with roasted veggies, I used the leftover chicken and rice to make curry baked rice. That is a balanced meal for the next night.
We even have enough as OCT next day's lunch!

Actually, it's enough as his lunch for two consecutive days. Luckily he isn't a picky eater and certainly won't complain about eating the same thing over and over again . Who knows a three dollar pack of drumsticks and some rice can stretch our meals so far?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sable au Citron

Lemon is my second favorite food after chocolate. Tell me a good lemon recipe, I will surely replicate it in my kitchen the second I get off the chair. Such was the occasion when I came across this recipe from fellow lemon lover Mary's blog.

I initially saw a similar recipe also by the talented Dorie Greenspan, in her latest book, but have promptly forgotten about it after setting my mind on the Lemon Cream Tart. Now that I see it on Mary's blog again, I take it as a call from the meyer lemon goddess that this is where my precious meyer lemon zest should go.

Because the full recipe makes 50 cookies, I decided to make only a few pieces for myself, just to nibble with my cup of coffee in the afternoon, while keeping the rest of the dough in the freezer. For my future lemon crave attack.

These buttery cookies have lemon zest dispersed all over them are simply the best lemon cookies I have tasted. Eventhough this recipe isn't exactly light, one can easily been deceived by its delicate crumb. Feeling the melt in your mouth goodness, it is almost impossible to stop at one. Of course if you do not like lemon, that will be a different story. On the other hand, it may be a good way to introduce lemon to non-lemon eater. (anyone not liking lemon out there?) Though lemony, this cookie is not as tart as a lemon tart, which I know some people dislike.

I am glad that there's still a long dough of sable au citron tugged safely in my freezer.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ligurian Lemon Cake

Finally, I convinced myself to get up from the comfort of my little corner and start making something from Pierre Herme's book. Eventhough I would really love to eat the many luscious creations from this book, creating them myself is quite another thing. And not a small feat, I must add.

For instant, the Melody, which I flipped open randomly, requires a 24 hours preparation of apples as its first step. Not to mention that this is just one of its many components. "Can you do it?" "Are you sure you want to do it?" are the questions I keep asking myself. For the lack of skills and confidence, I keep putting off my plan to bake from this book.

What pulled me up from the same chair I am currently sitting was the bag of meyer lemon I bought 2 weeks ago. Some of them ended up in the form of my favorite scones, some in the amazingly tender Sable au Citron, some in the lemon cream and some in the madeleine. The final two looked a bit past their prime and threaten to rot if I still don't know what to do with them. Since I am not one of those who are lucky to have a Meyer lemon tree in the garden, nor have a grocery store that sell them all year round, it's not everyday that I can be so fortunate to have a bag of meyer lemon in my refrigerator. So, you must understand why I am being so prudent when it comes to using these little gems. Can you tell from my serious tone that I am a lemon lover?

Anyway, I digress. There's a recipe from Pierre Herme's book that involved lemon and easy to make. I decide to start my adventure of "Pierre Herme's Desserts" here. I even bought a tiny pint of fresh raspberries that was required in the recipe. A big deal, because it's an expensive ingredient after the cocoa powder and cocoa nibs.

Because of my mood of loving everything small at the moment, I decided to make them in my muffin pan rather than in a 10-inch springform pan as stated in the recipe, which I don't have anyway. Turned out that the recipe can make more than 12 little cake because mine came out half inch taller than the mold after baked.

The Ligurian Lemon Cake wasn't the most lemony cake I have tasted, but it was pretty good after resting overnight in the oven. A nice addition to the dessert tray when it's tea time. Although the Ligurian Lemon Cakes can be served unadorned, but I prefer the meringue topped version. It added an element of elegance to the little cakes, although mine didn't turn out the way they should.

A word of caution: Frost the cake on the day you intend to serve it (if you decided to give it a try). The frosting will soften after one day, because this is a moist cake. It will still taste nice, only not so appealing to the eyes.

Ligurian Lemon Cake
adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme

For cake:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons, very finely chopped (I used meyer lemon)
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons milk, room temperature (I used 2 tablespoons of cream and 1 tablespoon of water)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, (about 1/2 lemon)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint fresh raspberries

For Meringue (optional):
1 large egg white
1 cup granulated sugar
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Mixed berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; with rack in center. Butter a 10-inch round cake or springform pan, dust with flour, and tap out any excess. (I used a 12-cups muffin pan)

In a large bowl, sift flour and baking powder; set aside.Place sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer; rub the ingredients together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and has absorbed as much of the zest as possible. Return bowl to mixer.

Using the whisk attachment, beat in eggs on medium high until the mixture is pale and thick, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on lowest speed, beat in milk. Add reserved flour mixture; beat until incorporated. Add lemon juice, melted butter, and olive oil; beat until blended.

Pour about one third of the batter into the prepared pan; there should be just enough batter to form a thin, even layer. Arrange the raspberries on top of the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the raspberries, and use a rubber spatula to gently spread batter so that it runs down between the berries and just covers them (you’ll have a very thin top layer of batter).

Bake cake until it’s golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 33 minutes. (about 20-25 minutes for small cakes)

Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately unmold it onto a wire rack. Invert cake so it is right side up, and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, the cake is ready to serve or to decorate with meringue.

Meringue topping (optional):
Preheat oven to 475 degrees; with rack in the center. Place the cooled cake on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and set aside.

In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg white until it holds soft peaks. Add granulated sugar in a slow, steady stream; continue beating until firm, glossy peaks form.

Using a metal icing spatula or a spoon, immediately spread the meringue over the top of the reserved cake. Dust the meringue with confectioners’ sugar.

Bake the cake until lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Garnish the cake with the mixed berries, if desired, and serve.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Yay! Thank God It's Friday. Although I no longer work now and can sleep till whatever time I want (theoretical, I normally wake up once OCT's up), I still look forward to weekends. We have been going to the cute Italian neighbourhood called The Hill for the past weeks, so it's very likely that we will make a trip there AGAIN tomorrow! Hooray to more toasted ravioli and cannoli! It has somehow become our weekend tradition now, taking over the picnic that we once love.

To spread my Friday happiness to people around me, I made a slightly more laborous cake for OCT's Friday lab meeting to wish his colleagues a "Happy Friday!" Although it's a bit silly, I can't content myself but to show the rest my enthusiasm about Friday!

I made a chocolate dacquoise cake that involved the making of a devil's food cake, 2 pieces of 9-inches chocolate meringue discs and a batch of chocolate swiss meringue buttercream. It could easily use up a whole day to put this cake together. Luckily for me, I had the meringue discs made few weeks ago. It was a Pierre Herme's recipe which I have initially intended to use for a mousse cake. But I change my mind on the last minute, like I always do. And make a Chocolate Dacquoise Cake from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book. So far, I only made a Cheesecake Brownie from this book since I got it as Christmas present.

Maybe this is not entirely Tish Boyle's recipe, because I made some modifications. It consists Pierre Herme's Chocolate meringue and Martha Stewart's chocolate swiss meringue buttercream. Confession time: I have always shy away from "temperature sensitive reaction'. Such as heating up eggwhite in a water bath until it reaches 160C. The temperature always hit 150C and refused to climb any further. Which made me mad and tired (from the constant whisking), and wonder if my thermometer is working. But once it gets past that stage, it's really satisfying to see the white being whisked magically into a pillowy marshmallow-like cream.

Oh I digress. I wanted to tell you about the chocolate swiss meringue buttercream. I used the recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook simply because it yields lesser buttercream (4 cups of buttercream instead of 5 cups, as in The Cake Book). And used 1 stick of butter less. Still a total of 3 sticks of butter (almost a pound!!!) went into the buttercream which I later generouslly spread on the cake....I am all too glad to cut a tiny little piece to sample (aka quality control/assurance) before sending it off to OCT's lab.

ok, I know I should have cut an even smaller piece than this......

The cake has an intriguing texture, thanks to the 3 different components. The moist and intensely chocolate devil cake paired well with the chewy meringue and smooth buttercream. I especially like the devil's food cake, and wouldn't mind to make it again with other fillings. I think this is my favorite so far, after trying this and this.

Maybe it has been quite some time since I last made something nice for the lab, the cake was indeed very well received. A colleague asked OCT if he was going to bring the leftover home because she wanted to have a slice for dessert after dinner. Well, bless her! I can't be happier when people offered to polish up this cake!

What do you think of Chocolate Dacquoise Cake for breakfast? For me, I would rather choose bagel or scone or muffin or simply a cup of coffee........

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another week has passed.....

My life is pretty boring at the moment. I have been flipping through Desserts by Pierre Herme with "ohh" and "ahh", getting really excited and making mental notes to make this and that recipes. Well, except I am still bumming around, staring at my laptop screen. Sadly, I have done nothing.

Last week was pretty hectic, having to look for a dress to attend OCT's commencement, attended the actual event itself (which I had to sit under the merciless sun for almost 3 hours ALONE!) followed by the hooding ceremony.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of day and had to cancel the downtown walking tour that we intended to go with some of our friends.

Because I wasn't at my top form, I decided not to be over ambitious when it's time to make a birthday cake for our little friend Benjamin who is going to be three years old. As a result, I made a Hummingbird cake, which was also the same cake I made for his mum-BP last year.

I picked out all the large strawberries as decor on the cake but realised later that the smaller one would have looked better on the cake. Lesson learned. Bigger doesn't always mean better.

As last week simply flew past with a blink of an eye, dinners were the usual fare without much fuss. I managed to try a new dish though. It was good enough that OCT had the delusion of hearing it called his name on our vegetarian night.

This is the dish I am talking about : Beef and Mushroom Ragu.

I also made the bacon with miso glazed corn, which I like. And ready made Japanese Vegetable Curry! Actually it was an accident. I thought I bought the curry paste. But turned out that it's an all in one instant japanese curry with vegetable. It wasn't too bad and the gravy went well with rice. .

Here's a snapshot of one of our dinners last week.

Hopefully, there will be more new recipes coming up on my blog this week.

Shredded Beef and Mushroom Ragu
adapted from Cookinglight May 2007

1 cup hot water
2 cups dried porcini mushrooms (about 2 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 beef short ribs, trimmed (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced cremini mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
2 cups thinly sliced onion (about 1 medium)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium beef broth

Preheat oven to 350°.Combine 1 cup hot water and porcini mushrooms in a small bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Drain mushrooms through a fine sieve into a bowl, reserving liquid. Chop mushrooms; set aside.

Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper over ribs; dredge ribs in flour. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add ribs to pan; cook 12 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove ribs from pan. Add porcini mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, and next 4 ingredients (through garlic) to pan; cook 12 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add wine, scraping pan to loosen brown bits. Add mushroom liquid and broth; bring to a boil. Add ribs to pan; cover. Place pan in oven; bake at 350° for 2 1/2 hours or until ribs are tender. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove meat from bones; discard bones, fat, and gristle. Shred meat with 2 forks; return meat to pan. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cool completely. Place mixture in an airtight container or heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag; freeze.

Thaw meat mixture overnight in refrigerator. Place mixture in a large saucepan over medium heat; cook until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Le Miserable

My heart is broken this morning. All the hardwork I put in yesterday has turned into nothingness. The photos you see are supposed to be Le Fraisier. But my little experiment turned out to be le miserable.

I must have done something wrong with the pastry cream. It tastes pretty good on its own but simply refuse to firm up in the cake. See how the pastry cream oozes out once I remove the side of the springform pan?

And the strawberries start to fall down after this photo is taken...

My friend asked why do I call myself "novice baker". This post is a fine example why.. Now I have a whole Le Miserable in the fridge that I don't know what to do with it. I guess I will just use a spoon and dig directly into the pan. I will surely feel miserable after finishing it on my own.

Just kidding. How crazy am I to eat it all up by myself!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pizza night

On an idle Friday night, I decided to revisit a pizza recipe that we tried last week but forget to blog about.

It is by far the easiest pizza dough I have worked with. Most of the kneading was done by my trustworthy KitchenAid Mixer until the dough had come together. Only then I took the dough out for the final kneading. The process is a real bliss with no wet dough sticking all over my fingers.

A perfect way to welcome the weekend, and a series of activities that waiting to be unfolded. Because the dough is enough to make 2 pizzas, I made one Hawaiian style, which is how OCT liked his pizza, and one with whatever that strikes my fancy. In this case, I brushed my pizza with a layer of pesto, dotted it with some marinated artichoke, cracked an egg on top of the pizza and topped it all with some shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese .

The crust was thin and crispy, which we like better than the thick, bread-like version.

That was the best way to end the week, in my opinion. But it wasn't the case for OCT, who was nursing a mouth ulcer. I have totally forgotten about it. Or I would have cooked something else for him. In the end, he cooked and ate instant noodle for dinner. Ouch...

Pizza Dough
adapted from Bon Appétit, March 2007, recipe of Giada DeLaurentiis

3/4 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Pour 3/4 cup warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Brush large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt in processor.(I used the mixer with paddle attachment) Add yeast mixture and 3 tablespoons oil; process until dough forms a sticky ball.

Transfer to lightly floured surface. Knead dough until smooth, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is very sticky, about 1 minute. Transfer to prepared bowl; turn dough in bowl to coat with oil.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Roll out dough according to recipe instructions. (Start in center of dough, working outward toward edges but not rolling over them.)

Bake with selected toppings at 425F.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Treats- Chocolate Hazelnut Sables

It was a rainy day yesterday. I was glad that the rain had cooled our apartment down a bit while I was preparing the Chocolate Hazelnut Sables. But it was certainly not cool enough for the dough. They had to rest in the fridge for at least 4 hours before shaping and cutting.

This is the sable dough after resting, I keep them in the freezer instead of fridge, to shorten the resting time and also to prevent them from melting before I sliced all of them down into individual sables.

Quite unlike most of the cookies I baked in the past, these sables are delightfully tender,crumbly and buttery. Because this recipe used almost a pound of butter, they are hardly considered healthy. And since butter plays such an important role in this case, the quality of butter used really counts. I like how short the ingredients list is, eventhough the making process is a real pain.

But why should I be surprise? Most of the french pastries usually called for great attention for details and immaculate precision. And inevitably, such precision always lead to delightful results.

I will need this when I attend culinary school one day. But for now, more practices are needed. My sables didn't turn out as uniform as I wanted.

Since I was baking the sables, I decided to bake some nibby hazelnut cookies using the dough I left from last time. Surprisingly, the flavor improved a lot. There's a faint note of cocoa in the cookies which I didn't detect in the first batch. I hope it wasn't just my imagination.

Chocolate Hazelnut Sables
Adapted from Pierre Herme's Chocolate Desserts

2 cups (300g) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (25g) Dutch processed cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
2 sticks plus 1.5 tbsp (8 3/4 ounces,250g) unsalted butter), at room temperature
1 cup (100g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (140g) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and halved or quartered
1/2 recipe sweet tart dough chilled and ready to roll (see recipe below)

Sift the flour and cocoa powder and set aside. Working in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is soft and smooth.Add sugar followed by salt, and continue to beat, scraping the bowl as needed for 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light, pale and creamy. Add 1 of the eggs and beat to incorporate. At this point, the mixture should be light and fluffy. Set the mixer to low, add the sifted dry ingredients and mix until they disappear into the dough. Take care not to overwork the dough. Stir in the toasted hazelnuts.
Turn the dough out onto a smooth working surface- marble is ideal- and shape it into a 6 x 7-inch (15 x 18cm) rectangle that's 1 inch (2.5 cm) high. Put the chocolate dough in the refrigerator while you work on the tart dough. (The dough can be made ahead,wrapped airtight, and keep refrigerated for 2 days or frozen for a month.)

Beat the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon of cold water and keep this egg wash close at hand. Also have 2 sheets of parchment paper and a baking sheet nearby.

Working on a lightly floured work surface, roll each disc of tart dough into a rectangle, that's a scant 1/4 inch (7 mm) thick (the thickness is important here) and slightly larger than 6x7 inches (15x18 cm. Put one piece of the rolled out dough on one sheet of parchment and brush the surface with egg wash, the glue that will keep the multi layers together. Center the chocolate dough on the tart dough, then, using a sharp knife, cut away the excess tart dough. Brush the top of the chocolate dough with egg wash and place the second sheet of tart dough over the cookie dough. Top this setup with the second piece of parchment paper, flip everything over, and remove the top sheet of parchment. Trim the excess tart dough so that it's even with the two layers. Slide the package (still sitting in the parchment) onto a baking sheet, cover it well and chill for at least 4 hours. (wrapped airtight, the package can be frozen for up to a month, defrost in the refrigerator before baking.)

Preheat the oven to 325F (165C). Have another parchment-lined baking sheet at the ready. Using a sharp thin blade knife, working from one 7-inch (18cm) side of the dough package to the other, cut 6 even strips of dough, then cut each strip into 1/4-inch (7mm) wide cookies. Arrange the cookies on two baking sheets, leaving a 1/2-inch (1.5cm) between the cookies.

Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, or untl the cookies are firm, and the tart dough is lightly browned, rotate the baking sheets half way, around 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack to cool.

The baked cookies can be kept at room temperaure for 3- 4 days in an airtight tin. The dough can be made ahead, wrapped airtight and keep refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for 1 month.

Make about 150 cookies.

Sweet Tart Dough

2.5 sticks (10 ounces, 285g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1.5 cups (150g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup (lightly packed)(3 1/4 ounces, 100g) finely ground almond powder or finely ground blanched almond
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanlla bean pulp or pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
3.5 cups (490g) all purpose flour

Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until creamy. Add the sugar, almond powder, salt, vanilla, and eggs and still working on low speed, beat to blend the ingredients, scraping down the paddle and the sides of the bowl as needed. The dough may loo cuddled- that's all right. With the machine on low, add the flour in three or four additions and mix only until the mixture comes together to form a soft, moist dough- a matter of seconds. Don't overdo it.

Gather the dough into a ball and divide it into 3 or 4 pieces: 3 pieces for 10 inch (26cm) tarts, 4 for 9 inch (24cm) tarts. Or, press the dough into one big disk and cut off as much as you need at the time that you need it. gently press the dough into disks and wrap them in plastic. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days , before rolling and baking. Alternatively, the dough can be freeze for up to 1 month.

To roll and bake:
For each tart, place a buttered tart ring on a parchment lined baking sheet and keep close at hand. Work with one piece of dough at a time, keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator.

Working on a lightly floured surface (marble is ideal), roll the dough to a thickness of between 1/16 and 1/8 inch (2 and 4 cm), lifting the dough often and making certain that the work surface and the dough are amply floured at all times. (a well floured area makes rolling this rich dough easier) Roll the dough up around your rolling pin and unroll it onto the tart ring. Fir the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the ring, then run your rolling pin across the top of the ring to cut off the excess. If the dough cracks or splits as you work, don't worry- patch the cracks with scraps abd just certain not to stretch the dough that's in the pan. Prick the dough all over with fork (unless the tart will be filled with a runny custard or other loose filling) and chill it for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and fit a circle of parchment paper or foil into the crust and fill with dried beans or rice.

Bake the crust for 18-20 minutes, just until it is very lightly coloured. If the crust needs to be fully baked, remove the parchment and beans and bake the crust for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer the crust to a rack to cool.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Trying out another new to me ingredient- Cocoa Nibs

I know this is nothing new to the chocolate connoisseurs, but for some inexplicable reasons, I only bought my first pack of cocoa nibs last week. And that was because of my recent obsession with all chocolate related cookbooks.

Such is the magnitude of "advertisement". When you see something often enough, you will unconsciously crave for it. In my case, I started to crave for cocoa nibs. Or any pastries consists of cocoa nibs. So obsess till the point of taking a 40 minutes ride to the neareast Whole Food just to buy a packet of this.

Once home, I carefully scanned through the myriad of cocoa nibs related recipes, and decided to commemorate my first cocoa nib's experience with Alice Medrich's recipe called Nibby Hazelnut Cookies. The original recipe used pecan, but I like hazelnut better, so I went ahead to use just that.

The cookies turned up just the way the recipe promised, tender and crunchy. And the flavor of the cocoa beans developed and infused over time, according to the recipe. But apparently, cocoa nibs tasted just like toasted nuts. I didn't get the intense chocolate flavor that I anticipated. The flavor that I conjured in my mind. In fact, Alice Medrich has warned me in her book- Bittersweet that the cocoa nibs are "unsweetened and austere to a palate that expects chocolate". So all my expectation is totally unfounded.

I left the cookies out a few days to let the flavor melds. They are pleasant, but not memorable enough for me to dream about (like the World Peace Cookies). Now that I have a whole box of cocoa nibs, I guess I will continue to experiment with other recipes, hopefully the next one will be a better one.

Nibby Hazelnut Cookies
adapted from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet

1 cup (3.5 ounces)toasted, skinned hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 pound ( 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 cups all purpose flour

Combine the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla extract in a electric mixer and beat until creamy and smooth but not fluffly (about 1 minute). Stir or beat in cocoa nibs and chopped nuts. Turn off the mixer and add all the flour at once. Beat on low speed until combine.

Form the dough into 12- inch log about 2 inches thick. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. (The dough can be frozen for up to 3 months).

Note: I baked some and left the rest of the dough in the freezer.

Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the cookies at least 1.5 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until cookies are light golden brown at the edges. Let the cookies firm up on the pan for about 1 minute before transferring them to a rack and let cool completely.

For best flavor and texture, store the cookies in an airtight container for at least 24 hours before serving. (They can be stored airtight for at least 1 month).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Chocolate Banana Cake

Last week, I found myself in a familiar situation of having a few deadlines to meet once again. This time, it was the buttermilk, yogurt, banana and peanut chocolate chips that I overbought on impulse. It was funny because I don't even like peanut chocolate chips and I still bought 2 bags that I knew was going to expire in less than a month time.

Well, that's the consequence of going grocery shopping alone. I tend to overbuy stuff that I vaguely know I am going to use, somehow , somewhere. But never get to use them soon enough before their expiring dates. For instant, I have two containers of mascarpone cheese in the fridge which have been sitting there for more than 2 weeks. They are just waiting for an opportunity to be transformed into a Tiramisu cake. I better make the cake before it's too late....

Coming back to meeting deadlines. Just a day before the expiring date of the buttermilk, I whipped up a batch of Alice Medrich's Chocolate Pound Cake. I was drawned to this cake for various reasons. Firstly, it's Alice Medrich's favorite pound cake recipe. Secondly, I had made the version with the raspberry puree with great success not too long ago. And thirdly and most importantly, I have 8 boxes of Valrhona Cocoa Powder. I am now convinced that anything that has been touched by these fabulous powder will be turned into gold. (well, the cocoa powder doesn't come cheap by the way. If it wasn't for the good fortune that led me to buy some at half price, I doubt I would buy any of them).

Enough said, I made a batch of the cake into cupcakes, dipped them into chocolate glaze and swirled some white and milk chocolate on top. They looked exactly like these. Even without the glaze, the pound cake was moist and chocolatey to be enjoyed on its own.

The lovely cupcakes were promptly deported from our apartment on the next morning as OCT's Friday meeting treats. Because I kept dreaming about them the next day, I whipped up another batch of the cake. This time, I make it in a 9-inch springform pan and slice it in half. On Saturday morning, they were topped with some very ripe banana slices and Alice's Whipped Chocolate Ganache. I even considered of covering the cake with another layer of chocolate ganache. But decided to take it easy, and simply dust it with a star stencil that OCT helped me to make.

And for the expiring yogurt and peanut chocolate chips, I made a batch of the usual banana bread and sent them away to OCT's lab too. If I get some yogurt again this week, I can forsee myself making another batch of the banana bread. ...

Chocolate Pound Cake
adapted from Alice Medrich's A Year in Chocolate

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature
2 tsp instant espresso or coffee powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softenend
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line the muffin tin with fluted paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl, then sift onto a sheet of wax paper. Set aside.

Combine the buttermilk, instant espresso powder and vanilla in a small bowl, set aside.

In a medium to large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed for a few seconds, until creamy. Add the sugar in a steady stream and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Break the eggs into a cup or small bowl and whisk to combine the whites and yolks. Take a full 2.5 to 3 minutes to dribble the eggs gradually into the butter mixture, beating constantly.

Stop the mixer and add one third of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed only until no flour is visible. Srop the mixture and add half of the buttermilk mixture. Beat only until absorbed. Repeat with half of the remaining flour, all of the remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally the remaining flour. Scrape the bowl as necessary and beat on low speed only enough to incorporate the ingredients after each addition.

Scrape the batter into the paper liners, and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

note: you can also make the cake in a 6-cup decorative tube pan, or a 9-inch springform pan, wrapped with aluminium foil. Just bake it for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Just dinners

I better blog about what we had for dinners before I totally forget about them. Not that any of them were memorable or spectacular, but I just want to leave a record of what we have been eating lately. And hopefully be able to trace the culprit/s of my recent weight gain!

With the abundance of asparagus this time of year, we couldn't resist another meal of asparagus pesto melts. It's a new favorite for us. OCT thought it's fancy enough to entertain friends with these. But I am not sure. It's always messy when we eat them. (Think asparagus rolling down from the sourdough everytime OCT had a bite) Maybe I should try to add more sauce or cheese to glue the fillings together. But I am hesistated to do that.

Our little endeavour to go meatless once a week went well. This week, we had pasta primevera on Tuesday night. It wasn't as nice as the meatless meal we had last week, but it was ok. With lots of broccoli (OCT's fave), asparagus (my fave), among other green veggies, we had a filling and guilt-free dinner.

Thai Shrimp Cakes, is one of the recipes I attempted as I am cooking through my Thai Cookbook. If it's not because these cakes had to be deep-fried, I would have made them ages ago. The perfect opportunity arose when we had friends over for dinner last week. I guess sometime I just need a little nudge to go the extra mile. I would never have the motivation to make this dish just for the two of us.

Coming back to the Shrimp Cakes. Eventhough I have never ordered this appertiser from Thai restaurants, I liked how it turned out nonetheless. The taste of curry and shrimp in every bite was just fantastic. However, OCT thought it was a waste of fresh shrimps, as the curry taste has overpowered the fresh shrimps. The shrimps could taste better in other dishes, he reasoned. Maybe he's right, I will just use smaller shrimps when I make these again.

Pasta Primavera
Adapted from Cookinglight

2 cups green beans, trimmed and halved crosswise
2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup (1-inch) slices asparagus (about 2 ounces)
6 ounces uncooked fettuccine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved (omitted)
2/3 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (used flat leaf parsley)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cook green beans in boiling water 1 minute. Add broccoli and asparagus; cook 2 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove vegetables from pan with a slotted spoon; place in a large bowl. Return water to a boil. Add pasta; cook 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain and add to vegetable mixture.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup onion, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper; sauté 3 minutes or until onion begins to brown. Add peas, and sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes; sauté 2 minutes.

Combine half-and-half and cornstarch, stirring with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium. Add half-and-half mixture and salt to pan; cook 1 minute or until sauce thickens, stirring constantly. Pour sauce over pasta mixture; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with basil and cheese. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Devil's Food White-Out Cake

To make up for the overly sweet yellow sheet cake I made for OCT's defense party, I made another cake for him. This time, a White-Out Devil's Food Cake, which is actually also the cake featured on the cover of Dorie Greenspan's latest book -Baking: From my home to yours.

Only mine wasn't as gorgeous looking as the one she made. And I only got 2 layers out of the recipe, instead of three. I must also confess that my mashmallow filling has somehow collapsed, making the cake looked pretty miserable on its cross section. Eventhough it has been 3 days since then, I haven't solved the mystery of what went wrong with the filling yet. I think I have to give mum a call later to find out what could possibly have contributed to the collapse.

Other than that, the cake itself is pretty tasty. How could it not be? With the most amazing Valrhona cocoa powder, melted 72% chocolate and lots of chopped milk chocolate. The cake is delicious even on its own.

To overcome its embarassing appearance, I chopped up some strawberries as accompaniment. It also make me feel better to eat something healthy together with something so sinfully delicious.

A great celebration cake, I am sure it will make an appearance when the right occassion arises. I hope I would have mustered enough courage to give it another try by then.