Monday 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

After 11 months of being in London, I'm finally back in sunny Singapore for a well-earned (I think) Christmas and New Year's break. Even though its not a white christmas - i mean its sunny and 30 degrees celsius out - I'm spending it with my folks and that's what's its all about, isn't it? I'll probably be absent from my blog the next two weeks so here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I promise to be back in the new year with more cooking and baking adventures! Till then, eat well!

Saturday 15 December 2007

Baking for Christmas

Since my previous experiment with shortbread, I've been looking for an excuse to bake another batch and try to make them a little crisper. I've finally found one in the Eat Christmas Cookies blog event hosted by Susan.

This time around, I've chosen to make a chocolate version studded with chocolate chips for everyone can use with an extra dose of chocolate over Christmas. Since I'm also serving this at a small party we've having where there'll be some kids, I figured the extra dose of chocolate would make this cookie more kid-friendly.

Although this recipe also uses rice flour (similar to the corn flour used in the last one), the proportion of rice flour to regular flour is much less which makes the resulting cookie slightly crisper - just what I was looking for. Additionally, the baked cookies slice easily into clean pieces as long as you do it while its still warm. The only difficult thing is deciding how big or small to make each piece. I know which way I'm going at my party - large, hearty pieces that could be a meal in and of themselves! After all, it just wouldn't be the same without a little bit (or a lot of) overindulgence during the holidays.

Intensely Chocolate Shortbread
From ChocolateChocolate

2 3/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups plus 3 tbsp confectioners' sugar
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp granulated sugar, for sprinkling on the baked shortbread

Preheat the oven to 325F. Have 2 fluted 8 1/2-inch round tart pans (each 1 inch deep, with a removable bottom) at hand.

Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder onto a sheet of waxed paper.

Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderately low speed for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat on moderately low speed for 2 minutes. Blend in the vanilla extract. On low speed, blend in half of the sifted dry ingredients, a little at a time, then the chocolate chips. Blend in the remaining sifted mixture, mixing until the particles of flour are absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently to keep the dough even-textured.

Divide the dough in half. Place half of the dough in the tart pan and press it into an even layer with your fingertips; repeat with the remaining dough. Prick each shortbread dough round with the tines of fork in 12 to 15 random places.

Bake the shortbreads in the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until firm and set. Remove the shortbreads from the oven to cooling racks and immediately sprinkle the surface of each with granulated sugar. Cool for 15 minutes.

Carefully unmold each shortbread, keeping it on the base. cut into 10 triangular shaped pieces while still warm, using a serrated knife or chef's knife; cool. Or, cool completely and break the shortbread into rough pieces. Store in an airtight tin.

Makes 2 8-inch cookies, creating 10 pieces each

Thursday 13 December 2007

Beef Rendang

I love curry and like many people, I used to make them using the widely available curry pastes in the market. But since I first gave it a try, I have to say that there's something satisfying about making your own curry paste from scratch. So as far as possible, I try to do exactly that although sometimes, when in a crunch, I will still use the ready-made stuff. In particular, I find the Mae Ploy brand from Thailand unbeatable. In fact, when I took cooking classes in Bangkok, the chefs there even recommended that we use it.

For dinner this past weekend, I chose to make a Beef Rendang, a curry that originated from Indonesia and is traditionally made with buffalo. The hallmark of this curry is that the gravy is extremely thick, almost dry even. This is one of M's favourites and it is one of the rare times that I ever see him order red meat.

If you can find the ingredients, making the spice paste is not hard at all. I suppose if you were to remain true to tradition you would make this using a mortar and pestle. I'm not one to shun modern conveniences, however, so I whipped mine up in a food processor. If you do the same, the active preparation time is only 15 minutes or so and the rest of the time the rendang just simmers slowly in its pot. You have to be careful towards the end, though, as when the curry dries, it is prone to scorching. Thus, it is prudent to stir constantly when the rendang is almost done.

The rendang is delicious with a side of rice or even some crusty baguette which you can use to soak up the sauce.

Beef Rendang
From Shiok!

1 kg rump or stewing steak, cut into large chunks
800 ml coconut milk
3 stalks lemongrass
6 lime leaves
4 slices galangal (blue ginger)
1 tsp salt

Spice paste
5 tbsp freshly grated coconut
8 dried chilies, soaked till soft
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp minced ginger

To prepare the spice paste, fry coconut in a dry wok over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until light brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Grind with remaining spice paste ingredients until fine.

Combine spice paste with all the beef and other ingredients in a large heavy-based pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until beef is tender and gravy is very thick and shiny with oil. Serve hot.

Serves 2-4

Sunday 9 December 2007

Green Papaya Salad

Anyone who's ever been to Thailand or a Thai restaurant for that matter, has probably had som tum, or green papaya salad. As in common in many Thai dishes, som tum is a mixture of salty, sweet, sour and spicy which makes it a perfect appetizer, in my opinion. The combination of flavours seems to open up your palate, as if to prepare you for what's to come.

I'm a huge fan of Thai food, in general, and this salad, has got to be one of my favourites across all cuisines. I've made it several times for dinner parties and its always well received. The best thing is, its really not that hard to make either. Finding some of the ingredients outside of Asia can be challenging but since Thai food is so popular globally, its becoming increasingly common to be able to buy things like lemongrass stalks and galangal (also known as blue ginger).

If you've never tried this, I highly recommend it. Watch the chilies though, they can get really spicy!

Green Papaya Salad (Som tum)
From Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass

3-4 cloves garlic
4-6 red or green bird's-eye chilies
2 tbsp dried prawns, soaked to soften
2 tsp sugar
1 small tomato, diced
2 long beans or green beans, cut in 2cm lengths
1 unripe green papaya (about 300g), peeled and shredded
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp coarsely crushed dry-roasted peanuts

Divide the garlic, chilies, and dried prawns into 2 batches. Put half into a mortar, add 1 tsp of sugar into a mortar and pound until well broken up. Add half of the long beans and pound a little to bruise, then add half of the chopped tomato and pound a few times just until they are broken up. Add half the papaya to a mortar, a little at a time, pounding until lightly bruised. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and repeat with the remaining garlic, chilies, dried prawns, sugar, tomato, beans, and papaya.

Add the fish sauce, lime juice, and peanuts to the bowl of papaya mixture, tossing to mix well. Taste and add a little more lime juice, fish sauce, or sugar if you like, and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Oodles of noodles

You may think that since I am Chinese, it is only natural that I love noodles, but actually, my love affair with noodles didn't start till I was an adult. I was an extremely finicky eater as a child and I loved rice but would hardly touch noodles. Nowadays, I find that its often the reverse. I often order noodles but seldom eat rice anymore.

One of our favourite casual places to eat here in London is Wagamama, an Asian noodle bar that started here in London but now has 80 restaurants around the world. Inspired by our frequent visits, I searched the web for an Asian noodle recipe and came up with this Soy Chicken with Soba Noodles. Although the original recipe called for pickled ginger, I opted to leave this out as I am not much of a fan.

True to its source, the noodles were delicious. On top of that, they were quick to make - 15 to 20 minutes tops. A perfect, easy-to-make meal to add to the weekday repertoire.

Soy chicken with soba noodles
Adapted from delicious.

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp rice vinegar
4 x 150g skinless chicken thigh fillets
250g soba noodles
2 tsp sesame oil
3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Heat an oiled chargrill or barbecue to medium-high. Whisk soy, sugar, mirin and vinegar in a bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Reserve marinade and cook chicken on barbecue or grill for about 4 minutes each side until cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook noodles according to packet instructions, then drain. Toss with the sesame oil and all but 2 tbsp of the spring onion.

Bring marinade to boil in a small pan.

Simmer on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until thickened. Place noodles in bowls with thickly sliced chicken and sauce.

Garnish with reserved spring onion.

Serves 4

Saturday 1 December 2007

Scottish Treats

I have been a shortbread fanatic ever since I was a kid. I remember vividly the boxes of Walkers shortbread that always came in festive hampers in Singapore. Usually, I find that the contents of these gift hampers usually leave much to be desired but Walkers shortbread, for me, was the exception. These were what I would always plead with my parents to open the hamper for.

Interestingly enough then, since I started baking heavily, I have never attempted to make my own shortbread. No real reason, I suppose, other than the fact that there are just too many recipes to choose from. Having recently been on a short trip to Edinburgh, where I had a fantastic shortbread at the Edinburgh castle, I was inspired to finally attempt my own.

Comparing the various recipes that I found in my books, I finally settled on this one from Tartine which uses cornstarch to make the shortbread very tender. Other recipes that I saw either omitted this or used rice flour instead of cornstarch.

The two main things that concerned me about making the shortbread were excessive spreading of the cookie and being able to cut the shortbread cleanly without breaking them. Thankfully, neither of them really posed a problem. I got around the first issue by baking my shortbread in a rectangular fluted tart pan, which meant there was really no way they could spread sideways. As for the second, I followed the recipe's instructions to slice them while still warm, but to remove them from the baking dish only after the shortbread had been thoroughly chilled (I left mine overnight in the refrigerator, wrapped well with clingfilm).

Seeing as it was my first attempt at shortbread I was extremely happy with the results. The cookies did indeed have a tender and crumbly texture. I must say though that I prefer my shortbread with a bit more crunch. Next time then, I'll try a recipe without the cornstarch. If you like melt-in-your-mouth cookies though, this one's for you.


From Tartine

255g unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 tsp salt
255g all-purpose flour
75g cornstarch
70g granulated sugar
55g superfine or granulated sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 6-by-10-inch glass baking dish (or baking dish of your choice with approximately the same dimensions).

Place the butter in a mixing bowl. The butter must be very soft - the consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Add the salt to the butter and mix well with a wooden spoon or whisk so that it dissolves completely before you add the rest of the ingredients. Sift the flour and cornstarch together into a bowl. Add the granulated sugar to the butter and mix until just combined. Add the flour mixture and mix just until a smooth dough forms.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared baking dish. The dough should be no more than 2/3 inch deep. Bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. The middle of the shortbread should remain light. Let cool on a wire rack until warm to the touch.

Sprinkle the shortbread with the superfine or granulated sugar. Tilt the dish so that the sugar fully and evenly coats the surface and then tip out the excess sugar. With a very thin, sharp knife, cut the shortbread into rectangular fingers about 1/2 inch wide and 2 inches long. If the cookies have become cold they will not slice well, so they must still be warm to the touch at this point. Chill thoroughly before removing from the baking dish.

The first cookie is difficult to remove, but the rest should come out easily with the aid of a small, thin offset spatula. The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks.

Makes one 6-by10-inch pan, about sixty 2-by-1/2-inch bars