Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mushroom Risotto

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I got myself a box of carnaroli rice a few days ago. I wanted to make risotto with the fresh, plump mushrooms I had in my fridge. Some months back, I had a delicious risotto dish at Bistro Petit Salut, and after the meal, wondered why I have never bothered cooking it at home. I think it was the need for constant stirring and watching that put me off ... but well, you'll never know till you've tried.

And now that I have tried, I'll say that it is time consuming - I ended up in front of the stove for almost 45mins (and this, despite halving the recipe proportions). For that amount of time, I could have whipped up 2, maybe even 3 - dishes to go with rice. But then, it was a nice change from the usual veggie stirfry and tofu dishes that I eat most of the time. And oh, I happened to pick a fabulous recipe for my maiden attempt. The mushrooms were cooked in their own liquids, then simmered in cognac and cream. Imagine that! My, my.

Yes, the eating totally makes up for the work, and I'll most certainly make this again. Mushrooms cooked in cognac and cream ... can't get over that. Mmmm.
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For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with cooking risotto, read this helpful article by Fine Cooking. It explains the types of rice you can use (and I am copying a portion of it below):

Arborio: The most widely available risotto rice, arborio is typically wider and longer than carnaroli or vialone nano. It's not as starchy and it absorbs liquid a little less well.

Baldo: A relatively new variety, baldo is most comparable to arborio in shape and starchiness. It's the quickest cooking of the risotto rices.

A hybrid of Italian and California rice varieties, Calriso is also quite similar to arborio in cooking characteristics, though it expands a bit more. Calriso is a trademarked brand name.

Variously hailed as the "king" or the "caviar" of Italian rices, carnaroli is the preferred risotto rice in most regions of Italy except the Veneto. It's said to produce the creamiest risotto, yet it's more resistant to overcooking than arborio.
* Note: I bought mine from Fairprice Finest at S$7.40 for 1 kg.

Vialone nano: The preferred rice of the Veneto region, vialone nano can absorb twice its weight in liquid. With a starch content almost as high as carnaroli's, it also produces a very creamy risotto.

Use a robust-flavoured mushroom. Button mushrooms are very mild in taste, so I added shiitake too, although I didn't include them in the photo above.

(from SimplyRecipes, who adapted it from an old printed issue of Saveur Magazine)
Preparation time: 40 minutes. Serves 6.

Here are some important things the recipe doesn't state, which I need to highlight:
* Unlike Jasmine rice that we asians eat everyday, you should not wash the rice you are using for risotto.

* For all ingredients, I used the baking cup as my measure. However, only for the rice, I used the rice cup (the one that comes with the rice cooker) as measurement. Hence, for 3 modest portions, I used 1 heaped rice cup and it was just right - note that risotto can be quite filling, so a little goes a long way.

- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 cups flavorful mushrooms such as shiitake, chanterelle, or oyster mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into half inch to inch pieces (I cut into chunks)
- 2/3 cup cognac, vermouth, or dry white wine (I added just 2 tbsp cognac because I had children eating this, and still, the flavour was strong enough to shine through)
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 7 cups stock
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup of peeled and minced shallots (OR 1/3 cup of yellow or white onion, finely chopped)
- 1 3/4 cups risotto rice
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsps chopped fresh parsley

1. Melt 2 tbsps butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes (if using chanterelles, dry sauté first for a minute or two and let the mushrooms cook in their own juices before adding the butter). Add cognac, bring to a boil, and reduce liquid by half, about 3-4 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add cream, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

2. Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan.

3. In a deep, heavy, medium sized saucepan, heat oil and remaining butter on medium low. Add shallots or onions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with butter and oil. Add simmering stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring enough to keep the rice from sticking to the edges of the pan. Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. This process will take about 20 minutes. The rice should be just cooked and slightly chewy.

4. Stir in the mushroom mixture and the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with parsley.

Buon appetito, everyone. And in true Italian spirit, "Mangiare! Mangiare!"
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Soba In Shallot & Chilli Oil

A photo I took on 21 November 2010, when I visited Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. These are paper prayers and wishes ... folded and tied.

Some of you may remember that I was in Japan just 4 months ago. I have been looking at my old posts and personal photos ... and when I think of what this beautiful country is going through this moment, my heart just breaks.

Every day that I see those poignant images of bravery and selflessness against a backdrop of destruction and death, I think how amazing the Japanese are. Their indomitable spirit, cohesiveness, integrity - all truly remarkable. My neighbour, whose family is in Japan, shared some anecdotes with me.

Immediately after the quake, people who ran out of the supermarkets, went back in to pay for the items they were holding onto ... and the cashiers still took the time and effort to bow and thank each and every customer.

Despite the fear of food shortages, people continue buying in quantities just enough for themselves. No hoarding, or worse, looting.

And get this: during the quake, at junctions, pedestrians still observed traffic rules and waited (as they swayed) for the green man before crossing, despite feeling the earth move under their feet! Anywhere else in the world, I betcha you'd have seen screaming and fleeing in all 4 directions! How they maintain such calm and order is unbelievable.

All these - and the tons of other heartwarming stories we have read and heard - tell a lot; for it is only in the time of crisis that a nation reveals its true face. I'll say it again, the Japanese are amazing. The road to rebuilding may be challenging and arduous, but if anyone do it - and do it spectacularly well - it's them.

Ganbatte, Nihon! May you return stronger than ever.

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So, no surprises that I am sharing with you a Japanese dish today - a humble bowl of soba. I found the recipe from inSing and here's the description of it:

"Here, soba is served hot with a flavoured oil that is used to fry shallots, garlic and chilli. By using the less pungent dried shrimp instead of dried prawns (hei bi) you get a more subtle taste. In case you are not sure what dried shrimps are, they are much smaller and a light brown colour compared to dried prawns. You should be able to find them in most supermarket shelves under dried goods. The shrimps also take well to toasting in the oven, which allows them to crisp up nicely as a final addition to the soba."

Hope you'll all like this as much as I did.

(from Mervyn Phan at inSing)

Serves 4
- 4 portions of soba (buckwheat) noodles
- 1/2 cup canola or sunflower oil
- 6 shallots, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dried baby shrimp (I used sakura ebi which I got from Meidi-ya ... yes, long before 11 March)
- 2 chilli padi, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper

1. Toast the baby shrimp for 15 minutes in a 180°C oven until crispy.
* Note: I panfried them without oil, then set aside.

2. Fry the shallots in the oil for about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. Add the garlic and chilli halfway through. Allow to cool slightly.

3. Cook the soba noodles in salted boiling water until al dente.

4. Toss the soba in the warm oil with the shallots, garlic and chili.

5. Divide and serve with a generous sprinkle of the shrimp and a crack of black pepper.

Note: You can vary the proportions. I used a lot more shallots and a little less oil.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Steamed Egg Cake (Ji Dan Gao)

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Steamed Egg Cake ... or as I used to call them in Teochew - Kueh Nerng Kor - was one of my favourite snacks growing up. I remember being exceptionally happy whenever there was a festival. Festivals = larger-than-usual cakes. My grandmother would usually include - among LOTS of other food - this Steamed Egg Cake as prayer offerings. I would be busy playing with the other kids in the 'hood ... but once I got the green light to eat, I would abandon play and greedily wolf the cake down.

Sometimes I would get a cup of Ovaltine to go with it, sometimes a warm glass of freshly brewed barley water. And I would be happy. Those were simple pleasures ... along with collecting stickers and playing five stones, zeropoint and carrom. *wistful smile*

I suppose my love for cotton soft cakes was cultivated from very early on. This Steamed Egg Cake has a very fluffy texture (it is a sponge cake after all). It gets its volume from the air that has been beaten into the eggs. If you beat the eggs long enough, you will definitely get a cake that is light and soft ... and yes, without any need for leavening agents (see Christine's post).

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The eggs should be beaten till they are very thick and pale. How pale? It's like the colour of vanilla ice-cream ... a very faint off-white. The batter should be really viscous and creamy ... almost like gently whipped cream. Get these right, and divine fluffiness is yours to devour.

BUT, in keeping with tradition, I do know that people used to add some cream soda (or 7-up) to the batter, to ensure a good rise. I believe it was not easy to find baking soda at that time, so carbonated drinks was the perfect solution. Plus, cream soda has vanillin in it ... which flavours the cake and masks some of the "eggy" smell. Clever, eh?

While I am not one to buy carbonated drinks, I sometimes get free Sprite with pizza deliveries, so I get the perfect excuse to make this Steamed Egg Cake. :)

I personally adore the taste and smell of eggs. If you don't share the same fondness, vanilla extract does the trick, so just add a couple more drops.

- 220g eggs excluding weight of shells (about 4 large eggs)
- 210g caster sugar
- 230g cake flour or top flour (sifted 2 or 3 times)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 tbsp cream soda or 7-Up or Sprite

1. Whisk the eggs till frothy, then start adding sugar a little by little, to ensure it is well-incorporated. Add vanilla extract and continue beating until the batter becomes very pale, thick and creamy. This takes time, and there is no shortcut. Meanwhile, heat up your wok, pot or steamer until you get a gentle boil. Do make sure it is large enough to fit the cake tin and has ample space for the batter to rise and the steam to circulate.

2. Fold in the flour in thirds, alternating with the soda, and ending with flour. Once there are no streaks of flour, stop.

3. To steam, either pour the mixture into a bamboo steamer lined with greaseproof paper or use a 6 or 7-inch lined baking tin. Pop it into the wok, pot or steamer - then cover - and steam on high for 30mins.

4. Once done, place the cake on a rack and allow to cool before slicing.

And here's what you should get:

To reheat on the second day, steam gently for 2 or 3 mins, and they'll become pillow soft all over again.
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So tell me, did you grow up eating this cake too?

I am submitting this post to International Incident Nostalgia Party, hosted by Penny aka Jeroxie.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chocolate Rum Brownies

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Sigh, sigh, sigh.


Two "rainy day photos" in a row! I'm telling you, someone up there is intent on ruining all my shots. How else do you explain bright sunny skies suddenly - and I mean, suddenly - giving way to grey clouds the moment you finish baking? I wanted to wait out the rain but my boys - who had helped make these brownies - couldn't wait. So, snap hurriedly I did, and handed over the goods to their little hands.

See what I mean when I say "can't wait"?!
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What a pity, for these brownies were really photogenic. More importantly, they were as easy to bake as they were to eat. Would you believe that I have never made brownies in my life?! Crazy, right? But right after reading Mary's post, I literally headed straight to the kitchen because I was sold on the simplicity of "melt & mix" and getting moist, rich, gorgeous brownies in 30mins.

(from Keep Learning Keep Smiling, with some minor adaptations)

Ingredients A
- 250g butter
- 250g dark chocolate (I used Callebaut 70%)
- 1 cup brown sugar

1. Melt all ingredients in a pot and stir constantly under a low fire. You have your chocolate mixture. Allow to cool (you should be able to dip your finger in and not get scalded).

Ingredients B
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp rum

2. Put all ingredients in a bowl and beat with a whisk. You have your egg mixture.

3. Now, add your cooled chocolate mixture to your egg mixture and stir well. You have your brownie batter.

Ingredients C
- 1 cup flour
- 1 1/2 cups sultanas (you can omit these, or substitute with other ingredients like nuts, dried fruit, and for the chocoholics, mini chocolate chips!)

4. Now, add your flour and sultanas to the brownie batter. Mix well to combine. Pour the batter into a shallow (rectangular or square) tin lined with baking paper and bake at 180°C for about 15-20 mins, or when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

5. Allow the brownies to cool before slicing into bars.

Rain rain go away! Come again at night ... when I'm in my PJs and nicely tucked in bed.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Cheesecake - Tips & Tricks

Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake and French Chocolate Macarons for a rainy afternoon. I wish I was one of my kids. Just sayin'.
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We all deserve something nice in the day to perk us up. For me, it's definitely a good cake or pastry, accompanied by a cuppa. Like this Japanese Cheesecake. :) Some of you may remember that I made it recently for my friends who came over for tea. Since that day, my daughter has been badgering me for an encore. No, I said firmly. I have so many other things I want to try baking ... and left it at that. However, things started going in her favour, when one after another, four of my friends tweeted about their Japanese Cheesecakes. Temptations, temptations ... so I sighed and caved in.

Well, here it is ... appearing for the - gasp! - third time on my blog. The ever popular Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake.

You know why I love this cake so much? Unlike other cakes where I needed practice to get right, this cheesecake turned out beautifully from the very first time I attempted it ... so it's got a special place in my heart. :)

I thought I'd share some tips today because I receive many blog-related emails ever so often, and honestly, I have given up replying. I do feel apologetic because people take the time to write, but I simply can't cope. Blogging is a hobby, not a job. My family is my job. So, I have decided that this is probably the best way to address all those "Ju, please help!" questions. Best I can do.

Ready? Here goes.

(reprinted here from my old post, and originally from Diana's Desserts)
- 140g fine granulated sugar
- 6 egg whites
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 50g butter
- 250g cream cheese
- 100ml fresh milk
- 60g cake flour (can also use plain flour)
- 20g corn flour
- 1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven at 160°C. Melt cream cheese, butter and milk over a double boiler. Cool the mixture. Fold in the flour, the cornflour, salt, egg yolks and mix well.

2. Whisk egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Add in the sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.

3. Add the egg whites to the cheese mixture to and fold well. Pour into a 8-inch round springform cake pan or removable-bottom cake pan (lightly grease and line the bottom and sides of the pan with greaseproof baking paper or parchment paper). Wrap the base of your cake tin with aluminium foil, to prevent seepage ... although I never do, and it has never seeped! ;)

4. Bake cheesecake in a water bath for 1 hour 10 mins or until set and golden brown at 160°C.

5. Leave to cool in oven with door ajar, about 30mins to 1 hour. Sudden changes in temperature may cause the cake to cool too quickly and collapse.

Now, for some extra tips. These work for me, and I hope they work for you too! :)

Tip #1 : Beating the egg whites
You can beat your whites on high until they start to stiffen, but for the last 3 to 4 mins of whisking, do switch your mixer speed to low. This helps to stabilise the air bubbles. I notice I get a "foam sponge" texture when I do this (as you see in the first photo). When I beat on high throughout, I tend to get larger air bubbles, resulting in texture that looks like this:

Yikes, how I hate looking at my old photos! Ewwww!
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Either way though, you get a cottony soft cake which is extremely easy to eat and eat. And eat.

Tip #2 : Sieving the cream cheese batter
This is totally optional, but because I am anal a perfectionist, I want a lump-free, smooth as silk batter. So once I have combined my cream cheese mixture with the flour and yolks, I usually strain it using a wire mesh sieve. After that, I fold the beaten egg whites in. I repeat, sieve BEFORE you fold in the egg whites ... otherwise, you can say sayonara to your cake!

(Left) Cream cheese that has been melted with butter and milk. There are still some visible small lumps even after a lot of stirring.
(Right) After adding flour and yolks, I sieved the batter to ensure a lump-free batter.

Tip #3 : Baking in a water bath
God, I hate this. It's so troublesome! Plus, there is always the risk of water seeping in, and even if it doesn't, your cheesecake tends to get a little damp. I want my cake fluffy, not damp. So this is what I do ...

Cake tin goes on the rack, in the middle.

I place tart moulds which have been filled with water, in the four corners of my oven. They provide the sauna effect but do not add dampness to the cake. Why not a tray of water, you ask? Well, with a tray, you still get condensation at the bottom of the cake tin. With individual tart moulds placed around the cake, your cake's bottom will always remain dry. <- I sound like a diaper ad!

Tip #4 : Lining the cake tin
Line the bottom and sides of your cake tin. Make sure the baking paper extends higher than the cake tin by about 1.5 inches. If you prepare the batter correctly, you will notice that it rises very well during baking. You need that extra height from the baking paper to prevent possible spillage.

Tip #5 : Tenting with a foil
I recommend this 100% because the cake top browns very easily. I use a sheet of aluminium foil and loosely place it over the tin. That's why point #4 is important ... because if you do not provide ample room for the cake to rise, it will get stuck onto the foil. And when you peel it off? Urgh, not so pretty. So, tent the cake, and remove it only in the last 1 to 2 mins of baking time, just for it to brown (not burn).

Tip #6 Drier is better
Personally, I like to overbake the cake slightly (say, about 10mins more), to be on the safe side. A Japanese Cheesecake should be tear-away soft and fluffy, and to get that sort of texture, you need to have a dry-ish cake. As long as you follow #4 and #5, your cake will not burn. A drier cake is airier and less likely to collapse or shrink (you won't get those dreaded crease lines on the top). Finally, keep it in the oven, door slightly ajar for at least 30mins to an hour.

Well, that's all the tips & tricks I wanted to share. I hope you found them useful. :) For those of you attempting this for the first time, may you hit the jackpot and get your flawless Japanese Cheesecake! ;)

Sadly, my photos do not do justice to the cake - look at the horribly washed out colours. :( The cake is supposed to be a brighter shade of yellow, but then, it was a gloomy day ... so everything turned out depressing. Except the eating part. Heh.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Passion Fruit Mini Cakes

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I love browsing food blogs with beautifully styled photos. There is something magical that styling brings ... it gives the food soul, I think. I love being able to feel the character of the dish, or the mood of the people at the table, and for that brief moment, be transported to another time and place.

Unfortunately, styling can take up a lot of time and creative effort, which is why I can't do it as much as I would like to - yes, I can't afford the time, but mostly because I am always stumped for new ideas!

Take these Passion Fruit Mini Cakes, for instance. I had them on the cooling rack and must have stared at them for a good 5 mins without knowing how to proceed. I think my helper secretly laughs at me whenever I quizzically stare back and forth between my food and tableware. Which plate to use? Need cups? Got any decor? Show 1 cupcake or show all?

Honestly, I tend to get a tad flustered when it's time for photography, because it's always a mad scramble ... so, I keep going back to the same styling "template" that I have grown accustomed to (can you tell how bored I am with my shots already?). And of course, when utterly uninspired, I take the lazy way out and do food close ups. ;) Needless to say, I am in awe of bloggers who constantly apply different looks for each shoot (and dish). Power to them!

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Anywaaaay, I bought some passion fruit recently, but they tasted so tart it was impossible to eat them. Also, the sight of the black seeds kinda freaked my kids out, so I knew baking was in order. ;) I did a few checks here and there, and stumbled on this recipe. I noticed almost all recipes for Passion Fruit Cakes use the pulp and not the juice. If I had it my way, I would have used the pulp too ... the small, crunchy black seeds are the distinctive feature of anything passion fruit. But then, my 3 bosses would never touch the cake with a 10-foot pole! Would I bake this again? Hmmm ... not really. I think I prefer passion fruit in a sauce or curd, more than in a cake. ;)

(largely adapted from Best Recipes)
- 125g butter
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups self-raising flour
- 1/2 cup milk
- Pulp or juice of 4 passion fruits (to get the juice, simply strain the pulp of 2 passion fruit through a wire mesh sieve and discard the seeds)

- 1 tbsp soft butter
- 1 1/2 cup icing sugar
- Pulp (or juice) of 2 passion fruits
* Note: I chose to make a syrup instead of an icing. Read on for the recipe.

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1. Preheat oven to 180°C.

2. Cream butter and sugar.

3. Add eggs and continue to whisk.

4. Add sifted flour, alternating with milk, and fold well.

5. Add passion fruit pulp (or juice) and fold well. The batter is very soft and creamy, almost like half-melting ice-cream.

6. Pour into paper-lined or greased cake tin (recipe does not state size of tin). I poured into large muffin tins that were greased ... and the batter yielded 12 mini cakes altogether. This batter rises quite well, so make sure you only fill up to about 3/4 full.

7. While the cake cooks, make the icing or syrup.
- For icing: Mix butter with icing sugar until well combined. Add passion fruit pulp and mix well.
- For syrup: Strain the pulp of 2 passion fruit through a wire mesh sieve. In a saucepan, heat the passion fruit juice, add 2 tbsp sugar, and simmer it over very low heat. The mixture will thicken into a syrup, but do stir constantly and make sure it doesn't burn. Leave to cool.

8. After the cake is cooked, leave it to cool briefly before removing it from the tin. It should feel nicely warm to your touch. Prick holes all over the top. Then pour icing/syrup over. Allow the cake to soak up the icing/syrup before serving. This cake is best served slightly warm. :)

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Victoria Sponge Cake

It has been a challenging week - coming down with a cold and nursing a sprained back, yet having to go about my daily routine, because mummies are not entitled to sick leave. And to top it off, being in an accident. My car was hit from behind, but thankfully, it was minor and no one was injured. Having said that, the sudden loud bang, in the thick of crazy morning traffic, at a very busy junction ... now, that was nerve wrecking. Luckily my children were not with me.

Well, it's Friday already, and I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The cold's clearing up, the back's getting better (after 30 pieces of Salonpas, it had better be!), the car's gonna be sent for fixing later ... and that Daniel Powter song has finally stopped playing in my head. Ah well, life and lemons. What do we do? Why, make lemonade and then toast to better days. ;)

Now, on to today's post - CAKE (also known as "the solution to bad days"). Heh.

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My family eats strawberries almost everyday - the Korean ones, obviously. :) Often times, we eat them fresh, but on and off, I like to use them in my desserts.

Last weekend, I made a Victoria Sponge Cake. I have always loved the way it looks. There is something very rustic and feminine ... and quintessentially English about it. In its simplest - and I believe, authentic - form, it's basically jam and cream sandwiched between 2 layers of sponge. But clearly, there is no harm adding some strawberry slices like I did. They give a fruity punch to an otherwise simple cake.

This is a recipe from the doyen of British cook shows, Delia Smith, and I liked how the cake turned out. It was soft, yet not overly so - the bottom layer did not yield and sink too much under the weight of the filling. So if you want to make an easy dessert using strawberries, this one's worth a try.

(from Delia Online)
Serves 6-8

- 4oz (110g) unsalted butter (must be at room temperature)
- 4oz (110g) caster sugar
- 2 large eggs (I used 3 medium eggs, weighing 150g with shells)
- 4oz (110g) self-raising flour
- Icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 3, 325F (170C). In a medium-sized mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar together until you get a pale, fluffy mixture that drops off the spoon easily (an electric hand whisk speeds this up considerably, but a wooden spoon will do). Then in a separate jug or bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly together, then add them a little at a time, beating well after each addition. For a beginner, I would recommend just a teaspoonful of egg at a time: if you add it like this, it won't curdle. (Why shouldn't it curdle, you're thinking? Well, some of the hidden air that by now has been beaten into the mixture will escape if the mixture 'breaks' and as air is what makes a cake light, curdling will make it heavier.)

2. When the eggs have been incorporated, take a metal tablespoon, which will cut and fold the flour in much better than a thick wooden spoon. Have the flour in a sieve resting on a plate, then lift the sieve high above the bowl and sift about a quarter of it on to the mixture - then replace the sieve on the plate and lightly and gently fold the flour into the mixture (if you beat the flour in, you'll lose some of the precious air). Then repeat this until all the flour is incorporated: lifting the sieve up high above the bowl will ensure the flour gets a good airing before it reaches the mixture.

3. Now the flour has been added you should have a mixture that will drop off the spoon easily when you tap it on the side of the bowl. If not, add some hot water, one or two teaspoonfuls or if you're using medium eggs you may need a tablespoonful more. Now divide the mixture equally between the prepared tins - if you want to be very precise you could place both tins on the balance scales (I've never bothered because, quite honestly, I don't mind if one sponge is fractionally larger than the other.) Place them on the centre shelf of the oven, and they'll take about 25-30 minutes to cook.

4. When they are cooked, the centres will feel springy when lightly touched with a little fingertip and no imprint remains. I think the secret of success here is to be patient and not to have crafty peeps halfway through: a sudden rush of cold coming into the oven can cause the cakes to sink. When they're cooked, remove them from then oven, then after about 1 minute turn them out on to a wire cooling tray, loosening them around the edges with a palette knife first. Then carefully peel off the base papers and leave the cakes to cool completely before sandwiching them together with jam and sifting a little icing sugar over the surface.

5. Then fillings can vary from just jam or a mixture of jam and whipped cream, to lemon curd or chocolate fudge icing. Also you can flavour the cake mixture with grated lemon or orange rind or a few drops of vanilla extract. For a coffee flavour, dilute a tablespoon of instant coffee with a dessertspoon of hot water. For a chocolate flavour, take out a level tablespoon of flour and replace it with a level tablespoon of cocoa.

Note: For an 8 inch (20 cm) sponge cake, use 6 oz (175g) of each ingredient and 3 eggs.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fish & Potato Pie

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Homecooking is all about giving new spins to the same old ingredients, isn't it? After I made Fish En Croute, I had another snapper fillet left, so I made a Fish & Potato Pie. Yup, another one-dish meal for another hectic day. Easy to cook, eat and clean up. I like! And I'm sure you'll like it too. :) I made this pie with a pinch of this and a dash of that (read: no recipe), so please feel free to adjust according to your preferences. :)

- Approximately 150g skinless snapper fillet (or any other fish you like), cut into medium-sized chunks and marinated in:
- liberal pinches of salt and pepper
- a squeeze of lemon juice (do not allow to leave for more than 1 hour because the lemon juice will toughen and "cook" the fish)

- 2 large potatoes (floury kind), boiled till soft, then peeled and mashed roughly with a pinch of salt, pepper, paprika (optional), a generous knob of butter, and a drizzle of olive oil
- I used a fork and it was done very quickly, no need to mash till very fine as you will be mashing again later on

- 1/4 wedge of yellow onion, chopped finely
- 1 baby carrot, chopped into small chunks
- 1 handful of frozen peas, rinsed and drained
- a knob of butter
- 1 tbsp freshly parsley, chopped finely (leave a small pinch aside for garnishing)

1. In a skillet, heat a knob of butter and add in the chopped onions and carrots. Cook over a low flame until the onions have softened. Do not allow the ingredients (or the butter) to burn. Add in the marinated fish chunks. As the fish cooks, flake some of it with your spatula. The others, leave as chunks. This will give some texture to the potatoes later on.

2. Add the fish mixture into the mashed potatoes, sprinkle the parsley and mix gently to combine. Taste test. Need more salt? Pepper? Add now. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish. It should look something like that:

3. Dot with butter and top with shredded cheese (firmly packed).

4. Bake for about 20 mins in a preheated oven, at 170C. The sides should bubble and the cheese should be lightly golden.

5. Leave to cool for about 10mins before serving because it will be VERY hot. Serve with a side dish of salad veggies, perhaps? Enjoy!