Friday, September 30, 2011

Ricotta Gnocchi

A traditional Florentine pasta, Ricotta Gnocchi is the lighter, hipper cousin to northern Italy's potato gnocchi. This gnocchi cooks up as soft, mild-flavored dumplings. They make a great base for any sauce.
(Source: The Kitchn)

Ah, I finally got down to making these little Italian dumplings! I know they aren't exactly good-lookers, but that's the beauty of it. :) No one cares if they are misshapen or uneven or too thin or too fat. They are meant to be that way - rustic, imperfect ... yet delicious. Drizzle some sage and brown butter sauce over, and you get a wonderful plate of billowy, pillowy dumplings bursting with cheesy goodness. Perfetto!


Brutti ma buoni. Ugly but good.
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Making them is really easy. It only took me about 30mins from start to end, including photography! With more practice, I know I'll better my timing. ;) Aside, my poor camera ... forever in contact with grease and flour. Sigh, Mummy's gonna give you a thorough wipe right after this post.

Recipe
(from Delicious Days)
Serves 2 to 4, depending on whether portions are for mains or sides

- 250g Ricotta
- 1 egg yolk (M-L)
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 30g Parmigiano (or Pecorino), freshly grated
- 50-75 g all-purpose flour, extra for dusting the dough/board

1. Discard any excess liquid that the Ricotta’s packaging may contain, then add Ricotta cheese, egg yolk, salt and freshly grated Parmigiano into a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden or regular spoon. Now add the flour and stir in briefly, just until combined* – the dough will still be quite sticky. (Of course you can add more flour at this point, but keep in mind, that the more flour you use, the denser the gnocchi become in the end. And you want them to be as light & fluffy as possible, with a velvet-like texture.)
* Note: Remember, you're not making bread, so don't knead. As long as the mixture comes together, you're done. Overwork the dough, and the gnocchi will turn out tough. Add too much flour, and you will feel like you've just had bricks for lunch.


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2. Forming these gnocchi is the slightly tricky step, this is the technique that works best for me: Generously flour a board, take a big tablespoon of the dough and scoop it onto the board. It gets dusted with flour (dust your hands generously, too!), before rolling it into a finger-thick roll. Cut it into little pillows (stick the knife’s blade into the flour to prevent it from sticking to the dough). Then place each gnoccho on a floured board or parchment paper lined baking tray. Continue quickly with the next step, otherwise they will get soggy and stick to the paper/board anyway.
* Note: For me, I used 50g flour, with 1 or 2 tbsps for dusting. Yes, very little flour, so the gnocchi was a tad sticky when I was shaping them, which was a teensy challenge because you need a very light hand when doing that. BUT they turned out really tender and airy. So I say, err on the side of stickiness. You're gonna wash your hands later, anyway. :)


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3. Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt and reduce heat until the water bubbles lightly. Add the gnocchi and stir once, so they don’t stick to the bottom – then let cook until they start floating on top. Depending on their size this may take 2 to 4 minutes. Take out with a skimmer and serve immediately. Serve them either with a simple tomato sauce, browned butter with fresh sage or any kind of pesto.

4. I made a simple sage and brown butter sauce. Just gently heat about 50g of unsalted butter with chiffonade of sage. Cook till the butter has browned but not burnt - and note that all it takes is a couple of seconds to cross over from one to the other - and the sage has become crispy. The butter should have a lovely nutty aroma and flavour, with nuances of earthiness from the sage.


I made indentations using the tines of a fork, but really, I would skip this the next time.
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6. I did the extra step of browning my gnocchi so that they would be crisp on the outside. All you need to do is, after removing them from the salted water with a slotted spoon, place them in a non-stick pan (no oil needed) and let them brown nicely on both sides. Don't move them around too much. Once done, arrange them on a plate and drizzle your accompanying sauce over.

Buon appetito!


Some trivia: My first "encounter" with gnocchi was when I watched The Godfather Part III - in a scene where Andy Garcia showed Sofia Coppola how to roll those tiny pieces of dough. Gosh that was 21 years ago! I was (still am) a fan of mafia movies, and my dad took me to watch it one evening, just the 2 of us. It was only much later, when I became interested in cooking, that I realised they were making gnocchi. :)
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Flourless Almond & Chocolate Cake - Encore


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I know I have waxed lyrical about this cake a few times already, and having made it again, it's still the best chocolate cake in my book. I baked it last week, this time doing what I did not do the last time, ie, adding coffee and using a slightly darker chocolate (Valrhona Caraïbe 66%). It turned out to be a more grown up version than the previous (I used Valrhona Equatoriale 55% for that one).

Oooh, it was amazing but I think I like the version made with Valrhona Equatoriale (and sans coffee) better. Maybe I am just a milk chocolate kinda girl, ya know? ;)

What I love about this cake is the insane intensity of chocolate that hits you from the first bite. And the moist, mousse-like centre? Heaven. All chocolate cakes should be like that!

Here's the recipe if you are keen to try ... and you MUST try! I know a good chocolate cake when I taste one, so trust me on this. ;) Happy baking!


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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Easy Pizza Dough


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Dear Mr Domino

How time flies! I remember the first time we met. It was love at first bite ... you with your great taste and good looks ... you instantly won me over. I loved that you were so dependable, always rushing to my side whenever I needed you, and you hardly ever made me wait. Even on those rare occasions when you were slightly late, you always made up for it.

What a difference from the other Mr Pizza ... you know, the one who lives in that big Hut? He stood me up twice and didn't even bother replying when I wrote to ask him why. Needless to say, I dropped him like a hot potato ... it has been 12 years since, and I never looked back. Why stick with someone who doesn't take you seriously, don't you agree?

Shortly after I left him, a friend encouraged me to meet new people, and that was when I got to know Mr Canadian and later, Mr Rite. Unfortunately, they were both not my type - that's just life, you know - and after seeing them on and off, I gradually lost touch with them. Then of course, you came into the picture.

Ahhh, I have never fallen for anyone the way I have for you. I always looked forward to our date nights, when I would open a bottle of Moscato, and we would both sit in front of the telly, just enjoying the moment.

But honey, things have changed, if you haven't already noticed. As
clichéd as it may sound, it's not you, it's me. Simply put, I have grown as a person and moved ahead. I am now more self-assured, more confident, and heck, I don't even like Moscato anymore. More importantly, I have come to realise I really don't need a man to bring in the dough (pun totally intended). I can do this myself ... and rawk at it, if I may add.

So dearie, all I'm asking from you is some space. Give me wings so I can fly, and just be a friend I can count on. I'll still call you now and then, I promise. But for now, I'm ready to be a single, independent woman who can do anything she sets her mind to.

Me
xoxo


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Recipe
(from Taste.com.au)

- 375ml (1 1/2 cups) warm water
- 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
- Pinch of caster sugar
- 600g (4 cups) plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil, plus extra for brushing


Homemade pizza smothered with fresh mushrooms, pineapple slices and grated sharp cheddar! YUM!
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1. Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes or until foamy. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast mixture and oil. Use a round-bladed knife in a cutting motion to mix until the mixture is combined. Use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.

2. Brush a bowl lightly with oil. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in the prepared bowl and turn to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draught-free place to rise for 30 minutes or until dough doubles in size.
* Note: You can prepare this recipe up to 1 hour before serving. Prep: 15 mins (+ 5 mins standing & 30 mins rising time).

3. When it is time to bake, roll out your dough to fit into your (lightly greased) tray.

4. Spread on some pizza sauce (I used store-bought pizza sauce mixed with a little of the syrup from the canned pineapples) and any topping(s) you like. Drizzle a little olive oil and bake at 240ºC for 10mins, or until the cheese starts bubbling and the edges turn nicely crisp.


Pizza with Pinot Noir? Strangely, it worked! And yes, that entire pizza was ALL MINE!
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Couscous With Prawns & Peas


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I was sooo hungry as I was cooking this dish! Maybe it was all the energy expended at the gym. Or the puny portions I had for dinner the night before. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the mere anticipation of savouring a plate of steaming Couscous With Prawns & Peas that had my mouth watering.

Whatever, my hunger was quickly satiated because this dish was done in under 30mins. You should have seen me - bliss written all over my face - happily tucking into a lovely lunch with an equally lovely glass of white. Now, go on ... be nice to yourself too. After all, the weekend's here, and you deserve it. :)

Recipe
(Inspired by smithfield.com)
Serves 2

- 1 cup couscous (I used San Remo)
- 1 cup broth (of your choice)
- 1 knob butter
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 white onion, diced finely
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 300g prawns (or as much as you like), shelled and deveined, and marinated briefly in a little soy
- Cherry tomatoes, halved
- Toasted almond halves or slivers for garnish (and crunch!)


If you are unfamiliar with couscous, here's a short intro. It's not rice, that's for sure. :)
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1. Cook onions in butter over medium heat in a medium sized saucepan until onions are soft.

2. Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir in couscous and peas. Turn off the fire. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes or until all of liquid is absorbed.

3. Fluff with a fork and taste test. Do you need some salt? Pepper? How about Cayenne pepper for some kick? Add seasonings, if desired, and gently fluff to combine. Cover and set aside.

4. In a small pan, fry prawns on high heat to sear. You can do so with a little oil, although I prefer to "dry fry" them (ie, no oil). I like the slight char it imparts to the prawns. These cook very quickly, so the moment they turn a bright orange, they are done.

5. Plate your dish. Scoop the couscous onto a dish, then top with prawns, cherry tomatoes and toasted almonds. Voila! Lunch is served.


Dear Mr Claus, how's about a tripod for Christmas, eh? That way, I don't have to worry about dropping my camera when I pose with my food?
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Black Bottom Cupcakes


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After a week of sleeping and waking up late, eating out, shopping and just chilling, the kids are back at school again, and there is finally some semblance of our regular routine. Thank goodness! Holidays are always wonderful, but the downside is, our equilibrium gets off-centred (my fault, I'll admit) and it usually takes some adjustments to get back into the groove.

After dropping the older ones off at school, I decided to sneak a quick bake before heading off to run other errands. I settled on these Black Bottom Cupcakes which I have been ever so curious to try but never did because of one ingredient - vinegar.

Basically, for some recipes, vinegar - an acid - is used in tandem with baking soda to make batters rise. It is especially useful in eggless cakes, such as the chocolate sponge base of these Black Bottom Cupcakes.

Now, the only time I ever owned bottles of vinegar was during the SARS epidemic in 2002. In many Chinese households, white vinegar is used as a general all-purpose disinfectant, and my father, knowing how clueless I was, insisted I kept some on hand. I used it religiously - mainly for my laundry - although I never did like the sharp, biting pungency which would stubbornly linger.

Anyway, I digress. Like I said, I don't stock vinegar at home, so I decided to take a gamble and use orange juice in its place. The same batch of sour oranges from here. Yup, I still had 2 left and they were sitting idle in my fridge since forever. I'm so glad I finally put them to good use!

Well, as you can see, the gamble paid off and the batter rose beautifully. But I have to admit, I was not too thrilled with the taste (of the chocolate sponge base). I wasn't expecting to be, in the first place. Look, it's eggless, made with regular cocoa powder, and has no butter. In fact, it reminded me of Steamed Moist Chocolate Cake ... flat and one-dimensional, if I may be honest.

When I bite into a cake, especially a chocolate cake, I want to taste sin
. Like my all-time favourite Flourless Chocolate & Almond Cake. So, take heed, if you like your chocolate cakes full-bodied and velvety, I don't think you're gonna be thrilled with these.

The contrast with the tangy cream cheese, though, was nice! I think if the chocolate base was richer, I would no doubt have enjoyed these cupcakes a lot more. But that, my friends, will be for another experiment, for another day.


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Recipe
(from David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate and sighted at Joy of Baking)
Makes 12 large cupcakes

Cream Cheese Filling
- 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
- 1/3 cup (30 grams) natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (240 ml) water*
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) vegetable,corn or canola oil (or other flavorless oil)
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar*
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Note: I did not have any white vinegar on hand, nor any apple cider vinegar which can also be used ... so I replaced 240ml water with freshly squeezed orange juice and left out the vinegar.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
* I did without the liners and only greased my muffin tins.

2. Cream Cheese Filling: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside while you make the Chocolate Cupcake batter.

3. Chocolate Cupcakes: In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl mix the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until nice and smooth. Evenly divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups. Then spoon a few tablespoons of the cream cheese filling into the center of each cupcake.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until the cream cheese filling has set and the cupcakes feel springy to the touch (a toothpick inserted into the chocolate part of the cupcake will come out clean). Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. The cupcakes can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for about 3 - 4 days.

You can also watch the video on how to make these Black Bottom Cupcakes at Joy of Baking.


I made 1 cupcake differently from the rest, just for a lark - with the cheese filling buried in the middle. It created a dented centre, perfect for a cherry to sit snugly in!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homemade Tofu Burger


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I made a tofu burger for lunch yesterday ... a REAL tofu burger, one that was made from scratch and using the freshest ingredients. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to try and I am kicking myself for it because it's so, so delicious!

Many years ago, out of curiosity, I tried Burger King's much-advertised tofu burger, and after that unfortunate episode, concluded that all tofu burgers must taste like that - leathery and laden with artificial flavouring.

I wasn't completely wrong, you know. For as long as you use frozen and heavily processed store-bought soy patties, you will end up with exactly that.

However, if you invest some time - and I am talking just 30mins - you can enjoy a really tasty tofu burger ... possibly the best you'd have ever eaten in your life. ;) I gave my burger a slight Asian twist by using coriander and kaffir lime leaves. But you can flavour your tofu patties with any herbs you like - basil, parsley, oregano ... anything at all. Go on, try making them and you will be surprised at how versatile, easy and flavourful they are.

Recipe
(roughly adapted from Cold Storage's Savour The Good Life magazine)
Serves 4



- 1 piece firm tofu (taukwa), approximately 350g
- 1 small red onion, sliced finely
- 1 sprig coriander (leaves only), sliced finely
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced very, very finely
- 1 red chilli (deseeded), sliced very finely
- 1/3 cup sharp cheddar or parmesan, grated
- Pinch of paprika or cayenne pepper
- Pinch of pepper
- Pinch of salt (taste test as you go because sharp cheeses can be very salty)
- Breadcrumbs (I toasted 4 slices of bread and blitzed them in a food processor)
- Vegetable oil
- 4 burger buns
- Butterhead lettuce or baby romaine leaves
- Tomato slices
- Condiments of your choice - mustard, relish, or like my daughter - good ol' ketchup!


I saw a packet of breadcrumbs selling for $4.50 and I balked. Do you know how many loaves of bread I can buy with $4.50? All you need are 4 slices of bread to make enough breadcrumbs for this recipe.

1. Mash tofu till crumbly. Add copped onions, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, cheese, breadcrumbs and paprika. Mix well and taste test.

2. Season with salt and pepper accordingly (at this point, I added more parmesan! Yum!).
Idea: How about drizzling a little sesame oil, shallot oil or even chilli oil to give it some kick?

3. Shape mixture into 4 patties, and flatten them gently using your palms.


Remember to flatten the patties! In this photo, I haven't yet flattened them yet.

4. In a frying pan, under a small-medium flame, heat the vegetable oil. The oil/pan must not be too hot because the bread crumbs in the patty will burn.

5. Panfry the patties till crisp and golden brown on both sides.

6. Slice your burger buns horizontally and lightly butter both halves. You can also use other spreads like mayonnaise or dijon mustard. For me, I mixed a dash of wasabi with Japanese mayo, and used that in lieu of butter.

7. Now it's time to assemble your burger! Place some lettuce leaves on top of the bun, followed by the tofu patty, and then with tomato slices. Then cover it with the top half of the bun, and you are ready to dig in!


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On a completely random note: IT'S SEPTEMBER ALREADY?!