Christmas cookies #WeekendCooking

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

although my cookie flavours this year really aren’t Christmassy at all!

This year I have been making cookies to give to friends from school as well as to send to the husband’s mentor.

You might notice that this year’s recipes are mostly from the same website! I like her recipes for its Asian flavours and its detailed instructions.

Chinese-style Walnut Cookies (Hup Toh Soh). Recipe here. I like this as it doesn’t use shortening (which I never have at home and can’t be bothered to make a trip to the supermarket to get).

Matcha Sesame Seed Shortbread. Recipe here. Another easy recipe that’s quite effective and I suppose, with its green, somewhat Christmassy? I added more salt to the recipe though, as I tend to prefer shortbread that’s not too sweet.

Red Bean Crinkle Cookies. Recipe here. I made a regular batch and then another batch replacing a tablespoon of floor with a tablespoon of matcha powder. I quite like it!

Lemon biscotti. Recipe here.  Previously I used the KAF American-style biscotti recipes, but this time went with the lemon biscotti. I didn’t want to use the almond extract though so I replaced it with lemon extract for extra lemony flavour. Also, I feel that most lemon recipes don’t have enough lemony-ness, so I increased the amount of zest and juice. It’s also a combination of regular lemon and Meyer lemon.

Do you bake Christmas cookies? What are your favorites?

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Sourdough, finally (and Tartine Bread) #WeekendCooking

I’ve also recently been nurturing a sourdough starter. Everyone’s into sourdough these days but the husband has never been a fan of sourdough (and me, I’m ok about it) so I never thought about making it. I was curious about starters though, the idea of wild yeast is always kinda fascinating!

It was only after watching The Chef Show on Netflix (if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it! It has Jon Favreau and Roy Choi and they just always seem to have such fun together, whatever it is that they’re cooking or baking), that I decided to go borrow the Tartine Bread book.

Tartine is a famous Bay Area bakery that I’ve never been to 😛 but well you can’t live in the Bay Area without knowing about it I guess! It’s now in LA and even in Seoul.

At any rate, I watched Jon Favreau make the sourdough bread (they also make pizza flatbread which looks delicious) with Tartine’s Chad Robertson (who wrote the book). And something about that made me go, huh I want to give it a try too.

And so I did.

This book is a good read for learning more about sourdough, at least the part about starters and leavens, as it gave me a bit more understanding about it than some recipes I was reading online. For instance, he describes the cycle of the starter, how the aroma changes etc. As well as how they gave the recipe and some dutch oven combo cookers (which he recommends people use to bake the bread in), to several test bakers, some who had never baked bread before, and how they modified it to suit their schedules.

Some of his instructions at the beginning are a bit vague – the feeding of the starter bit, which was along the lines of “replace it with equal amounts of water and the flour blend”, which is fine but really, as a beginner, I wanted to know, yes is it like 50g? 200g? So I ended up following the feeding instructions I found online, which was 60g of each.

I followed his recipe for country bread (a less detailed version is available on their website). And it is a bit time-consuming, with the first rise (bulk fermentation) of 3 hours requiring “turning” the dough every half hour – thankfully, in the container, so it’s not messy. The second rise (in tea-cloth covered bowls) is 3-4 hours.

I didn’t have a dutch oven or combo cooker, so I shaped then gently tumbled the dough onto a parchment and slid it onto the preheated pizza tray. I also had a preheated tray at the bottom of the oven which I poured some boiling water into.

And I think it was quite a successful first sourdough bake.

It didn’t have too much of a sourdough taste thankfully. So the husband said he was ok with eating it. The 7yo didn’t like it but the 9yo agreed that it was delicious. The recipe does say that if you leave the second rise in the fridge, it will develop a stronger taste – obviously I’m not going to do that.

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Chocolate Cherry Loaf Cake #WeekendCooking

I think I did it.

I actually added something to a recipe and made it better!

While I am fond of riffing off cooking recipes, I tend to be a stickler when it comes to baking. Follow that recipe. Follow its instructions! All of them! Well, except when it comes to sugar, as most American baking recipes are really too sweet so I tend to reduce the sugar amount by a quarter or so. But usually, I stick to the baked goods recipe.

But this time, I wanted to use up the remainder of the cherry preserve (recipe from here) of sorts that I had made for the husband’s Black Forest birthday cake and of which there had been far too much for the cake.

I had thought of a few things, including just adding it to a regular butter cake mixture, using it as topping for pancakes or yogurt (delicious).

But what about adding it to a chocolate cake? Especially a rich chocolate cake recipe like this Quadruple Chocolate Loaf by Nigella Lawson which is a beautiful rich and moisture chocolate cake. The chocolate is in the form of cocoa powder and chocolate pieces in the cake, as well as a chocolate syrup to be poured over the top after baking, and chocolate shavings to top it all off. It is an absolutely gorgeous cake to make in all its chocolate glory, but after following the recipe – but replacing chocolate chips with chocolate chunks I cut off from a bar of chocolate – I stirred in the cherry preserves into the batter.

It needed a little longer than an hour baking time, but it came out just nice. The cherries added that slight acidity to cut the richness of the cake. And also some added moisture, to an already moist cake. I didn’t add the chocolate syrup and it’s chocolatey enough to do without the chocolate shavings, but I’m sure making the proper quadruple chocolate loaf would make for an intense chocoholic stupor.

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Black Forest Cake, Eyeball Cupcakes, and Lemon Meringue Pie (oh my) #WeekendCooking

Oh boy, this was a bit of a crazy baking week for me. More like a crazy baking Friday, I guess.

We had been invited to a small Halloween backyard party, complete with pizza and Halloween art. And I’ve been well trained by my mum, and knew that I couldn’t go empty-handed.

So, Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie it was. Since I had quite a few Meyer lemons (albeit tiny ones), from my dwarf Meyer lemon tree. Then I thought, maybe I ought to do something more Halloween-appropriate. I know Meyer lemon season is now really, but the bright lemony yellow fruit doesn’t exactly scream “Halloween!” does it?

Chocolate cupcakes? Decorate them to make them look like eyeballs? I could do that, I thought!

I had made lemon meringue pie a few months back, as I adore lemon meringue pie but had somehow never made it. I had then used the recipe from King Arthur Flour but had not quite cooked the lemon filling as properly as I should have, resulting in a slightly liquid-y filling, but it was delicious though…

I decided to stick with the crust part of that recipe (it is a simple crust using oil, no need to stick the dough in the fridge for hours). But went with the filling from this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction – her crust sounds delicious but required shortening which I didn’t have, and several hours’ refrigeration which I didn’t have time for. But since I was using Meyer lemons which are far less tart (and more like a mix of lemon and tangerine, in case you haven’t tried it), I reduced the sugar quite a bit, and added a lot more zest as Meyer lemons smell amazing.

The pie came out wonderfully. The filling held perfectly, and everyone enjoyed it!

Since I was already on the Sally’s Baking Addiction website, I used her chocolate cupcake recipe. The batter was surprisingly thin so I was a bit worried, but it turned out to be a really delicious, moist and chocolate-y cupcake.

(Someone else made apple, peanut butter, marshmallow teeth!)

I also used her Vanilla Buttercream recipe, just 3/4 of it, that is, as I just am not fond of a cupcake that is all buttercream – it looks pretty, but ugh just way too much for me. I went with the lower amount of icing sugar (she gives a range in the recipe), and upped the salt quite a bit, as I really didn’t want it to be too sweet.

Unfortunately, the only food colouring gel I had on hand were pastels, so I had to make do with pinkish bloodshot eyes. 😛

And the final thing to do that day was to finish up the Black Forest cake for the husband’s birthday on Halloween. If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, you may know that I make a Black Forest cake every year for the past few years. Here’s the post I did in 2018, one in 2014,  another in 2013 – I didn’t post about it every year, but I have apparently made it since 2013?

Anyway, I use the cake recipe from King Arthur Baking  (and had made the cake layers a couple of days ago, and froze them), and usually I find the sour cherries from Trader Joe’s, but this time they didn’t have any! So I had to resort to frozen regular cherries and made the cherry preserve mixture from Life, Love and Sugar (it did make more than I needed though!) then a simple whipped cream using heavy cream and sugar and a touch of vanilla extract. And decorated with chocolate shavings.

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Beef and beer pie #WeekendCooking

After my older son did his class craft, which was to make “mooncakes” using puff pastry and tangyuan, I was left with an extra sheet of puff pastry, and I wanted to do something for a meal with it.

So I found this recipe for Beef Guinness Pie from NY Times

It looked easy enough, although had an interesting link to trotter gear. Something that was new to me. I hadn’t heard of it before, have you?

Turns out, the pie recipe is from Jamie Oliver and Fergus Henderson (adapted by Sam Sifton for the NY Times), and Henderson is rather fond of using trotter gear in many of his restaurants’ dishes. It’s best described as a jellied broth made from pigs’ feet and vegetables.

I didn’t really fancy messing about with trotters, so luckily the recipe had a substitute – freshly grated cheddar cheese. That I found quite interesting. I can understand a jellied broth giving the unctuousness that this pie filling needs, but cheddar? Why have I never put cheddar into stews before? It really creates this silkiness that is quite delicious. I also adapted this recipe a bit as I didn’t have any stout but instead used a dark beer I had in the fridge. I only used one can of beer and added some stock instead (the recipe calls for two cans). Also, I cooked my stew on the stove top instead of the oven, and added in far more vegetables than the recipe calls for – two carrots and two ribs of celery to 3 pounds of meat seems a bit miserable. I increased it to five carrots and 6 ribs of celery.

After the filling cooks for a few hours, pop it into a pyrex dish, cover with the store-bought puff pastry (or follow the recipe for the crust), brush with egg wash, pop into the oven, and there you go, a comforting and delicious beef and beer pie for dinner!

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Dirt by Bill Buford #weekendcooking

“I pressed on. “No one in America eats food out of a pig’s bladder.”

Oh boy, it’s been ages since I’ve read a foodie book, and I was so excited to read this one. I read Buford’s previous book, Heat (published in 2006), and really enjoyed his adventures in the cooking world. In that book, he got to train in Mario Batali’s kitchen (of course, now that things have come to light about Batali, I wouldn’t know what to think of that), but at that time, I really enjoyed Buford’s writing, and his brashness in being able to jump into a professional kitchen and move from station to station.

Similarly, this happens again in Dirt, this time in Lyon, France. Why Lyon? It’s the home of Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud grew up near there, and some consider it the gastronomy capital of the world.

Also, Buford had come across the idea that French cuisine originated in Italian Renaissance kitchens:

“In any case, the implications were intriguing to consider: that at one point French cuisine did not exist, or at least not in a form that we would recognise today; and that then, at another point, it did, and that the Italians may have had something to do with its coming into being.”

Packing up and heading to a new country for a while is nothing new to Buford and his family. They lived in Tuscany for a year, his wife loved to travel and could easily pick up languages. And Buford had been wanting to work in a French kitchen. But they soon learned that France was not Italy. That is, while it was easy to land in Italy, figure things out as they went along, even just the process of getting to France (legally that is) was hard. All kinds of supporting documents were needed, even financial statements for each child (though they were still in diapers). And somehow needing to prove residence in France – although they were still in the process of applying to be residents??

At any rate, they made it there, with a little help from some friends.

But there, still, Buford had a hard time getting his foot into any restaurant kitchen. He does, however, work for a baker, and attends culinary school for a bit – not just any culinary school, but L’Institut Bocuse – then eventually lands up at La Mère Brazier, which first opened in 1921.

I have enjoyed eating French food, one of my favourite all-time meals is Duck Confit. But I have no clue about the food of Lyon, some of which sounds like nothing I’ve ever seen on French restaurant menus. For instance, andouillette, which sounds like the andouille sausage (common in the US), but is instead full of pigs intestines and stomach. Or the volaille à Noelle (I could only find recipes in French, so the link here is to a Youtube video of a chef making the dish), it’s essentially a deboned bird, refilled and stuffed with vegetables and meat. And then there’s the Poulet en Vessie, which is a chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder. Yup. The dish looks like a ball in which a chicken is enclosed. Fascinating!

“After twenty minutes, the vessie is transformed: No longer thick and opaque, it has the appearance of a beautifully golden, nearly translucent beach ball that some maniac is still insisting on pumping more air into. Also, you can see the chicken.”

And reading about French schools, especially their school lunches – three course meals, the food served at the table, and kids cannot get the next course if they haven’t finished.

Another fascinating part, is the principles of a French plate:
“If your dish uses colour strategically, volume (i.e. has height), and texture (mixes soft and hard, or juicy and crunchy), then it will appeal to a diner.”

This was a book I needed to read. The thought of someone travelling to a different country is such a foreign concept right now. Getting on a plane and moving your family to another part of the world, to live there for a few months – which turns into five years? What a dream! This was armchair – and foodie – travelling during a pandemic.

Here’s a tip: If you’ve ever watched the late Anthony Bourdain’s TV series Parts Unknown, Season 3 Episode 4 is the Lyon episode and it features Daniel Boulud, who is often mentioned in Dirt. The episode also brings in Buford himself. The season was aired in 2014 and so that possibly means that he was still living in Lyon when it was taped? He had moved to Lyon in 2009 and they stayed for five years. Also, the chefs cook the Poulet en Vessie, and that is quite a sight.

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Plum cake#WeekendCooking

What do you do when your husband returns from the Sunday farmers market with a giant bag of plums – “they were on offer!”, he said. I should also mention, he also came home with a giant bag of green grapes and our usual flat (or is it a half-flat? There are nine of those little green baskets worth) of strawberries. And in the fridge also had clementines, apples, and a few pluots.

We do eat quite a bit of fruits – it’s our usual dessert after lunch and dinner – but that was quite a lot of plums.

So it was off to the Internet for a fun plum cake recipe, and this one by Smitten Kitchen looked delicious and easy. I especially liked that I only need to half and pit the plums – it was a busy day in the kitchen as I was also planning to cook up as much of the San Marzano tomatoes that I had harvested.

I followed her instructions although I only baked it for about 35 minutes – the skewer I stuck in came out clean, but on hindsight, I should have stuck it in in another spot as well to check.

The problem was that after letting the cake cool for 15 minutes (and thus having the plum juices seep into the cake), I had to invert it onto a plate and then onto a cooling rack, as I always do for cakes. But when I tipped it over, I realised that a little bit in the middle of the cake was a bit soggy and the inversion process had dripped some juices onto my counter. So it wasn’t as firm a cake as I imagined it would be. That could be due to a couple of things:

  • I had put in the maximum number of plum halves I could squeeze into my 9×9 cake tin.
  • I should have baked it for longer – questionable, as the skewer I used to test it came out clean.
  • A couple of the plums I used were a bit riper than the others (but they weren’t falling apart overripe, they cut in half cleanly)

Still it was a delicious cake. I loved how the plum juices turned it reddish, and it was a good excuse to eat some at breakfast – it’s mostly fruit!

Have you made any plum cakes? And what’s your favourite?

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Singapore-style carrot cake #WeekendCooking

Now when I say “carrot cake”, for most of you what comes to mind is that delightful dessert, often with a cream cheese frosting, sometimes with nuts in it, or with shredded coconut, and definitely with carrots in the batter.

But in Singapore, carrot cake or chai tow kway (in Teochew dialect), does not have carrots, instead has daikon or white radish, and is a delicious savoury dish found at most hawker centres and food courts.

It is one of my must-eat dishes when I’m back in Singapore. There are two versions, white or black. Black has the addition of a sweet black sauce so it has a slightly sweeter taste than the white.

But why “carrot cake”? Perhaps because in Mandarin (and other Chinese dialects), carrots are 红萝卜 (hong luobo) and daikon or white radish is 白萝卜 (bai luobo). The only difference between those two is the colour – 红 red vs 白 white. As for “cake”, the dialect word kway (which in Mandarin is 糕 gao) just means a cake or pastry of some sort. And the carrot cake does begin with a steamed “cake” of daikon and rice flour.

So now that you know a little bit about Singapore-style carrot cake, how is it made?

Part one: Make the steamed daikon cake (enough for 3-4 portions)

One medium-sized daikon, grated (it gave me about 600g grated)

50 ml water

Steam for about 30 minutes until the grated daikon turns translucent

200g rice flour

250 ml water

1 tsp salt

Mix the three ingredients along with the steamed grated daikon above. I placed it in a small metal cake tin, and into the steamer (which is for me, just a pot with a small metal rack on which to put the tin). Steam for 40 minutes until firm.

Let cool and then place it in the fridge. I did this overnight as it made it easier to cut up. 

The radish cake from above is enough for 3-4 portions

5 eggs, beaten together (more if you’d like)

2-3 tbsp of preserved radish – I soak this for a few minutes as it can be really salty. Then drain in a sieve.

4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped (then again, I do like garlic, you can decrease this a bit)

spring onions

fish sauce (to taste)

white pepper (to taste)

chili sauce (optional)

Cut the radish cake into small cubes.

I used a wok but you can use a nonstick skillet.

Heat oil, fry the radish cake cubes until slightly crisp and lightly browned.

Add the garlic and preserved radish to the pan. Fry it for a bit until the garlic smells good. Don’t burn the garlic!

Season with fish sauce, white pepper, chilli sauce. You can add salt if it’s not salty enough. 

Add the beaten eggs and let it cook a bit before flipping. Some prefer carrot cake that’s more stirred up and messy, others may prefer it a bit more like an omelette. 

Top with chopped spring onions. 

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Strawberry milk, Gula Melaka chiffon cake #WeekendCooking

The husband was watching something on YouTube the other day and I happened to look over his shoulder and saw this video about Korean strawberry milk and thought, hey the kids would love that.

It was simply a kind of strawberry jam (mashed strawberries cooked with sugar then cooled), and milk, also, some small diced strawberries. I’ve also seen recipes which macerate the sugar and strawberries for an hour. There are other recipes which blitz the strawberries into a puree. But the one I tried was just a simple mashed and cooked strawberry jam, and an additional chopped fresh strawberries.

The kids loved it! They’ve never had fresh strawberry milk – and really, the commercial strawberry milk is quite disgusting and is just pink-coloured sweetened milk.

And since it was Father’s Day, I made a Gula Melaka Pandan chiffon cake. I’ve made quite a few pandan cakes before – and wrote a detailed post here. 

But if those ingredients are new to you, pandan is a fragrant leaf that is used in Southeast Asian foods and sweets – you can use it to flavour rice, curries, make refreshing drinks, it’s also added to cakes and kuehs. It’s very aromatic and somewhat floral despite the fact that it’s just a long thin leaf.

Gula Melaka is palm sugar popular in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore. It usually comes in a small cylinder block as it is traditionally formed using bamboo moulds. They are usually dark brown in colour and has hints of toffee, caramel. In Singapore, Gula Melaka is in the form of a syrup in many desserts like Ondeh-ondeh, Sago Gula Melaka, Chendol.

This Gula Melaka Pandan cake (recipe here) uses Gula Melaka in place of the sugar, except for the sugar in the whisked egg whites. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, whisking the egg yolks and the Gula Melaka together, as the Gula Melaka tends to clump together and doesn’t fully dissolve into the whisked yolks as caster sugar would. The recipe does suggest that the egg and Gula Melaka batter can be sieved, to remove the lumps, but I felt that would be such a waste of Gula Melaka (which my parents had brought over from Singapore for me, as it’s not the easiest thing to find in the US). So I left it in, lumps and all.

Usually, lumps would not be a welcome sight in chiffon cakes, but I think this one, with its little bits of undissolved Gula Melaka, was quite unique and delicious. (You can see a small Gula Melaka bit in the cut cake)

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Pork floss buns #weekendcooking

 

It’s a bit tricky explaining pork floss (also available as chicken or fish floss, also known as rousong or yuk sung in Mandarin and Cantonese respectively) to someone who’s not eaten it before. It’s made of meat yes but has a sweet-savory taste as it’s cooked with soy sauce and sugar and shredded (here’s a recipe). It’s very popular in places like Taiwan and Singapore. I used to bring pork floss sandwiches to primary school when I was growing up in Singapore. 

Some years ago, the pork floss buns became popular in bakeries in Singapore. It’s a soft bun topped with meat floss. I never was quite sure what exactly sticks the meat floss to the bun. But now I do.

I’m not big on the pork floss bun mostly because I don’t like the commercial bakery version of the topping.

So having looked up some recipes, I learnt that it’s a combination of kewpie mayo (Japanese-style mayo), condensed milk, and something sticky – I’ve seen maple syrup in one recipe and corn syrup in another. I decided to use honey. Weird huh, but strangely kinda tasty. 

You really only need to slap a thin layer on top of your bun, then pile on the pork floss. It’s how the floss sticks on to the bun. 

In case you’re wondering, you can buy pork floss from many Asian supermarkets. I bought this one from Costco. Pork floss is also a great topping for porridge or rice. Also, the other day, our neighbour dropped off a sticky rice roll from a local eatery. It was something I’d never eaten before, but so delicious. It was a youtiao or a savoury fried dough stick, topped with pork floss and pickled radish and wrapped in rice. I later googled it and it’s a Shanghai breakfast rice roll or “ci fan”, 粢饭. 

Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo before we finished it (it was that good), so please check out the blog above for photos and a recipe.

(Edited to add) I made the buns using a Hokkaido milk bread recipe, it uses my favorite tangzhong method for a soft crumb. And instead of making a loaf I shaped it into a dozen small buns.

Weekend Cooking is now at The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs