Friday, June 24, 2011

Strawberries and Cream

Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as fresh Farmer's Market strawberries crowned with a dollop of honey kissed sour cream? You have? Oh no, the thumb is not in the running.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blueberry Mascarpone Pistachio Macarons

I had a tub of mascarpone and no idea what to do with it...until a certain genius, the same person who introduced me to macarons, chef 陈彦强,suggested that I make these. Evidently he overestimated me because they look nothing like the inspiration. ;) But...

...I learned several indispensable life lessons from these little guys (which, I should mention, are rather dangerous - I dare you to hover over them for more than 9 seconds without salivating/devouring one).
1. Don't trust Martha Stewart. I thought I trusted this woman...but alas. Her macaron recipe said to start the oven at 375, pop the suckers in, and turn it down to 325 and bake for 10 minutes. I think this is what caused those pesky cracks! Oh Martha, I thought you were the one...
2. Too much food coloring makes a wet batter. Gel colorings are better! I used 5 drops of blue and 8 drops of red...this might be why they took over 1 hour to dry, and falling victim to my impatience, my poor babies didn't develop their pieds.
3. Blueberry coulis, mascarpone, and butter = shut up.
4. It's what's on the inside that counts. These are ugly but yummy. Just like people - a warm, loving heart wins over dashing looks any day. But it doesn't hurt to be gorgeous.

I'm very good at keeping the kitchen clean. This is the tub of mascarpone that was responsible for this madness. Seriously, I think I will blame Costco for selling such big tubs of mascarpone. If it weren't for them, none of this would've happened.

The near empty tub of mascarpone pictured above was left in the wake of the Deadly Duo: the Rubber Spatula and Cream Craver.

The mascarpone filling is deadly. Think nutty, buttery mascarpone, kicked up with a combo of organic salted and unsalted butter, and mixed with a very intensely concentrated blueberry coulis spiked with the tang of a lemon and sweetened with a touch sugar. Ah, this description does not do it justice.

Blueberry Mascarpone Pistachio Macrons
1 batch of macarons, colored purple, sprinkled with pistachios (Huh? You don't have it memorized?)
more ground pistachios
2 cups frozen organic blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
juice of a lemon
Mascarpone, whatever is left in the tub (Based on the fullness of my stomach...exactly 4.235 oz)
7 Tbsp softened butter (3 Tbsp unsalted, 4 Tbsp salted)

1. Put blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes until very thick and syrupy, stirring occasionally.
2. With a rubber spatula, force the berry mixture through a fine sieve and set aside until it is room temp. Taste it if you dare. It should be tart and sweet and intoxicatingly perfect.
3. Mix the mascarpone with the butter until smooth and lump-free. Add the blueberry mixture and mix well with a whisk until very smooth. Refrigerate until slightly cool and firm.
4. Pipe a dollop onto 1/2 of the shells, top with the other shells, and sprinkle with pistachios. If they fall off, that's your problem.

Homely Blueberry Peach Pie

Bonnie and I made this. :) We gave up trying to cut a perfect slice. The blueberry juices just didn't want to cooperate, hence the "homely" look. It's a very simple pie made with just blueberries, peaches, sugar, tapioca starch, and lemon zest, simmered on the stovetop until thick and then poured into a pate brisee. The top was brushed with soymilk and sprinkled with coarse sugar. It's excellent served with lightly sweetened sour cream and fresh garden mint!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rum Drenched Vanilla Cake and Saffron Rice

Rum Drenched Vanilla Cake, from Dorie Greenspan's awesome book, Baking. This cake recipe called for rubbing the sugar with vanilla beans, but I didn't have those, so I added a fat tablespoon of vanilla paste. And I went a little greedy on the rum. And the cream. So I don't know why I was still surprised when the batter was runny, instead of thick like Dorie said. Didn't realize this until it was too late though; I was reading the recipe and Dorie wrote: "Pour batter into pan, and smooth the top with a spatula." I looked at the cake and thought, "How very pointless. It smoothed itself." So I shoved it in the oven and forgot about it for a whole 11 seconds, and then got paranoid and reread the recipe...I seriously considered taking the cake back out and adding more flour, haha. Good thing I didn't! Everything worked out - the cake was moist, tender, and a little too delicious for its own good (especially when soaked in rum syrup!). I reduced the sugar by about a tablespoon, but it was still kinda sweet...the bitterness of the rum helps a little, as does the fat from the 7.5 Tbsp of butter and 1/3 cup cream, but it is very good served with coffee! Arrrr this is pirate's booty.
This was dinner from today. Saffron rice made by toasting rice with garlic infused oil and ground pork, then adding chicken stock, salt, saffron, and shrimp and cooking on the stovetop. The veggie is a stir-fried pumpkin leaves with fermented tofu and garlic, and kidney beans cooked with pickled mustard greens and ground pork. Trust me, it tastes better than it sounds.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chocolate Souffle

This chocolate souffle uses 60% dark chocolate, and has no flour or milk! The recipe is from the Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball. First, chocolate is melted with 2 Tbsp butter, and then orange zest, chocolate liquor, salt, and vanilla are added. Then you beat 3 yolks with 2 Tbsp sugar until very light and thick and fold the two mixtures together. Then you whip 4 egg whites with 1 Tbsp sugar and some cream of tartar, stir a bit of the white into the chocolate mixture, and fold the rest in. Then everything is baked at 385 degrees for 14 minutes in buttered and sugared ramekins.

These were good, but they were a little overbaked (16 minutes was a little long, so next time I would do 14...I think if the middle is molten it's ok! The chocolate flavor will be more intense if it's underbaked) and I thought the orange zest was a little strange, and maybe the chocolate was a tad bitter (try adding more sugar or use a less dark chocolate? like 45%). Didn't have chocolate liquor so I used dark rum.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pierre Herme's Lemon Cream Tart

my mom: Wow! This is so good! What's in it??
me: uhh, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, sugar...yeah that's about it.
my mom: (mouth full) mmmmm...
me: ...oh yea, and some butter.

By some, I mean like 21 Tbsp for the whole recipe. Hehe. But I only made half, so that's only 10.5 Tbsp, so it's healthier right?

This is Pierre Herme's recipe. For those of you who don't know him, he is one naughty boy. First he rubs 1 cup of sugar with the grated zest of three lemons until the sugar is lemon infused. Then he whisks the sugar and lemon with 4 eggs and 3/4 cup lemon juice, and cooks it over a double boiler to 180 degrees and strains it through a fine mesh strainer to make it silky smooth. Then after it cools to 140, he blends it in a blender and chucks 21 gobs of butter at it until it turns into a pale, light, decadent cream. It's blended for 3 minutes after all the butter is added to make it super light and creamy. After the cream is refrigerated in the pre-baked tart shell, it firms up ever so slightly and just melts on your tongue when you take a bite. Sinful? Nah. Naughty? Maybe. Heavenly? Oh yes!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blue Ribbon Cheesecake

I don't think Blue Ribbon is a very fitting name. Maybe something more like "Crater Cheesecake" or "Bowl of Happiness Cheesecake"...oh, so much better. This recipe does three things special. For one, it uses whipped egg whites to lighten the batter; for another, it doesn't use a water bath, and finally it is baked at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then finished at a lower temperature. The high temperature is what helps the cheesecake get its lovely California tan. It's not elegant but I think its rustic charm makes it more interesting and delicious! Don't you just want to pick off the top nutty brown crust? It's calling your name...dare you to click on the left photo! ;)
The addition of a Tbsp of flour and the separation of the eggs helps the texture stay soft and fluffy, despite the absence of a water bath. Not having a water bath also helps the cheesecake develop its lovely golden brown, shiny, delicious crust. The crater in the middle is kind of an eye sore, however. This is because the beaten egg whites makes it rise too much, and inevitably fall. I supposed we need to fill the crater with something to hide it...cream, anyone??

Recipe for Blue Ribbon Cheesecake, adapted from Apron Strings
I just cut the recipe in half and dumped it into a 7-inch springform but it threatened to overflow, so I baked the rest in a ramekin. I also added the zest of a lemon and maybe a little more lemon juice, and reduced the sugar by a Tbsp. And I used leftover pie crust for the base. Also, since my cake was smaller, the baking times were reduced by 15%.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tartine Tarts

Apple nougatine tart, based on the recipe from the Tartine Bakery book. It is a flaky all butter crust filled with caramelized granny smith and golden delicious apples, tossed with a teeny bit of cinnamon and the juice of a lime (the recipe didn't call for cinnamon and used lemon instead of lime; I used lime just because I was lazy and didn't want to go hunting for a lemon). The tart is topped with an almond nougatine (what the heck is that?) which is made from sliced almonds, egg whites, sugar, and salt. Couldn't be easier!

The trick to a flaky crust? Cook's Illustrated will tell you to use shortening and vodka...but seriously, how are you supposed to bake when you are tipsy and suffering cardiac arrest from trans fats. Listen to Martha Stewart, or Tartine Bakery, and use all butter! The key points:
- Cut butter into 2 cm cubes and freeze for 10 min while you put flour in food processor
- Weigh all ingredients
- Use ice water
- Pulse butter and flour very briefly until you have fat pea-sized clumps. Peas are big! Don't be fooled by their unassuming name. None of this pea-wee nonsense. Fat peas!
- Pour the bare minimum of water in all at once and pulse very briefly until it just starts to clump - Don't wait for it to form a ball in the processor! Squeeze together, and if it holds, you're golden. If it doesn't, sprinkle on a little more water.
- Dump the dough out into a bowl, squeeze once into a dense flat disk, cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for a good hour.
- Roll out into disks, and fill tart pans. No stretching the dough! It will shrink when it bakes.
- FREEZE again for 15 minutes, then bake immediately from the freezer in a 385 degree oven with coffee filters weighted down with beans for 25 minutes, then remove weights and bake until golden, at least 5 minutes.
The complete recipe is in Tartine's book. First you peel and core the apples, and then slice them 1/8-1/4 inch thick (I think it's ok if they are different thicknesses because the texture difference is nice). Working in batches, melt 1 Tbsp butter and 2 tsp sugar in large heavy bottomed pan over high heat until sugar starts to caramelize. Add apples, cook until apples soften - remove to a holding bowl. Repeat for all apples, and then toss everything with the juice of a lime or lemon, zest, some salt, and some cinnamon (Tartine did not call for cinnamon). Layer the apples neatly into the shells; it's ok if the apples are still warm. For the topping, mix egg white, sugar, toasted almonds, and pinch of salt until well blended. Spread evenly over tarts. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until topping is just golden and you are salivating. The combination of the buttery flaky crust, tangy sweet caramelized apples, and toasted sweet and savory almonds is amazing.

Too many pictures of the same thing? I think so. But I couldn't resist! This mango tart is very simple. Just Tartine's pastry cream and fresh sliced manila mangoes (I am in love with these! They have a silken texture and an incredible floral, nutty, milky fragrance). Tartine's pastry cream is unique in that it uses whole eggs and milk, rather than egg yolks and half-and-half, so it is lighter and the vanilla flavor is brighter. Next time I might reduce the sugar a little because this was a teeny bit sweet, but delicious. (can't say no to custard!) I didn't have vanilla beans, so I used some vanilla paste.
Fruit tart with mango, strawberries, and bluberries

Ginger Chiffon

A delicious ginger chiffon cake dusted (or rather, smothered) with a little too much green tea powder. Oops, couldn't fight gravity. It was delicious though! We used the same recipe as the pandan chiffon, but since we only had 2 eggs, we cut the recipe in half. Also, instead of pandan juice, we used ginger juice - it's just grated ginger squeezed against a very fine mesh strainer to extract only the juice and none of the icky fibers. We added a breath of cinnamon and a hiccup of nutmeg too. If you love ginger, this cake is a different take on the common heavy, molasses laden dark ginger cakes (which are still good, just different! Not trying to make them feel inferior...hehe).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Squid with Jiu Cai

What do you call Jiu Cai in English? Chives? Not quite...leeks? leeks? Ah whatever. This dish combines the sweet leekiness of jiu cai with the slightly sweet umami of baby squid, and gets a spicy kick from pickled red peppers. Hen hao chi!

Recently our friend, Irene, gave us the most wonderful little book of Chinglish, aka funny English translations from actual Chinese signs, books, menus, etc. I'm sorry, you have to know Chinese to appreciate the hilarity. Note to self, certain dishes taste better in Chinese. Which would you rather eat, 夫妻肺片 or Husband and Wife Lung Pieces? Oh sorry, would that be your appetite I see under the sofa - I think you lost it...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Friday Farmer's Market and the Elusive Free Range Chicken

Farmer's Market is mother-daughter bonding time on Friday mornings. Last week we went at 9:32 am, which we thought was pretty darn early, but when we got to the free range chickens-slash-ducks table they were all out of chickens! There were tons of little quackers though, so we settled for one of those. It wasn't bad; our mom made a delicious ginger duck stew with it. But we were determined to get vengeance on those this time we woke up super early, sped through breakfast, hopped into the car and whisked ourselves off to the market once more. We waltzed up to the table and there was the cooler. Sticking up through the mounds of ice were countless pairs of feet...and they weren't webbed! Chickens! But where were the ducks? "Sold out," explained the farmer. Something smells fishy...I mean, chickeny...But it didn't matter, we got our chicken and were on our way to overload on strawberries and green veggies from the rest of the market.

For dinner, we made a hot pot soup with the chicken and put various veggies in at the table. This was one of the best hot pots ever because the soup was so simple - just chicken and ginger, and a little salt, and the flavor of the soup gradually evolved to take on more complex flavors as we put more stuff in the pot. In the end, the soup was a delicious medley of flavors from the three kinds of mushrooms, the durum wheat pasta, scallions, tomatoes, and cabbage.

The spicy red pepper dipping sauce was awesome too. Think of something that has complex flavors of roasted red spicy pepper, sesame, and the umami richness of fermented black beans, all suspended in a silky smooth bright red oil. It's sweet, spicy, salty, smoky, sour, and fragrant all at once, and was phenomenal with anything, but the best pairing was of course with the chicken.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pandan Chiffon

Feather soft and divine! If you've never had pandan's kind of grassy and tastes like jasmine rice on steroids. Also matches coconut, but it's a lot less assertive of a flavor. We made our pandan juice from frozen pandan leaves, but you can also buy imitation extracts and pastes with artificial coloring. No fake color here! It's a natural green. :)

We wouldn't change much about this recipe. We don't like overly sweet desserts and this one was perfect. There were some larger holes, which may have been due to poorly distributing the baking powder into the flour. Despite not using cake flour, the cake was surprisingly fine-crumbed. Another idea is to bake it as a jelly roll and fill it with coconut cream, or jasmine tea cream! Maybe we would try adding some coconut powder or coconut milk in place of some of the oil to give it more fragrance. Or some pandan extract or vanilla extract. However, having just pandan allows the delicate flavor to shine through!

Pandan Chiffon Cake

4 Large Egg Yolks
70g Castor Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt

85ml canola oil (may be able to reduce this to 70 mL)
115 ml Pandan Juice (see note! make sure it's concentrated)

150g Cake Flour (we used all purpose flour sifted with cornstarch, 5:1 ratio)
3/4 tsp Baking Powder

4 Large Egg Whites
70g Castor Sugar
1/2 tsp Cream of Tartar

To make pandan juice: Blend 20 pandan leaves with 1/2 cup or less water in food processor until leaves become smithereens. Gather everything up into a fine cotton cloth and squeeze the living daylights out of it to extract all the juice. You want to concentrate the juice as much as possible, so make sure to pulverize the leaves and add only as much water as needed to get the motor going. This will make more than you need; you can save the rest for another purpose.


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Whisk and then sift (C) twice, set aside.

3. Cream (A) until sugar dissovled using hand whisk. Add in (B) in the order listed. Mix well after each addition.

4. Whisk in sifted flour and mix well. If lumps persist, strain through a fine mesh strainer.

5. Beat egg whites until frothy, add cream of tartar and beat till soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat till stiff peaks.

6. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into egg yolk mixture gently with a rubber spatula until just blended.

7. Pour yolk mixture (step 6) into the rest of egg whites, fold it gently with rubber spatula until blended.

8. Put batter into a 20cm chiffon cake pan, bang the pan on a hard surface to release the bubbles and bake at 350 F for 30 - 40 minutes (we did 35) or till the top is light golden and the cake springs back when poked.

9. When the cake is cooked, remove from oven immediately invert the cake to cool. Remove the cake from the cake pan when it is completely cool, or when it is warm after about 30 min if you are impatient like we were!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chocolate Banana Matcha Bombe

Moist, tender buttermilk coffee chocolate cake with caramelized banana pastry cream filling, encased in an airy green tea Swiss meringue frosting. Perfect for a rainy Wednesday! We used Ina's chocolate cake recipe and Bobby Flay's caramelized banana cream recipe for the banana cream pie that won him a throwdown. The Swiss meringue frosting is Martha Stewart's, but Martha didn't call the green tea! ;) The filling was a little too sweet, but the chocolate helped. The frosting was very light and matched the cake - the green tea complemented the sweet meringue. Other flavors that would be good to try: lemon, lime, cocoa, hazelnut extract!
What else do you do on a lazy weekday? Prince seems to have figured it out...
1 minute later...
...we thought he was dead.

Pasta with Peas and Shrimp, Two Ways

A happy pot of yum yums. We used shiitake mushrooms, tiger shrimp, freshly peeled peas from the farmer's market, and shrimp shell infused oil. Cheating? I think so.

With the simplest, most delicious garlic tomato sauce (from epicurious) We loved this sauce. It was full of tomato and sweet garlicky goodness. We used fresh plump garlic from the farmer's market and sweet roma tomatoes that were seeded and diced before simmering for 1.5 hours into a concentrated sauce.
With buttermilk creamy herb sauce from cooking light. The dressing was delicious, and we substituted creme fraiche for the mayo so it was healthier (relatively!). It's best to make the dressing a few hours in advance and let it get infused with the pepper, chives, and scallions. The sweet peas and shrimp were a great contrast to both the tangy buttermilk dressing and the tomato sauce.