Monday, January 30, 2012

Celebrating his 49th with a Chocolate Cheesecake

Yesterday was my hubby's birthday.  His 49th. This might sound strange, but I am proud of his age.  He is 18 years my senior.  Everyone gets all surprised when they discover our age difference, and I get a kick out of it.  Right from the start I've always described our relationship as surreal, and for me, it's sort of a fairytale that we ended up together (Alright, don't roll your eyeballs..  I know I'm no Princess Diana).  I think the beauty of our marriage is that we are so different, and yet, so similar, at the same time.

I love that we are both from two different generations.  It's always interesting when he recounts his childhood days, a world which I will never ever get to experience.   I find it funny when he gets all exasperated teaching me how to do things (I admit I'm a pampered brat) and telling me to put all my things back in place after using them (Yep, I have a tendency to leave all my stuff lying around the house.  Over the years, I kind of gathered that I'll be terrible at committing crime cos I'll probably leave a trail of evidence from the crime scene right to my doorstep.).  There are times when I wished I was 10 years older and met him earlier.  But then again, due to the unpredictability of human nature, I might not be attracted to the younger him.   I convince myself again and again during those times that things are perfect as they are now.


This is (if I recall correctly) the 5th birthday I'm spending with him and the first time (this is definite) that I baked a birthday cake for him.  Had a go with Nigella's chocolate cheesecake which I baked late Saturday night.. Both of us had to stay up past midnight.. and I had to bring the cheesecake into our air-conditioned room to spend the night with us as it didn't cool fast enough to be placed in the refrigerator.. Talk about bad-planning. 

Verdict for this 1st baked birthday cake.. The texture of the cake was great.. but it wasn't sweet enough for the both of us.  I realised that it was my mistake (I can never find fault with Nigella!).  I used chocolate with 70% cocoa. So that probably made the cake more bitter than desired. 

Well.. he was kind enough to finish his slice without much complaints.. and encouraged me to try baking it again..

To my life partner and best friend.. 
Happy Birthday! 
Looking forward to spending many more birthdays with you. 

Chocolate Cheesecake (adapted from Nigella)

Cheesecake base:
125g graham cracker crumbs
60g butter
1 tbsp cocoa

Cheesecake filling:
175g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped small
2 1/2 cups cream cheese
1 tablespoon custard powder
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon cocoa, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dark corn syrup
Special equipment: 9-inch springform pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the base, process the graham crackers to make rough crumbs and then add the butter and cocoa. Process again until it makes damp, clumping crumbs and then tip them into the pan. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan to make an even base and put into the freezer while you make the filling.

Put a kettle on to boil.

Melt the chocolate either in a microwave or double boiler, and set aside to cool slightly.

Beat the cream cheese to soften it, then add the sugar and custard power, beating again to combine. Beat in the whole eggs and then the yolks, and the sour cream. Finally add the cocoa dissolved in hot water and melted chocolate and mix to a smooth batter.
Take the springform tin out of the freezer and line the outside of the tin with a good layer of cling wrap, and then another layer of strong foil over that. This will protect it from the water bath.

Sit the springform tin in a roasting pan and pour in the cheesecake filling. Fill the roasting pan with just boiled water to come about half way up the cake tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The top of the cheesecake should be set, but the underneath should still have a wobble to it.

Peel away the foil and cling film wrapping and sit the cheesecake in its tin on a rack to cool. Put in the refrigerator once it is no longer hot, and leave to set, covered with plastic overnight. Let it lose its chill before unspringing the cheesecake to serve.

To make the chocolate sauce: very gently melt the chopped chocolate, cream and syrup. When the chocolate has nearly melted, take off the heat and whisk it to a smooth sauce. Let it cool a little, and pour it over the chocolate cheesecake on its serving plate.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pear Galette

I still shudder at the thought of making pastry.  I've tried making pastry 3-4 times so far, and I can't say that I've truly succeeded in making good pastry.  The mixing is rather easy (everything gets thrown into the food processor)... The part that gets me all flustered is the pastry rolling.  I don't know whether it's due to the hot and humid weather in Singapore, but the pastry dough goes soft really quickly whilst rolling. 

Well, this is precisely why I decided to make a galette - it's much much quicker to make since there's no need to line the dough in a pie tin (a very painstaking process).  And also because I found these pretty red anjou pears in the supermarket.  Call me a country bumpkin, but I've never eaten a red anjou pear before..So I just had to buy them.. Besides, I thought they were lovely to photograph.. so even if the pie didn't work out, it wouldn't be so bad.

I wasn't too happy with my pie crust this time around. I fumbled again during rolling... I was worried that the butter might have melted, so I didn't roll the dough thin enough at the edges.  

Well..I'll probably continue to make galettes till I've attained a perfect pie crust.  Practice practice practice. ha!(can't imagine how long that will take me!)

Pear Galette Recipe (adapted from Sweet Paul Online Magazine)
serves 5-6

1 single crust of pie dough (recipe below)
4-5 pears peeled, halved and cored (I used only 2.5 pears)
1/4 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamon
1-1/2 tbsp of flour and extra for dusting
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp butter
drizzle of honey (I used agave nectar)

- Preheat oven to 425F (220*C)
- Roll dough out on a floured surface.  Around 1/8" thick and roughly a 12" circle
- Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Allow to rest in the refrigerator
- Slice pears.  In  a large bowl, toss them with a squeeze of lemon, spices, flour and sugar.
- Arrange fruit mixture in the centre of the dough, leaving a 2-3" border
- Fold dough over fruit, pleating all around.
- Dot centre with butter and drizzle with honey.
- Bake for about 35 minutes.  The crust will be golden brown and the fruit will be bubbling (strangely, my pears didn't bubble :( )
- Add another drizzle of honey when serving.

Pie Crust Dough
Makes 2 Single 9" pie crusts of 2 galettes
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (227g) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 egg whisked with enough cold water to make 1/3 cup

- Add salt, flour, butter to bowl of food processor fitted with blade attachment. Process until butter resembles small peas. (Use the pulse setting)
- Add 1/4 cup of egg and water combo and pulse until dough starts to get together.  If it's too dry, you can add a touch more water.
- Turn out onto a floured surface
- Pull together and divide into 2 discs
- Wrap individually into 2 cling wraps.  Refrigerate to rest for at least 1 hour.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Butter Cookies for Chinese New Year!

It's the Lunar New Year again! I can't decide which I prefer, Christmas or Chinese New Year (CNY).. They are both on my favourite holiday list.

For the non-Chinese readers, CNY is probably the most important and celebrated festival for the Chinese.  It marks the beginning of the New Year (according to the Lunar Calendar), and we generally spend quite a lot of time and effort getting all ready for it.  There's the usual spring cleaning which happens a week or two before CNY where most families would do a massive clean up of their houses.  Yes, my husband has been going crazy scrubbing every corner of the house the past few weeks.

Celebrations begin on the eve of New Year, where everyone in the family gets together for reunion dinner.  For my family, we are having our reunion dinner 2 days earlier because we are a family with 3 daughters (2 married). So in an effort to have all her little women back together, my mum had to plan for an earlier dinner date, as my elder sis and myself have to join our husbands' families for dinner on the actual eve.   


Family visitations take place on New Year's day.  Usually most families would gather at the house of the most senior family member, and we will get to meet all our relatives (some whom we meet only once a year).   There's a custom in which married couples have to give children and single adults ang pows (red packets with money).  As a child and unmarried adult, I loved that custom... After marriage, not so much.. This is probably the single reason why CNY has dropped a notch on my 'favourite holiday list'. hahaa.

There's also a lot of food involved in CNY celebrations.  A LOT.  Lots of baked goods which I loooove..  Pineapple tarts, kueh bangkits...  This year, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn how to make butter cookies from my aunt.  She makes the best butter cookies and every year we wait in anticipation to receive a tin from her.  Well, no more waiting required for me from here on...   I've been making so many cookies that I literally used up all my tupperware for storage!  My husband is so-not-amused..

Well... Here's wishing all a buttery and prosperous Lunar New Year!  Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Recipe for Butter Cookies
makes around 170-180 cookies, you can halve the recipe for a lesser yield
you will require a good electric mixer for this recipe

500g salted butter (room temperature)
250g icing sugar, sifted
1kg of self-raising flour + a pinch of salt, sifted
2 eggs (room temperature)
handful of mini chocolate chips for decorations (optional but highly recommended!)

- Cream butter and sugar together using an electric mixer till mixture turns light and fluffy (this takes about 10-15 minutes)
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 175*C
- Beat in the eggs one at a time on a low mixing speed
- After the eggs are fully incorporated, slowly add in the flour on low speed, one cup at a time until the flour is fully mixed in.
- Using a mini cookie press/nozzle, press the cookie dough out on to a prepared cookie sheet (it takes lots of practice to make the shape perfect, I gave up being a perfectionist 1/4 way through :P).  Space the cookies around 5cm apart (they do not spread/expand that much while baking)
- Place a mini-chocolate chip in the centre of the cookie.
-  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes.  Keep a check on the cookies, if they brown too quickly at the top, cover the top with aluminium foil or baking paper and continue on with the baking.  Leave to cool on baking trays for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Meatballs with Garlic & Butter Spaghetti

I had to have a go at making meatballs as I happened to catch Ina Garten making them on an episode of Barefoot Contessa.  My experiment with meatballs happened on last Sunday night - my hubby and I had a lovely dinner of meatballs and couscous at home, paired with red wine.  

As you know, on Barefoot Contessa, Ina usually cooks for a 'truckload' of people (I often wish that I was her guest!), so even though I halved the recipe, I had lots of meat leftover that left me having meatballs for lunch for the next two days... (I think I might be going cold turkey from meatballs for some time)

Meatballs and spaghetti, one of the most classic pasta combination, isn't it?  Instead of marinara sauce, I had it with cream sauce.  And to go with the meatballs, some garlic and butter spaghetti.  Yummy... 

Oops.. think I hear the treadmill calling out to me..  

Meatballs with Garlic & Butter Spaghetti
serves 4

(I've typed in the halved quantities of Ina's original recipe.  If you want the full quantity, please click on the link below)

For the Meatballs (adapted from Ina Garten's Real Meatballs & Spaghetti Recipe):
1/4 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
(I used 250g beef & 250g pork.  It worked out fine, but I think the meatballs would have been better with a larger proportion of beef)
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (2 slices, crusts removed)
1/8 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I didn't add nutmeg)
1/2 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the Cream Sauce:
1/2 cup cream
1 to 1-1/2 cup beef stock
1 tbsp plain flour
salt, pepper

For the Garlic Butter Pasta:
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 servings of pasta
1/4 cup of butter
salt & pepper to taste
grated parmesan to serve

- Place the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 1/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. (I made them smaller which explains why I had a lot of leftover meat)
- Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan
- For the sauce, swirl out the pan with the beef stock.  Stir in the cream.  Thicken with flour and season with salt & pepper.
- Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.
- Meanwhile for the pasta, cook pasta as directed on package. Melt butter in skillet on medium high. Add garlic and saute. Drain pasta; stir pasta into the butter and garlic, season well with salt and pepper.
- Serve the meatballs hot on cooked spaghetti, drizzle the remaining sauce on the meatballs and pasta, and pass the grated Parmesan. (I sprinkled a little dried parsley on the top too)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Roasted broccoli with Red Chilli Flakes and Garlic

I'm a essentially a carnivore by nature.. and I avoid certain greens at all costs.  However, I do like broccoli, not so much for the taste, but their texture.  I like that the florets are soft, but their stems have a rather crunchy texture when you bite into them.   

Well, I decided that I had to 'detox' yet I wanted something with a bite.. So broccoli it was! 
The recipe called for red pepper flakes, but I didn't have any and used chilli flakes instead.  I added more than a pinch cos I'm a true Singapore girl.. Give me spice any time!  ;)  I haven't quite perfected my art of stir-frying vegetables, so any recipe that just calls for throwing food into the oven works out more than fine for me.  And I have to say that the lemon juice adds freshness to the vegetables!

Roasted Broccoli with Red Pepper Flakes and Garlic (adapted from William Sonoma's 'Good Food to Share')
serves 4-6 as a side dish

750g broccoli heads, ends trimmed
1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
3 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes (I used red chilli flakes)
Sea Salt

- Preheat the oven to 200*C
- Cut the broccoli lengthwise into spears 4-6 inches long.  Using a vegetable peeler, peel off any dried or bruised skin from the stems.
- Arrange the spears in a single layer in a roasting pan.  Pour the olive oil over the spears, then sprinkle with the lemon juice, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Toss to coat thoroughly.
- Roast, turning once about halfway through the cooking time, until the broccoli is tender and the tips and outer edges are crisp and browned, about 15 minutes.  (The broccoli was still a little too crunchy after 15 minutes, I would increase roasting time to 20 minutes the next time).  Serve right away with an extra squirt of lemon juice and a few pinches of sea salt.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A New Year & a Friend's Shepherd Pie

I began 2012 with a group of good friends.

We used to be colleagues. Now, I can gladly call them friends instead of the "c" word since I left the company last year. Mdm Fu Ting Ting (as Edmund would call to irk her I think) makes a great shepherd's pie which she lovingly *ahem* makes for us every Christmas. Since I am no longer with the company, I didn't get to have a slice of pie last Christmas. Also, she decided to channel all her energy to making blueberry cream cheese muffins for everyone. The muffins were a big hit too.. But we will focus on the pie for now.

To get a taste of her pie, I decided to have her share her recipe with me and feature her on my blog, and have a nice get together at the same time. So, we trudged to Mdm Fu's pretty (x 10) house on the morning of 1 January 2012.

Though the recipe is rather easy, it was quite a lot of work.  I am thankful that the 2 men were around to mash the potatoes (always need men to do menial labour.. hahaha).  It was fun cooking (and eating) together! Hopefully we get to do this again next year (But we'll probably not plan it on new year's day.  The men were rather zombiefied after partying too hard the night before)

Shepherd's Pie (contributed by Ting Ting)
serves 8-10

400g of minced beef
a pack chicken/pork/beef sausages, sliced
a punnet of mushrooms (we used swiss brown)
5 yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
2 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp corn starch
2-3 tbsp red wine
2 tbsp olive oil

Mashed Potatoes:
10 russet potatoes
1 cup of milk
2 tbsp of butter

3 cups of shredded cheddar (we used a mix of red and white cheddar)
1/4 cup of grated parmesan

- Marinate the beef with light soy sauce, salt, pepper and cornstarch.  Heat oil in a pan. Add garlic and fry till fragrant.  Add the onions and fry till tender.  Add the mushrooms and fry till brown.  Add sausages, beef and red wine. Cook till beef changes colour.  Lastly add in the tomatoes and remove pan from stove.  (There's no need to fry the tomatoes as they will cook while placed in the oven later)
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 220*C.  Boil potatoes in a pot of salted water for 15-20minutes until tender.  Drain the potatoes and peel them.  Mash the potatoes up with the butter, and mix the milk in slowly till the potatoes reach a smooth consistency (It may require more than 1 cup of milk).  Add salt & pepper to taste.
- In an ovenproof dish, smear a thin layer of mashed potato till it fully covers the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle a little cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese above the potato.  Next, layer the cooked meats above the potato, sprinkle a little more cheese above the meat.  Layer the remaining mashed potato above the meat and top the potato with the rest of the cheese.  Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes till the mash potato turns golden brown.  Serve hot.