Friday, May 31, 2013

chocolate olive-oil cake: gluten-free, dairy-free, amazingly moist

Confession: This was my second attempt at making this cake.

I wanted to make this cake the moment I saw the recipe. It looked like it was going to be one of those dense and moist cakes.

Added to that, this is a cake that does not contain wheat or dairy so if you have friends who are dairy- or gluten-intolerant, it is the perfect cake for them.

The first time round, I did not have ground almond, so I used flour instead. I experienced one nightmare baking session. I think I probably over beat the batter (because I was also cooking something else at the same time) and my helper did not close the springform tin properly so my batter started leaking in the oven.

Oh it was horrid.

The thing that came out of the oven was lop-sided and dry. It was not a cake. It looked more like a badly disfigured Frankenstein's monster's face. ARGH.

Refusing to give up, I had a go again today.

This time, I made sure I had ground almonds. And I double checked the springform tin.

Only when that was done that I got round to making the cake.

Joy! It really was an easy cake to make.

The first thing I did was to measure the cocoa powder and whisk it with the boiling water until it became a smooth but runny paste. I added the vanilla extract and set this aside.

You need to use a really good chocolate for this recipe. No good chocolate? Bake something else.

Then I combined the ground almond and the bicarbonate of soda in another bowl. This was also set aside.

The sugar, olive oil and eggs were placed a bowl and beaten. (Use normal olive oil. NOT extra-virgin olive oil).

Until they became light and pale.

Then I added the cocoa mixture.

And beat to mix.

The last thing I did was to add the ground almond, which was also beaten into the batter.

Then I put the batter into my already prepared tin.

The batter was very runny, which was the right consistency.

I baked my cake for 40 minutes - my oven is slightly hotter.

And this time, it came out right. :)

The cake was left to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before I removed the ring.

And allowed it to cool completely.

Oh god.

It was good.

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake (Serves 6-8)
Adapted from Nigellisima by Nigella Lawson

  • 150 ml regular olive oil (plus more for greasing)
  • 50 grams good-quality cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 125 ml boiling water
  • teaspoons best vanilla extract
  • 150 grams ground almonds 
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 200 grams caster sugar
  • large eggs

1. Preheat your oven to 170°C/gas mark 3/325ºF. Grease a 22 or 23 cm/ 9inch springform tin with a little oil and line the base with baking parchment.
2. Measure and sift the cocoa powder into a bowl or jug and whisk in the boiling water until you have a smooth, chocolatey, still runny (but only just) paste. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then set aside to cool a little.
3. In another smallish bowl, combine the ground almonds with the bicarbonate of soda and pinch of salt.
4. Put the sugar, olive oil and eggs into the bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment (or other bowl and whisk arrangement of your choice) and beat together vigorously for about 3 minutes until you have a pale-primrose, aerated and thickened cream.
5. Turn the speed down a little and pour in the cocoa mixture, beating as you go, and when all is scraped in you can slowly tip in the ground almond mixture.
6. Scrape down, and stir a little with a spatula, then pour this dark, liquid batter into the prepared tin. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the sides are set and the very centre, on top, still looks slightly damp. A cake tester should come up mainly clean but with a few sticky chocolate crumbs clinging to it.
7. Let it cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, still in its tin, and then ease the sides of the cake with a small metal spatula and spring it out of the tin. Leave to cool completely or eat while still warm with some ice cream, as a pudding.
We are the DinoFamily

Thursday, May 30, 2013

haemul pajeon: korean seafood pancake

I like Korean food.

Well, not that I know many Korean dishes, but those that I have tried, I do like. Except Kongnamulguk, or Kongnamul-anything. As far as I am concerned, bean sprouts should not be classified as "food". *SHUDDER*

The LAM, on the other hand, detests Korean food. He does not like any form of kimchi, he dislikes cutting meat with a pair of scissors instead of a knife, and he does not like the sour-sweet-spicy taste that is common in so many Korean dishes.

The one thing that he will eat, and actually does like, is Pajeon.

We first ate pajeon at some Korean restaurant a few years ago, and the poor man was virtually on the verge of starvation when they brought out this dish. The LAM tried it and promptly christened it "Korean Pizza".

I always use lots of spring onion when I make pajeon. I love spring onion, and when they are cooked in this way, even the kids happily tuck in, never mind the vegetables.

I washed and cut the spring onion into rather large chunks. It is, after all, the star of the dish. ("Pa" meaning spring onion, and "jeon" meaning pancake).

I used pajeon pre-mix to make my pajeon. I have made it from scratch as well, and it is also really simple, but I always keep a pack of pre-mix for days when I am in a really hurry, and this week has been one of those weeks in which I have 101 things to do.

If you would like to make pajeon from scratch, I have also included the recipe below.

To the pre-mix, I added cold water and whisked to combine to form a batter. The batter must be thin if you want a crispy pancake.

Then I added my seafood - prawns as it was all I had in the freezer, but most times I would also add squid.

And all the spring onion.

Using a spoon, I stirred the mixture to coat the ingredients with the batter.

In a frying pan (I used a 28cm pan), I added the vegetable oil and once the oil was very hot, I poured the entire lot of mixture into the pan.

Using a spoon, I pushed the batter and ingredients to spread them out.

All that was left to do was to wait for the pajeon to brown. This may take a while - about 5-10 minutes, depending on how hot your stove can get.

Don't walk away.

Once the bottom of the pajeon is brown - you can peek periodically to check - flip it.

Wait for the other side to brown. DUM-DEE-DUM.

Cut the pajeon into pieces and serve it HOT, with the dipping sauce if you wish.

맛있게 드세요. :)

Haemul Pajeon (Serves 4)

150g Pajeon pre-mix
255 ml cold water
200g prawns, or 100g prawns and 100g squid, cut
1 bunch spring onion, cut
2 tbs vegetable oil

1. Whisk pre-mix with cold water.
2. Add prawns and spring onion.
3. Stir to mix with a spoon.
4. Heat oil. Pour batter and ingredients into pan.
5. Fry until brown.
6. Flip, and brown other side.
7. Serve hot with dipping sauce, if desired.

For the dipping sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 tbs rice vinegar
1 stalk spring onion, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp Korean dried hot chilli pepper flakes (optional)

1. Combine all the ingredients and stir to mix.

Pajeon Batter
2 cups plain flour
2 eggs
3 tsp potato starch
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cups cold water

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

sesame oil chicken 麻油鸡

Sesame oil. How I love sesame oil!

During my confinement, I ate sesame chicken almost everyday. It was the one dish that I really did not mind eating on a daily basis.

I love the smell of sesame oil.
It reminds me of my childhood.
It reminds me of my mom.
It reminds me that I am Chinese.

And I love how the smell lingers for a while in the house even after the dish has been eaten. HMMMM :)

As with most things I cook, my recipe for Sesame Chicken is fast and easy. The dish can be left in the slow cooker over-night, or for the day while you are out at work and it slowly finishes cooking.

When I was single and still in the teaching profession, I would place the chicken in the slow cooker and turn it on before I went to work. When I got home, all I had to do was to cook rice and I had a yummy dinner and enough to bring to work for lunch the following day.

I started by marinating the chicken. While I believe that at most times, marinating the chicken for an hour or so improves its flavour, it really is a step that you can omit here if you do not have the time. I really do not think it makes that much difference to the end result in this case.
Since I had some time, the chicken was left marinating in the fridge for about an hour.

After which, all I had to do was to peel and cut the ginger into large slices so I could fish them out later.

In a heated wok, I added sesame oil. You need quite a bit of oil for this. It is not called "Sesame Oil Chicken" for no reason. Forget what they say about going easy with sesame oil because it is so strong, so pungent, blah-blah-blah. Be brave and pour the whole lot in, I say!

Once the oil was hot, add the ginger and garlic. The oil will start bubbling.
Which is a good sign.

Fry the ginger and garlic for about 3-5 minutes.

Add the chicken all at once. You need to use a chicken that has been chopped into pieces for this dish. The chicken bones add to the flavour of the dish. I have tried using only the drumlets or the thighs but the flavour was nowhere as good.
Stir to combine and added the soy sauces and the pepper.
Add the water. You can either place everything into a slow cooker and cook on AUTO for about 4-6 hours, or continue cooking in the wok (stirring occasionally) with a lid on for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through, and the sauce has thickened.

That's it!

Serve the chicken with rice. And slowly savour the wonderful flavour of the sesame oil.

Sesame Oil Chicken 麻油鸡 (Serves 4)

1 chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces (skin on)
1 piece ginger, about the size of your thumb, sliced
1 tbs garlic, minced
1/2 cup sesame oil
2 tbs light soy
2 tbs dark soy (more if you prefer the sauce to be darker)
2 cups water
1/4 tsp white pepper, grounded

To marinate chicken:
4 tbs oyster sauce
3 tbs light soy
1 tbs sesame oil
1/4 tsp white pepper, grounded

NOTE: If you do not marinate the chicken, then add the marinating ingredients to the sauce.

1. Heat wok and sesame oil. Add ginger. Fry until fragrant.
2. Add minced garlic. Fry for 1-2 minutes.
3. Place chicken pieces in wok. Stir to combine.
4. Add all the sauces, and white pepper.
5. Stir until well mixed. Add water.
(a) Place everything into a slow cooker and cook on AUTO for 4-6 hours
(b) Put a lid on wok, cook on a medium fire for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

crispy noodles: a matter of assembly

What is it with me and egg whites? For some bizzare reason, I always have egg whites lurking around in my fridge. It is no wonder that I've had to think of 101 ways to use them up!

Today I had about 5 egg whites, left over from my baking. Since I had already made meringues a couple of weeks ago, it was way too soon for another egg-white dessert.

I decided to make crispy noodles today. Of course this being the home-made version, I needed it to be simple and quick. I depend on the hot broth to soften my noodles and since the noodles are already pre-cooked anyway, my recipe for crispy noodles is simple. Very, very simple.

So simple, in fact, it is a matter of assembly.

I bought my crispy noodles from the supermarket. You can get really big ones, or smaller versions like the one I got.

In a heated wok, I added some vegetable oil and stir-fried the garlic. Once it was slightly brown at the edges, I poured stock and water into my wok.

Once the stock started boiling, I blanched my ingredients one at a time - vegetables, prawns, squid and chicken breast. Once cooked, they were removed from the wok using a strainer. The chicken breast was then shredded, and these were set aside.

The rest of the ingredients (which were already cooked) - the ngor hiang and the fish cakes - were sliced and set aside.

To my stock, I added the slushy mixture of potato starch and water, and stirred until I achieved the consistency I wanted. It should be thick and glossy. I then turned the fire off, and added the egg whites, salt and pepper.

To serve, assemble the ingredients. First the vegetables and shredded chicken.

Then the fish cake, Japanese fish cake and fish ngor hiang.

Followed by the prawns and squid.

I topped everything with fried shallots and cubes of lardon. Then I added some broth and it was time to eat!

There you go. My super simple crispy noodles. Enjoy!

Crispy Noodles In Thick Broth (Serves 4)

4 crispy noodles
300g green leafy vegetables (like cai xin or endives), cut, washed and drained
1 chicken breast, poached and shredded*
12 prawns, shells removed and de-veined*
1 squid, cut*
2 pieces ngor hiang, sliced *
2 pieces Japanese fish cake, sliced*
2 pieces fish cake, sliced*
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 litre water
2 tbs garlic, minced
2 tbs vegetable oil
4 tbs potato starch, added to 4 tbs water (at room temperature), stirred to remove all lumps
1 tbs fried shallots (optional)
1 tbs lardon (optional)
5 egg whites
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Ground white pepper (adjust to taste)

*Can be substituted with other meats/fish.

1. In a heated wok, add vegetable oil and fry garlic.
2. Add water and stock. Bring to boil.
3. Blanch vegetables, then prawns and squid. Set aside.
4. Cook chicken breast. Cool, then shred. Set aside.
5. Slice fish cake, ngor hiang and Japanese fish cake. Set aside.
6. Add potato starch and water mixture to stock. Stir until stock thickens. Add more potato starch/water mixture if you prefer a thicker broth. Turn off heat.
7. Season with salt and pepper, add egg white. Wait a few minutes before stirring.
8. Assemble and serve immediately.


Monday, May 27, 2013

linguini carbonara

The LAM's favourite pasta dishes are Linguine Carbonara and Lasagna. We often have lasagna for dinner but I rarely cook it since the LAM makes a lasagna that puts mine to shame any day - and mine is pretty tasty!

So, the other day I went out shopping, and (sort of) forgot the time (a little). I blame this on the cursed shoe shops that kept distracting me. It was about 4-ish when I realised that I had not made any preparations for dinner. In a state of near panic, I mentally went through the list of things I could whip out quickly, with minimal ingredients, as I had no time to defrost anything.

I suppose I could have ta-bao-ed dinner, but it just did not occur to me to buy dinner since it is such a rare thing for us to do.

The thing that popped into my head was carbonara since all I needed were eggs, Parmesan and pancetta. The eggs and Parmesan I already had in the fridge, and I could pick up some pancetta on the way home. Perfect!

Normally the LAM would cook the carbonara but this time round he was busy so I made it instead.

For years, I used to make Carbonara with bacon. There were two good reasons for this. The first being that pancetta is a lot more expensive than bacon. And I thought, you know, since bacon is already so darn tasty, why spend more money to get something that is similar? But having tasted pancetta, I have to say that I would never, ever go back to using plain old bacon (pooh! pooh!) to make carbonara sauce ever again. Yes. It is THAT good.

The second reason was that until pretty recently, it was all but impossible to get pancetta in Singapore. Even today, I know only of 2 places where I can find them - Market Place by Jason's (and selected Cold Storage outlets if you are lucky) and Oh Deli along Upper East Coast Road. I am sure they are available in many more places but we live in the East and I am not tracking all the way to the butcher specialty shops in Bukit Timah to buy pancetta!

So, anyway, back to my carbonara.

I got the butcher to cut my pancetta into slices that were quite thick - 8-10mm. Because there isn't any other ingredients with any texture or bite in this dish (the only two being the linguine and the pancetta), I think it is important that the pancetta stands out. In any case, I only needed to use 2 slices of the pancetta for the LAM and myself, so at the end of the day it is not a lot, really.

To get started, I placed the linguine in a pot of boiling water that I had already salted. This was cooked according to the the instructions given by the manufacturer.

I cut the pancetta into cubes, and fried them in a frying pan with a little olive oil to crisp them up as well as to allow the pancetta to render its fat.

Once the pancetta was crispy, I placed them on some kitchen towel to drain. 

In the meantime, I separated the yolks from the whites, and placed them in a bowl. To this, I added the heavy cream, half the the Parmesan cheese, and the black pepper.

I whisked this to combine.

Once the linguine was drained, I placed the pancetta into the egg mixture, added the linguine and stirred (and toss of you must) to combine.

The dish was done. The residual heat from the freshly cooked linguine will cook the eggs and the sauce will stay smooth and silky. You DO NOT want scramble eggs linguine. *SHUDDER*

I seasoned the dish with some salt and more black pepper and topped it with the remaining Parmesan cheese, and served it immediately.

Heavy cream, loads of cheese, pancetta and barely-cooked eggs - this dish is not for everyone but it is definitely simplicity at its best.

Buon Appetito!

Adapted from Happy Days with the Naked Chef by Jaime Oliver

250g linguine (or any other pasta), cooked according to the instructions given by the manufacturer, and drained
2 pieces pancetta, cut 8-10mm thick and cubed OR 300g bacon, cut into small slices
olive oil
3 egg yolks
5 tbs heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Freshly ground pepper
Salt, to taste

1. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente (check the package for cooking time). 
2. While the pasta’s cooking, slowly fry the pancetta in a little oil until crispy. 
3. Break it up a bit, then put to one side. 
4. In a bowl, whip up the egg yolks, cream and half the Parmesan. 
5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately toss it with the warm, crispy pancetta and the egg mixture. 
6. Season well, using plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and add extra Parmesan to taste. 
7. Serve straight away, with a big bowl of salad and nice bottle of red wine.

Friday, May 24, 2013

blueberry crumb cake

Anyone who is as mad about baking as I am would have heard of Dorie Greenspan. I suppose Dorie Greenspan is to us bakers the equivalent of Julia Child is to chefs.

I have a copy of Baking: From My Home To Yours, and I have tried a few of the recipes found inside. The book is worth its weight in gold. What excites me is that every recipe I had tried thus far have worked! There is actually an online baking club called Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) where members take turns to host a bake-off each week from Dorie's book and write about their experiences in their blogs. How awesome is that! :)

This week I decided to make Dorie's Blueberry Crumb Cake. As with all of her recipes, there are quite a few steps to follow. The method is not difficult by any means. It is simply that Dorie is just very specific and it is almost like she is there in the kitchen telling you what to do when you bake.

Crumb cakes, to me, are so American. I suppose it is the difference in the textures found in one cake that makes it so appealing - you have the tender bite of the cake at the bottom, and the crunchy texture of the crumbs at the top.

I started by making the crumbs. I suppose one can always do everything by hand, but I prefer to handle the butter as little as possible because I do bake in quite a warm kitchen and I do not want to risk the butter melting even more from the heat from my hands.

I chopped the walnuts with a knife. I could have blitzed them in the food processor but there is something about chopping walnuts that I really like.

All the ingredients for the crumbs - the sugars, the flour, the salt and the butter were placed in a food processor and pulsed, just until the mixture started to hold together.

The walnuts were added to the crumb mixture, and mixed together with a spatula. A piece of cling wrap was placed on the mixture, and it was kept in the fridge. This would allow the butter to harden again and make a crunchy crumb topping. It is important to start with this step - do not be tempted to make the cake before the crumb mixture!

The amount of crumb mixture I had did not look like much, and I was worried that there might not be enough, but there was, so there is not need to panic like I did :)

To get started on the cake, the frozen blueberries were placed in a bowl and 2 teaspoons of flour was sifted directly onto the blueberries. Using my finger tips, I tossed the blueberries to coat them. This prevents the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the cake when baking.

I sifted the dry ingredients and whisked to mix them. The dry ingredients were then set aside. When measuring flour, always use a spatula or the back of a knife to level the flour. You do not want a heaped cup of flour unless the recipe calls for it. Getting your measurements right is crucial in baking!!

I grated the zest of an orange (I ran out of lemons) directly into my mixing bowl. Using my fingertips, I rubbed the sugar and orange zest together. This produced a sugar mixture that was moist and smelled heavenly!

The butter was added, and beaten at medium speed until the mixture became light. This took about 3 minutes. An egg was added and beaten for another minute. Then I repeated the process with the second egg, and lastly, the vanilla extract.

At this stage, the mixture looked like it had curdled.

But it will smooth out, so there is no need to worry.

The flour was added in 3 parts, along with the buttermilk in 2 parts (flour-buttermilk-flour-buttermilk-flour) and a thick, creamy batter was formed at the end.

The berries were folded into this mixture. Be gentle.

The batter was transferred to a lined and greased baking pan and the top was smoothed gently with a spatula.

The crumb mixture was broken up and placed on top of the cake. I pressed the crumbs down very gently to get an even layer.

My cake was baked in 50 minutes - you need to understand your oven so you can adjust the baking time. The cake is done when a skewer emerges cleanly after being inserted into the thickest part of the cake.

It was allowed to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before I transferred it onto a cooling rack.

I cut the cake. My helper and I each took a bite at the same time, and we both went HMMMMMM! The base of the cake was tender and a little sour from the blueberries but this was balanced by the top of the cake which was crunchy and not overly sweet.

Even the LAM approved - and that is saying A LOT. :)

*The cake is best serve on the day it is made but it can be wrapped well and kept overnight at room temperate. You can use all berries, except strawberries (as they are too wet) as well as with slices or cubes of soft fruits like peaches, nectarines, apricots or plums.

Blueberry Crumb Cake (Serves 8-10)
Adapted from "Baking: From My Home To Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

    For the crumbs:
  • 70g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • For the cake:
  • 1 pint (2 cups) fresh blueberries (preferably fresh, or frozen, not thawed)
  • 2 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon or 1/4 orange
  • 85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 175C. Butter an 8x8-inch pan (Pyrex is great for this) and put it on a lined baking sheet.
  • To make the crumbs: Put all the ingredients except the nuts in a food processor and pulse just until the mixture forms clumps and curds and holds together when pressed. Scrape the topping into a bowl, stir in the nuts and press a piece of plastic against the surface. Refrigerate until needed. (Covered well, the crumb mix can be refrigerated for about 3 days.)
  • To make the cake batter: Using your fingertips, toss the blueberries and 2 teaspoons of the flour together just to coat the berries; set aside. Whisk together the remaining 2 cups flour, the baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Working in the bowl of a stand mixer or in another large bowl, rub the sugar and zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the butter and, with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the sugar with the butter at medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for about 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla extract. Don’t be concerned if the batter looks curdled — it will soon smooth out. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, the flour in 3 parts, the buttermilk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients). You will have a thick, creamy batter. With a rubber spatula, gently stir in the berries.
  • Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top gently with the spatula. Pull the crumb mix from the refrigerator and, working with your fingertips, break it into pieces. There’s no need to try to get even pieces — these are crumbs and they’re supposed to be lumpy and bumpy and every shape and size. Scatter the crumbs over the batter, pressing them down ever so slightly.
  • Slide the sheet into the oven and bake 55 to 65 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool just until it is warm or until it reaches room temperature.
  • Serving: Like all good coffee cakes, this needs nothing but coffee — or tea.
  • Storing: Best served the day it is made, the cake can be wrapped well and kept overnight at room temperature. We are the DinoFamily