Monday, September 30, 2013

pasta alla marlboro man

This pasta dish appeals to me on so many levels.

It is so easy to cook.

It is so rustic.

It contains Rigiatoni. And I really like Rigiatoni.

It is so flexible - I substituted beef with pork and used chopped instead of whole tomatoes. You can even add some carrots or peas if you wish.

In my Dutch oven, I added some extra- virgin olive oil and sauteed the onions until they became soft and translucent.

Into this, I added minced garlic and continued to cook for a minute.

Since I forgot to buy minced beef, I used minced pork instead.

I cooked the minced pork until it was cooked through.

I added salt, black pepper and dried thyme.

And gave that a stir. Then in went the chopped tomatoes, since I did not have canned whole tomatoes.

The tomatoes were stirred to mix with the rest of the ingredients before I covered the Dutch oven with a lid and turned the heat to low.

This was cooked for about 30 minutes. I gave the contents a stir or two occasionally.

Once the sauce was ready, I cooked the Rigiatoni. I took 2 minutes off the recommended cooking time.

The Rigatoni was drained (reserve some pasta water) and placed into the Dutch oven. I stirred to combine the pasta with the sauce.

I added Parmesan.

And stirred.

If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to thin it.

And served the pasta immediately.

Easy, and totally comforting.

Pasta alla Marlboro Man (Serves 4-6)
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

2 tbs olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1kg minced beef, or pork, or chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 grounded black pepper
1.5 tsp ground thyme - I used dried thyme
2 cans (14 Ounce) whole tomatoes - I used chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
500g Rigiatoni

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet or pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook a couple of minutes, until starting to turn translucent. Add garlic and stir, cooking 1 minute, making sure not to brown the garlic.
2. Add ground beef and cook until brown. Drain most of excess fat. (Pork has less fat, so I omitted this step.)
3. Add salt, pepper, and ground thyme. Stir to combine.
4. Dump in canned tomatoes with their juice. Stir, reduce heat to low, and cover pot. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Uncover the pot and cook an additional 30 minutes.(Since I used minced pork, I omitted the last step here.)
5. Cook rigatoni according to package directions—don’t overcook! (I cooked mine for 2 minutes less than the recommended time.)
6. Drain and place individual portions into bowls. (I mixed the pasta directly with the sauce.)
7. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan into the sauce. Check and adjust seasonings. Ladle sauce over cooked pasta, sprinkle with more Parmesan, and serve.

I am submitting this recipe for Cook like a Star hosted by Zoe from Bake for Happy KidsYen from Eat Your Heart Out and Mich from Piece of Cake.

Friday, September 27, 2013

japanese strawberry shortcake

The first time I saw this recipe, I was so intrigued by it I wanted to make the cake immediately. Unfortunately, I did not have strawberries, and I did not have the time.

Then I realised that the recipe was a little more complicated than I had thought it to be. So in the end, I actually watched the video about 5 times before I made this cake.

I can't say it is a difficult cake to make. It is just that the Japanese are generally so methodical in how they do everything and I wanted to be sure that I followed the instructions correctly.

To start, I placed the eggs and sugar in a heat-proof bowl over a ban-marie or a warm water bath. I whisked the eggs and sugar with a hand whisk until the mixture had reached body temperature. (Dip your clean fingers into the mixture to check periodically.)

Once that happened, I transferred the mixture into my mixing bowl and whisked the mixture on HIGH until it became very light and pale, and has roughly tripled in volume (this may take a while, especially if you are using a hand-held electric mixer).

It took my bench-top mixer about 15-20 minutes. If you are unsure if the mixture is pale enough, keep mixing.

The flour was added in 3 batches, and I used a hand whisk to cut the flour into the mixture. BE GENTLE.

Then the cooled melted butter was added to the batter and I used a spatula to fold it in. BE GENTLE!

The batter was poured into the lined and greased baking tin from a height of about 30 centimetres.

Yes, you heard me right.

Just do it. I am sure there is a good reason for doing this.

No, I do not know why.

Scrape all batter at the end and add this to the side of the pan. I guess this helps to prevent a dome from forming.

For all you people out there who like baking cakes as much as I do, domes on cakes are just, well, totally undesirable.

You almost want to spit the word out. DOME. *PUI*

I lifted the pan and dropped it twice so the bigger air bubbles could escape.

Then I baked the cake.

Once done, I inverted the cake and cooled it with the pan covering the cake.

Again, I do not know why we need to do this.

But you know, when one is making a Japanese cake, it really pays to listen to the Japanese.

I made a light and fluffy cake.

And there was not a dome in sight!

I wrapped the cake in cling film, and kept it in the fridge as I did not have time to complete the cake that night.

The next morning, I made the rum syrup. All I did was to melt the sugar in the hot water, then added the rum.

This was set aside to cool.

In the meantime, I made the cream.

In a metal bowl, I added the whipping cream, caster sugar, vanilla extract and more rum!

I love this cake already. :)

Dutifully, I followed instructions. I set the bowl over a cold water bath, and started whisking with a hand whisk.

After 10 minutes, the cream looked like this.

At this stage, I was ready to tear my hair out.


It was going to take way, way, way too long.

I am sorry, dear Japanese recipe writers.

I am a little impatient.

Just a little.

So, I turned to Plan B.

Out came my electric hand-held whisk.

And it took me all of 10 minutes to produce this.

Thank you, my husband, for buying me the whisk!!

To assemble the cake (FINALLY!!), I sliced the cake horizontally into 2 halves.

Then I brushed on half the syrup.

And slathered on the cream.

The strawberries were hulled and halved, and then placed onto the cream.

I brushed the syrup on the other half of the cake and the placed it onto the first half.

Then I slathered the entire thing with cream.

And decorated the top of the cake as best as I could.

NOTE: I had whipped the cream earlier and kept it in the fridge to chill. I forgot to whip the cream again just before I frosted the cake, hence the result was not as pretty as it should have been. Also, because the whipped cream melts pretty fast, you will need to work very quickly or return the partially-frosted cake to the fridge to chill before continuing to frost.

Japanese Strawberry Shortcake (Serves 6-8)
Adapted from Ochikeron and The Little Teochew

*NOTE: This recipe makes one 6" cake.

For the Cake:
2 eggs, room temperature
60g caster sugar
60g cake flour, sifted
20g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Syrup:
1/2 tbsp caster sugar
20ml very hot water
1 tsp rum (I use Bacardi rum)
NOTE: I made double this amount for my cake. We prefer a moister cake.

For the Cream:
300ml dairy whipping cream (I used President)
1 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp rum (I use Bacardi rum) or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp vanilla beans

For the Filling/Decoration:
250g fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Beat eggs and sugar over a bain-marie (hot water bath) until the mixture warms up. This is to dissolve the sugar. The mixture should be pleasant to the touch - you can dip your finger in without getting scalded. Remove the mixture from the bain-marie and continue beating the egg mixture till it triples in volume and turns very pale (almost white).
2. Towards the last 2 to 3 minutes, beat on the lowest speed to stabilise the mixture and eliminate large bubbles. When the egg mixture has reached the "ribbon stage", sift in the flour a little at a time (I would recommend in 3 stages). Cut through the mixture with a wire whisk after each addition.
3. Sprinkle the cooled melted butter over the batter and fold in using a spatula.
4. Pour the batter from a height of 30cm into a lined tin. Towards the end, pour the remaining batter to one side of the tin.
5. Lift the tin and drop it gently onto the table top twice to eliminate air bubbles.
6. Bake the cake for 25 minutes. While it bakes, make the simple syrup solution. Dissolve 1/2 tbsp sugar in 20ml of very hot water. Then add rum. Stir to mix well and set aside.
7. Now, make the cream. Whip the cream, sugar and rum (preferably in a metal bowl) sitting over an ice bath. Whip till soft peaks form. Keep it chilled in the fridge, covered, at all times.
8. When the cake is done, turn it onto a cooling rack and allow it to cool with the pan covering it. Wrap using clingwrap when it is completely cooled if you do not intend to frost the cake on the same day (the cake keeps for 2 to 3 days, refrigerated). Otherwise, proceed to slice the cake in half, horizontally.
9. Now, brush sugar syrup onto the first layer of the cake (sliced side). This keeps the sponge cake nice and moist.
10. Spread a layer of cream and then top with halved strawberries. Add another layer of cream over.
11. Brush the remaining layer of cake (sliced side) with sugar syrup, then place it on top of the strawberries and cream. Proceed to frost the entire cake.
12. Any remaining cream can be plonked onto the middle of the cake for decorative purposes. The mound of cream helps "hold" the strawberry garnishes. You can use whole strawberries or halves, or a mixture of both, for decoration.
13. Keep the cake chilled until time of serving. The colder the cake, the easier it is to cut (and the yummier it is to eat!).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

allie the alligator (lantern)

Last year, the staff at Aden's school organised a celebration in school for the Mid-Autumn festival. A memo came in his Communication Book informing us of the date of the event, as well as to request that parents make a lantern using recycled materials with their kids.

Well, I thought, (1) most parents would be too busy to make lanterns with their kids, and (2) it was simply too difficult to get Aden to sit down to make anything since he was only 2 and had the attention span of a little puppy!

So I sent him to school on the day of the celebration with a Thomas the Train paper lantern.

And I was totally okay with that.

Well, that was until a few months later when I saw pictures of the event. Almost EVERYONE had a home-made lantern, and there was Aden, holding onto his obviously store-bought Thomas the Train lantern.


I was mortified.

So this year, we were again informed that the school had scheduled a celebration for the Mid-Autumn festival, and yes, this time I was adamant that Aden would go to school with a PROPER home-made lantern.

The thing was though, being a WAHM, I also don't have that much time to spare, so it had to be a project that was easy.

My recent obsession had been chiffon cakes. So since I buy the biggest eggs possible to make the chiffon cakes, what I do have a lot of are egg cartons.

Hence, after doing some research, I found this amazing woman who makes all sorts of craft work with her son.

And the result was this.

An alligator lantern!

Here's how the LAM and I made Aden his 99.5% made-from-recycled materials, and 100% home-made 'gator lantern.

I started by cutting an egg carton - one part for the body, and the other for the eyes.

I found a kitchen roll holder and used that for the rest of the body.

Using a hot glue gun, I stuck the bits together.

And did some painting, with Aden.

Gosh, I felt like I was back in school again.

When the green paint had dried, I painted the eyes white.

And waited for them to dry.

At this point, Aden looked at my "alligator" and was silent. Then,

Aden: What is that Mommy?
Me: An alligator lantern, Aden!
Aden: (silence)
Me: Does it look like an alligator?
Aden: No.
Me: ...

The next morning, I found an empty cardboard box. And drew some hands and legs.

After all these years, I am still hopeless at drawing.

I cut them.

And painted them.

They looked a bit creepy.

I painted the rest of the eyes and well as inside the tube at the mouth-end.

And using more hot glue, I stuck the arms and legs to the body.

Finally I drew and cut the teeth, and stuck that on too!

This was then passed to the LAM, who did a manicure for the 'gator (wasn't that sweet?), and painted the nostrils.

He also poked some holes and attached a fishing line to the alligator. From the garden, he found a broken branch, and tied the free end of the string to the branch.

And the lantern was done!

Now, I know I was supposed to have sat with Aden to make the entire thing, but he still has a attention span of a puppy and the mentality of a project Nazi so he could only give partial help.

So I promise, next year, when he is a little older and less bossy (I hope!), we will sit down and make the entire lantern together!

Linking up with Sandra for Talkative Thursdays!'s Talkative Thursdays