Saturday, March 31, 2012

Easy-bake dinner for two

How easy can dinners get? How about an all-in-one bake for dinner?

I'm a terrible cook. Period. My mother was an atrocious cook, but my brothers and I were all obese growing up.. explain that (^^)? And I take after her.. in a lot of ways. I think we are not the best of cooks because we are lazy.. the laziest kind possible. Hence, you would have noticed by now, I'm always cutting corners and making all-in-one meals.. all the time!

Here's another easy cheat dinner. Very little preparation required, especially if you are using organic veggies. Not needing to soak veggies helps cut down preparation time, I think. So all you need to do is just to marinade the meat. If you don't have the time, don't bother. But it'll taste better if you do (^^)

You can make up your own marinade. Whatever you have in the fridge or whatever you feel like. No right or wrong here. I used 1 tsp grated ginger, 1/2 tsp minced garlic, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tsp chilli flakes, 1 tsp sesame oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, to marinade 2 pieces of deboned chicken quarters (thigh part). Marinade for at least 30 minutes.

Use whatever veggies you have or like too. I like sweet yellow onions (quartered), carrots (cut to an inch thick), potatoes (quartered to an inch thick), tomatoes and blanched broccoli. And that's what went into my dinner tonight. Roasted yellow onions really goes well with broccoli (^^)

Now, you just bake the meat (skin side up) and veggies (except brocolli) in a foil-lined and oiled tray for at least 40 minutes or when chicken skin browns, at 200C in the oven. No turning required. So you can sit back and relax.. okay, maybe blanch your broccoli in between (^^). Super-duper easy, right?

Fatty hubby says the chicken tastes great, and dinner looks really nice. Best of all, he says my cooking skills are improving (^^).. Should I tell him how easy today's dinner was?

Easy, healthy and delicious (^^)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Easy pain de campagne ~ japanese recipe

I love bread.. especially the kind that are crusty hard outside, but chewy soft inside.

Breads that give your mouth a good workout.. and the more you chew, the more robust the flavours gets.. finally filling your palate with a myriad of wonderful textures and flavors! That's why I like rustic breads like baguettes or french loaf, pain de campagne or french country bread, sourdough breads and other hard breads.

I've not made bread for some time now. Then I just made simple breads and bagels. But I'm currently in love with pain de campagne with cheese and apricots. And I want to make that!

But the pain de campagne looks quite quite difficult for amateurs and home baking.. Till I found sandier pastures's easy japanese recipe which she found in This is an easier method of making pain de campagne, where no starter is used. I was sceptical about how the bread could turn out crusty as it looked just like any ordinary bread recipe. And I'm sure since there is no starter, the bread would not have a sourish aroma or flavor, as all pain de campagne should have. Anyways, since it's so easy, I gave it a shot (^^)

Pain de campagne (posted by sandierpastures

350g bread flour
50g all purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar (consider using 1-2 tbsp, 3 tbsp is too sweet really!)
2 tsp instant dry yeast
1/3 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter, room temperature
80ml milk
200ml water

1. Microwave milk and water for 1 minute. Add lukewarm milk and water together. Mix gently with spatula.

2. Combine all dry ingredients together. Add to milk+water mixture. Hand mix with spatula till combined for at least 2 minutes or when dough has come together.

3. Remove from bowl and knead in floured surface by 'smash and knead' method ~ pick up dough, drop on board and knead. Repeat 200 - 300 times. (I can't do that. ^^||.. so I cheated.. and used the mixer with a dough hook and kneaded for 30 minutes).

4. Place dough in oiled bowl and cover with damp cloth and let it rise for 45 minutes.

5. When dough has doubled, punch the center to release air. (Doing this, felt really good ^^). Then cover with plastic wrap and rest for 15 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and oil baking tray. Prepare/put water bath or a mugful of water in the oven. Baking stone too if using.

7. Shape the dough. Put on baking tray/stone. Dust dough surface with flour. Place dough in the oven.

*** After 1-2 minutes, remove dough to cut a cross or a few slashes using a sharp knife. The result will be better that cutting across the dough before putting in the oven. IT REALLY WORKS!!!

8. Bake for 45 minutes. You might want to check if the sides and bottom of the dough has turned crusty at 25 or 30 minutes.. If not, take out water bath and continue baking. If top is turning very brown, cover with foil. It's ok to bake for an extra 15-20 minutes. Remove and cool. 

This really is an easy recipe. Guaranteed success. It really looks gorgeous, exactly like a rustic country bread should.. crusty outside, soft inside. But taste wise, something is missing - not quite the wee sourish, hardy, robust pain de campagne I like. Though the inside's quite soft, a little chewy and has a slightly more dense texture than normal bread, it sadly lacks the flavors of a real rustic country bread. Nevertheless, this is still very good version of a crusty top bread.. with a slight reduction in sugar! And it's so easy to make.. can't complain. (^^) Thanks for sharing the recipe, sandier pastures.

A note though.. the bottom and lower sides of my bread did not turn out as crusty hard as the top. So if you have a baking stone, please use it.. If not, then I suggest you cover the top with foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, WITHOUT the water bath. That's what I did, but the bottom was still not as crusty as I wanted it to be. Maybe I should do this step earlier, maybe after 25 or 30 minutes of baking (?). Or maybe get a baking stone??

Anyways, this is good practice. Maybe I should be more adventurous next time, and do the "real" thing, starter and all (^^).

A surprisingly good crusty bread after all (^^)! Just reduce the sugar..

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I love, love butter cake!

I've been finding every excuse to bake butter cake.. again!

I really love the wonderful aroma and soft perfect texture of butter cake made using my favorite best moist butter cake ever recipe. All this is possible thanks to the many bloggers (and cookbook writers) who are generous enough to share wonderful recipes of their best butter cake recipe. Thank you for the many many happy bakes since (^^)!

my very 'sun-tanned' cake, despite the shorter baking time

I'm officially a butter cake convert! I think about eating and baking it all the time. I even feel like making one.. or two, every week! There have been times when I feel like baking it every other day!  (^^||) I have not given in to this temptation yet, for fear of over-dosing my piggies. But I do try to find every excuse to bake it (^^)!

And what better excuse than baby pig having friends over for a sleepover tonight. I've to bake them something, right? No? Anyways, I insist! (^^) They will need lots of energy to play.. they need sustenance.. they need my delicious vanilla dreams! That's butter cake disguised as a cupcake with frosting (^^).. only for kids.. or maybe an adult, or two... or more (^^)

vanilla dreams like no other

Well, I've finally managed to frost cupcakes today.. after watching a few how-to tutorials online. Look at my cupcakes! Not too bad eh? (^^) But today's an extremely hot day, and the frosting actually started to melt as I was frosting the 6th cupcake. This has never happened before, not even when I was slapping on frosting for 12 cupcakes. Even the cakes took 10 minutes less time to bake. Yes, it's that hot, today! Guess that's why my cakes look 'sun-tanned'and quirky-shaped too. No problem with the texture though.. absolutely soft and melt in the mouth.  

Anyways, I'm happy and very satisfied with my bake. Wonder if there's an excuse to bake butter cake again tomorrow.. hmm.. (^^)

I love butter cake with coffee in the morning. Me thinks this is the good life (^^)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gordon Ramsay's lemon tart

I've been dying to bake something.. anything! And piggies are not helping!

Nothing seems to tickle their fancy this week! And I'm out of ideas of what to bake.. Then I remembered the orange tart from levain's I had recently. The taste was extraordinary! The filling was lusciously soft and creamy. And that's what I want to make!

Alas, I have no oranges! Only lemons.. that's been sitting in the fridge for a month.. maybe 2 (^^||).. Guess when life gives you lemons, you make lemon tart (^^).

So I searched the net and found Gordon Ramsay's lemon tart. This recipe is quite similar to the one by theenglishkitchen.blogspot. Both uses cream for the filling, which sounds like what I'm trying to replicate. Better still, the recipe looks easy (^^).

Gordon Ramsay's lemon tart (found in bbc good food website)

6 eggs (2 whole, 4 yolks)
180g caster sugar
200ml double cream
2 lemons, juiced (I used 3 lemons, zest and juice.. don't!)
Icing sugar, to dust

50g dark chocolate, melted (double boil method)
Sweet pastry
125g unsalted butter
90g caster sugar (I used 75g)
1 egg
250g plain flour
1 tbsp cold water

1. Tart shell. Whizz butter and sugar in a food processor till just combined. Add egg and whizz for 30 seconds. Add flour and process for a few seconds until the dough comes together. Add cold water if dough is dry. Knead lightly on a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disc, and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oven to 190C. Roll pastry out and line a 20cm loose-based tart tin. Leave excess pastry hanging over the edge (I tried to, but the excess pastry just dropped off by itself! Maybe, the pastry's rolled out too thin.. Anyways, I used the excess pastry to make 2 smaller moulds (^^). Rest for 20 minutes in the fridge. Line the pastry with baking parchment and baking beans. Bake blind for 15 minutes, until the sides just begin to color. Remove beans and parchment paper and bake for another 5 minutes or until the base is cooked and lightly golden.

3. Brush the base with the melted chocolate and cool. Lower oven to 110C.

4. Whisk eggs and sugar together, and stir in the cream. Add lemon juice.

5. Strain the filling through a fine sieve into a jug. Pour half the filling into the pastry shell and put the pastry shell into the bottom oven shelf. Gently pour the remaining filling into the pastry shell.

6. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the filling is almost set. It should have a slight wobble in the centre. Trim excess pastry and leave to cool. (Don't worry about the bubbles, just put a cling film over the surface when cool, lift up and you'll have a smooth, beautiful surface)

I'm quite sure that I've over-done the lemons.. it sure is tangy.. so just use 2 lemons as the recipe suggests.. But the texture of the filling is exactly what I'm looking for, luscious, wobbly soft and creamy. I'm quite sure this recipe would make a fantastic orange tart! Just the way I like it (^^). I've found my orange tart recipe! Yay!

Anyways, only big pig seems to like this very 'tangy' tart (my fault). But after dusting with lots of icing sugar, it does taste better. Wonder if it'll taste better tomorrow.. fingers crossed (^^).

Sweet and tangy ~ big likes!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Moist blueberry cream cheese butter cake

I love the very idea of blueberries and cream cheese! It sounds delicious already (^^)

This is a recipe adapted from cook republic. You can also see an interpretation of this recipe by maameemoomoo ~ mixed berries cream cheese butter cake. So shy, my pictures look so amateurish compared to cook republic's and maameemoomoo's.. well, always room for improvement (^^||).  

Blueberry cream cheese butter cake (adapted from cook republic)

1 1/2 cups caster sugar (I used 1 cup.. save 1/2 cup to beat with egg whites later)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
250g butter, softened (unsalted)
250g PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese
1/3 cup milk (I added 1/2 cup milk, I wanted it really moist!)
3 eggs (I separated yolks and whites)

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celcius
2. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs (yolks) one at a time until fluffy. Add the cream cheese and milk. Beat until smooth.
3. Mix in flour until combined.
4. I was afraid that the cake might become too dense and not raising (too many bad experiences), so I decided to separate the eggs and beat the egg whites with some sugar till stiff. Gently fold it into the batter. 
5. Fold in the blueberries with a light hand. 
If using square pan, bake for approximately 50 minutes until a skewer in the middle comes out clean. Bake the loaf pan for approximately 35 minutes. If making cupcakes, 30 minutes will do.

As you can see, I baked them into cupcakes.. again. I'm trying to fool baby and chubby pig into eating this. They are not fans of fruits.. in any way! I'm just trying my luck. No luck, baby doesn't like the blueberries.. he likes the cake fine, but thinks it would be better if there was no "fruit jelly" in it! I don't think I'd be lucky with chubby either (><||) Kids! They say they like blueberry/strawberry cupcake.. but no fruit in it, please!

success ~ beautiful, wonderful texture!

Doesn't this look yummy? I made 12 cupcakes and 2 small loaves of cake out of this recipe. And it all turned out really well! Deliciously moist..and oh-so familiar... hmm, wait a minute! This tastes just like the cream cheese pound cake I made not too long ago! Sans the blueberries!

Yikes! After comparing both recipes, they are similar.. the proportion of butter, cream cheese, sugar and flour is almost the same too. No wonder this tastes familiar (^^).. And I still can't taste the cream cheese (??!!!) Tomorrow, maybe?

Anyways, fatty hubby really enjoyed this bake. He had 3 cupcakes in one night! And big pig  (and mama pig) likes it too, though he can't have too much 'cos papa pig's watching.. Let's see what chubby thinks.. And see how the flavors develop by tomorrow (^^)

Deliciously fluffy-smooth (?!) and moist!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not my karaage-day!

The day has come.. I made karaage today!

Do not be deceived by the looks.. it looks like karaage, but it tastes nothing like the karaage you get from japanese restaurants or food markets.. (><)

I'm not sure what I did wrong, but my karaage sure doesn't taste like it should. I followed the recipe from just hungry (check recipe here), except I used mirin instead of sake. It turned out nicely crisp on the outside, and succulent and juicy inside.. but the taste is not quite it.. I'm thinking if mirin could have changed the taste that much. Or could it be my use of the really "old" ginger that's been sitting in the fridge for 2 months??? I don't know (><||).

Sadly, I have to say that this is an unsuccessful attempt at making karaage.. However, this has been a slightly more successful attempt at deep-frying (^^). Guess all is not lost. Chicken's nice, though not as tasty as it should be. Fatty hubby's says it's still a good attempt. And the leftovers will be going into my japanese curry dinner tomorrow.. using ready-made paste, of course (^^)

Nice crispy, juicy fried chicken.. but not quite karaage. ^^

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Surviving short, short holidays

Ever flew more than 4 hours to stay for just 48 hours, or 72 hours? That's what I call a touch 'n go holiday!

Forget business trips. I mean holidays.. the shortest holidays possible.. It's crazy, but well, we've been doing that for the past 5 years! When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade!

Fatty hubby's a workaholic. Period. I'm a holiday-holic. So where do the trains meet? Short, short holidays, of course (^^)

Let me just tell you it's all possible! But you need to know what you really want. Are you there to see everything, eat everything and do everything? bzzzz.. wrong buzzer! There's no EVERYTHING, darlings! You can have some of everything, but never everything in such a short time.. whether 48 hours or 72 hours!

However, it can be EVERYTHING you want to do.. post making choices, of course. Didn't I just say you can't have everything? (^^)

Anyways, the best thing you can do on short, short holidays is taking it FREE and EASY.. that's my best advice to you. A little planning required, so you get to see 1 or 2 sights, eat lots and have the time to soak in the colors, flavors and smells of your holiday destination. That's important, I think.

DON"T spoil your holiday by making yourself like a refugee.. It may be a touch 'n go holiday, it shouldn't be a hit and run one! So what if you didn't get to see all the sights, eat all the food? The good thing about short trips is that it can be a sampler or run-in to your future "real" holiday (^^). And you can always come back, right!

Another thing to remember, if you have only such a short time, just stay put in one city.. enjoy and soak in the city. One place at a time is best. Remember, you can always come back and do the other city another time. Every place should be appreciated on its own and given enough time.

I have gone on quite a few organized tours to know that free and easy short trips are best. While organized tours takes you to most sights, there's no time to soak in the sights and worst, you don't get to taste much of the local food or snacks, authentic ones, at least. It's really a hit and run thing. Doing it on your own, lets you do exactly what you want, see, stay or eat at any time you want!

sorry, couldn't resist ~ gorgeous lake tekapo - south nz self drive 4-day medium short trip
While I'm envious of people who can take long holidays, I'm grateful for my short holidays. Every trip has been memorable and special in its own way. And I'd do them again.. and again.. it's that fun. Just lose the "I want to do everything, eat everything, BUY everything" mentality before you embark on a short trip. Loosen up and enjoy whatever comes your way (^^)!

take the time to smell the roses

Thus far, our short holidays are all about food and soaking in the local sights and atmosphere. Sights are secondary. It's been fail-proof. And here's a must-do to get the best from your trip ~ visit a local market! Whether it's a wholesale, local or even night markets! You can always find interesting things (and more authentic food ^^) there.

My top short holiday destinations:
1. Osaka
2. Seoul
3. Kyoto
4. Bangkok
5. Hong Kong
6. Chiang Mai

* all the cities mentioned above are well connected by subways and buses. Don't be afraid to do it on your own. You can easily get around even if you don't know the language. If we 'bananas' can do it, so can you!

I really like Japan and hope that I'll make it to Tokyo next. The stopover in Tokyo in 1999 really left a good impression for the rest of Japan. While I've made it to osaka, kyoto and hokkaido (long holiday) over the years, I've never been there since. So that's where I really want to go one day (^^).. soon!

Carpe diem, short, short holidays!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Easy fried rice with ham

Another cheat's dinner!

How easy can dinners get.. with fried rice? A bit more work than instant noodles because you'll have to have rice cooked first.. that's why you should always cook more rice than needed and save the leftovers in the fridge!

I ALWAYS cook extra rice. So I don't have to cook again the next day, or the next.. or the next (^^) lazy is as lazy does! More so, so that I can cheat a dinner cook out by making fried rice!

What's so easy about fried rice? It's basically adding whatever you want, but more importantly, whatever you have, to make a meal. No planning required! You can be as creative as you want. Add whatever seasoning or ingredients you fancy.. there's no right or wrong.

A fried rice is a fried rice even if you only add garlic or an egg (^^), and some seasoning.. Well, this is not the most balanced of meals, but it'll fill you up nicely. Here's what I found in the fridge for our dinner tonight.

Fried rice with lots of veggies and ham

2 bowls of cooked rice
1 bowl of frozen mixed veggies
1 slice of ham, sliced to small pieces
2 eggs
1 pip garlic, minced
3 shallots, sliced
2 tbsp soy sauce
Some chilli powder, optional
Pepper and salt, to taste
Some lettuce, finely sliced (optional)
Very little oil

* actually, everything is optional except rice and garlic or shallots, or eggs, and seasoning to make fried rice.

1. Saute garlic and shallots in a bit of oil till brown and fragrant. Push aside in the pan/wok, and fry eggs. Scramble when almost cooked.

2. Add frozen veggies and ham, and stir fry. Add rice and cook together. Mix in some lettuce if you like.

3. Season with soy sauce, chilli powder, salt and pepper.

4. Garnish with finely sliced lettuce for extra crunch.

I normally use non-stick pans for cooking, to avoid using too much oil. Feel free to saute garlic and shallots in more oil if you like. Professional cooks use quite a bit of oil to cook fried rice, so that each rice grain gets nicely coated and doesn't stick together. Since I'm not, and am only cooking to please myself, I shall cook it my way, with very little oil and definitely NO MSG! (^^)

I just realized I could have made a simpler dinner using the same ingredients! Better still a no-cook meal! Using staples like cooked rice, sliced/diced ham and finely sliced lettuce, and adding gochujang and sesame oil, I would have a cheat's BIBIMBAP! And top it with a sunnyside-up egg.. heavenly (^^)! Why didn't I think of it just now???

Not as tasty as the MSG-laden fried rice you get outside. Still it's simple, homey and nice, my fatty says so (^^)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Karaage from Isetan food market

We love karaage! I love karaage! Had to have some today!

See what osaka did to fatty hubby and me? (^^) Nay, it's not osaka.. I've always loved karaage. Piggies too. Fatty hubby's a recent convert, though.. maybe because we didn't leave much (or any) for him to eat most times (^^)! We can't help it! Don't you know, the early pig gets the pork??!

I really like the karaage at isetan food market in klcc.. and the grilled scallops in teriyaki sauce there too. Yes, we go all the way into the city just for this. We love to eat, remember? (^^).. and I can't deep fry (><)! But I'm really going to put an effort in making this. Look out for my version of karaage soon!

Since the karaage is kinda salty, I really like it with lots of rice (^^). And you should have noticed by now, I always need to have some vegetables with my meals.. so I blanched some broccoli. It's kind of a psychology-thing with me, that I need to have veggies with meals. It's my weird way of feeling "healthy" and more importantly, "balanced" when I get my veggies.. I really try to be good! (^^0|)

A simple, satisfying meal! A happy day! la-la-la..

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Easy chinese cabbage soup

An easy soup for one.. or two.

I'm on my own today. So it's going to be something really simple for dinner tonight. Here's my take on chinese cabbage or napa cabbage soup.

Easy chinese cabbage soup (recipe for 2)

1 medium sized chinese cabbage, cut to own preference
50-100g minced meat (depending on preference)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce (optional)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp mirin / chinese rice wine (optional)
a pinch of corn flour (optional)
1 - 1 1 /2 cups water

1. Marinade minced meat with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, mirin and corn flour.

2. Add chinese cabbage to boiling water. Mix in marinated minced meat. Bring soup to a boil.

3. Turn down fire and let soup simmer till cabbage is softened for about 25-30 minutes.

Another easy one-pot meal. A simple dinner where I get both my greens and protein. It's light and refreshing.. try it! You can have it on its own, with rice, or even add noodles to make it a really ONE-pot meal!

Delicious! Even fatty hubby thinks so too (^^)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Easy hot 'n spicy tom yum seaweed soup

Hot and spicy ~ perfect on a rainy night.

Fatty hubby's been asking for this one-pot soup for some time. And it's not anything special. Just something I whip up when we feel peckish in the middle of the night. All you need for this soup are simple, basic ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

Hot 'n spicy tom yum soup (recipe for 2)

1-2 tbsp tom yum paste (use your favorite)
Chili powder (season to your taste)
a pinch of salt
Seaweed (whatever you have ~ dried or seasoned, ready to eat)
2 eggs
1-1 1/2 cup water

Mix tom yum paste, chili powder and seaweed to boiling water. Add eggs last. Season with salt.

So easy, right? Anyways, to make it into a proper lunch or dinner dish, a one-pot meal - just add some greens, meat, mushroom or whatever you have in the fridge or freezer. And that's what I did.. added spinach and meatballs for last night's dinner. Yummy! And so easy! Another cheat's dinner (^^)

Hot, spicy and piquant! Fatty likes (^^)