Sundried tomato & mushroom risotto

Sundried tomato & mushroom risotto

Moving makes life miserable because you find yourself cooking up all sorts of things just to finish off that little bit of rice, dried goods or whatever else you have in the pantry. This time, it’s that small amount of arborio rice and a small box of sundried tomatoes. I didn’t really follow a recipe for this – just whipped it up based on what little I knew about risotto. I am familiar with making a basic risotto – onions, rice, white wine and stock. After that, it all depends on what you’d like to “flavour” it with.

This recipe is quite versatile, packed with flavour and suitable for kids & vegetarians. If you want to go even further and make it a vegan dish, skip on the butter and pork belly. For an added kick, you can add other varieties of mushrooms – shitaki, oyster, whatever rocks your both. You can even adapt it by omitting the tomato & mushroom combo, and replace it with zucchini, eggplant, pumpkin, broccoli, pea, seafood, prawns, ham…whatever you want, really.

Sundried tomato & mushroom risotto

Ingredients

Five handfuls arborio rice
1 cup sundried tomatos
1 cup sliced button mushroom
Beef stock (at least 1 to 1.5 litres)
1 medium-sized onion – diced
1/2 cup white wine
150 gms diced smoked pork belly (optional)
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Method

  1. Before you start cooking, soak the tomatoes in a pot of warm water until they are soft – I took about 30 minutes. Remove, chop into rough bits and place aside. Keep the water used for soaking the tomatoes – it will end up as part of the stock. In a pot, bring the beef (and tomato) stock (or water + beef stock cube) to a gentle simmer.
  2. In another pot, saute the diced onions and smoked pork belly (optional) in the butter and oil on a medium-high fire until soft but not brown. Add in the rice and stir until the grains are translucent. Add in the white wine and stir.
  3. Gradually add in the beef stock while stirring constantly. Add in the mushrooms and chopped sundried tomatoes. Continue to stir. Keep the mixture simmering and add more beef stock when necessary. The rice will absorb the stock as it cooks.
  4. Cook for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the stock.
  5. Remove from the heat, and add in the cheese as well as salt & pepper to taste. Mix well and serve immediately.
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Navel orange pound cake

Navel orange pound cake

This recipe wasn’t actually on my to-do list. A few days ago, I purchased some non-treated navel oranges on the stem with the intention of making a true orange pound cake. Then last night, I caught a very big baking bug and on whim, right after dinner, decided to bake up a yummy pound cake. Unfortunately, I was down just one egg so that required some google work and found Tutti Dolci’s recipe. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical at the idea of just 1 egg in a pound cake but decided to give it a try anyway.

I used Greek yogurt and skimmed milk as well as orange juice to keep it a stronger orange flavour. In place of regular sugar, I decided to try out this stevia and brown sugar blend which is supposed to be healthier and stronger in sweetness (you use only half of the amount of regular sugar called for in recipes). I also skipped the glaze because I didn’t want anything overly sweet for the kids and luckily too. I think with the glaze, the cake would be a bit tad on the sweet side.

The cake is not as rich as a typical pound cake but it is still strong in flavour. I find that the yogurt keeps the cake moist and less crumbly. Overall, this makes for a nice breakfast item or a tea treat. I’m tempted to make this again but with some chocolate chips or almond slivers.

Navel orange pound cake
Adapted from Tutti Dolci’s recipe here

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup regular sugar & 1/4 cup stevia-brown sugar mix)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Zest of 2 large navel oranges

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C and prepare a pan of your choice.
  2. Sift the flour, baking power, baking soda into a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, mix the orange juice, Greek yogurt and milk well and set aside.
  3. Add the zest to the sugar and mix well before adding in the softened butter. Mix together until light and fluffy before adding in the egg and vanilla extract. Stir well.
  4. Add half of the yogurt-milk-juice mix and stir well before adding in half of the flour mix. Stir well before adding in the other half of the yogurt-milk-juice mix and finish off with the flour mix. Fold in gently.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and cake springs back to the touch.
  6. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; carefully remove cake from pan and cool completely on wire rack.
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Lime meringue tart

Lime meringue tart

For a first try, this wasn’t too bad or so the hubby said. The curd has a lovely lime flavour that isn’t too sweet or tart. The meringue was fluffy, airy and had that “melt in your mouth” texture without coming across as chewy or gummy. The proportion of meringue to curd, more importantly, were just right. I did experience some issues with the curd not setting properly – David’s recipe called for a 10-minute bake but I reckon I’ll extend it further by another 5-10 minutes as mine didn’t really set that well. One thing to note too is that this tart definitely holds up better when it’s fully chilled. Cutting it when it’s still warm – even a little – will result in a very gooey mess.

I also experienced a little bit of beading on the top of my meringue – you can see a bead or two on top of the meringue in the picture above – and I read that this is due to either overbaking or humidity. While I can’t control the latter, I can definitely control the former. And that would be to baking the meringue at a very high temperature – above 200 C – for a short amount of time. Some people suggested adding a tiny bit of cornstarch to the egg white mix to help absorb excess batter and prevent overbeating. I might give both a try.

While the hubs down three slices – two in one go and shared his third with Eva – Noah didn’t seem to be a very big fan of the tarty flavours. After one lick of the curd, he decided that a lime tart wasn’t on his “to experience” list – too, well, tart!

Lime meringue tart

Lime meringue tart
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe here

Ingredients

(A) Tart shell
200 gms plain flour
25 gms /brown sugar
90-100 gms good-quality cold butter, cut into small cubes
A splash of water

(B) Curd
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
115 gms unsalted butter – diced
3/4 cup or 180ml freshly-squeezed lime juice (from 6 limes)
3/4 cups or 150 gms sugar
Zest from three limes
A pinch of salt

(C) Meringue
3 large egg whites
5 tbsp or 75 gms icing sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C and prepare a tart pan of your choice.
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl before adding in the sugar and cubing the butter into the flour mix.
    Rub the butter with the flour, using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Make a well in the center, add the water. Mix well until it forms a dough – add more cold water if necessary.
  4. When ready, remove from the fridge and roll out before covering the tart/pie pan. Remove excess dough from the top/sides, prick some holes in the base before pouring in the baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry is set. Remove the pastry shell from the oven, put aside
  5. While the pastry is baking, preparing the curd by warming the butter, lime juice, sugar, zest, and salt in a medium sized saucepan/pot over low heat.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and the yolks.
  7. Once the butter has melted, pour some of the warm lime juice mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly to temper the mixture. Pour the warmed eggs back into the saucepan (lime juice mix) and cook over low heat while whisking constantly. Cook the mixture – do not stop stirring – over low heat until the filling thickens and coats the back of the spoon (it should resemble soft jiggly jelly!). Do not let it boil.
  8. Remove and pour the curd into the baked tart shell. Jiggle a little to even the curd out and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the curd has set.
  9. While the tart is baking, start working on the meringue. Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and whisk until foamy before gradually adding in the sugar – take your time. Do not dump all the sugar at once; this will result in clumps and lumps forming.
  10. Beat your egg whites until they resemble stiff peaks (you can lift the whisk and the egg whites will hold its own shape OR place the bowl over your head – if you don’t have a mess on your hair, you’re good to go!).
  11. Once done, using a spoon, place dollops of the meringue over the entire surface of the hot lemon curd, starting at the outside edge of the tart. Make sure the meringue comes right up to the crust and there are no gaps between the crust and the lemon curd to prevent “weeping”. With the back of your spoon, gently press down on the meringue to get rid of any air pockets and to make sure all the lemon curd is covered with the meringue. You can choose to make some decorative swirls, if you like or just leave it as it is.
  12. Brown the top of the meringue using a broiler, flame torch or top grill of the oven. Once the top begins to darken, remove the tart from the oven and cool completely before slicing.

NOTE: Tarts are best eaten on the same day that they are made. If you want, you can store leftovers covered in the fridge.

Lime meringue tart

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Peanut butter swirl brownies

Peanut butter swirl brownies

After some weeks of monitoring my calorie intake, I decided to indulge a little plus I needed to use up some pantry goods, especially my whole wheat flour and dark chocolate. Initially I wanted to whip up a banana brownie but since the kids are going through a “crazy about peanut butter” phase, I decided to try out a new recipe. It took about 25 minutes to whip everything up and I did it while the kids were taking their evening bath/going through their wind-down activity. By the time Eva came out of the bathroom, the brownie was in the oven baking away and she settled on licking the spatula. Tehehehe.

There is something sinful about the salty crunch of the peanut in the peanut butter topped off with some amazing chocolate goodness. Eva enjoyed her 1.5 slices and Noah? He actually protested when I took my time feeding him the cake! This brownie came out a little cakey so if you like yours fudgy and chewy, bake it for only 30-35 minutes tops.

Peanut butter swirl brownies

Ingredients

(A) Brownie
120 gms butter
170 gms dark chocolate chips/pieces/chunks
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup muscovado sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1.5 tsp vanilla extract

(B) Peanut butter swirl
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
60 gms butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 160°C and prepare a pan of your choice.
  2. In a separate bowl, melt the butter and chocolate in a bain marie. Once done, set aside to cool.
  3. In a mixing bowl, add the whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well before adding in the eggs, vanilla extract and the melted chocolate mix. Fold gently by hand until well incorporated.
  4. Pour into a pan and set aside. Mix the ingredients for (B) in a bowl until they are well-incorporated. Pour over the brownie batter and swirl in. Take care not to overswirl – you may lose the contrast of the light brown and dark brown colours.
  5. Bake for 45 mins. Once ready, remove from the oven and cool in the pan completely before slicing the brownies. Enjoy on its own or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
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Laksa noodles from scratch…

Yummy asam laksa!

For as long as I could remember, I could never find laksa noodles for my homemade Penang asam laksa. I can find kuey teow or flat rice noodles, beehoon or vermicelli, tang hoon or mung bean noodles, a wide range of egg-based noodles but never laksa noodles. Heck, even soba and udon is easy to find.

So after some hunting around at my favourite Asian grocery store – Paris Store (there are no Asian shops here in Dole so I go to Paris Store in Lyon whenever I visit my mother-in-law) – I decided to take the plunge and make my own laksa noodles. The store stocked bags of Vietnamese flour mixes for all kinds of things and after looking at the packaging, I decided to try out the one that read “Rice Spaghetti” since it looked pretty much like a bowl of laksa.

It’s pretty much straight forward and reminded me of making glutinous rice balls. You basically cook one-third of the flour mix in some water until it thickens like glue. The remainder of the flour mix is mixed in with some more water. Once the “glue” is ready, it goes into the flour mix and here is when you get to exercise your muscles and mix everything until it resembles a semi-fluid glue mix. I had to add more water to get it down to the right consistency – somewhat like pancake batter. When that is right, pour some into a pipping bag and pipe some long strands into boiling water. They’ll float when ready and after that, just scoop up the floating noodles, toss them into cold water for a minute or two before you drain and set them aside.

When I first made these noodles, I made a rather watery batter and I wasn’t exactly organised. So it required two people – one to pipe the noodles and another to fish them out. Took me three tries to get everything to the right consistency, timing and cooking structure. In fact, my most recent attempt today saw me doing everything alone. From start to finish, it took less than 45 minutes. The result was approximately 1 to 1.5 kg of lovely springy freshly made noodles!

You could say that everyone savoured their rations, even Noah!

Laksa noodle flour Finished product

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Low fat banana cake

Low fat banana cake

In the quest of losing weight the healthy way, I have started to cut back on my diet, revamp my eating habits and regular exercise. The weight loss has been very slow – about 500 gms to 1 kg in three weeks – because I was still eating rather well. So I decided to get a little serious by doing some calorie counting. After just two days of counting calories, I must say that people really do overeat in terms of portions and the food itself. I found myself watching my portions when I cook and trying to stick within the 1200-calories-a-day limit with some success. It really isn’t all that difficult. The key is in finding substitutes and yes, portion control.

Since I have been developing a sweet tooth of lately – no thanks to my diet which has had me being restricted to no desserts and just fruits – I decided to find a low fat banana cake. I modified my own banana-based recipes with the general guidelines of substitution – applesauce for oil and whole wheat instead of bleached white flour. I wasn’t too sure how a 100% whole wheat cake would go down so I opted for the 50-50 approach.

The result is a approximately 130 calorie slice of banana cake – each slice is about 1 cm thick and oh so moist & delish! Noah loved it and kept crawling around the dining table as I was slicing the loaf up, begging for more – he got the crumbs because it was past his breakfast time and I don’t like the kids to eat continously all day long. I’ll give him half a slice for his snack later. I reckon this would go down quite well for breakfast – one or two slices would still leave me a good window for the remainder of the day plus the whole wheat element will keep me fuller.

Low fat banana cake

NOTE: If you’re after a richer indulgence, you can replace the applesauce with melted butter (or vegetable oil if you don’t want to live that dangerously). But that means a higher calorie count! Tehehehe.

Low fat banana cake

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup cake flour
2 eggs
3 large bananas – mashed
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 applesauce
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp skimmed milk (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  2. In a bowl, mash the bananas before adding in the sugar, applesauce, eggs and vanilla extract. If you’re using milk, add this in as well. Stir until well incorporated.
  3. Add in the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir the ingredients with a wooden spoon gently – take care to not overbeat. If the mixture is lumpy, that’s okay.
  4. Pour into a loaf tin or any pan of your choice. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
  5. Enjoy them fresh or store in an airtight container to keep.
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Healthy caramel popcorn

Healthy Caramel Popcorn

The kids love popcorn and while we have been buying the stuff commercially at the local grocers, I decided I had enough and to make my own. At least this way, I could control how much sugar I put in my caramel, what sugars I used and so forth. In fact, I could even make a buttered or unsalted version and so forth. The commercial popcorns were a little on the sweet side so time to ditch it. Besides, I didn’t relish paying nearly 2-3 euroes for a bag of popcorn goodness.

The recipe I used is very simple and quick – I finished making this in under 20 minutes after much dilly-dallying and going back and forth between assignments on back ground checks and recipes. I hadn’t anticipated the volume of popcorn I ended up with so I would reduce the quantity of kernels used if it’s just for two people and/or immediate consumption. Original quantities are for 4 tablespoon of unpopped kernels so if you just want a light coating or drizzle of caramel, feel free to reduce the amount.

Eva gave this a thumbs-up and honestly, it’s hard to resist this while it is cooling in the baking tray! Tehehehe.

Healthy caramel popcorn
Recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie here
Ingredients

1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup agave syrup
2 tsp maltose (optional)
1 tsp margarine/butter
Pinch of salt

Method

  1. Pop the kernels in a nonstick, lighly greased pot (with a lid – very important!) on medium-low heat. Shake the pot ocassionally. Remove excess popcorn if the pot is full. Continue until almost all the kernels are popped. Separated the unpopped kernels (discard) and set aside.
  2. In a separate pot, add in the sugar, syrup, maltose and butter and cook over low heat until the mixture is bubbly and the sugar has melted. Add in the salt and stir to incorporate.
  3. When ready, pour the caramel over the popcorn and toss to coat the popcorns well. Do this fast as the caramel will start to stick as it is cooling.
  4. Once well-coated, break up the large pieces (or not) and spread on a baking tray. Cool until room temperature and store in an airtight container.
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Bitter orange marmalade

Marmalade 2013: The finished product

I have been toying with the idea of making my own marmalade after tasting some at my mother-in-law’s place. Since my mum was still around and could help out with the prep work or with the kids, I thought why not churn some out. A quick search online didn’t yield much promise as a lot of recipes out there incorporate water into their jams whereas I prefer my jams to be just made up of fruit, sugar and gelling agent (pectin).

While grocery shopping for ingredients for the reunion dinner, I decided to see if I could find some bitter oranges, also known as Selville oranges, and came across a rather decent looking batch over at our usual grocery spot (Grand Frais). I bought nearly 2 kg of oranges. Then over the weekend, I approached my step-father-in-law (the one who makes most of the jam at my mother-in-law’s place) and asked him for a recipe. His proved to be quite simple and straightforward. When my sister-in-law showed up with a bag of juicing oranges, I decided to add those into the mix.

Marmalade 2013: Bitter/Selville oranges Marmalade 2013: Peeled oranges Marmalade 2013: Peel pieces Marmalade 2013: Pulp from juicing oranges

I must admit one thing – making marmalade is a lot of work, especially the prepping part. Removing and finely slicing the peel, boiling the peel until it’s soft, peeling off the pith, getting rid of the seeds and then slicing or getting out of the flesh while retaining the juice… It took us about 1 to 1.5 hours to get about 1.4 kg of pulp and juice. On hindsight, I should have measured the peel before cooking in – something I’ll have to do next time.

Marmalade 2013: Boiling peel strips Marmalade 2013: Cooking down the marmalade Marmalade 2013: An additional boost Marmalade 2013: Getting the marmalade to setting point

Then there is the cooking. I mixed the amount of jamming sugar and regular sugar which resulted in me having to cook my jam for longer than called for if I were to use cooking sugar. It took me about 30 minutes to get it to the desired consistency – I like my jams to be thick instead of runny. A thick consistency will help prevent the marmalade from dripping off toasts!

The finished product is very tangy, yet full of that lovely orange taste and smell. The extra boost in the form of Cointreau – orange liquor – which I added in during the cooking process is very subtle. The jam gives a slightly bitter after-taste which is normal if you’re using bitter oranges as your base. I put aside some in a ramekin as I didn’t have any small jars left but no worries, this will go down well for breakfast tomorrow (hm, I wonder how good are those coffee pots from cw-usa…).

Bitter orange marmalade

Ingredients

Approx 2 kg bitter oranges
8-10 medium sized juicing oranges
6 tbsp Cointreau
300 gms brown sugar
300 gms white sugar
950 gms gelling sugar

Method

  1. Prep the jars by washing them (jar and lid) in boiling hot water. Set aside to dry.
  2. Wash the oranges well before drying them. Using a peeler, removing the zest from the bitter oranges. Take care not to cut too deep or remove the pith as well.
  3. Once all of zest has been removed, thinly sliced them into strips and place them in a pot. Add in enough water to cover the orange strips and cook over high heat until they reach a boil. Turn down the fire and simmer the mixture for at least 20-25 minutes. Remove the water and repeat the process again. When the peel has been cooked for the 2nd time, drain and set aside.
  4. Remove the pith & seeds from the bitter oranges while retaining the flesh and pulp. For the juicing oranges, only the pulp is required so slice the orange into half and proceed to remove the pulp. Some chunks of pulp or orange flesh is fine.
  5. Once ready, pour the orange pulp and juice into a pot before adding in the sugar and Cointreau. Cook over high heat until it boils and then turn down to a medium fire. Add in the zest and cook until you reach the right consistency.
  6. When ready, fill the jars to the maximum level, cover and tighten the lid. Once all the jars have been filled, wipe the outside clean and label them. Set aside to cool before storing them in a dark and dry place. If done well, jam should be able to keep for over a year.
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