A comforting home-cooked meal

After being away on holiday in Hokkaido for a week, I was craving home-cooked food.

Since the weather is rather cool (by Singapore standards) today, I decided to whip up a simple and comforting meal comprising of 40 cloves chicken, easy lemon pasta and cherry tomatoes.

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The 40 cloves chicken dish is one of my favourite dishes to make, as it doesnt require slaving over a stove. All I need to do is sear the chicken parts to brown it, toss into my trusty Le Creuset pan with the garlic cloves and rosemary or thyme, drizzle olive oil and wine (optional) over it, and 1.5 hours in the oven later, a wonderful dish is born. Another reason why I love this dish is because I can also make a larger portion than what we need, and then shred the leftovers for use later – with pasta, in salads, as filling for puff pastries etc.

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The lemon pasta I chose to accompany the chicken dish today is also a lazy person’s dream, as no cooking is required, other than boiling the pasta. After the pasta is done, all that’s needed to finish the dish is the addition of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper!

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After belatedly realising that I forgot to toss some baby spinach into the pasta, I decided to serve it with cherry tomatoes (once again, no cooking required!).

So, with very little effort, I had a wonderful dinner (and enough leftover chicken for 2 separate uses)! I’m a happy camper today 🙂

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Chinese New Year Bakes Part 2 – Cashews & Almonds Galore

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A group of friends and I have started a fairly new tradition over the last few years, to get together for a bake fest the weekend before Chinese New Year. And when I say bake fest, I’m not kidding – the shot above captures only part of our total production for the day!

This year’s bake fest menu consisted of 2 items – cashew cookies and almond wafers. We started the morning with cashew cookies as that tends to tire us out more, simply because it’s so popular we have to make quite a lot of bottles to fulfill our gifting needs.

Cashew cookie dough, ready to be shaped. This is just a fraction of the amount of dough we had to roll, mind you.

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Little cashew beauties all lined up.

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Brushing the egg wash onto the cookies.

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Fresh from the oven!

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For anyone who’s interested in these melt-in-your mouth crumbly cookies, here’s the recipe:

Cashew cookies
(makes approx 65 pcs)

Ingredients:
100g ground cashews
160g plain flour
60g icing sugar
0.5 tsp baking soda
0.25 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
120 ml veg oil
35 pcs of cashews, halved
1 egg

Method:
1. Mix ground cashews, flour, icing sugar and baking soda in a large bowl with a fork.
2. Pour in veg oil and vanilla essence slowly, stirring with the fork as you do so.
3. Combine mixture into a dough, and knead it lightly to mix in the vanilla well.
4. Scoop teaspoon-sized dollops of dough, shape into rounds, and press a cashew half on top of each cookie.
5. Crack egg into a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of water to the egg and mix well to form egg wash.
6. Brush egg wash on the top of the cookies, and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 15-16 mins.
7. Remove from oven, leave it to cool on the tray for about 5-10 mins before transferring onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

After we baked the thousand or so cashew cookies, we moved on to the more relaxing almond wafers in the afternoon. These almond wafers are a great complementary bake to the kueh lapis, as it uses only egg whites. So, all the leftover eggwhites from making kueh lapis would not go to waste.

A mountain of almond flakes.

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A big sheet of almond wafer, pre-baking.

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Baked to golden brown perfection.

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These almond wafers make a wonderful light snack, and can be eaten all year-round. After all, it is pretty healthy – no egg yolks, full of nuts, no oil/butter 🙂

For those who are keen to try your hand at making the wafers, here’s the recipe.

Crispy Almond Wafers
makes about 4 large sheets

Ingredients:
Egg whites from 4 eggs
80g sugar
100g plain flour
400g almond flakes

Method:
1. Whisk egg whites and sugar together until combined.
2. Sift flour over egg white mixture and mix until a smooth batter forms.
3. Line 4 large baking sheets with non-stick baking paper, and spread a thin layer of batter on the baking paper.
4. Sprinkle almond flakes liberally over the batter. Try to cover as much of the surface as possible.
5. Bake at 180 degree Celsius for 15 mins. You can bake 2 (or even 3 trays) at one go, but do remember to increase the baking time by about 2 mins per extra tray, and rotate the trays on the racks so that the trays brown evenly.
6. Remove from oven when the wafer is baked to golden brown’ remove baking sheet from tray and set aside to cool. After the wafer has cooled, break into bite size pieces and store in an airtight container.

Bite-size pieces for consumption. Warning: highly addictive!

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Chinese New Year Bakes Part 1 – Kueh Lapis

One of the items I am baking as part of the CNY bake fest this year is kueh lapis aka thousand layer cake. When I was a kid, I used to wonder why it was called thousand layer cake when clearly it does not have a thousand layers. Now that I bake it, I’m extremely relieved it doesn’t have a thousand layers!

I’m not entirely sure why kueh lapis is eaten during CNY, but it’s possibly because its a rich and indulgent cake, and making it requires lots of effort, so people feel there must be an occasion to justify the hassle of baking it.

To start, the ingredients that go into making the cake are quite alarming for any health conscious person – tons of egg yolks and butter, sugar, condensed milk, brandy, flour, spices etc. But one does need to bear in mind that kueh lapis is generally consumed in small quantities, so its actually not that heart attack inducing (if you consume in moderation).

Ingredients

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To make the cake, it is advisable to have multiple mixing bowls. Otherwise you will be doing a lot of washing up as you go along, as there are quite a few mixtures that need to be prepared.

First, you whisk the egg yolks with about half the sugar the recipe calls for.

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Next you whisk the butter with condensed milk, brandy and vanilla.

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Then you mix the flour into the butter mixture, and then mix in the egg yolk mixture thereafter. After that (yes, we’re still not done!), egg whites need to be whisked until stiff peaks form. (P/S: in my excitement, I forgot to take a photo of this step of the process). Only after the egg white has been folded into the other mixture is the mix ready for baking.

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And now the hard part begins (heh amazing right, that what went on before is considered easy). For those who don’t already know, the cake is baked layer by layer. Each layer consists only of a couple of spoonful of batter.

I forgot to take a photo of the very first layer – too excited to get it into the oven. But here’s how the cake looks after the first layer is done.

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The second layer is then added onto the baked first layer.

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And back into the oven it goes.

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This laborious process is repeated anywhere between 15 to 20 times until all the batter is used up!

The end product looks like the next photo. Not entirely sure why, but kueh lapis almost always come with these grid lines. Without them, it just doesn’t feel like kueh lapis. I make them by pressing the cake (top down) on a cooling rack with a grid design.

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Cross section where the layers are clearly visible.

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Every time I make this cake, about halfway through the process, I would be asking myself why on earth I bother with it. But once I cut into the finished product and see the layers, I cannot help but think about how I improve on it on my next attempt – make more layers, make the layers thinner, work on producing even layers!

Guess this cake is truly addictive! Not only can I not stop eating it, I can’t stop baking it again and again to improve on it!

Bangkok food Journey Part 4 – Thai Cooking Lesson

One of the items on our to-do list for Bangkok was to attend a Thai cooking lesson. We found a friendly Thai lady who conducts private classes at her home through Tripadvisor reviews, and attended a 3-hour class, whipping up 3 Thai dishes from scratch.

The dishes we selected were fried prawn cakes, chicken green curry and phad thai noodles. When we arrived at the teacher’s home, we were pleasantly surprised by how spacious the kitchen was, and the best part of it was that the prep area was air-conditioned, which meant we could do all the food prep in comfort!

It was a good thing that it was comfortable, as we literally had to make everything from scratch! We had to de-shell and de-vein a basket of prawns, to be used in the prawn cakes and the phad thai noodles, and de-bone chicken thighs for use in the chicken green curry!

After we had done the prep for the protein, we were then put to work chopping and pounding, to prepare the seasoning for the prawn cakes, the garlic and chilli paste to make the sweet chilli sauce with (yes, we even made the sweet chilli sauce from scratch!), the paste for the chicken green curry and the tamarind sauce for the phad thai. My food processor was sorely missed during the chopping and pounding process, and I was glad that B was with me at the class, since he did most of the pounding, I was extremely relieved to find out from our teacher that when replicating the dishes at home, we can use the food processor to do most of the chopping, and will only need to do minimal pounding at the end to better release the flavours from the ingredients! *phew*

Lots of pounding!

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Boiling and thickening the sweet chilli sauce.

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Prawn cakes shaped, breaded and ready for the fryer.

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Into the fryer they go!

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Cooking up the chicken green curry.

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Part of the ingredients for the phad thai.

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The lesson was surprisingly enjoyable, and we were rather impressed at the quality of the food we produced, given that we are complete novices at cooking Thai food! Check out the complete assembled meal – appetizer, main course and noodles!

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I have not tried reproducing any of the dishes at home, but am definitely aiming to attempt to cook some of the dishes at home at some point, to see how I will fare without guidance from our teacher. Stay tuned for updates on my fumbles in the kitchen to reproduce these Thai dishes!

Chocolate Truffle Mousse Trifle

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Made these gorgeous little chocolate truffle mousse trifle cups for a belated new year’s party yesterday. Absolutely loving the colours.

I started with making the strawberry pudding layer at the bottom by cheating and using an instant strawberry pudding mix, and adding pieces of fresh strawberries in it for added crunch.

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After making the pudding layer, I then left it to set overnight. The next morning, I made the chocolate truffle mousse using cream, dark chocolate, butter, egg yolks and brandy. After the mixture has been cooked, I put it in the fridge to chill until it is cold before whipping it into a mousse just before it is time to assemble the trifle cups.

I began the assembling the trifle cups by adding a dollop of chocolate truffle mousse over the strawberry pudding, followed by crumbled brownies (cheated again by using storebought brownies), pieces of fresh raspberries, followed by another layer of chocolate truffle mousse. To finish, i sprinkled some crunchy valhorna chocolate pearls as decoration.

If I may shamelessly say so myself, the trifle was a hit as it was both pretty and yummy.

Half-assembled trifle.

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Another shot of the finished product.

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Note: Once again, for copyright reasons, I will not be posting the recipe, but am happy to share via email if you drop me a line.