Sunday, April 27, 2008

April Daring Baker's Challenge

This month's challenge is Cheesecake Pops, and the hosts are Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell. My verdict on this month's challenge: Very fun to make, got to try out a few cool and new things, but I can't say I like the end product.

Firstly, I'm not a fan of cheesecakes [I can almost hear the gasp of horror of all readers]. They are wayy too rich for my taste, and I just don't like them. This recipe produced an extra creamy cheesecake, which of course means that I extra dislike them. But cream cheese is one of the most luscious ingredients to work with, and its a delight to bake with. Just the look of it feels sensuous =)


Secondly, its a frozen dessert, which means I can't bring it anywhere more than 5 mins away, which means that I'm stuck with a whole batch of cheesecake. Which I dislike. You can see the problem, even if my Mom and sis do like cheesecake better than I.

Now, on to the cool stuff. I have always had a kind of phobia for shortening, probably because they look like wax, but people tell me its actually food. Not to mention all that stuff about transfats, which is just scary. However, for this challenge, I did some research on shortening, and found that they now have transfats-free shortening! So I plucked up my courage and bought a whole packet of shortening, even if its not completely necessary and I only needed a tablespoon [I halved the recipe]. And it turned out to be fine. No weird oily taste, as some bakers worried about, though it did felt a little heavier than pure chocolate when I licked up the leftover dipping.

Then, my favorite part, the actual dipping! Because the cheesecake balls were frozen, the chocolate hardened over the pops immediately, which was amazing to see and oh so fun to play with. However, when I tried dipping with some room temperature oreos with the leftover chocolate, I found that the shortening really didn't help that much with the setting =(

I couldn't find lollipop sticks, so I bought lollipops and knocked off the sweets with a hammer. Very fun, did a lot of good for my stress level.

My cheesecake, fresh out of the oven. Good thing I used a disposable baking dish, would have been a nightmare to wash all the cheese off.


When I tried to make balls out of the frozen cheesecake with a melon scooper, the cheesecake clumped together and refused to scoop nicely; so I resorted to forming the balls with two spoons, which turned out to be rather fun as well.

The balls, nicely formed, with their lollipop sticks. Is it just me, or did anyone else noticed that the cheesecake doesn't freeze very well? It never got very firm, and stayed kinda soft, even when I left it overnight in the freezer.

The final product, sans wrapper. Looks darling, doesn't it?

Click here to check out how other daring bakers made their cheesecake pops!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Take solace

One of my regular reads is Tea's poetic blog, tea & cookies. Its usually about Tea's life and her kitchen adventures. I like it because Tea somehow have this peaceful quality to her, as if even if she doesn't have all of life's answer, she's happy to contemplate them quietly. Besides which, she's an amazing writer, cook and photographer.

But today, her latest post, No words, gave me pause, and also prompted a response in me.
While not denying the seriousness of such issues, I truely feel that one should never allow oneself to wallow in them. I am not saying that Tea is wallowing, or negating how spot on she is about the issue.

But sadness paralyses. I think food blogging brings out all that is good and worthy in this world, and good things should not be stopped just because tragic and horrifying things are happening elsewhere.

So take solace, Tea. Food blogging brings appreciation to food. It brings the understanding that its quality, not quantity that counts. Most of all, it brings respect to food. Each and everyone of the food bloggers' esteem for food grows with every single post, and hopefully it grows in their readers as well. We are a positive force for this terrible problem, and we should all fight on.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pasta Casserole with Red Wine Meat Sauce


While I believe that a 750ml bottle of red wine is a thing of beauty, finishing the bottle is another matter altogether, particularly with a small family like mine. So, today, since I have half a bottle of red wine in my fridge, I decided to make a meat sauce out of it.

Meat sauce is really a thing of wonder. I don't know why its called a sauce, it more like a stew to me. There is not much need to strict proportions, and though time consuming, much of the time is spent on simmering the sauce, with minimal attention needed, except for the occasional stir. I had a bit of problem with the bottom burning, and my mom said its because I didn't use the heavy bottom pot...not really sure if that's the case, if you know anything about this, please leave a comment, I'll really appreciate a heads up!


The wine I used is really quite bad, which is why there was half a bottle left =P I would say its borderline drinkable. A quick search online about cooking with wine, and you'll find that they all say to cook only with wine you will drink. Well, today's sauce received mixed responses; my mom and I found it to be quite delicious, while my dad and sis thought that, while tasty, the sauce had a slight bitter taste, probably imparted by the wine. Personally, I say that if you have a not-so-good bottle of wine on your hands, use it. The sauce tasted soooooo much better with the wine, even a lousy wine, then without. Its hard to describe the taste, just meatier, and a lot more aromatic. But, if you don't mind paying a little more for better quality, I'm sure the sauce will be even more amazing =)

INGREDIENTS

Celery

Carrots

Yellow Onions

* these 3 vegs are known as the aromatic 3, and is the usual base for most soups, sauces and stews. I like it not just for the taste, which is great, but also because I like lots of vegs in my sauce. So the amount is really up to your liking.

Minced meat, amount up to preference [pork, mutton, beef, chicken, whatever you want]

Lots of garlic [unless you hate them]

Some tomato paste/canned tomatos [doesn't really matter which or how much, as long as you have some; use the most convenient amount for you, like the can size your grocery shop stocks]

Red wine [use whatever you have, from 1/2 cup to half bottle. Just make sure that altogether, the liquid covers the ingredients by around an inch]

Salt

Sugar

Oregano, or whatever herb you want

Some oil

First, in a heavy bottom pot, fry up your roughly chopped garlic in cold oil, followed by the minced meat and the herb[s]. Once mostly cooked, set aside, and in the same pan, with a little more oil, stir fry the cubed vegetables until roughly softened. Pour meat mixture back into pot, and add in the tomatos and wine. Make sure that the liquid only comes up to around an inch above the other ingredients, topping up with water or stock if not enough. And then, just let it simmer away, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn at the bottom. If it does burn, switch off the fire, stop stirring, and skim off the top, un-burnt portions into another pot to continue cooking, discarding the charred ingredients at the bottom. Simmer for as long as you have time for, up to 3 hours if you want, or just until the vegetables are soften, and you are good to go!
As for the casserole, its just one way of eating the sauce. I basically piled cooked spaghetti tossed in the meat sauce into a baking dish, cover with grated cheese, and baked til the cheese is brown.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Breaded Garlicky Prawns


2008 sucks so far. This semester feels like the hardest semester yet, and I constantly feel like I'm going to buckle under the pressure at any moment. What's a girl to do?

This girl wants to eat some prawns. A long time ago, I remember reading a recipe of breaded giant garlic prawns, but I just can't recall the exact recipe, and my internet search turned up disappointing and sad looking prawns. So I came up with my own recipe.

INGREDIENTS

20 medium prawns

2 packets of butter crackers [or breadcrumbs, but I think this is better]

Pinch of salt

1/2 bulb of garlic, peeled [adjust according to how garlicky you want your prawns to be]

1 egg, beaten

Some oil
Prepare baking tray by lining with foil or baking paper, then drizzle with oil

Peel your prawns, then butterfly and remove veins [slice it along the back until almost cut through, but not yet, and remove the black line]

Grate the garlic as fine as possible, and mix well with salt and the finely crushed crackers.

Spreading the prawns along its sliced opening to create the 'butterfly' shape, dip well in egg, then coat well in cracker mixture. Place cut side down on prepared baking tray.

Follow with the rest of the prawns.

Bake in a preheated 130 degree celcium oven for around 10 minutes, or until golden brown, serve immediately, with favorite cocktail

With these prawns, a tall glass of screwdriver and 3 hours of LOTR, I can recover from anything. Something about the elegant and poetic world of Tolkien feels like balm on my banged up soul
Random question: How does one knows when one is an Arwen, and when one is an Eowyn?
P.S. To obtain maximum crunch, you can deep fry these prawns as well, but in my no-deep-frying home, baking works just fine

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sorry, Diana


My previous post about my favorite Cakey Brownies has been galling me ever since I posted it. Firstly, the pictures were horrible, as I didn't have much time to take them. Secondly, the brownies themselves were horrible, as detailed in the post.

And, so, today, I decided that I will bake myself a perfect batch of brownies. However, as I looked over Diana's recipe, I begin to feel lazy, what with all the creaming and the waiting [for the butter to soften]. It didn't help that I had a ton of school work waiting for me. And so, I reached for my trusty Good Housekeeping cookbook, in the hopes of finding something less time consuming. And for the first time in the past month, I found what I was looking for.

I call this recipe the One-Bowl Brownie [the book called it Cocoa Brownies], and the name itself is good enough to make any baker swoon [this one did anyways]. One-bowl! Delightful concept, translating into less dishes to wash, and a quicker chocolate fix. I was worried that it would turn out to be treacherously fudgy, and it was indeed much less cakey than Diana's, but still arguably cakey, or at least not fudgy, so I'm happy.
And hence, I'm sorry to say, Diana, your cakey brownies recipe has been de-throned.

INGREDIENTS
100g butter

1 cup/190g sugar

2 large eggs

1 tspn vanilla extract

1/2 cup or 70g plain flour

1/2 cup or 70g cocoa powder

1/4 tspn baking powder

1/4 tspn salt

1 cup chopped walnuts, optional

1/2 cup chocolate chips, optional

Its so freaking simple I can't believe it. The batter is also one of the most luscious I have ever come across.

Melt butter [in a large metal bowl, if you have it, or it'll be a 'two-bowl' brownie], stir in sugar. Stir in eggs vigorously, one by one, until well blended. Stir in vanilla extract. Sieve in all the dry ingredients, minus the nuts and chocolate chips, and mix well. Mix in the nuts and chocolate chips if using, and its ready to be baked in a preheated 180 degree celcius oven until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Then munch away!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008