Thursday, 14 August 2014

Baked Pasta with Chicken and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Baked Pasta with Chicken

This month, the Daring Cooks challenged us to think inside the box - the icebox, that is! Audax taught us some really cool tips and tricks for stocking our freezers with prepare-ahead meals that can keep our taste buds satisfied even during the busiest of times.

Apart from the Mac and Cheese, I've never done a baked pasta dish with white sauce. I thought this will be a good test if white sauces freeze well. And it really does. Thanks is in order to Martha Stewart's website for the recipe that I adapted. It just needed a little tweaking in salt and pepper department plus extra cheese to prevent the sauce getting too bland. This recipe also confirmed my dislike for chicken breast. Believe me, it didn't do anything to the dish in terms of flavour. It was just there as a cardboard-like protein but virtually no chicken flavour. I even bought a free-range one but it was just ... meh! So next time either I add in non-breast chicken meat or maybe put in some chicken powder in the sauce. This recipe is definitely still in the tweaking stage so don't be surprised if there are changes later. However, I do love the garlic in the sauce that really lifted it up from the ordinary.

Baked Pasta with Chicken ready to freeze

Baked Pasta with Chicken and Sun Dried Tomatoes

500 g  penne rigate or rigatoni
6 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup plain flour
6 cups whole milk
2 tsp coarse sea salt
450 g  boneless chicken meat - cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp olive oil
300 g  white mushrooms - trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes - drained and thinly sliced
2 cups grated provolone or matured cheddar
125 g  [about 1 cup] finely grated parmesan
some salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook the pasta 3 minutes short of package instructions. So if it says cook for 12 minutes then cook for just 9 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Grease ovenproof pasta dishes and set aside.
  3. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Pour in olive oil, heat for a minute then add the chicken. Season with some salt and pepper and cook until opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  4. In a 5-liter heavy pot, melt butter over medium heat.
  5. Add garlic, cook for about 1 minute or until aromatic.
  6. Add flour, whisk for 1 minute.
  7. Gradually add 2 cups of milk while whisking all the time. Bring to a simmer. Repeat this until all milk is used.
  8. Add 1 tsp of the sea salt. Simmer for another 2 minutes.
  9. Add the mushroom and sun-dried tomatoes; cook for 1 minute.
  10. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the provolone (or cheddar) and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese.
  11. Taste the sauce. If need be, add the remaining 1 tsp sea salt and some ground black pepper.
  12. Add the chicken and pasta to the sauce. Divide among the prepared dishes and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top.
  13. Bake uncovered in a preheated 200°C/fan 180°C/400°F oven for about 25 minutes.
  • To freeze: do up to step no. 12. Cover tightly with cling wrap and/or foil and freeze up to 3 months.
  • To bake from frozen: Preheat oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/400°F and bake covered in foil on a baking sheet until centre is hot, around 1 1/2 hours. Remove foil and bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
    Defrost completely and follow baking instructions in step no. 13 above.

Baked Pasta with Chicken

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

American Potato Salad

American Potato Salad
It's summer and it's barbecue time. That means potato salads are very much in demand in our household nowadays. This one that I adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe cookbook is like any ordinary potato salad except it's made so much better with the addition of vinegar while the potatoes are still warm. It permeates the starchy potatoes and gives it so much more flavour. If you leave it in the fridge for a few hours before serving the flavour improves further.

American Potato Salad

1 kg  salad or waxy potatoes (Charlotte, Jersey, etc.) - scrubbed clean
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 medium hard boiled eggs - peeled and diced
1 celery rib - minced
2 Tbsp minced red onion
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp minced fresh parsley leaves
  1. Put potatoes in a pot and add enough water to cover up to 1-inch above the potatoes.
  2. Bring to boil; turn down heat and simmer potatoes until done (a knife poked in the middle would easily pierce all the way through). This would take around 15-20 minutes for small potatoes and 25-30 minutes for medium ones.
  3. Drain and leave to cool just enough to peel and cut into large chunks.
  4. Toss in vinegar, salt , pepper. It is important to add in the vinegar while the potatoes are very warm so that it will absorb it well.
  5. Cover and cool completely (about 20 minutes). You may put this in the fridge while cooling.
  6. Add all other ingredients, toss to mix well, and season more with salt and ground black pepper if needed.
  7. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for next day serving.

Monday, 14 July 2014


Bibimbap-alula she's my baby ...

This is the longest recipe I've ever typed in this blog. I never knew something so homely can involve a lot of work! But I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the eating so much more. I've heared about this intriguing dish from American friends and family and in a lot of food magazines. So it was a delight to find out that this was our next task in the Daring Kitchen.

The July Daring Cooks' Challenge took us to Korea, where Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado taught us to make bibimbap. This colorful rice dish can be customized to meet any taste, and is as much fun to eat as it is to say!

The traditional Dolsot Bibimbap involves a heated stone bowl which my kitchen definitely do not have. So the alternative is use warmed bowls which was quite sufficient as evident in the recipe that I adapted from Bon Apetit. I did not do the crunchy rice step because we're definitely not fans of tutong. My husband and I really enjoyed eating this sort of Korean hot salad and I was pleasantly surprised with the gochujang (Korean chili paste). It's not as scorchingly spicy hot as I imagined it would be. For me, the best part of this is the bulgogi. It's the one thing that I would definitely keep making over and over again. But with everything else considered I think it will take quite sometime before I make all of these again. There's just a lot of little things to do including a lot of washing up!

Bibimbap ingredients

Home-style Bibimbap

Marinate the bulgogi and prepare all the rest of the listed ingredients listed here.
Then proceed to the assembly section.

1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/3 cup finely grated Asian pear with juices (about 1 pear)
2 green onions - thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves - minced
1 Tbsp demerara or brown sugar
2 tsp grated ginger
500 g  very thinly sliced boneless beef (rib-eye steak or short ribs)
  • Mix all ingredients, except the beef, in a bowl until combined.
  • Marinate beef in the mixture for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Sesame Oil Mix:
6 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Combine all to mix and set aside.

Sesame Bean Sprouts:
6 cups of bean spouts
gochugaru or ground chili
1 Tbsp sesame oil mix
  1. Bring a pot of water to boil.
  2. Add the bean sprouts and bring it back to boil.
  3. Once it boils again, remove and drain. Plunge in cold water to stop cooking.
  4. Drain well and let drip for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a bowl or contained and sprinkle the sesame oil mix and gochugaru; toss to coat.

Sesame Carrots:
4 medium carrots - juliened into matchstick size
1 Tbsp sesame oil mix
  • Heat a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add in the sesame oil mix and carrots.
  • Cook while stirring occasionally until just tender (about 3-4 minutes).

Soy-Glazed Shiitake Mushrooms:
3 cups of dried shiitake mushrooms
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp demerara or brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seed
freshly ground black pepper
  • Put the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat medium-low and simmer until mushrooms are softened and all liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes).
    If the liquid is drying out but the mushrooms are not yet done, add a few tablespoons of water and continue cooking.
  • Cool the mushrooms a little. Remove stems then slice thinly.
  • Transfer to a bowl then add in the sesame seed and black pepper. Toss to mix.

Garlicky Spinach:
500 g  fresh spinach
2 Tbsp sesame oil mix
2 garlic cloves - minced
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp distilled white or rice vinegar
  1. Cook the spinach in a pot of boiling water.
  2. Once it boils again, remove and drain.
  3. Plunge into cold water to stop the cooking.
  4. Drain well and squeeze out excess water.
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat.
  6. Add sesame oil mix and saute the garlic until fragrant.
  7. Add the soy sauce and vinegar. Stir to mix.
  8. Add the cooked spinach and stir to mix. Separate the spinach as much as you can while mixing. Cook just enough to combine it well (about 1-2 minutes).

Sauteed Courgette:
1 medium courgette - julienned into matchstick size
1 Tbsp sesame oil mix
gochugaru or ground chili
  • Heat a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add sesame oil mix and courgette.
  • Cook, while stirring occasionally, until just tender (about 3-4 minutes). Season with gochugaru.

Green Onion Slaw:
2 bunches green onions - julienned into 3-inch lengths
1 Tbsp sesame oil mix
1 Tbsp distilled white or rice vinegar
gochugaru or ground chili
  • Place green onions in a bowl of ice-cold water (to crisp).
  • Just before serving, combined sesame oil mix and vinegar in a bowl.
  • Drain and pat dry the green onions then add in the vinegar mix. Toss to coat.

30 g  wakame (dried seaweed)
  • Cover wakame with boiling water and let sit until softened (about 10 minutes).
  • Drain, squeeze out excess water, and coarsely chop.

Gochujang-Date Sauce:
5 Medjool dates - pitted
1 cup gojuchang (hot pepper paste)
2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • Put the dates in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water, and soak until softened (about 15 minutes).
  • Drain and transfer dates in a food processor with the gochujang and sesame oil.
  • Puree until smooth. Set aside.

500 g  [2 1/2 cups] sushi rice
3 cups water
  • Wash and rinse rice until the water runs clear.
  • Add in 3 cups of water and bring to boil on high heat.
  • Once it boils, reduce heat to lowest and simmer until all the water has evaporated (about 15-20 minutes).
  • Turn off heat and let sit for 10-15 minutes.


4 big ceramic bowls - warmed
Cooked rice
cooking oil
4 fried eggs - sunny side up
kimchi (optional)
vegetable mix-ins prepared in advance - Sesame Bean Sprouts, Sesame Carrots, Garlicky Spinach, Soy-Glazed Mushrooms, Sauteed Courgette, Green Onion Slaw, Wakame, Gochujang-Date Sauce
  • Heat 1/2 Tbsp cooking oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan (preferably non-stick).
  • Cook the bulgogi in batches, turning once until cooked through and browned, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Divide rice among the bowls.
  • Put one fried egg in the middle on top of the rice.
  • Arrange the bulgogi and the prepared vegetables and sauce around it.
  • Serve with kimchi (optional).

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lemon Fudge Bars

Fudgy Lemon Bar
Well well well, looks like the recipe I've been tweaking for the last 4 years has finally made it to this blog. It's not that bad really. I probably tried this once a year so that makes them about 4 tries. The original recipe that I adapted came from a cookbook called Brownies & Bars by Liz Franklin. I'm a sucker for gorgeous pictures of food and the accompanying photos of it makes it really look so scrumptious. That's the main reason why I didn't give up on it besides the fact the I wanted a dessert that's not plain vanilla nor chocolate flavoured.

I determined early on that it needed a lot of tweaks. For one, the pan size was too small. Then the cooking time is way too short. Maybe even the temperature needs tweaking. Other than that the recipe stands as it is. I really prefer this over the Lemon Bars where the filling can be quite cloyingly rich. This one is just right making it very moreish.

Fudgy Lemon Bar

Lemon Fudge Bars

*Shortbread base:
200 g  [1 1/3 cups] plain flour
100 g  [1/2 cup + 1/3 cup] cornflour (cornstarch)
100 g  [1/2 cup] caster sugar (superfine)
200 g  [3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp] butter - softened to room temperature

*Lemon Fudge Filling:
4 eggs
600 ml  [2 cups + 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp] double cream (heavy cream)
300 g  [1 1/2 cups] caster sugar (superfine)
100 g  [2/3 cup] plain flour
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons) - strained
zest of three lemons (optional)

*For shortbread base:
  1. Mix the plain flour and cornflour in a bowl.
  2. Cut in the butter into the mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the sugar and knead the mixture together to form a smooth, soft dough.
  4. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

*For filling and to assemble:
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. Remove dough from fridge and roll out or pat level into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden in colour.
  4. While the base is baking, mix the eggs, cream, and sugar together.
  5. Add the lemon juice and zest (if using) and whisk until smooth.
  6. Add the flour a little at a time while whisking and mix until well combined.
  7. Once the base is done baking, pull out the oven rack with the baking pan halfway and immediately pour the lemon-cream mixture on it.
  8. Push the baking pan back in the oven and continue baking for about 45-50 minutes or until the topping is set.
  9. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Maltesers Cupcakes

Malteser's Cupcake

I wanted to make something different for the latest cake sale in my youngest daughter's school. So I went hunting for a recipe of Maltesers cupcake. There were quite a number in the internet and I chose Amy Jones' of She Cooks She Eats food blog. Thanks Amy for this scrumptious cupcake. I just tweaked it a little here and there to fit our taste. But for a first time bake it was fabulous! It would have been better if I had the proper piping nozzle for the icing. As you can see, I smeared it on using only a spoon which isn't so bad though it could have looked as good as Amy's.

Malteser's Cupcakes

Maltesers Cupcakes

175 g  butter - softened
175 g  caster sugar
175 g  self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 medium eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp Ovaltine or Horlicks
2 Tbsp milk
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F. Grease or line muffin pans.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and Ovaltine in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
  5. Add vanilla, mix well.
  6. Add in the flour mixture - beat just enough to make batter smooth.
  7. Divide batter among the prepared muffin tins filling them up to 2/3 full.
  8. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  10. Decorate cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Icing and top with a Maltesers each.

Milk Chocolate Icing

100 g  milk chocolate
125 g  butter - softened
200-300 g  icing sugar (about 1 1/2 - 2 cups) - sifted
2-3 Tbsp cocoa powder (optional) - sifted
2-3 Tbsp milk
bag of Maltesers
  1. Very gently melt the milk chocolate on a double boiler. Watch carefully, if you see that the chocolate is getting lumpy at the bottom remove from double boiler and stir like crazy to keep it melted and not clumpy.
  2. Leave to cool slightly.
  3. Beat the butter until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the icing sugar in batches beating well after each addition.
  5. Pour in the melted chocolate and cocoa (if using), beat and mix well.
  6. Beat in milk adding just enough to make the icing smooth.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Father's Day Devil's Food Cake

Devil's Food Cake
It's one of those weekends where you want to bake something for the sake of trying a recipe. Father's Day Sunday was one of those excuses for the trialling a Devil's Food Cake - also known as a dark rich layered chocolate cake. Even though the husband is not fond of cakes I still went ahead. ;)

This recipe came from an old ripped page from Saveur magazine which I've tried before just not with the icing. They titled it "Aunt Fan's Devil Food Cake". The cake itself is very good and rich enough for our endeavour. The icing sugar (confectioner's to some of you) was halved but I still find it too sweet. So I was wondering what it would be like with 6 cups of icing sugar! *shudder* I further reduced it to 2 cups but I'll find out when I try it again if I have to reduce further. The other problem I had was the size of the pans. It did not say that you should use high-sided pans and all I had were two 1-inch high layer pans. Maybe it could have risen higher if I had the right pans.

Like all popular recipes there are hundreds, if not thousands, of versions of this scrumptious cake. I would venture with other renditions later but for now here is my adapted recipe from Saveur.

Devil's Food Cake

1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/4 cup boiling water
2 1/2 cups plain flour - sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter - softened
2 cups light brown sugar - tightly packed
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
170 g  dark chocolate (70%) - melted and slightly cooled
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/325°F. Grease and line two deep 8-inch (20 cm) round baking pans (sides should be at at least 2 inches high).
  2. Combine and stir together the bicarbonate of soda with the boiling water in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. In a big bowl, beat the butter with the brown sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  6. Beat in the buttermilk and flour mixture alternately in 3 batches.
  7. Add the bicarbonate of soda mixture and melted chocolate and beat until smooth.
  8. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans.
  9. Bake until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean - about 45-55 minutes.
  10. Set cake pans on a rack to cool. Remove from pans.
  11. Place 1 cake on a plate and spread about 1 cup of the icing on top.
  12. Put the 2nd cake on top and spread the remaining icing on top and all around the cakes.

Chocolate Buttercream Icing

1/2 cup butter - softened or melted
1/2 cup double cream (heavy cream)
2 cups icing sugar (confectioner's) - sifted
1/4 cup cocoa powder - sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Put all ingredients in a bowl and beat until fluffy and well combined.

In this last picture the cake has spent the last 24 hours in the fridge so the icing did not look glossy anymore. But it's still scrumptiously good!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Tofu with Coriander

This is an old recipe of my husband's family. They love tofu (tokwa) very much and he loves fresh coriander in dishes. So it was inevitable that they are combined for this tasty serving. Freshly boiled rice is great with this family-style Filipino dish. I bet it's my late mother-in-law who came up with the idea. She was quite inventive in cooking for family.

It is important to stir the dish very gently once the tofu is added. Mashed up tofu will not make this dish visually appealing.

Tofu with Coriander

125 g  belly pork - sliced thin*
2 tsp cooking oil
350 g  firm tofu (about 2 squares) - cubed
1 tsp minced garlic
1 medium onion - sliced
1 medium tomato - sliced
1 tsp sea salt or 2 tsp patis (fish sauce)
freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup water or chicken stock
1 cup chopped fresh coriander - reserve about 1-2 Tbsp for garnish
  1. In a wok or pot, cook the pork with about 1/3 cup of water. Simmer until the water has evaporated and pork is rendering fat. Add the oil and fry the pork in low-medium heat until golden brown.
  2. Push the fried pork to one side. Saute the garlic and onion until onion is soft.
  3. Add the tomato. Stir and cook until tomato is soft.
  4. Stir back in the pork to the middle. Add the salt or patis and black pepper, then stir to combine all.
  5. Add the tofu and carefully stir to mix it in. Cook in low-medium heat for about 2 minutes.
  6. Pour in the chicken stock or water, bring to boil then lower heat to simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
  7. Add the coriander and carefully stir to combine everything.
  8. Cook for another 2 minutes.
  9. Dish up and sprinkle with the rest of the fresh coriander.
*Note: You may also use raw prawns or shrimps instead of pork.