Sunday, 30 July 2006

Beginner's Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad
I've always liked Caesar Salad but have been put off in making it because of the effort and length of time to make the dressing. You are in effect making a mayonnaise with all that whipping of eggs and vinegar. Plus the thought of salmonella in the fresh egg makes me reluctant to serve it on the family dinner table. So there you have it - all my excuses. ;) Whether thru health concern, lack of time or just plain laziness I've thought of enough in not doing this from scratch. So you could just imagine how long we've suffered through store-bought Caesar Salad with ready-made croutons and its creamy sauce in a plastic packet [*over-acting mode on*].


Now I think I've found our savior of a recipe. This one that I found in last month's BBC GoodFood magazine is simple but sophisticated enough for my taste. (I know, I know, my taste can be pedestrian. LOL!) Kinda like in between the store-bought ones and the fancy-schmaltzy all-fresh-ingredients salad in upscale restaurants. The pain of making the mayonnaise is taken away with the use of ready made ones. It even got anchovies and hand-made croutons, wooo! Get a load of that. Though one thing I noticed is that the taste of a whole garlic can be too strong for others. If that is the case, the best way is to just give it a hint of the flavour by rubbing a cut garlic clove in the bowl and whatever utensil you'll use for whisking.

Beginner's Caesar's Salad

1 large romaine or cos lettuce - torn or cut into large pieces
1 cooked or grilled chicken breast [optional] - sliced in bite-sized pieces
3 thick slices of crusty bread (ciabatta, baguette, etc) - diced
2 Tbsp olive oil

5 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar
2 anchovies from a tin or bottle
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove* - crushed or minced [see Note]
extra shaved or grated parmesan cheese
  • Make the croutons:
    1. Put the diced bread in a non-stick pan. Drizzle the olive oil on it and some salt, making sure that the bread has absorbed all of the oil.
    2. Fry on medium heat. Turn the bread pieces from time to time. Cook until golden brown.
    3. Remove from pan and cool completely.
    4. *OR*
    5. Preheat oven to 200C/fan 180C/400F. Place bread pieces onto a baking tray.
    6. Drizzle the oil and some salt making sure that bread absorbed the oil.
    7. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown, turning then halfway through.
    8. Remove from oven and cool completely.

  • Make the dressing:
    1. In a bowl, mash the anchovies well.
    2. Add in the garlic (if using), mayonnaise, and vinegar. Whisk to combine well.
    3. Stir in the grated parmesan. It should have the consistency of yoghurt. If it's too thick, whisk in some warm water a little at a time.

  • To assemble:
    1. Just before serving, put in a bowl the lettuce, half of the chicken (if using), and half of the croutons, and drizzle most of the dressing. Toss to mix.
    2. Scatter on top the rest of the croutons and chicken. Drizzle the rest of the dressing. Serve immediately.

*Note: If a whole garlic in the dressing is too strong, you can just add in a hint of garlicky taste by cutting a whole garlic in half and then rubbing the inside of the bowl and the whisking utensil (fork or small whisk) to be used for making the dressing.

*Variations: Instead of chicken, you can put in crumbled crispy fried bacon or flaked canned tuna.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Scrumptious Brownies

This is the very first brownie I ever baked in my life. I found it at the back of a Baker's baking chocolate carton eons ago when I was still single and was trying hard to keep myself busy with something mildly creative. It is indeed very scrumptious and quite rich. I had to reduce the sweetness and the nuts to cater to my taste. Other than that, I don't think there's anything else to change. This goes to show the hidden gems you can find behind jars, wrappers, and boxes. As far as I know they are well tested in the kitchens of the producing companies. They may not be fancy but 95% of the time they do work. Sometimes it even gives me ideas on how and where to use the ingredient. Like the cookbook by Phil Vickery that I got free from Carnation condensed milk, it's got super delectable looking desserts ranging from cakes and cookies to ice creams and mousses. All made with condensed milk. How's that for dozens of ideas?

Scrumptious Brownies

250 g  dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa content)
1 cup butter
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven at 190°C/fan 170°C/375°F. Grease and line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with greaseproof paper with a little overhanging the side.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water in a saucepan.
  3. When completely melted, remove from saucepan and cool slightly.
  4. Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in separate large mixer bowl on high speed for 10 minutes.
  5. Beat in melted chocolate mixture on low speed.
  6. Add flour, beating just to blend.
  7. Using a wooden spatula, stir in nuts.
  8. Spread in the prepared baking pan.
  9. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until cake tester inserted into center comes out almost clean. *Do not* overbake!
  10. Cool in pan. Loosen sides with a butter knife then grab the extra overhanging greaseproof paper on the sides and remove the brownie from the pan. Cut into squares.

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Fresh Strawberry Tart

Fresh Strawberry Tart
Strawberry - my favourite berry. It's summertime again and the produce section in shops are filled with all kinds of berries which my family would certainly take advantage of. My son likes raspberries, my daughter like cherries and strawberries (like me) and the husband likes everything! Good thing they like most fruits to compensate for not particularly wanting to eat much veggies.

I found this irresistible tart on the cover of last month's BBC Good Food magazine and I thought I just had to make it. Good thing we were invited by good friends of ours for a barbecue so I have a good excuse. I tweaked this recipe of Phil Vickery a little bit to cater to my taste - increasing the sugar in the filling and decreasing the jam (you don't really need that much). My youngest helped me a lot in making this. Actually, she's bragging to our hosts that she made it. ;) And rightfully so. She helped cut in the butter, she rolled the dough and pressed it in the pan, she hulled the strawberries, mixed the fillings, glazed the pastry as well as the strawberries, and sprinkled over the nuts. I say - well done my little one!

Fresh Strawberry Tart

100 g  unsalted butter - chilled and cubed
200 g  plain flour
2 tsp caster sugar (superfine)
1 egg - beaten

250 g  cream cheese
3 Tbsp caster sugar (superfine)
grated zest from 1 small orange
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from the small orange)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint (optional)

500 g  strawberries - hulled and halved
3 Tbsp strawberry jam
1 1/2 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp chopped, shelled pistacios

  • Preheat oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/400°F.

  • For the pastry crust:
    1. Put flour and sugar in a bowl, mix well.
    2. Add the cubed butter and cut it in the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or 2 butter knives until of coarse breadcrumbs consistency.
    3. Add only 3/4 of the beaten egg (reserve the rest for glazing). Toss the mixture, adding a little water if needed, until the dough just about comes together into a ball.
    4. Wrap plastic or cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
    5. Roll out the dough evenly on a floured surface to about 1.5 inches/4 cm larger than a 9-inch/23cm tart pan (preferably with removable bottom).
    6. Put the rolled dough on the tart pan and press it in. Trim excess pastry from the edge.
    7. Prick base well with a fork and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
    8. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper or foil then fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes.
    9. Decrease oven temperature to 160°C/fan 140°C/325°F. Remove the foil with the baking beans and cook for a further 10 minutes.
    10. Take out the oven and brush with the reserved beaten egg (to prevent the crust from getting soggy with the filling). Put back in the oven for about 2-3 minutes.
    11. Remove from oven and cool completely.

  • For the filling and assembly:
    1. Beat the cream cheese with the sugar, juice, and orange zest. Mix in the chopped mint.
    2. Spread the mixture on the pastry case and arrange the strawberries prettily on top.
    3. Gently heat the strawberry jam and the water while stirring all the time. Sieve the jam (optional) and then brush over the strawberries to give it an attractive gloss.
    4. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top. Remove from tart pan and serve.

Fresh Strawberry Tart