Monthly Archives: March 2012

Tomato Tartlets

Puff pastry sold in supermarkets is a genius intervention. I know some people believe firmly in making everything from scratch. but puff pastry is one of those things which the homemade handmade version is no different from the ones sold ready-made in supermarkets. In fact, sometimes the former falls short of the latter. So with making your own puff pastry being so time-consuming, why not just pay a little and make your life easier?

Then again, that’s just me.

Well then, back to topic, these little babies are so easy to make, you’d be smiling from ear to ear by the time they’re on your dining table. They’re also one of them quick treats you can whip up if you’ve got guests coming round on short notice. Here’s how:

  1. If your pastry is already pre-rolled, that’s good. If not, roll it out till it’s about 5mm thick.
  2. Cut them into little rectangles and score a border around all four sides of each piece.
  3. You can brush them with an egg wash, if you want. Then, lay pieces of sliced tomatoes atop, fitting them within the scored borders.
  4. Crack a little sea salt on each and pop them into the pre-heated oven, top rack at 200ªC for about 10 minutes before lowering to 180ªC for another 10 minutes or so. Remove once the pastry is nicely browned.
  5. When fresh out of the oven, drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle a small pinch of dried basil.
  6. Let them cool on a cooling rack and serve when no longer piping hot.

Happy days.


Pasta Peperonata

This is probably one of the best ways to have peppers, when they are the limelight of the show, no distractions, except for the lovely crunch of added pine nut or peanuts.

  1. In a hot skillet with a small knob of butter, let the butter foam till the foaming subsides.
  2. Toss in minced garlic and chopped red onion and fry till fragrant.
  3. Welcome the Aroma Fairies.
  4. Toss in the chopped peppers. Usually recipes of this kind call for only yellow and red peppers ‘cos they’re sweeter than the green ones, but I’m greedy so I add all three colours.
  5. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Yes, season the yellow, red and green peppers with black pepper.
  6. Turn the heat down to a simmer and put a lid on. Let the peppers simmer happily for about 10 minutes; you wanna be doing this to extract the full flavour of the peppers.
  7. While waiting, set your pasta boiling away, as per instructions on packaging.
  8. Splash some red wine vinegar into the peppers and let it reduce slightly. If the Aroma Fairies don’t come by again, something’s not quite right.
  9. Drain your cooked pasta and add to the pan of peppers. Drizzle a good lug of extra virgin olive oil to deglaze the pan.
  10. Toss in pine nuts, or the cheaper alternative of peanuts. Mix everything up good.
  11. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Gratin Dauphinois

Apart from its fancy French name, Potato Gratin, or baked potatoes, is real smart dish to make if you’ve got guests coming round to dine on short notice. While the dish is cooking by itself in the oven, you’re free to make other kinds of food.

  1. Using medium-sized potatoes, place them all in the baking dish of choice. TIP! This gives you a rough estimate of how many potatoes you need to fill the entire dish.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 5mm thick disks. Place the potato disks into a mixing bowl as you go along. TIP! If you’re using sweet potatoes, you can choose to leave the skin on, just make sure you scrub them well clean.
  3. Season with minced garlic, thyme, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a good lug of olive oil. If you’re extravagant, use melted butter in place of olive oil.
  4. After ensuring that all disks are coated with the seasoning well, arrange the pieces nicely in the (buttered) baking dish, either in rows or in a round (as in picture above).
  5. Drizzle a round of cream (double cream, if you want), making sure every disk has a little lick of cream.
  6. Cover with foil and chuck it in the oven for 20 minutes at 180ªC.
  7. While that’s happening, you can prepare a lovely gravy and/or glazed vegetables.
  8. After 20 minutes, the potatoes should be almost done, if not already soft. Remove the foil and taste a piece, adjust seasoning accordingly, bearing in mind that the cheese you are about to add can be salty.
  9. Drizzle another round of cream.
  10. Grate Parmesan over the top. Cheddar or any other hard cheese works as well.
  11. Finally, put it back in the oven uncovered, for another 10 minutes, or until the top is gently browned.

Fried Rice Noodles

Back home, I remember having this on only two different kinds of occasions. One, during morning breakfasts at the local hawker centre before heading to the grocers’ market, and two, while having a BBQ, as a carbohydrate accompaniment for the lead-acting chicken wings.

In any case, last week, I managed to get hold of some dried rice noodles (affectionately known as bee hoon back home), courtesy of my friend and neighbour Joanna. In attempt to recreate the subliminal dining experience of Fried Bee Hoon, I’m clueless about the proportionate and quantities of the ingredients. But I’d like to highlight the important processes around getting the right noodle-texture – not too soft and not too stringy.

 

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  1. Before getting down to doing anything, put the kettle on. Then, submerge the desired quantity of dried rice noodles with hot hot water, letting them soften until they are soft but still firm. If unsure, make a guess, what you’re aiming for is that the noodles feel about 5-10 minutes away from being cooked (in a pot). This is absolutely crucial.
  2. While that’s going on, prepare all your ingredients e.g. carrots sticks, sliced onions, minced garlic, slices of ginger, beansprouts, etc.
  3. Next, stir-fry all the ingredients in a large wok with an appropriate amount of vegetable oil. Garlic, onions and ginger going in first, frying till fragrant, then the rest of the veggies. Once they’re done, turn the heat down low.
  4. In a small bowl, make a mixture of fish sauce, light soy sauce, white pepper, dark soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. (TIP! I’m not certain of the quantities at all, but as a guideline, fish sauce is VERY salty, and sesame oil can be overpowering in flavour so don’t use too much. Also, dark soy sauce is to give the lovely deep brown colour to the noodles but using too much can be overwhelming as well. A peppery kick is essential so don’t skimp on the white pepper.)
  5. Dump the drained rice noodles into the wok together with the cooked veggies, and then pour in the sauce mixture.
  6. With CHOPSTICKS or tongs, toss continuously till the end of the cooking time, gently but surely, from the bottom up.
  7. For the texture of the noodles, add water in small quantities, bringing to the boil first with a higher heat before steaming the noodles with a low heat. Do this continuously until you get the perfect texture – not too soft and clumpy yet not stringy and wire-like at all.
  8. For the flavour, taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly until you’ve got what you think is right for you.
  9. Serve it up with a fried egg sunny side-up, and with sliced red chilli. Or if you’ve thought ahead, pickled green chilli.

Don’t be afraid that of cooking too much at a go, saving it in the fridge overnight and having it the next day makes it more moist, and some say taste better.


Avocado, Feta & Walnut Dip

This is so incredibly easy to do, it will knock your socks off.

All you got to do is blitz a small handful of walnut in a food processor, then dump in an avocado, followed by a small chunk feta cheese, tasting as you go along, and adding more accordingly. Finally, don’t forget that lug of good quality extra virgin olive oil to hold everything together. What you’re aiming for is a lovely creamy dip.

For those who prefer the old school method, or don’t own a food processor – like me – a pestle and mortar does it easy. Less hassle washing up as well.

Great with carrot sticks.

Out of this world with sausages and toast.


Fluting Mushrooms

A couple of days ago, I came across this like fancy trick to make mushrooms look pretty, and so I learnt that it’s called fluting. I think brown cap mushrooms are best for this so you see the design better with the difference in colours.

With a small sharp knife in hand, press the cap of the mushroom gently but surely against the knife. Note that the mushroom is cut by being pressed towards the knife; while the knife stays rather still throughout. Of course, this is done before the mushroom is cooked.

I think before this, mushrooms never looked more presentable.

Try it today!


Bitter Chocolate Raspberry Tart

It’s probably about time I shared this recipe. Even though I haven’t quite perfected it, I think it comes out pretty lovely each time. Also, while I think it’s a French dessert, I wouldn’t dare.

Made from three main components, this tart comprising sweet shortcrust pastry, glossy chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries will rock your socks off. I hope. I guess you’d probably find better recipes for the perfect pastry out there, but I’m pretty pleased with my chocolate ganache.

These numbers are for approximately two 6-inch tart tins:

Pastry

  1. In a 150g heap of plain sifted flour, make a hole in the middle so the flour is now in a ring.
  2. Add in, tiny cubes of soft unsalted butter, about 80g in total.
  3. And about 40g of caster sugar.
  4. Using your fingertips, incorporate the sugar with the butter until there are no more big lumps.
  5. Then, add in an egg yolk, and mix with the butter and sugar, until creamy.
  6. Finally, bring in the flour gradually, until it sits as a single ball.
  7. Wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes. Apparently, you can keep it at this stage for up to a day in the fridge.
  8. When ready to use, TIP! roll the pastry out between two sheets of cling film. This makes it way easier to handle. Roll it out till it’s 2mm thick.
  9. Transfer the pastry layer onto a well-greased tart tin and gently but surely, press it well against the tin walls.
  10. Blind-bake it with ceramic beads on baking paper (or if you’re daring enough, copper coins), for about 20 minutes at 180ªC. It must be fully cooked, but not overdone.

Chocolate Ganache

  1. In the meantime, with a tablespoon of liquid glucose in a pot, add 150ml of single cream (or double cream if it tickles your fancy).
  2. Once the sweet cream mixture comes to a boil, take it off the heat.
  3. Immediately, add in 200g of dark chocolate chunks (70% cocoa), and about 80g of unsalted butter.
  4. Stir well until smooth, and set it aside for use later.

Raspberries

  1. As much as possible, using only the larger raspberries, half them vertically with a small knife.

Combining

  1. Once the pastry is baked and done, let it cool.
  2. Then, put in the raspberries. Don’t just throw them in, arrange them radially cut side down. You will be duly rewarded when you cut into the tart later.
  3. Pour the chocolate ganache in and make sure it sits evenly.
  4. Chill in the fridge for about an hour, or till the ganache is no longer runny, but yet still slightly gooey.
  5. If you’re extravagant, serve with sifted icing sugar atop, and a fancy chocolate decoration. If not, JUST DIG IN.

Photography: Sarah Lee