Friday, December 31, 2010

Toys in my Kitchen

hello! Meet the new member of my kitchen. I had been pining for this for a few years now I finally have a food processor that can handle more than just mincing garlic, which I rather just chop manually.

Once upon a time, I had a $15 food processor that I used less than 5 times residing in the back of my kitchen cabinet. Whenever I used it I get frustrated because of the capacity (can't be more than 2 cups), the power, and the construction (it leaked terribly). It sat in the cabinet for years, and when we moved to our new house, I put it in the donation pile.

Why did I buy it in the first place? Well, I wanted to make pineapple tarts, but didn't want to grate the pineapples manually so I thought a good processor would ease and speed up the work. But Mr. was with me when I was shopping for one and he reasoned the cheap instrument works just as good as the more expensive ones, that's not the first time he has said that when it comes to me getting kitchen equipments or anything. I didn't put up a fight and regretted it the moment I used it. It was too small to handle the job, leaked around the seams. Long story short, it would be easier and quicker if I grated the pineapple by hand.

from left to right:
VitaMix Blender, KitchenAid food processor and mixer

I have been slowly acquiring kitchen equipments that I won't curse when I use them. I do my research from Consumer Reports to customers review, to make sure they are worthy to take up the limited real estate in my kitchen. And while we can't afford All Clad and Viking, I believe buying the best that one can afford will save one repairs to the walls, windows, or the floor in the future.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Garlic Shrimp Pasta

Sometime this year, we started tracking our expenses in, a free web-based personal finance software. To track and know our spending is a rude awakening to me, our family's (2 + 1 dog) monthly food expense is a lot higher than family of 5. We went to coffee houses frequently, ate out probably 75% of the time, and fluffy got expensive treats. So in an afford to reduce our monthly food cost, I have been making a concerted effort to cook when I am home. Buying and freezing meat when they are on sale, making big portions, freezing leftovers, and encouraging Mr. to bring leftovers or frozen box meals for lunch instead of going to the cafeteria.

Although we are still spending more than most family our size, I think, we are making big progress in reducing our food cost, about 40% reduction. I don't know if we can to cut our food and dinning expenditure to the average level where similar households are at, as we like our snacks and I am also oppose to consuming too much cheap and processed food. Well, if we have to, we can cut our portions, buy cheaper cut of meat, add more carbs and beans, but I want to enjoy our shrimps, rib-eye, and cinnamuffins, for now.

This is a quick and easy meal to make on a weekday, I whipped this up in less than an hour. The beauty of this meal is, I have everything in my fridge and pantry. It is simple to make and yet packs in a lot of flavor from the garlic, the seafood broth I made, and shrimp that's not overcooked. I added tomatoes because I think the acidity adds to this dish and like to fruits and veggies. I will add frozen broccoli and reduce some pasta, to increase my dietary fiber and vitamins intake.

Serves 4.

Marinate the shrimp while you prepare the remaining ingredients.


5 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 5 teaspoons)
4 medium cloves, smashed
1 pound large shrimp (21-25), peeled, deveined, each shrimp cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound pasta in short, tubular shapes, such as fusilli, campanelle, or mezze rigatoni
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice plus 1 lemon, cut into wedges
table salt
ground black pepper

  1. Toss 2 teaspoons minced garlic, shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature 20 minutes.

  2. Heat 4 smashed garlic cloves and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is light golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use slotted spoon to remove garlic from skillet; discard garlic. Set skillet aside.

  3. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven.

  4. While pasta cooks, return skillet with oil to medium heat; add shrimp with marinade to skillet in single layer. Cook shrimp, undisturbed, until oil starts to bubble gently, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to medium bowl. Add remaining 3 teaspoons minced garlic and pepper flakes to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; stir in vermouth and cook for 1 minute. Add clam juice and parsley; cook until mixture starts to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice. Add shrimp and sauce to pasta, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Season with black pepper. Serve, passing lemon wedges separately.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Best Blueberry Muffins

Best Blueberry Muffin

Two weeks ago, I found the best blueberry muffins recipe (watching America's Test Kitchen online) I have baked so far, Mr. and I have also declared them to be the best blueberry muffins we ate to date, fluffy gives his nod of approval too. So when the box of 18 ounces blueberries were displayed in the cooler at Sam's club, they were calling out to me to bake them. I tried to resist, Mr. can testify, since we are trying to keep our groceries bills down, but I caved in. I reasoned I can gift them away to neighbors and friends for this holiday season, who doesn't want freshly baked muffins?

I started making the blueberry jam yesterday and planned to bake them early this morning at 6am so that Mr. could have them for breakfast before he drove to work. I didn't woke up till 6:52am. I still might be able to make them before he stepped out of the door if I hurry, I told myself. I can tell you now that it's not a good idea to rush when one is half awake. I measured my dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and whisked them together. Melt the butter and whisk the wet ingredients together (buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla essence). Incorporate the blueberries, wet and dry ingredients together. The mixture looked different than what I had the first time I baked these, I tasted the batter.... I FORGOT the sugar! I didn't want to throw away the sugarless batter, so I added the sugar to the already rubbery dough, hoping for the best.

Out from the oven

While waiting for the failed muffins to bake in the oven, I mixed another batch of blueberry muffins, this time carefully followed the instructions, at least I will have some good ones to gift away. Verdict - the 1st and 2nd batch of muffins taste similar to me, 2nd batch is slightly bigger.

2nd batch on the left, 1st on the right

The 2nd batch raised more than the 1st, possibly due to over-mixing.
The recipe calls for under mixing the batter

what should I do with the leftover Lemon-Sugar Topping?

Best Blueberry Muffins from America's TEST KITCHEN

Makes 12 muffins.


Lemon-Sugar Topping
1/3 cup sugar (2 1/3 ounces) (I used Turbinado Sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated zest from 1 lemon

2 cups fresh blueberries (about 10 ounces), picked over
1 1/8 cups sugar (8 ounces) plus 1 teaspoon
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (may substitute with 3/4 cup plain whole-milk or low-fat yogurt thinned with 1/4 cup milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. FOR THE TOPPING: Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined; set aside.

  2. FOR THE MUFFINS: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to ¼ cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk remaining 11/8 cups sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

  4. Following photos below, use ice cream scoop or large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

  5. Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


All the pictures taken from

Zhang Jingna

I appreciate good photography and often wish that I have the ability to take great pictures, especially like Zhang Jingna's. I don't usually follow photographer's work but I am a FB fan of zemotion. Zhang is highly talented and a fellow Singaporean, I started to follow her work when I was looking for wedding photographer. No she does not do wedding photography, although I wish she does, I would totally hire her, her work can be found in some bridal magazines. Here are some of her beautiful work I wish I have, framed.

You can see her work in her blog, facebook, and deviantART

Chocolate Cupcakes

I bought a big bag of Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate chips about a month or two ago, I have made several batch of cookies and still have about half a bag left. In an afford to use up the chocolate chips and Hershey cocoa powder, I came across a cupcake recipe that I have to try. The result is truly decadent.

The chocolate ganache filling should be in the middle but as you can see in the picture below it's at the bottom of the cupcake.

These cupcakes received Kevin's approval, he said that these are as good as what we can get from our favorite local cafe.

Chocolate Cupcake with Ganache filling from CI
Makes 12 cupcakes

The recipe recommends using high quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate like Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate L-60-40NV or Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar.


Ganache Filling

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/3 cup (1 ounce) dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup (4 1/8 ounces) bread flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 chocolate frosting (see recipe below)


  1. FOR GANACHE FILLING: Place chocolate, cream, and confectioners’ sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high power until mixture is warm to touch, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.

  2. FOR CUPCAKES: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have ½-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

  3. Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

  4. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.

  5. TO FROST: Mound 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.

Chocolate Frosting


1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes.

  2. Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1 to 2 minutes. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. (Frosting may look curdled after half of butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla; mix until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

French Toast

I cook and bake for different reasons:
1. need to eat;
2. want to save money;
3. want to use stuff up before it goes bad;
4. want to experiment different recipes, especially when the word "BEST" is in the title;
5. has plenty of time, but doesn't feel like cleaning/exercising/anything else that's more important.

In this case, the reason is #3. I forgot to mentioned in the last post the recipe yield 2 big loaves of Challah bread. What should we, as a household of 2 +1 dog, do with so much Challah?

As I was searching for recipes to peruse the carbs that would last us for months at the rate we are consuming bread. The French Toast published in Cooks Illustrated January 2009 caught my eyes, especially when the recipe states that a good challah produces best results. Now for 2 mornings in a row, we chowed down the best french toast I have made by far. Granted it's probably my second or third time making french toast in my lifetime, I know it won't be my last.


8 large slices hearty white sandwich bread or good-quality Challah
1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons for cooking
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Maple syrup

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place bread on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake bread until almost dry throughout (center should remain slightly moist), about 16 minutes, flipping slices halfway through cooking. Remove bread from rack and let cool 5 minutes. Return baking sheet with wire rack to oven and reduce temperature to 200 degrees.

  2. Whisk milk, yolks, sugar, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons melted butter, salt, and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Transfer mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking pan.

  3. Soak bread in milk mixture until saturated but not falling apart, 20 seconds per side. Using firm slotted spatula, pick up bread slice and allow excess milk mixture to drip off; repeat with remaining slices. Place soaked bread on another baking sheet or platter.

  4. Heat ½ tablespoon butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. When foaming subsides, use slotted spatula to transfer 2 slices soaked bread to skillet and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer. (If toast is cooking too quickly, reduce temperature slightly.) Transfer to baking sheet in oven. Wipe out skillet with paper towels. Repeat cooking with remaining bread, 2 pieces at a time, adding ½ tablespoon of butter for each batch. Serve warm, passing maple syrup separately.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Baking bread was something that I wanted to do but didn't have the courage to attempt. However the desire to make triumphed the fear or failure yesterday as I embarked on my first journey to bake my first loaf of bread.

I know I wanted to make some white bread, because I wanted to make some meatballs that calls for that, after browsing a number of my favorite website for recipes, challah bread from was calling out for me with incredible pictures and numerous positive comments. I have tried challah, a Jewish braided bread eaten during Sabbaths and holidays, from our local bakery and love the fragrant and taste of a freshly baked loaf.

The most daunting part of making bread for me is the rising of the bread, I am always afraid that it's going to flop right in the middle of the bread or have a bread that can kill a duck if I throw one in the lake (scene from "About a Boy"). So I told my time, read and rereading the recipe, watch and re-watch the youtube video that demonstrate how to braid bread. And here's the result.

It bread doesn't taste like what I had from the Grain Bin from 8 years ago, not as sweet, fragrant, or soft but it might be what homemade bread taste like. My bread is more dense than commercial bread, which might be due to over handling when I was trying to braid the bread? Someone will have to tell me or I need to remake it again to find out myself. Either way, with my first attempt in bread making out of the way, I can foresee my next loaf in the near future, maybe some dinner rolls from x'mas dinner?

Here's the recipe from

Best Challah (Egg Bread)

Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.

5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.

6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.

7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.

Note: Any of the three risings can be done in the fridge for a few hours, for more deeply-developed flavor. When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature before moving onto the next step.