Posted in Home Baking

In Which One’s Second Attempt at Cheesecake Yields Amazingly Desirable Results…

Cheesecake 2 was firmer, more lemony, and totally moreish
Cheesecake 2 was firmer, more lemony, and totally moreish

My first cheesecake a couple weekends ago was a rather successful thing: firm on the edges, the fruity coulis on top swirled into a thing of marbled beauty, the crust all crisp and crumbly below.  However, I couldn’t help but feel like I did something wrong somewhere because the middle was all runny; while it did taste good, it sort of put me off.  No one else seemed to complain, however.

Still, I was rather uneasy with my first attempt at cheesecake.  So when the first one was finished off by my sister who polished off the last wedge standing for breakfast last Saturday, I got to thinking and whipped up a second cheesecake – and this one had me seriously pleased.

The trick, I learned, was to raise the temperature a notch higher than the first one.  Also, I chose to reduce the amount of sour cream in the filling.  The end result was firmer, but nevertheless melted in diners’ mouths.  Plus, this second cake doesn’t have any coulis marbled on its surface – for the basic reason that I ran out of fruit I could puree and hadn’t had time to make a quick market run before baking.  I swirled in some strawberry jam and spruced it up with some lemon flavoring (finely grated lemon zest works just as well) – et voila!  A dessert I could be justly proud of.

Lemon-Berry Cheesecake

  • 150 grams digestive biscuits, broken
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, plus a bit more for greasing your tin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 500 grams cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup strawberry jam
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon lemon flavoring or 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 eggs

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees / Gas Mark 3.  Grease an 8-inch cake tin and line the bottom with waxed paper; set aside.

Blitz the digestives in a blender or food processor till they’ve been reduced to coarse crumbs.  Combine the crumbs with the butter and cinnamon; press evenly onto the bottom of your prepared cake tin.  Refrigerate until needed.

Cream together the softened cream cheese and sugar till light and fluffy.  Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean (save the pod for vanilla sugar) and add to the cheese.  Mix in the lemon flavoring, sour cream, and eggs until well-combined and smooth.  Pour onto the prepared crust.  Dollop the jam over and swirl in with a butter knife.

Bake for 1 hour.  Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for another half-hour.  Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for an hour.  Refrigerate at least three hours or, better yet, overnight before serving.

Serves 12.

Variations

Pear-and-Ginger Cheesecake     Swap the digestives for an equal amount of gingersnaps and don’t add cinnamon; proceed as usual for the crust.  Instead of strawberry jam, puree 200 grams tinned pears in syrup and one fresh pear (peeled and cored).  Swirl the resulting coulis on top, marbling it through with a butter knife.  Bake and cool in the usual way.

Chocolate Almond Cheesecake     Swap the digestives for an equal amount of chocolate sandwich cookies (keep the cream centers, too!) and don’t add cinnamon; proceed as usual for the crust.  Instead of strawberry jam, chop 200 grams dark chocolate-coated almonds and swap the lemon flavoring for an equal amount of almond extract; mix the extract in first and fold in the chopped chocolate-nuts.  Bake and cool in the usual way.

Posted in Home Cooking

In Which the Blogger Takes a Different Approach to Pork Chops…

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These piggies are garlicky and richly flavored

Say this about pork chops: they’re easy to prepare if you’re pressed for time and everyone’s hungry.  Just some salt and pepper, fry them in a mix of oil and butter or slap them on a grill, and you are good to go.  Sometimes, they get dipped in batter or coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried.  It does get rather boring, though, if you prepare them the same way over and over and over again.

Not to fear: there is a solution to keep your chops from getting the chop (so to speak!).  These are what I call my salpi-chops.  This dish is so named because some of the ingredients are the same as those for my beef salpicao: salt, pepper, garlic, an amazing sauce, and some butter.  The only difference is that these chops aren’t flash-fried and doused with the sauce.  Instead, the chops are first parboiled then quick-braised in the sauce to make sure that the meat is tender and flavorful.

Salpi-Chops

  • 3 thick-ish bone-in pork chops
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon rock salt
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Bash the chops with a metal or wooden meat-mallet until slightly flattened and tender.  Rub with the salt, pepper, sesame oil, and half the garlic.  Place in a covered dish and leave to marinate for an hour or overnight in the fridge.

Brown the chops on both sides in a non-stick pan.  Pour in 1 cup of the water and bring to a boil over medium heat; cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until the chops are tender and the liquid in the pan has almost completely evaporated.  Add the remaining garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the Worcestershire, soy, and oyster sauces to the pan and toss the chops to coat them well with the sauce; cook an additional 2 minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the remaining water, scraping deposits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden or teflon spoon.  Bring to a boil and cook until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Remove the chops from the pan and add butter to the sauce.  Stir until the butter has melted and is well-incorporated into the sauce.  Put the chops back in and cook an additional minute.  Serve with either plain rice or hot fettucine noodles tossed with some butter and chopped fresh parsley.

Serves 4.

Posted in Home Cooking, The Well-read Foodie

In Which the Blogger Looks to Donna Hay for Breakfast Inspiration…

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One loaded frittata

Say this about weekend breakfasts: you can make them as special as you want them to be in order to make up for the morning meals you either rushed through or skipped all together during the course of the work-week.  Weekend breakfasts are also a great restorative for those of you who had one drink too many on Friday night and for those of us who are just plain grateful that the bloody week is finally over.

Saturday and Sunday morning breakfasts are also an excellent way to show off one’s culinary skills or try out new recipes seen on someone else’s blog or in the pages of one’s favorite foodie reads.  For this morning’s breakfast, I took a cue from Issue #50 of Australia’s Donna Hay Magazine.  (If, like me, you collect ’em, it’s the one with the dark blue and silver cover with a gorgeous chocolate cake out front.)

This comes from an article extolling the many ways by which potatoes can be prepared and savored.  The original recipe was called a potato, chorizo, and goat’s curd frittata, basically a baked omelet featuring – well, what else? – eggs, potatoes, chorizo, and goat’s curd.  For several reasons, my version was a bit simpler: I had no goat cheese – be it kesong puti or even a locally made chevre – and only had creamy little wedges of Laughing Cow (La Vache Qui Rit), no onion jam or store-bought caramelized onions, and I used the last of the sour cream for a second cheesecake.  But, one makes use of the ingredients on hand to the best of one’s abilities – and I am pleased to say that my shortcut frittata was really quite delicious.

Incidentally, the proper sausage to use for this dish is chorizo; the pimenton picante-spiced chorizo de Pamplona works beautifully and adds a touch of fire to the dish, though the more common chorizo de Bilbao is also a delicious choice.  Might I also suggest garlicky Vigan or Lucban longganizas or maybe even blood sausages like Spanish morcillas (always a delicious thing to have with potatoes) or German/Austrial blutwurst and British black pudding.

Potato-Chorizo Frittata

  • 300 grams potatoes, peeled, and sliced a bit thickly
  • 3 wedges Laughing Cow cheese, diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • chorizo de Pamplona orchorizos de Bilbao, sliced on the bias
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced thinly

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6.  In a small frying pan over medium heat, put one tablespoon of olive oil and heat.  Once the oil is hot, drop in the sliced onion and cook, whilst stirring frequently, until softened, fragrant, and caramelized around the edges.  Set aside.

In a medium baking dish, toss together the sliced potato and chorizo  with  the remaining olive oil until well coated.  Put in oven and roast for 30 minutes.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.  Pour the egg mixture over the roasted potatoes and sausage.  Evenly scatter the diced cheese and the caramelized onions.  Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 – 20 minutes, just till the eggs have set and gone puffy.

Serve with either buttered toast or fluffy steamed rice.  A dollop of ketchup, mustard, or English brown sauce would also be nice.

Serves 4.

Posted in Sweets for the Sweet, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Joy of Snacks

In Which Chunky KitKats Get Nutty Upgrades…

Peanut butter or gianduia...
Peanut butter or gianduia…

There is nothing – may I repeat: nothing – better to eat on a seriously bad day than a KitKat bar.  Go ahead and say it because it’s true: it’s not great chocolate, it’s a cheap-arse thrill, and it isn’t the healthiest of snacks.  But, when you’re having one of those days when the world seems to be spitting in your face, kicking you in the nether regions (even if you’re female), and pretty much badmouthing you behind your back, there is no better pick-me-up.

More so, of course, when the bar in your hand is a KitKat Chunky.  There is just something undeniable fantastic about that thicker layer of chocolate and thicker, crunchier wafers.  Eating one when your day’s been shot to hell is something akin to bundling yourself into bed with a pile of soft, fluffy blankets on a cold night.  I used to think there was nothing better – until I found these two beasties: the chunky peanut butter and hazelnut cream variants.

Currently available only at your friendly neighborhood 7-11 in this part of the world, both bars are milk choc-coated behemoths that are totally moreish.  The peanut butter one is what you need when you’re having one of those days when you can’t decide between having something sweet and something salty; it’s totally nutty, satisfying, and isn’t going to choke you in the same way as, say, a Snickers bar with more caramel than peanuts.  The hazelnut cream, on the other hand, is also coated with milk chocolate and layers the wafers with some Nutella-style hazelnut-cocoa spread.  Not really my thing, but it is nice and should go over well with the more Nutella-crazed among us.

Both, may I add, are a better option for cheering up than that vile monstrosity called KitKat Chunky White.  That sugar-laden thing should, in my personal opinion, be outlawed for simply existing…

Posted in Home Cooking

In Which the Blogger Takes a Shot at Making Salpicao

Salpicao: all saucy and beefy and garlicky...
Salpicao: all saucy and beefy and garlicky…

Say this about salpicao: not only is it an excellent choice for bar chow [pulutan], but it also doubles as a main dish for lunch or dinner.  (Or breakfast, even, if you’re the steak-and-eggs sort.)  There is just something so good, so satisfying about this combination of tender, cubed beef cooked with soy and plenty of garlic.

I’ve cooked it before, several times as a matter of fact, but haven’t been able to find a satisfactory recipe until now.  Unlike most salpicao recipes that feature only soy sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic in varying amounts, this one has the virtue of being packed with flavor thanks to the addition of three other ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, and – you’d better believe it – butter.

The tamarind and vinegar in the Worcestershire takes the edge off the salinity of the soy sauce while the oyster sauce gives it an umami twist that makes the flavor of the beef pop out.  The butter adds richness and makes the garlic taste deliciously nutty and mellow, a perfect counterpoint to the ferrous tang of the beef.

Served on its own and paired with a proper beer (pale pilsen, cerveza negra, maybe even a pint or two of Guinness or Newcastle Brown Ale – not that filthy, vaguely beerish swill marketed as San Mig Lite), it is a savory thing to nibble with drinks.  Paired with rice for dinner, it makes a hearty, satisfying meal.

Salpicao de Margarita

  • 1/2 kilo beef sirloin, cut into smallish cubes
  • 8 cloves garlic, bashed, peeled, and minced finely
  • 1 teaspoon coarse [rock] salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
  • a few drops sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Toss together the cubed beef, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.  Leave for about ten minutes, then add a few drops of sesame oil and toss with your hands.  Leave to marinate for an hour (covered in the fridge overnight also works).

Heat a non-stick pan over high heat.  When the pan is close to smoking hot, put in the beef and garlic and stir-fry until the beef has browned.  Reduce heat to medium and add the Worcestershire, soy, and oyster sauces; toss the beef cubes to coat them evenly.  Cook for about a couple of minutes or until the sauce has been reduced and slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat and immediately toss in the butter, stirring to coat the beef.

Serves 6 if served as is with drinks, 4 if served as a main course with either rice or mashed potatoes.

Posted in The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic

In Which a Soul-soothing Lunch is Made Instant…

Just five minutes away from oden-ramen
Just five minutes away from oden-ramen

Glum would have to be an understatement when it comes to describing how I feel right now, blue even more so.  I know it’s part of the recovery process following a bout of the flu, but I wish I didn’t have to feel so blah, so tired, and so angry with the world.

It also doesn’t help that my taste-buds are still out of whack and I’m in desperate need of something soupy yet stodgy all at the same time.  This is where the notion of oden-ramen comes in.

Oden is a classic Japanese winter dish most commonly sold at street-stalls near bars at night.  It involves a variety of things, mostly boiled eggs, radish chunks, and fish cakes in a dizzying array of forms and flavors all cooked in a dashi, soy sauce, or miso paste-based broth.  (Hence its original name of miso-dengaku – literally “stuff cooked and eaten with miso“.)  Fish-cakes (and those made with squid, cuttlefish, shrimp, and scallops) prepared in this manner are virtually unheard of in this part of the world, but they are widely available deep-fried and sold four or five to a skewer.  Believe me when I say that this actually makes things easier.

As for noodle bowls, any supermarket or extensively stocked convenience store has them.  I’m not talking about the local knock-offs which give you a bare mouthful of noodles floating in an ocean of broth, I’m talking about those Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean imports that are huge, deep, and pretty much leave you stuffed with equal helpings of both noodles and soup.  Once you’ve picked a bowl (the Nissin Demae Ramen in chicken-sesame [the red bowl with the blond noodle-boy mascot] is ace and anything by Nong Shim of Korea rocks), it’s laissez les bon temps rouler.

After three minutes of steeping, lunch is served
After three minutes of steeping, lunch is served

As for the oden component of this particular lunch bowl, I hied off to my local Potdog stall to grab some seafood bites.  This bowl features lobster balls studded with sweet corn kernels, crab eggs (so named because they look like sliced boiled eggs, albeit made with fake crab), squid nuggets (chewy, savory squid cakes with bits of spring onion), and faux crablets.  Totally, utterly delish if you ask me: the seafood bites stay crisp on the outside yet tender within despite being soaked in the broth and the starchy noodles bring the nutty sesame flavor of the broth and the flavors of the bites into high relief.

Okay, so it may not be the healthiest thing to eat for lunch, but I don’t freaking care.  It helped cheer me up and fill my belly all at the same time – that, by itself, makes it worthwhile.

Posted in Home Baking

In Which the Blogger FINALLY Tries Her Hand at Cheesecake…

After spending the night in the fridge...
After spending the night in the fridge…

I have gone on record as saying that cheesecakes are quite beyond me.  Even with electric mixers, I am not confident at all about whipping cream, cream cheese, and gelatin into fluffy clouds for it.  At the same time, I have a serious confession to make: I don’t like Graham cracker crusts: in this part of the world, people who make cheesecakes on a commercial level make them either too soggy or throw in a tad too much sugar.  So, ick, meh…

Until this weekend, of course.  I don’t know what got into me but I found myself, newly recovered from the flu, traipsing down to the supermarket to grab a kilo of cream cheese, a tub of sour cream, some tinned peaches in syrup, and mangoes to do something of a tropical spin on a blueberry swirl cheesecake recipe I saw in an ad supplement for Harvey Norman in an old issue of Donna Hay Magazine.  (Given the scorching heat we’re having in the Philippines, mango season has arrived a touch early…)

Why?  I’m torn between saying that it looked easy enough and that I thought it would be a good challenge for me to tackle.  Besides, for some odd reason, I was feeling more than a little restless last night, so I decided to do some cooking to burn out the excess energy.  Anyrood…

This particular cheesecake is a gorgeously rich, deeply satisfying little number punctuated by contrasts: tart and tangy, subtly sweet, creamy on top and crisp underneath.  I swapped milk-chocolate digestives for the Graham crackers to give the crust a slightly sweeter yet nuttier flavor without needing to add any extra sugar.   Instead of vanilla extract, I used a vanilla bean; believe me when I say that it makes all the difference as the creamy cheese becomes almost nuttily fragrant and make the peach-mango mixture more sensually appealing.  Plus, swirling the fruit coulis on top makes it absolutely chic and elegant enough to serve at a dinner party.  It’s a rather fiddly, multi-step operation, but let me hasten to assure you that the end result is abso-freaking-lutely worth it.

One more thing: the original recipe calls for baking this nifty dessert in one of those classic springform pans – a notion to which I turned up my nose (more because I don’t own a springform pan than anything else) and used a standard-issue cake/pie tin.  Worked like a charm, really…

Summer Marble Cheesecake

  • 180 grams milk chocolate digestives
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 200 grams diced peaches in syrup
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, seeded, and chunked
  • 500 grams cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 vanilla bean

Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees / Gas Mark 2.  Grease a 9-inch cake tin and line the base with a circle of waxed paper.

Pulse the digestives in a food processor or pulse-blender till pulverized.  Pour in the melted butter and mix until it clumps together.  Press the crumb mixture evenly onto the base of the prepared tin.  Refrigerate until needed.

Puree the peaches and chunked mango in a blender or food processor until smooth; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add these to the whipped cheese, saving the pod for vanilla sugar or some other use; mix well.  Add the sour cream and eggs; mix until smooth and well-combined.  Pour the mixture onto the prepared crust.

Drizzle the peach-mango coulis over the cream cheese mixture and drag through a butter knife or wooden skewer to make a marbled effect.  Pop into the oven and bake for an hour or until set.  Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for an additional ten minutes; remove from oven and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.  Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Serves 12.