Monthly Archives: January 2011

we’re going java!

if you ask hubs about his favorite pinoy dish, aristocrat’s java chicken will rank up there.  well really, what he likes about the dish is the java sauce that goes with the dish.  i think if he had his way, he would order the sauce as the entree and the chicken as the side.  the sauce itself tastes something in between teriyaki sauce, kecap manis, or molasses with peanut-ty undertones.

aristocrat’s restaurant in manila invented the sauce.  the filipino packaged goods brand, mama sita, makes a version that is sold throughout pinoy supermarkets at home and abroad.  our friends on the west coast have located the sauce at their local ethnic grocery stores.  hubs and i have yet to find the same sauce on the east coast.

a while back, i tried to make java sauce at home (attempt #1).  hubs said that it came in quite close but wasn’t quite right.  over the holidays, hubs got a hankering for java sauce again, and this time, i had him stand right next to the stove with me until his taste buds concurred that we were spot on. Continue reading

clementine marmalade cookies

way back when, i set about making clementine marmalade because i really wanted to make those jam thumbprint cookies.  i meant to make them for christmas but time got the best of me, and i never got around to doing so.  winter just hasn’t felt right to me without thumbprint cookies.

now, after i stewed up some clementine marmalade, i went about looking for a good thumbprint cookie recipe and ended up getting distracted!  (what is wrong with me?) while flipping thru dorie’s baking from my home to yours tome, i came across a rather innocuous looking recipe for jam cookies.  rather than baking the jam on top of the cookie, the jam is mixed right into the batter.  i’ve never encountered anything like that before, so i figured, why not give it a go.  plus, i’ve got enough clementine marmalade leftover for making jam thumbprint cookies, that is if i ever get around to making them. Continue reading

clementine marmalade

after a successful venture with nigella’s clementine cake recipe, i got to thinking about stewing up homemade clementine marmalade.  the thinking led to doing and lo and behold, i found myself hovered over the stove slowly stirring a pot of clementines with the marvellous recipe book (mes confitures) of christine ferber as my guide. Continue reading

berlin christmas fairs

before hubs and i left for germany, i tried to dig up as much information as i could about christmas markets in germany.  most of the info i found online seemed to indicate that these christmas fairs took place about a month or so before christmas and then just as quickly shut-down, swept away, gone on christmas eve.   we were scheduled to land noon on christmas eve, and i kept my fingers crossed that we would be able to catch at least a few hours of the christmas fair before i thought things would shut down. turns out that the fairs stay open on christmas day as well as the day after christmas.  the fairs may have remained opened a few days after the 26th as well, but we were well on our way to normandy by then. . . Continue reading

hakka-style stuffed tofu two-ways

for as long as i’ve known G, he’s been going on and on about his mum and aunt’s wonderful stuffed vegetable and tofu recipe.  and when i stopped by to celebrate christmas with his family two years ago in kuala lumpur, come supper time, his mom and aunt produced a massive plate filled with stuffed okra, peppers, eggplants and tofu, as pictured above.  pretty amazing, no?  and yes, i begged for the recipe, but was told that it was strictly a family secret.  bummer!

that said, i’ve been toying with making stuffed tofu for the past 10 years or so, although it’s usually something i make only for a special occasion…like this past thanksgiving.

most stuffed tofu recipes that i’ve seen, fry the stuffed object directly.  that technique works well only if using pre-fried tofu (yes, they sell this sort of thing in supermarkets).  i prefer to use fresh tofu, which has a tendency to fall apart if fried directly, plus the high water content of the silken tofu really muddles up the frying oil.  so, to counteract all this, i steam my tofu first, and then when it’s cold, i fry it in oil.

now, this past thanksgiving, about 2 hours before my guests showed up, i finally admitted that my turkey day menu had been a bit too ambitious (i can hear hubs’ “i told you so” refrain in the background), and decided to skip the frying and just serve the tofu steamed. it actually worked out great in retrospect, because steaming enabled me to just plop the entire basket from the steamer directly onto the “buffet” table — no plating required (not that i would have undertaken any fancy plating to begin with) — plus, i was able to serve the dish hot when guests arrived.

a few days later, when i found the box filled with leftover steamed stuffed tofu, i decided to fry those babies up.  it was like serving an entirely new dish that no one would think was made from leftovers!

Hakka-Style Stuffed Tofu 2 Ways
(makes about 24 stuffed tofu cubes)

Firm Tofu 2-3 boxes (some places package 1 large tofu block per box, some do 3 smaller tofus per box, some do 2 pieces; i recommend buying a Japanese or Chinese brand.  I’ve had mixed success with Korean tofu makers.  I bought a box of soft tofu once, and it was in fact equivalent to a Japanese or Chinese firm tofu.)
Lotus Leaf or Napa Cabbage A few pieces to be used for lining the bamboo steam basket
Lean Ground Pork ½ pound
Shrimp ½ pound, raw, peeled and deveined
Dried Shitake Mushrooms ½ cup, soaked and softened
Chinese Leeks ½ cup, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Shaoxing Wine 1 tbsp
Sesame Oil 1 tbsp
White Pepper 2 tsp
Cornstarch 2 tsp
Sauce for Steamed Tofu
Light Soy Sauce 1 cup
Cilantro ¼ cup minced
Thai chilis 2-3 stems, minced
Sauce for Fried Tofu
Chicken stock 1/3 cup
Shaoxing Wine 1/3 cup
Oyster Sauce 2 tbsp
Ginger 1 tsp minced
Shallots 1 tbsp minced
Cornstarch 1 tsp
  1. In the bowl of your food processor, drop in all ingredients.  Pulse a few times until just combined.  Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Cut tofu into roughly 1-inch cubes. Arrange in a bamboo steam basket lined with lotus leaf or napa cabbage.
  3. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of the tofu.  (it’s just a quick twist using the melon baller. you’re leaving most of the tofu intact).
  4. Pick up a tablespoon or so of stuffing and roll it into a small ball. Place the ball into the center of the tofu you just scooped out.  Repeat until all tofu as been filled.
  5. Steam for at least 20 minutes, or until the stuffing is cooked.  (It’s hard to over-steam!)
  6. To make the sauce for the steamed tofu, just combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix together with a spoon.  Serve on the side in a small bowl.
  7. To fry the leftover tofu, heat about 2 cups of canola oil in a medium sized saucepan.  When the temperature reached 380ºF,  drop in one piece of tofu to test if the temperature is right.  Then, drop in a few more.  The temperature will dip each time you introduce a new piece of tofu, so only fry a few at a time.
  8. To make the sauce for the fried tofu,  heat about 1 tbsp of canola oil in a pan.  Drop in ginger and shallots and fry until golden brown.  While the shallots of browning, dissolve cornstarch into the chicken stock.   When the shallots have lightly browned, pour in shaoxing wine, followed by chicken stock/corn starch and oyster sauce.  Reduce until thickened to the consistency of gravy. Then, pour over fried tofu. [Note: in the picture above, I ran out of shallots and ginger, and substituted with black beans.  Personally, I prefer the shallots and ginger more].

a french diner? les cocottes de christian constant

ever since i heard about this little restaurant located near the eiffel tower described as being a french take on the american diner, i’ve wanted to check it out.  so of course, when i found myself in paris during the holidays, i convinced hubs that he really wanted to leave the warmth of our hotel room and trek about 30 minutes in the cold for lunch at les cocottes de christian constant.  we got to the restaurant about 10 minutes before the 12 noon opening time.  unlike le comptoir du relais, there was no line.  i don’t know if it was due to the holidays or not, but it seemed as if one could easily breeze in as late as 12.30pm and be seated immediately.

the interior of the restaurant features a long counter (probably the source of the diner reference) and a few smaller tables with high bar seats scattered around the perimeter — all done up in a contemporary manner.  i’d say the whole thing is closer to david chang’s momofuku experience, rather than a traditional roadside diner.  we were seated at a table, rather than the counter.  our waitress hailed from australia, which was a relief, as we didn’t have to stumble through with our rather broken french.

just about everything at the restaurant is served in either a jar, or staub cookware.  the staub cooked dish goes straight from the stove to your table.

hubs and i both ordered the crab salad.  it comes served in a glass mason jar.  they really stuffed in the ingredients. it seemed as if it took me a good 20 minutes before i found the bottom of the jar. a few days later when we returned stateside, we agreed that it was one of the best things we ate on our trip.

for our mains, hubs ordered a halibut cooked in a staub pot. yes, that’s halibut under all that foam. i recall hubs remarking that when something is flavorful and perfectly cooked, you really don’t need a huge portion to feel satisfied.

i got the milkfed lamb in a thyme sauce.  even though a few pieces of the lamb were tougher than others, i quite enjoyed the dish.  like the halibut, it was perfectly seasoned and brought me back to my summer vacation in provence just a few months ago.

hubs topped himself off with an apple crisp, and i ordered a plum clafoutis.  while these were definitely your better than average desserts, i expected something more.  there are so many transcendental dessert experiences in paris, that if given a tight quota of calories to consume or dollars to spend, i would recommend skipping dessert at les cocottes and heading over to the domain of  those pastry gods that rule the saint-germain area.

there coffee is, however, excellent!  the cappucino comes deeply foamy and is accompanied with a buttery, spoon shaped cookie from poilane.

our 3 course lunch ran us about 80 euros for the both of us including wine, coffee, etc.

Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
135 Rue Saint-Dominique
75007 Paris, France
01 45 50 10 31
Lunch:12 noon – 4pm
Dinner: 7pm – 11pm
Closed on Sunday
No reservations

citrus berry terrine a la dorie

when i got my copy of dorie greenspan’s around my french table a few months ago, the picture of a sparkling, brightly colored fruit terrine really caught my eye.  i made a mental note to re-create it for thanksgiving (yes, i’m a bit behind on my posts).  i took the photo of the terrine i made following dorie’s recipe moments before my guests dove into it.  i do wish that i had more time in natural daylight to have taken a proper photo.  oh well, you get the drift.  the terrine drew a lot of oooos and ahhhhhs from my guests when i took it out from the fridge.   it’s also one of those desserts that can be made a few days in advance.

with the exception of the extra sugar added, did i mention that this dessert is chock full of vitamin C and antioxidants?

Citrus Berry Terrine
(makes one 9×5 inch terrine; adapted from dorie greenspan’s around my french table)

Citrus Fruit Segments from 2 navel oranges and 1 grapefruit, cut into bite-sized pieces.  Or, if you haven’t got the patience to segment your citrus fruit, you can use a 16oz can of mandarin oranges.
Cold Water 1/3 cup + 1/3 cup
Unflavored Gelatin 2 of those powdered packets
Fresh Squeezed Orange juice 1  2/3 cups
Sugar 1/3 cup
Mixed berries 3 cups (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)
  1. Line a 9×5 inch baking pan with plastic and set aside.   Bits of the plastic should hang over the side.  The plastic makes it much easier to unmold, as you don’t have to fuss with submerging the finished terrine into hot water or blasting the sides a bit with a blow torch to ease things along.
  2. Prepare the fruits and set aside.
  3. Allow gelatin to soften in 1/3 cup water. Use a medium sized bowl, enough to hold about 3 cups of liquid.
  4. Boil the other 1/3 cup water with 1/3 cup sugar.  You’ve just made a bit of simple syrup!  Then pour the simple syrup into the gelatin mixture to dissolve the gelatin.
  5. Next, pour the orange juice into the sugar-gelatin mixture.  Leave this in the fridge for about 2 hours.  You want the solution to be thickened but not set.  [NB: Dorie’s original recipe boils the sugar directly with the orange juice.   For some reason, i don’t like the taste of boiled fresh squeezed orange juice much.  if you’re not using fresh squeezed oj, boil away!]
  6. Drop the fruit into the thickened gelatin mixture.  Stir gently, and then pour everything into that baking pan you had lined with plastic.
  7. Leave it in the fridge to set overnight.
  8. Unmold onto a rectangular plate if you’ve got one, wiggle the plastic a bit, and wah lah!
  9. NB: usage of the plastic sometimes leaves wrinkly marks on the outside of the terrine.  I don’t mind them. I think it gives it character.  However, if you’re a perfectionist, you can do one of two things: trim off the sides with a hot knife or use an unlined pyrex dish.  for the latter, you would need to unmold by dipping the dish into hot water or blasting the sides with a blow torch.



a very baumkuchen holiday

we arrived in berlin on a gloomy grey afternoon.  soon after checking into our hotel, hubs and i walked over to gendarmenmarkt to see its famous christmas fair.  we wandered around the many nostalgic stalls selling everything from pizza to christmas ornaments to cookie cutters, when lo and behold, after rounding a corner, we came upon a rustic wooden sign with the words “BAUMKUCHEN” painted onto it.  OMG OMG OMG! i felt my heart race as i leaped around the corner to get my hands on some authentic german baumkuchen, the root etymology, the grand-daddy of all the japanese baumkuchen versions i’ve been obsessing about for years.

the baumkuchen stall we came across at the fair bore the signage: baumkuchen backstüberl.  i’m not sure if it was a famous brand of baumkuchen in germany or not?  i have a rather limited knowledge base when it comes to germany baumkuchens, unfortunately.  when i entered the word into google, it took me to the website of some traditional pastry shop in wien, austria.

unlike the slick japanese baumkuchen enterprises i visited that were manned by an army of white clad pastry chefs and salesgirls, baumkuchen backstüberl is a one woman show.  the proprietor made a single baumkuchen cake log at a time (the japanese machines will make several logs at once) on her rickety gas powered machine.

she sells her baumkuchen by weight.  there are two varieties:  fresh baumkuchen and baumkuchen coated in dark chocolate.  you can buy a segment of the log intact.  or she can slice it up for you into little cubes, which she then places in a paper cone.  it reminded me of eating popcorn out of cone.  now imagine if movie theaters in the US started to sell buckets of baumkuchen when you went to the movies instead!

in terms of taste, the german baumkuchen i tried is a bit different.   it is less dense, a bit more spongy in flavor, a tad sweeter, more vanilla-ey, and less nutty.  if i had to guess, it probably contains a lot less almond paste in its batter than the japanese baumkuchens.  i’m not complaining though.  i popped that baumkuchen cone in mouth in about 30 seconds flat.  happy christmas to me!

and just, when i thought i was done with new baumkuchen finds for the season, when i got back stateside, my friend G, who had spent his vacation in tokyo, presented me with a matcha flavored baumkuchen from kyoto based sweet shop sho-ayana (匠、彩菜).

Oo la la! what a way to end 2010 and kick off 2011! thank you G!

nigella’s clementine cake

first off, happy 2011!!! got back from berlin, normandy and paris a few days ago.  so many new things to share.  as soon as i landed though, i got hit by the “baking bug” — something that flares up whenever i’ve been away from the kitchen for too long and/or staring at gorgeous pastries abroad.

now that it’s squarely winter, i’ve moved on from my apple craze into citrus fruits, and winter is prime clementine season. that said, i’ve never baked anything with clementines up until now.  i bought a case from WF, did some googling, and came across nigella’s delightful recipe. she emphasizes that it’s incredibly easy to make, perfect for holiday festivities and keeps moist for several days.

i ended up making two cakes at the same time.  i figured that if i needed to boil  the clementines for 2 hours, i might as well make a larger batch.  i ended up coating one of the finished cakes with a clementine glaze, and the other with a meyer lemon glaze (pictured). a dark chocolate glaze would probably go great with the cake as well.  something to do the next time i become overwhelmed with clementines in the cupboard.

Clementine Cake
(makes 1 nine inch cake, slightly modified for taste from Nigella Lawson)

For the Cake
Clementine Oranges 5 oranges
Sugar 200g
Almond Flour 250g
Eggs 6 large ones
Baking powder 1 generous teaspoon
Salt A tiny pinch
For the Glaze
Confectioners’ Sugar 1 cup
Fresh citrus juice (lemon, orange, etc.) 4 tbsp
  1. Drop whole clementines into a pot of water and boil away for 2 hours.
  2. Butter a nine-inch round springform pan and line with parchment.  Set aside.  Pre-heat oven to 350ºF (convection setting is useful here).
  3. Then, drop the boiled clementines into the food processor (skin, seed and all).  Add in the sugar, then blitz away until it resembles something like orange marmalade.   [Note: Nigella recommends waiting for the clementines to cool before putting them in the food processor, but I haven’t got her patience.  On the flip side, she mixes everything in her food processor, rather than transferring to a standmixer as I do].
  4. Because the orange-sugar concoction is rather hot, you will need to temper the eggs a bit.  To do so, I drop my eggs into my standmixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip the eggs until they are a bit frothy, and pour about a 1/3 cup of the  hot orange solution into the eggs, whip for about 30 seconds, and then pour in the rest of the orange mixture.
  5. Turning the setting of your standmixer to the lowest speed, add in the almond flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix until just combined.
  6. Pour into pan, and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. When the cake is completely cooled, prepare glaze by whisking together confectioners’ sugar and juice.  Set cake on top of a rack and pour the glaze over it.  You may need to help the glaze down the sides by pushing it over the edge with a rubber spatula.