Monday, December 27, 2010

Semi-sweet Chocolate Cheesecake

My family loves cheesecake. This recipe is based on a white chocolate cheesecake recipe from The Cooking Club magazine. Instead of using the graham cracker base, I prefer mine with yellow cake as the base. This is a tried and true recipe. Always satisfying. However, since I only have semi-sweet chocolate baking bar in my pantry, I tweaked the recipe a bit and it is just as good.

Cheesecake base:-
1/2 box (about 8 ounces) of yellow cake mix
2 eggs
3/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of softened butter

Cheesecake filling:-
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup of sour cream
1 cup of granulated sugar
2 tbsp of all purpose flour
1 tsp of vanilla essence
3 medium sized eggs
2 ounces of semi sweet baking chocolate bar

1. To prepare the cheesecake base, bake the yellow cake mix according to the package's instructions in a 9- inch round springfoam cake pan. Let cool then using a serrated knife, even out the top part of the cake and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare some boiling water for a water bath to bake the cheesecake in. In a mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until combined. Add sour cream, vanilla and flour then mix at medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth. Finally, add in the eggs one by one. Each time beating the cheese mixture at medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes only. Do not overbeat. Pour the cheese mixture onto the cake base and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, melt chocolate bar in a water bath (boil 1 cup of water in a small saucepan on the stovetop, chop up chocolate into 1 inch pieces and place in a mixing bowl that fits over the saucepan, melt chocolate over simmering water, stirring occasionally).  Set melted chocolate aside and let cool slightly before adding to the cheesecake mixture. One may stir the melted chocolate into the cheesecake mixture to get a marbled look, or pour the chocolate on top of the cheesecake and using a chopstick, swirl whatever pattern that one desires. The later method gives a chocolate candy texture to the cheesecake topping.
4. Wrap the springfoam cake pan completely around the bottom and sides in 2 layers of aluminum foil to prevent water from sipping into the cheesecake during baking. Place cheesecake in a broiler pan and fill broiler pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the springfoam pan. Bake undisturbed for 50 minutes. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake in the oven for 1 hour. Refrigerate cheesecake for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Phyllo dough dumplings

Bought a packet of phyllo dough a while back. Tried different recipes with it but most attempts did not yield satisfying results. Thought this recipe up because my tasters at home, i.e my kids, wanted something different for a snack. It's easy and makes a great finger food.

12 sheets of phyllo dough
Meat filling:-
1/4 lb each of ground chicken, ground pork and ground beef
1/2 cup shredded cheese ( provolone, romano, parmesan)
2 stalks of green onion
1/4 cup of cilantro leaves, stalks removed
1 egg
4 tbsps of water
2 tbsps of sesame oil
1 tsp of poultry seasoning
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of black pepper

1/2 stick of butter, melted for brushing on phyllo dough
1 egg, beaten 
cooking spray

1. Thaw phyllo dough according to package instructions.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix all ingredients for the meat filling except for the cheese in a food processor. Mix until smooth, then stir in the cheese and set aside. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
3. Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough on a dry and clean kitchen counter or a large cutting board. Brush with melted butter before placing the second sheet of dough on top. Scoop a heaping teaspoonful of meat filling onto the dough  about 1 inch apart while pressing down slightly. Brush melted butter around the edges and in between the meat filling. Place the 3rd sheet of dough over the meat filling. Again, brush melted butter around and in between the meat filling. Repeat with the 4th sheet of dough. Using a knife, cut out the meat dumplings and trim edges as necessary.  I like to trim them into 2 inches squares. Move dumplings onto the lined baking sheet and brush dumplings with the beaten egg.
6. Place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Serve while hot with ranch dressing on the side. This recipe yields about 45 dumplings.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Creamy linguine and meatballs

Sunday night dinners at our house sometimes comprise of ingredients gathered from cleaning out the pantry or the fridge. Tonight's one of those nights. Thus, leading to the creation of creamy linguine and meatballs.
Here's the recipe.

1 lb dry linguine

Meatballs ingredients:-
1/2 lb italian mild sausage
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 cup of chopped onions
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
1 tsp of thyme
1 egg
1 cup of shredded cheese (mix of provolone, mozzarella, parmesan,romano)
2 tbsp of breadcrumbs
1 tsp of chicken seasoning
2 tbsp of water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Pasta sauce ingredients:-
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp of minced garlic
1/2 med sized onion, chopped coarsely
2 med size tomatoes on the vine, diced coarsely
1 cup of arrabiata sauce, store bought
2 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet pan with aluminum foil. Spray foil with cooking spray. Add all of the meatballs ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well.
2.Shape 1 heaping tbsp of meat mixture into golf ball size meatballs. Place meatballs on the baking sheet pan. Continue until all of the meat mixture are shaped. Yields about 12 meatballs.
3. Place meatballs into the oven and bake for 12 minutes. Baking the meatballs helps to retain their shapes and moisture. After 12 minutes, remove meatballs from pan and set aside for further cooking in the pasta sauce.
4. In a large sauce pan, heat up the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions, saute for a few minutes until aroma is released. Add the tomatoes, arrabiata sauce, chicken broth and meatballs. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
5. In the meantime, cook the dry linguine according to the package until al dente. Add cooked linguine to the sauce pan then stir in sour cream. Coat linguine evenly with the sauce and dinner is ready. Serve up some salad and garlic bread on the side to go with the linguine.

Tis the season to be jolly. Falalalala....

We had invited friends over for dinner last night and I was surprised with a gift of Thomas Keller's cookbook called Ad Hoc At Home, family-style recipes. Yes, it's the season to give and receive. I've managed to read thru the first few pages of the book and already I'm intrigued. Recipes and ingredients are easy enough for the homecook. Nothing fancy. Lots of tips and techniques are included. I think this is one of the cookbooks that will make me a better cook. Thanks, S&S  for adding to my cookbook collection.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving turkey and gravy

Thanksgiving turkey turned out great this year. Moist and tender again. Here's my recipe for roasting a 10-12lbs dry-brined turkey. Please refer to previous post on how to dry-brine a turkey. Gravy recipe follows as well.

Seasoning ingredients:
1 stick of  unsalted butter
4 pieces of fresh basil leaves
2 tbsps of chicken or poultry seasoning

Aromatic ingredients:
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves, fresh or dry
2 stalks of fresh sage
1 lemon, cut into quarters
1/2 navel orange, cut into quarters

Bottom of the pan ingredients:
2 medium sized carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium sized white onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups of low salt chicken stock

Cooking oil spray
1 roasting pan with rack

1. Remove dry-brined turkey from fridge. Melt 1/2 stick of butter over 20 seconds in the microwave and let cool. Brush melted butter before rubbing seasoning all over turkey and inside turkey's cavity as well.

2. Stuff turkey's cavity with the aromatics. Cut up the remaining 1/2 stick butter into 1/4 inch squares. Pull back turkey's skin on breasts and thighs. Stuff butter pieces and basil leaves into each side of breasts and each thigh. Cover turkey loosely with aluminum foil and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. After 1 hour, preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Spray roasting rack with cooking oil spray to prevent turkey from sticking to the rack. Remove aluminum cover and place turkey on the rack. Add  bottom of the pan ingredients to the pan. Roast turkey for 20 to 25 minutes before turning the oven temperature down to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Roast for another hour and baste the turkey with drippings from the bottom of the pan. At this point, cover turkey breasts and wings loosely with aluminum foil if turkey is browning too quickly. Foil is to be removed during the last 15 minutes of roasting time as to crisp up the skin.

4. Roast turkey for another 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a meat thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the the thigh reads 165 to 170 degrees fahrenheit. Juices running out of turkey should be clear as well. Remove turkey from oven and tent loosely with aluminum foil for 30 minutes before carving. Separate drippings from its oil (reserve only 4 tbsps of oil for gravy) and spoon some drippings over turkey meat before serving. In the meantime, whisk up the gravy.

Gravy recipe requires:-
4 tbsps of all-purpose flour
4 tbsps of turkey oil
1/4 cup turkey drippings
2 cups of chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat up oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Once it turns golden brown, add  in broth and turkey drippings.
2. Whisk mixture until no lumps are visible. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
3. Pour gravy through a strainer into a gravy boat or serving bowl before serving. Enjoy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Prepping for Thanksgiving

It's that time of the year. It's not thanksgiving without turkey according to my kids. This year is no exception especially since my brother and his wife will be joining us for the first time.

I've started a dry brine for the turkey on Sunday morning. It's a recipe adapted from LA Times a few years back. I prefer dry brining because it's easy and the turkey tastes juicier and more tender. All you need is 1 tbsp of kosher salt per 5 pounds of turkey rubbed inside the cavity and all over the turkey. Seal turkey in a resealable plastic bag and chill in the fridge for 3 days. The turkey needs to be turned over once a day as well as massaged. The night before thanksgiving, pat the skin dry with paper towel and leave turkey breast side up uncovered in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Remove turkey from fridge and leave it at room temperature for1 hour before roasting.

First time making cranberry sauce and it turns out pretty good. Jellied cranberry sauce with fuji apple recipe was adapted from Recipe calls for one bag (12oz) of fresh cranberry, 1 fuji apple (diced), 1 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water to be heated over medium heat in a medium sized sauce pan. Heat and stir occasionally for about 15 minutes until cranberry mixture thickens.  Chill in fridge for at least 3 hours.

Next up is baking the desserts. This year, it's creme brulee and maybe pumpkin cheesecake too if I've the time. Then, it's on to prepping the side dishes which include a soup, a salad, an appetizer, sauteed brussel sprouts, seafood paella or pasta in place of stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked scallops, etc..... Whew, looks like I've a lot of work cut out for me, myself and I. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Easy Creme Brulee

Bought this Bonjour brand creme brulee torch online thinking I could use it to heat mold shoe inserts for my customers. Wrong. It's actually quite difficult to hold down the ignitor button to get a continous flame. Saw a creme brulee recipe inside the box and decided to take it home to try it out. First time making creme brulee and it turned out to be so out of this world. My hubby who usually does not like sweet stuff even asked for seconds. The following recipe makes about 5 ramekins of creme brulee.

1 pt or 473 ml of heavy whipping cream
4 extra large or 5 large sized egg yolks
3 tbsp of sugar + 1/3 cup of sugar (increase sugar amt if you like sweeter palate)
1 tsp of vanilla essence
5 ramekins
1-2 cups of boiling water for a water bath

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Pour heavy cream and 3 tbsp of sugar into a saucepan. Heat saucepan over medium heat. Keep stirring cream mixture until small bubbles emerge on the edges of pan, about 6-7 minutes. Turn off heat.
3. In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and vanilla essence until smooth. Drizzle cream mixture into egg yolks, little by little, beating continuosly until well blended.  Strain  mixture through a fine sieve into another bowl. Divide mixture among the ramekins.
4. Arrange ramekins in a baking pan and place in the preheated oven. Fill pan with boiling water to 1 inch up the sides of ramekins. Cover ramekins loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 25-30 minutes until custard is set. Chill in fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
5. Now, the fun part. Sprinke remaining sugar evenly over top of cooled custards. Using the creme brulee torch, move the flame in a circular motion over the sugar until it is bubbly and turned golden brown. Lastly, grab a spoon and take your time to enjoy a piece of heaven.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Letter to big sister

My daughter is at science camp this whole week. First time leaving home to stay somewhere else by herself. Her brother, who's her tag along, partner in crime, her other hand, her "twin" born 11 months apart, and inseparable homebody, keeps saying it's weird without sister around. So, he decided to write a letter to his big sister since that's the only way we are allowed to contact her. Here's the charming letter :-

Ah, siblings' love put in so many words. I feel blessed to see the bond and love that they have for each other.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Customer is always right ???

I work in retail. I have one particular customer, X, who likes to slash prices and asking for freebies, not just for herself but the rest of her family as well. Well, this morning, she came into the store for a bottle of calcium gel caps. The following conversation ensued.

X- What is the price for this bottle of calcium?
Me-It's $9 + Tax.
X- How much was your cost?
Me-It's $6.25, mrs.x.
X- Would you take $6 for it?
Me- Sorry but I can't sell it to you at a loss.
X- How about throwing in a few pair of disposable masks for free ???

Now, this is not somebody who can't afford a bottle of calcium and a couple masks. There's nothing wrong with bargaining but trying to take advantage of a small retail store irks me. Is the customer always right? I certainly have my doubts in this case!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Strings of pearls

This humongous spider web is what I saw this morning outside the side patio door of our house. It's probably 18 inches wide in diameter. I shouldn't be surprised since spiders, field mice, ants and wild rabbits are pretty much a part of our lives nowadays. My daughter has a spider named Bob hanging around in her bathroom. It's been raining on and off for the last week. Totally unlike the sunny Southern California that we're used to. Last night's rainfall provided this beautiful strings of pearls. I think they look pretty and I guess the spider wanted to wish us all an early Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Easy Roast Duck

This roast duck recipe is so easy even my 11 year old daughter could make it. This is her first attempt and the duck turned out so tender and delicious. The whole family loved it. It's a family recipe from my god-sister, L. The main ingredient is "hong zhao"- i.e. fermented red wine residue which is available in the refrigerated section of most Chinese supermarkets. The recipe calls for 1 whole duck ( about 4-5lbs), 2 tbsps of hong zhao, 2 tbsps of salt and 1 tbsp of sesame oil.

1. Mix hong zhao, salt and sesame oil in a bowl.
2. Wash duck and discard excess fat as well as the head, feet and internal organs. Pat dry with paper towel.
3. Rub duck thoroughly including the cavity with hong zhao mixture and let duck marinate in fridge overnight.
4. Turn oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a shallow roasting pan wih aluminum foil before placing duck in pan. Place duck breast side up in oven and let it roast for 1 hour.
5. After 1 hour, pour out excess fat and drippings on the bottom of roasting pan into a bowl and set aside. Turn duck breast side down and roast for another 1 hour.
6. Following step 5 above, crank up the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take duck out from oven and turn it breast side up then roast for another 1 1/2 hours. Remove duck from oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Duck should be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
7. Duck may be chopped, carved or shredded and served with a small amount of pan drippings and steamed rice with green veggies on the side.