Mapo Tofu (Pork mince with tofu in spicy sauce)


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For Chinese, this is a traditional dish most families would have at home. In northern China, Szechuan peppercorns would be added to give a unique spiciness that is at best described as a slight tingling sensation, to the more severe as ‘spins and needles’ on the tongue which means you can taste nothing for the next 5 minutes until the numbing feeling subsides.
In Hong Kong, we have milder, sweeter versions.

It wasn’t until a European friend pointed it out to me that I realised how strange this dish is – two proteins in the same dish! I don’t think I’ve ever looked at tofu as a protein and consequently consider why would there be a need to pair it with another (pork mince)?

I have no explanation except that the tofu is there to mix with the sauce and then with the rice as a perfect, wholesome, one plate meal. It just works so let’s not worry about it :)

Most recipes ask you to ‘parboil’ the tofu pieces before adding them into the wok. They claim this helps prevent them from breaking up. I have never done that and I’ve cooked this dish for almost 20 years!
What I’ve always done, is sprinkle salt onto the cubed tofu and letting it sit for 10 minutes. This pushes out the water from the tofu and keeps the cubes intact – it works every time. The key to it is in the manner of mixing –  mix the tofu in ever so gently and only till it’s warmed through. No tofu puddle mess at all.

Ingredients:
1 ‘brick’ of firm tofu, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
150g mince pork (or less if preferred)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chinese garlic chili bean sauce (toubanjan or doubanjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese brown bean sauce (tenmienjan, tenmenjan, or tenmenjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese hoisin sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 spring onion, chopped into small rounds

Marinade:
1 tablespoon dry sherry or Chinese wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorn (optional)

Directions:
1.  Slice your tofu into 3 sections and then cut into long strips. Cube them into 1.5cm sizes.  Sprinkle salt on the top of the tofu. Set aside. (They don’t have to be perfect so don’t worry about being precise here.) Marinate mince.

2.  Set the wok on high and make sure it is hot.  Add vegetable oil and swirl the pan, then add the mince pork, using the back of your spatula to separate the mince.

3.  When the pork is nicely browned, add in your equal portion of the 3 main sauces: Chinese garlic chili bean sauce, Chinese brown bean sauce and hoisin sauce. Continue to cook for 1 minute.

4. Drain the tofu pieces and add tofu cubes to the wok.
5. Working quickly and lightly, mix the tofu in with the mince. A bit like working an angel cake batter, you scoop from the outside and bring it into the middle.
6. Continue until all the tofu has been mixed with the sauce.
7. Add in chicken stock and thicken with cornflour slurry if you preferring a thicker sauce. Add in your chopped spring onion.
8.  Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Note: if you are making a bigger portion, you will need to proportionately increase the sauces, maintaining the 1:1:1 ratio.

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Salted caramel chocolate cake with brandy ganache


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Wow that was a mouthful, but trust me this is an easy cake, done in 2 hours. I don’t normally believe in ‘one-pan’ cakes but this turned out to be the most amazing cake I have done in a while (those who got to eat it loved it).

The cake is adapted from Annabell White’s Chocolate Buttermilk Cake.

The batter is baked separately in two identical pans – reason is being an extremely moist cake, I would have a hard time splitting it in half without it breaking up all over my hands.

It also helped when it comes to adding the salted caramel layer – I could easily spread it on while the cake is warm, without needing to over handle it.

A silky smooth and glossy chocolate ganache is then poured over with much abandon,  letting the ganache glide freely over the cake and sides.

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Quite an indulgent experience especially when the cake’s left overnight so the cake, salted caramel and chocolate ganache got a chance to mix and mingle, producing one moist cake with a real depth of flavour.

Given how quick I got this done, it is definitely a weeknight cake too if you should ever have any cake emergency!

Cake recipe:
ingredients
115g butter
125 g dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 tsp Princess cake and cookie baking emulsion from Lorann oils
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

salted caramel
See my recipe from the Salted Caramel Macaron post.

Ganache Recipe:

140g dark chocolate tabs
125ml fresh cream
20g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon whiskey or brandy (optional)

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Cake directions
1. Heat oven to 180 deg C. Grease two 22cm tin and line with baking paper.
2. Heat butter and chocolate carefully in saucepan stirring on medium temperature. Do not over heat. Take off heat, add sugar and baking emulsion straight away while mix is hot.
3. Whisk in buttermilk and eggs with a whisk. Add dry ingredients, whisk gently till just smooth. Pour batter into tin.
4. Bake for 30 minutes or until skewer comes out clean. Turn out on wire rack to cool.
5. Spread 4 tbsps of salted caramel onto the top of one cake. Place the other cake on top.
6. Make chocolate icing. Put chocolate and butter into a bowl. Heat cream in a saucepan till just boiling and pour over chocolate. Let it sit for a minute before stiring. Add whiskey or any liqueur of your choice. Pour over cooled cake and using a palette knife, spread the icing around, allowing the ganache to dribble over the edge randomly.
7. Smooth tops. Let the cake sit overnight and it will taste even better the next day.
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Beef and truffle pie


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Inspired by the Taste magazine’s “Cook the Cover” feature in June for a Beef and Cheddar pie, I made another with tender beef and truffle cream – I have a fond memory of a simple but elegant fettuccine with truffles at Ortolana and wanted to replicate that flavour.

A few weeks ago at Sabato I came across a “Creama Tartufata” sauce – a blend of champignon mushrooms and black truffles. Perfect match I think for this pie.

The ingredients were enough for me to make a 28cm round pie and a smaller 24cm rectangular pie.

The recipe is modified slightly to suit (whatever I had in the pantry at the time), stock was Simon Gault’s and pastry was pre-made frozen sheets. I find that the sheets fit rectangular dishes best and way easier to defrost than the blocks.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg beef, cross-cut blade*, cut into 2cm strips
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 tbsp Crema Tartufata
  • 250ml  dry white wine
  • 500ml beef stock (Simon Gault’s)
  • 3 tbsp cornflour + 1/4 cup water
  • 4 sheets frozen flaky pastry sheets

Instructions:

  1. Season beef with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in the pan to brown the beef in several batches.
  3. Brown onion until it softens.
  4. Add wine to deglaze the pan.
  5. Return all the beef to the pan and bring to the boil. Cover and bake in the preheated oven for 2 hours (or you can use a pressure cooker like I did and it’s all done in 45 minutes!)
  6. When cooked, remove beef and flake meat off with a fork.
  7. Thicken the stock with cornflour liquid.
  8. Mix the Crema Tartufata in with the thickened stock.
  9. Line your pie dishes with pastry. Prick with a fork. Fill to three-quarters full. Top with another layer of pastry. Pinch edges with fork to seal.
  10. Brush the tops with egg wash.
  11. Fanbake in the hot oven (190C) until golden and crisp, approximately 20-30 minutes.

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*Note: I prefer to cook with cross-cut blade when making stews, casseroles and curries as the texture of the meat helps create this irresistible gelatinous goo that binds everything together. Yum!!
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(this is a photo of the beef and cheddar pie I made for the “Cook the cover” competition. Didn’t win but my consolation was that my photo was featured in the magazine’s email out to subscribers, so in a way it is a dream come true, to have my photo ‘published’ in my favourite magazine!)

J said “the flavour bursts into my mouth and it is so delicious!” She even had a third helping!

Vanilla Bean Macarons with buttercream


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I have been making all sorts of crazy flavours lately and my colleague requested her favourite flavour – vanilla.  A good vanilla dessert calls for good quality vanilla bean, not any of the imitation stuff. I’ve used seeds from vanilla bean to flavour the shells and then a Heilala vanilla paste to flavour the buttercream. The result was a gorgeously balanced vanilla flavour that reminds me of vanilla milkshakes. Sometimes the simplest is the best!
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Macarons shell ingredients
150 g icing sugar
150 g almond meal
110 g egg whites, split into 2 bowls of 55g each
150 g caster sugar
38 ml water
1 g meringue powder
seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Follow my basic recipe to make the shells.
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I paired these with a Vanilla Bean buttercream.

Filling Ingredients:
100g butter, room temperature
100g icing sugar
1 tbsp good quality vanilla bean paste (I used Heilala)
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Instructions:
Beat butter until soft in a mixer. Add icing sugar and mix well. Add vanilla bean paste and mix. Fill a piping bag and pipe a small dollop of buttercream on half of your shells and top them with the remaining half of your shells.

The filled macarons need to be kept in the fridge for 24 hours for the filling to flavour the shells.

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Salted Caramel Macarons


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It happened to be my work’s third birthday a few weeks ago and in celebration I made these aqua blue macarons and paired them with my all time favourite – salted caramel filling.

I might have to make a salted caramel cake next, such is my addition to the salty sweet caramelly  flavours. Watch this space!

Macarons shell ingredients
150 g icing sugar
150 g almond meal
110 g egg whites, split into 2 bowls of 55g each
150 g caster sugar
38 ml water
1 g meringue powder
a few drops of blue gel colouring

Follow my basic recipe to make the shells.

I paired these with a salted caramel filling.

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Filling Ingredients:
200g castor sugar
125ml fresh cream
50g butter, cubed
5g good quality salt flakes
A few drops of vanilla essence

Instructions:

Heat the sugar in a wide saucepan until it is melted.
Be really careful and wait for it to turn amber/ golden and slightly smoke.
Carefully add the cream in slowly, continuing to whisk but be aware of the resulting vigorous bubbling.
Add the butter in gradually until it is melted and combined.
Add in salt flakes and vanilla essence.
Cool in the fridge for a few hours.

Fill half of your shells and top them with the remaining half of your shells.
If your salted caramel isn’t thick enough, you can add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar until it is thick enough to spread.

The filled macarons need to be kept in the fridge for 24 hours for the filling to flavour the shells. These freeze really well (up to 3 months). Turns out they are even better after freezing as the gooey salted caramel hardens up a bit more!

A blog about my kitchen adventures, photography, family and experiences

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