Americana

My closest friends know that I have an obsessive personality. I’ve gone through the Top Chef obsession, the Twilight faildom, and most recently I’ve been pretty caught up with Game of Thrones (does anyone else watch this? It’s SO good!) and Southern food. This is probably because I have two really close friends in America and we love talking food, especially when I’m chatting with Jasmine. With the aforementioned Top Chef obsession, I was always curious about this biscuits, gravy, chicken fried steak, collard greens, BBQ, “soul food”, etc phenomenon that had professionally trained chefs drooling and sometimes really cranky. So after a night of too much discussion on Southern food and too much time browsing Epicurious for recipes, I decided I just have to make myself a southern meal one day.

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Southern fried chicken, biscuits & gravy

That day was yesterday.

I should say that the first thing one should know when thinking about Southern food is all notions of dieting, healthy eating, a trim waistline and especially a fear of pork/lard have to be thrown right out the window and absolutely forgotten. Dismissed and never to be brought up while you’re chowing down on glorious, sinful food.

I even whipped out my deep frier for the first time in years! It ended up using a lot of oil but it was worth it because I love that I didn’t have to deal with painful oil splatters, a greasy kitchen floor or uneven cooking. Deep friers are such handy appliances. Look at that gorgeous golden colour!

A meal of such epic proportions required guests so I asked Tessa and Jason over for dinner. Tessa asked if I needed anything, but as I was strictly sticking to an Americana themed menu, I told her she could supply the drinks. So she brought us sangria! Mmmm. Tessa is the queen of sangria. This was such a good jug of potent deliciousness. We still have some leftover which I’m sure my housemate and I will dispose of safely.

If you’re wondering what exactly this is, I’ll be kind and redirect you right to the recipe. It’s called Chicken Biscuits. Now, I have absolutely no clue what this was meant to taste like, especially the biscuits. I’ve asked numerous friends and I think they all told me it resembled scones but more buttery. I’ve had some dreadful scones in my lifetime so I wasn’t really excited about the idea of scones with my fried chicken. But then I made this biscuits and the moment they were fresh out of the oven, I tore into one and widened my eyes in surprised pleasure. It was flaky on the outside but the inside was pleasantly fluffy. And yes, there was a certain sort of buttery flavour to it that added to its magic. Before dinner rolled around, Jacey and I had managed a biscuit each. Plain!

Let’s talk about this gravy for a while. When I heard gravy, I was thinking of your typical deglazed pan. Then I saw this recipe (which you should click HERE for), I knew it would be spectacular. First of all, SAUSAGE. Looove sausage. And bacon drippings? Hello, sold!

I’m going to go a little off-track and ramble on about some TV show I was watching the other night about raising pigs and slaughtering them and the contents of a supermarket sausage vs a butcher’s sausage and why the price difference is there. I bought sausages from the deli in the market today but I had underestimated my portion by about 100g so I had to run to the supermarket and get some pork sausages. When I tore off the casings of both sausages, I was appalled to see the difference in colour. I wish I had taken a picture now. The sausage from the market was a gorgeous red with not much fat in it and you could see herbs in the mix but the supermarket sausage was pale, a light pink, almost like the colour of chicken. There was SO much fat in there as well and the texture of it was so disgusting; soft and sticky. The butcher’s sausage was firm and didn’t just all out of the casing like guts from a cheap horror film.

Now, although the idea of bacon drippings set my heart aflutter with keen anticipation, I decided it was just ridiculous to buy bacon to render the fat and discard it. I also have a handy tub of duck fat just sitting in my refrigerator for when I want to make roast potatoes (mm!) so I thought, “Hey, I could up the ante on the fat. I’ll make it with duck fat!” and so I did. And it was glorious. Oh the smell of duck fat as it permeates through the air is heavenly. Plus, I loved that it wasn’t a dark, unforgiving taint the way bacon drippings tend to be. I played fast and loose with the recipe too, I think I doubled the flour and the milk. I just went with the texture and taste (and volume!) that felt right.

Before you think me a terribly unhealthful hostess who didn’t provide any sort of colour for her dinner guests, I actually made a really delicious salad. Unfortunately for me and you, salads don’t tend to photograph too well, especially not this one. Also especially when I don’t have a salad bowl and in my haste, I ended up using a metal mixing bowl. All class.

The salad was something I took off the September issue of Delicious. It’s a watercress, fennel avocado, tarragon salad with goat’s cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. I pretty much doubled the salad recipe for four of us but we actually wiped the salad bowl clean. Despite the fact that we were pretty much struggling to finish our dinners!

New York Cheesecake

For dessert I figured it was absolutely necessary to end with a great American dessert: the New York Cheesecake. It was mainly for selfish reasons because I’ve been craving cheesecake for a long time. I hate to admit this on here because I will sound like the biggest snob you’ve ever met, but I hate buying cakes in Melbourne because I don’t think Melburnians know what good cake is. The places I often get recommended to serve dry, too sweet, too ordinary, subpar cakes. They look pretty but they taste like flavoured sawdust. However, when I have a craving for a cake, it’s really annoying to think that I can’t fulfill that craving by just walking out the door and handing money over to a proprietor and getting what I want. I’m always met with disappointment and then I’m fueled with the need to fix my problem by making the dessert I want, and splendidly too.
(Ps. I’ve had some really good cake in Melbourne too, though. Always seems to be of the chocolate variety, though. Burch & Purchese and Le Petit Gateau have made me a happy camper so far)

Long story short: I wanted cheesecake. I had to make it.

I found the recipe in my new favourite cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook. All the accolades and praise that has been bestowed upon this book has not done this book enough justice. I don’t know how much more I can praise this book and promote it to friends and family short of buying everyone a copy for their birthdays. If you’re one of those people who hates cookbooks without pictures ( I am sometimes this person too actually), this may be a tough one to follow through with. But then I sat down and just read through the book and I marveled at the well thought out layout, the recipes and the brilliant serving suggestions (they hook you up with other recipes in the book that will go with the dish! Dinner party menu solved!) and I got over my need to see pretty glossy pictures beside every recipe. I have an overactive sense of imagination anyway, it was starting to get blunt in my old age.

Anyway, the cheesecake recipe is called Junior’s Cheesecake and it is wonderful. I messed up because by some fluke, my conversion of ounces to gram came up 100g short and I was too lazy to jump out of the apartment for a brick of cream cheese… I actually made the cake with less cream cheese than was called for. Hey America, how about getting on board with the metric system, huh? I was nervous about it because I was afraid it would be too watery, or it wouldn’t taste creamy enough but thankfully, it was fantastic!

My one gripe is the loose biscuit base without flavour. If you’ve noticed in the picture, there are biscuit crumbs everywhere. The recipe called for crushed graham crackers, patted into a buttered pan base. I was hesitant but thought hey, might be worth giving it a shot and now that I’ve done it, my advice is never ever do this to a beautiful cheesecake. When I make this cheesecake again (and trust me, I will), I’ll be doing the crust the delicious way with melted butter, sugar and a pinch of salt then patted down and either baked or frozen to set. Other than that, the cheesecake was wonderful. It was fluffy and light and just creamy enough.

If you can’t take my word for it, I’ll just quietly tell you that after spooning the batter into the pan and popping the cake into the oven, I brought the mixing bowl over to Jacey to let her have a little bit of batter left in the bowl. She loved it so much that I had to leave my bowl and spatula with her as she polished it clean! She also had a slice of cheesecake all to herself for dessert. And may I quote her praise, “This may be the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.”

Next up from the Southern food recipes I browsed: Fried Oyster Po’ Boys! Mmm!


All Ruffled Up

In recent times, I’ve been alive and well but just extremely lazy when it comes to updating my little site. However, I hope you noticed the awesome header from my talented and gorgeous friend Jiayueh. I am in need of a new layout very desperately, once I sit down and figure out how to do it (I want to throw money at this problem, tbh), and then I can properly credit her for it.

Biggest news of the moment is that my brother got married a little under a month ago and out of nowhere my mum thought it would be a good idea for me to make them their wedding cake. I accepted the challenge gladly although I was very nervous as I hadn’t touched fondant for over a year and things like that is all about practice!

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, though. I mostly worked after midnight with the air-cond on full blast to combat humidity, much to the puzzlement of my family. Actually, they were so stressed out and worried for me, they were constantly asking me if I would be able to finish the cake. So little faith! My biggest concern was covering the bottom cake, which required me rolling out a 1+kg of fondant into a 22″ circle and hoping it didn’t tear as I gingerly placed it over the cake. It took me an hour to cover all three cakes with fondant, surprisingly. I was shocked as I really haven’t handled fondant in too long and even when I used to, I wasn’t the best at covering the cakes without it looking bumpy but I fared well, if I do say so myself.

I started with making the ruffled rosettes. I initially had planned to cover the cake entirely with them so I made 80 of them. It took me a grand total of 5+ hours to make them all. I was worried about the colours being too dark, but I was rather adamant on it being shades of pink. However, I could’ve gone for a more subtle gradience than the look I went for.

Ruffles

I didn’t want them to set too hard like figurines, so it was 100% fondant with no gumpaste at all.

The cakes were a 14″, 10″ and 6″ rounds. My mum and I discussed it and decided we needed a really heavy cake for the bottom tier to withstand the weight of the other two cakes, as well as to remain fresh because we needed to bake it days in advance and we really didn’t want to serve the guests stale cake. So we settled on a Suji (Semolina) Cake, for which the recipe was tripled. So that was 30 eggs and about 3kg of butter. Yeah, healthy stuff!

As for the other two layers, I could bake them closer to the wedding daybut I really didn’t want to do a dark-coloured cake in case my crumb-coating before the fondant layer wasn’t superb and then you could see dark spots under the white fondant. I settled instead for a simple Pound Cake, although I did encounter some problems with baking the cake. I wanted the cakes to be really high as wedding cakes shouldn’t look thin and I really maximised the 4″ height of my cake tins. However, that messed with the cooking time and it was only after I had to slice the cakes in half for the buttercream that I noticed they were still wet on the inside! The horror! I had to re-bake them and it rather devastated me because I think the texture and moistness of the cakes were compromised for it.

So to all the wedding guests, if you’re reading this, I do apologise for the Pound Cake’s texture. I promise I normally make excellently moist and fluffy cakes.

As for the buttercream, I knew that I needed a buttercream with textural integrity that wouldn’t compromise the structure and balance of the cake. I’ve once tried to do a 3-layered cake with too-soft icing and of course the cake slid around and looked horrible. I would not allow this to happen for such an important cake! I also needed the buttercream to set really well so that the fondant layer would go on smoothly. But, it was also desperately important to me that the buttercream taste delicious and buttery. Nothing with too much icing sugar in it and I knew that it had to consist of real butter.

I ended up using a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which was beautiful! Everyone loved the taste of it, even my mother who usually hates buttercream. It was sinfully silky and rich and the meringue helped with the stiffness of the texture. I was surprised it worked because I was fully prepared to go back to my fail-safe Wilton buttercream, which tastes disgusting and is made with shortening but definitely holds a cake well. Thankfully it never came to that!

Ruffled Up

That is the finished cake. It took almost a week’s worth of work (spread out, of course!) because I was actually pretty slack and only did a few hours’ worth of week each day. Some days even less than an hour.

I didn’t end up using all 80 of the ruffles and they’re still awaiting my return in my parents’ home. I’m planning to use them as cupcake toppers when I get back. The best thing about fondant is that it never goes bad. Well, not anytime soon anyway! I assembled the entire cake at home (not advisable for a 3-tier cake, really!) but as part of the groom’s family, I didn’t have time to get the cake assembled at the venue AND get dressed AND play receptionist so I had to risk it and hope that the cake didn’t collapse on the drive to the hotel. I actually drove the car and got my uncle to hold on to the hefty 10kg cake (it’s not light!) and handed it off to the wedding coordinator the moment we pulled up at the hotel with swift instructions NOT to press onto the cake board’s fondant layer and to be extra gentle when placing the cake down and to avoid refrigeration at all costs. Fondant doesn’t go in refrigerators, FYI, that’s why they’re such hard work because they really do need to be on-the-day sort of work as the cakes can go bad so easily.

Wedding cake on display

The bride giving me the thumb’s up after biting into the cake ;)

I was incredibly proud of the finished product (what a project!) as was my mother. She kept telling me how impressed she was that I pulled it off (again, with the faith!) and she was glad that I had attended all those cake decorating courses. The bride and groom loved it, too and from the reviews I got from our friends, they really loved the taste of the cakes too (even the Pound Cake that I was so worried about!).

What an excellent test of time management and persistent hard work. It’s not the fanciest of wedding cakes but it was certainly personal. The best part was it didn’t cost the bridal couple a single cent (wedding cakes in Malaysia of that size cost upwards of RM1000!). I will admit that I completely understand why wedding cakes cost so much. They’re extremely labour intensive and mine was a simple version. I ended up using about 7kg of fondant and about 10+kg of butter, and I forgot to keep track of the sugar and eggs that went into it all.


Lemony Slick-ett of Cheesecake

I am currently nursing a backache and have (personally) ordered myself strict bedrest to soothe the pain so I thought I’d prop up on a few of my cushy pillows and type an entry. I’m thinking I injured myself while lugging around my 31kg suitcase (excluding my hand luggage, overstuffed handbag and laptop bag stuffed with novels). I don’t travel light. Now I can’t even get my t-shirt from the second drawer from the bottom, let alone touch my toes without my knees bending so I’m taking it easy today. This is because I may have exerted myself a little more last night by vacuuming and stuffing my large suitcase into storage.. which required a step stool as I shoved the damned thing onto the shelf above my clothing rail. No, I don’t seem to know any better.

Currently I’m craving some warm pillowy doughnuts covered in chocolate glaze. Fortunately for which I do have the recipe but ugh.. why am I not wealthy enough to have an in-house gourmet chef again?

I’ve also been fantasising about this cheesecake. To be honest, I’ve been fantasising about cheesecake a lot these past few months. It all started when I went to dinner with friends and I was denied cheesecake by my friend whom I was sharing dessert with (they picked an ice cream sandwich instead!) and ever since then I’ve been on this crazy cheesecake obsession. I currently have two bricks of cream cheese sitting in my refrigerator, just begging to be whipped into a sinfully creamy dessert. Oh, tease.

Cheesecake

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

This recipe was based off this recipe which uses key lime but I only had lemons on hand so I made do, and made several other augmentations.

Lemon Custard
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon

Crust
1 3/4 cups of Digestive biscuit crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Filling
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest

Yogurt Topping
16 oz Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp cornflour
2 Tbsp powdered sugar

Thin lemon slices

Lemon Custard:
1. Whisk all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until custard thickens and boils for 30 seconds, about 8 minutes.

2. Set aside to cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. The mixture will continue to thicken.

Crust:
1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Wrap a 8″ springform pan with 3 layers of foil with 3″ high sides. Butter the pan.

2. Place all 3 dry ingredients in a food processor bowl and blitz. Add in butter. Press the crumb mixture evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Bake until just set, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Leave the oven running.

Filling:

1. Place cream cheese, sugar, eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and mix well.

2. Spoon the custard into crust and smooth top. Carefully top with filling. Set cheesecake in a large baking pan, and pop into the oven. Then fill hot water to a jug and add it to the baking pan until the water comes up to 1″ of the sides of the cheesecake pan. (This is easier than filling with hot water then popping it into the oven – someone could get scalded this way but if you want to try it, go ahead just BE CAREFUL!)

3. Bake until almost set but not puffed, and centre moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes.

4. While the cheesecake bakes, make the yogurt topping. Mix all the ingredients together with a spatula. (Alternative you can just use sour cream without the cornflour but I didn’t have any on hand. The cornflour in the yogurt is to help with the texture so it resembles sour cream a little more – yogurt is wetter and looser than sour cream [that’s what she said!])

5. Carefully spoon the yogurt topping over hot cheesecake and smooth the top. Bake until topping sets, about 10 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes then run a knife around sides of pan to loosen. Cool cheesecake completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Garnish with lemon slices when ready to serve.

Note: This cheesecake can be made up to 2 days ahead, but keep refrigerated at all times. And trust me, you’re going to LOOOOVE this.

Love the layers

I made it a second time but ran out of Digestives to make the crust so… I whipped up a batch of the oatmeal cookie crust from the Crack Pie recipe. Worked a treat! The yogurt/sour cream topping is also optional but I think it added a nice layer of contrast between the sweet-sourness of the custard, the creamy sweetness of the filling, and this neutral flavour of the yogurt helped balance it all.

It is a really rich slice of cheesecake, though. But that’s just how I love my cheesecakes. Smooth, creamy and sinful. The hint of zest was just an added bonus!

After snapping these photos, I snuck that slice of cheesecake up to my room and devoured it. Mmm-mmm.


Joyeux Noel 2010

I realise I have been terribly absent and I probably deserve a small slap on the wrist for it. I wish I had an excuse but going beyond, “I just didn’t feel like it”… I have nothing. I don’t really reckon I have a “following” per se but I’ve been questioned by numerous friends about this neglect and I guess it’s time to buck up!

I was busiest in the kitchen during the festive season because Nick hosts an annual Christmas BBQ at his gorgeous abode and I volunteered to help with grocery shopping and marination. I have also infiltrated the inner sanctum of his friends so I was kindly invited to the Christmas Eve potluck shindig for close friends, for which I also cooked some dishes. Then after Christmas, we had to deal with leftovers and the repercussions of overcatering. I’m not complaining, though. It was so much fun and it’s always great to break bread with good company. Mostly because there was always copious amounts of alcohol involved.

(Digression: A guy from the UK made us some Snakebites, a really delicious concoction! It’s half cider, half lager and a little bit of Ribena cordial. DELISH!)

There were two things I had my mind set on when Christmas was around the corner: cute Christmas sugar cookies and steamed fruit cake. The former is always such a cute idea and I’m a sucker for different cookie cutters. And the latter is just such a Christmas thing. I always associate fruit cakes with Christmas and I usually loathe them but my mother makes the BEST steamed fruit cake ever. I nixed the recipe from her book and got baking.

Sugar cookies

Sugar cookies

I have to admit I don’t have a no-fail-go-to recipe for cookies except a chocolate chip one that I found on About.com and when I share the recipe with others they think I’m trying to pull a fast one on them and am actually being a stingy little shit about my recipes. Please believe me when I say that I Google recipes more often than not and they just work and taste good. Not all recipes are duds and it doesn’t have to come from my Grandma’s Super Secret Recipe Archives to be good.

This rolled sugar cookies recipe is from here. Over a 100,000 people have saved the recipe. I was like, “Okay, majority rules.” It’s pretty great, actually. It wasn’t too sweet and the addition of my icing helped add a little more crunch and sweetness to it which was a lucky thing.

The recipe for the icing was from here except I changed the quantities of the liquid to tablespoons after reading the reviews. Just go easy with it. Don’t dump in 2 tablespoons of milk and corn syrup without waiting to see the consistency. I think I went with only a tablespoon of syrup and 1.5 tablespoons of milk.

Icing the cookies was really fun. I knew I didn’t have the patience nor the time to sit around and delicately decorate each and every cookie (I had something like 40 cookies) so this crazy drizzle method worked best for me. It still looked festive and *ahem* “modern”. I especially loved my new reindeer cookie cutters but they were so annoying to use as the antlers broke off every time I lifted my cookie onto the Silpat. In the end, I decided to roll the dough out ONTO the Silpat and removed the excess.

Steamed fruit cake

Steamed fruit cake

The steamed fruit cake was all about rum. In fact, I think it tasted more like rum than cake. That’s a good thing, btw!

One of the most fun parts of the cake-making process for me was making the caramel. I love the scent of caramel and the fact that it lingered on for a few days.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

This was a partial part of the spread for the Christmas Eve dinner. There’s ham on the left by Dennis & Yosa with the most crazy good chilli-mango mayonnaise ever, my two roast chickens and pot of potato gratin above it, Simon’s quiche, and Dennis & Yosa’s grilled vegetables with fried haloumi.

Pauline’s amazing pipis linguine was missing in the pic above.

For dessert we had a gorgeous pavlova made by Kylie.

My cookies and cake also made it to the Snack Table for the guests to graze on while we were getting the food ready for the table.

And if you want to know what silliness ensued in the kitchen… well, the most absurd was cooking the two chooks and the potato gratin in my pretty silk dress.

A+ for looking groomed while cooking!

Kudos to Nick who trusted me not to burn down his gorgeous house, who generously offered his kitchen to my ministrations and who patiently washed dishes that I kept dumping in the sink. And who photographed most of the pictures of the food used here.

Coming up: Christmas BBQ and what I did with leftovers!