Fluffy Banana Bread

This incredible banana bread recipe was given to me by my friend Aparna (Thanks Aparna!). I love this recipe because there is very minimal clean up. Just one wooden spoon and one mixing bowl. I played with it a little every time I made it so I’ve decided to consolidate all the changes and post the new recipe here. Nuts and chocolate chips were added to previous versions of this recipe but I found that they were distracting to the fluffy texture – the key feature here.

Ingredients

  • 4 large very ripe bananas
  • ⅓ cup oil (canola/avocado)
  • ⅝ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1½ cups cake flour (essential for the pillow-soft texture)
  • ½ teaspoon apple pie spice (or cinnamon powder)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. With a wooden spoon, mash bananas in a large mixing bowl. I like to leave some chunks.

3. Mix in the oil, sugar, egg, and vanilla.

4. Sprinkle the baking soda, salt and apple pie spice over the mixture and mix in.

5. Add the flour last, stir till just moisten.

6. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes or till a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 30 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. (Note: Bake for 30 minutes if using muffin tin. Makes 12 muffins).

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Deep Frying Tofu

Black Pepper Tofu is one of Chris’ favorite dishes from Plenty by Ottolenghi. The book says it’s Chinese but it features Kecap Manis a Indonesian caramel sweet soy sauce which to my knowledge is never used in traditional Chinese cooking.  In short, deep fried tofu is drench in a sauce of kecap manis, Chinese light and dark soy sauces with plenty of sauteed shallots, ginger, garlic, red chillies and black pepper.

This recipe is almost perfect as a make-ahead dinner party dish because the flavors of the aromatics and the sauce mingle and develop when kept overnight in a refrigerator. The problem is that the deep fried tofu can’t hold its crispiness in the sauce for more than 10 minutes. I’m not expecting the crunch to hold up in the sauce overnight but if the tofu can remain crispy for an hour or two, then the sauce can be cooked the night before and the tofu fried just before the party.

A quick google search turned up this excellent post How To Cook Crispy Tofu Worth Eating from seriouseats.com. Tips from the post:

1) Start with non-siken firm tofu – I’m already doing that.

2) Dry the tofu before frying – The post recommends slicing the tofu then pour hot salted water over the slices and dry between pieces of paper towels. Previously, I just slice the tofu, dry with paper towels once and deep fry them immediately after dusting with corn flour. I followed the blog advice this time –  blanched the tofu and dry. I had to change the paper towels (double layered) 3 times before they were satisfactorily dry (paper towel remains dry for 1 minute).

IMG_20140224_182804315

3) Coat with a batter of corn flour and vodka – The seriouseats.com post conducted a series of experiments with Korean Fried Chicken and concluded that coasting tofu with a batter of cornstarch and vodka results in a superior crust compared to a mere dusting or corn flour (or rice flour, potato flour and combination). The finding that cornstarch is the best starch for crispy deep fried food is confirmed by a issue of Cook’s Illustrated so I did not attempt to reconfirm this result. Instead, the focal point of my test was to find out if a corn starch-vodka batter is indeed superior to a water-corn starch batter and a seltzer-corn starch batter.

Method

I split the 1 block of tofu into 4 sets:

  • Dry corn starch dusting (Control)
  • Batter of water and corn starch (1 tbsp liquid + 1 tbsp corn starch)
  • Batter of seltzer water and corn starch (1 tbsp liquid + 1 tbsp corn starch)
  • Batter of vodka and corn starch ( 1 tbsp liquid + 1 tbsp corn starch)

IMG_20140224_183225909

I heated the peanut oil to 350 °F (tested with a instant read thermometer), and lowered each batch of tofu into the oil for 4 minutes, flipping once at 2 minutes. The temperature of the oil was tested and adjusted between the batches.

Yep, there was less tofu in the Control batch because I took some out to boil for Miss Clarey. On hindsight I should take taken a cube from each batch so that the amount of tofu deep fried each time would remain constant.

The tofu were then mixed with the sauce in 4 separate dishes.

Result

IMG_20140224_191407098

I wanted to test if the tofu would remain crisp after 1 hour but it was 8 pm by the time I was done so we just gave it a 10 minutes rest.

It was obvious that all 3 of the battered tofu were crispy and crunchier than the Control batch (dry dusting). Even though I dried the tofu more thoroughly then usual, there didn’t seem to be any improvement compared to my previous attempt. In fact all the tofu coated in batter (liquid + corn starch) did better, which caused me to revisit the wisdom of drying the tofu thoroughly. The blog post I referred to didn’t explain the rationale and from various other recipes, it seems like the drying of tofu is mainly to allow the tofu to absorb more marinate. Since there is no marinate in this recipe, maybe drying the tofu and then just applying a dry dusting of cornstarch was actually counter productive since it seems that liquid+cornstarch resulted in better texture.

Among the 3 test batches, the vodka-cornstarch batter coating resulted in the crispiest crust which remain crispy at the end of dinner (about 30 minutes after mixing with the sauce). The other two were less crispy and got progressively so with time.

Conclusion

So it’s definitely a vodka-corn starch batter for deep frying tofu next time and even if I’m out of vodka, water and cornstarch is better than just a dusting of corn starch.

Velvet Chicken

I’ve never been a fan of chicken breast. Yes yes it’s leaner than dark meat but it’s also usually dry and tough. Until I tried it in Golden House, my favorite Chinese restaurant in San Jose. At first I was disappointed that my order of chicken with snow peas and chestnut came with VERY WHITE bite-sized pieces of chicken breast and wanted to kick myself for not checking before ordering but it turned out that my negligence introduced me to the world of ‘velveting meat”.

I couldn’t stop exclaiming at how tender the meat was and how the lack of any browning of the meat was perfect because of the delicate sauce.

Me: I don’t want to know what freaky thing they did to the chicken to make it so good.

Chris: Freaky thing? I think it’s velveting.

Me: Yeah velvet is a kind of fabric. You just made it up.

Chris: It’s a cooking technique, I read about it in the Chinese Stir-fry book I bought for you.

That shut me up since I didn’t want to admit that I’ve never read that recipe book. Indeed, it turned out that according to Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young,

“The Chinese revere foods prepared with the silky, smooth texture known by the Cantonese as waat. No other cooking technique produces such light, delicate, tender succulence, hence the culinary term “velveting” in English. This style of stir-fying, popular with chefs, is most typically accomplished by briefly marinating bite sized pieces of beef, pork, chicken, fish scrimp or scallops in a standard combination of egg white, cornstarch, and a little water or rice wine. The marinated morsels are then blanched in oil or water and thoroughly drained in a colander before being stir-fried.”

Hmm, that doesn’t sound difficult at all so I decided to try the Velvet Chicken with Asparagus recipe in the book. The introduction to the recipe says,

“This is one of the most refined stir-fries. The flavors are deliberately mild and subtle so that the textures of the main ingredients can be better appreciated: the chicken breast is silky smooth, with extraordinary succulence, and the asparagus is crisp-tender.”

Ok, how can I NOT try that? This sounds eerily similar to the chicken I was raving about in Golden House.

Trial 1: Method

I followed instructions faithfully, sliced 1 lb of chicken breast into 1/4 inch thick bite-sized slices and marinated them in 2 tbsp of egg white, 1 tbsp of cornstarch, 2 tsp of rice wine and 3/4 tsp of salt for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. 1 tbsp of cooking oil was added to 1 quart of boiling water, boiling water reduced to a simmer before the chicken was gently poached. The recipe says to “cook for 1 minute, until the chicken is opaque but not cooked through”. For my 1/4 inch thick slices, the surface of the chicken slices was still pretty transparent after 1 minute and took 2 minutes before they turned opaque.

Chicken poaching for velveting

After the chicken and asparagus were cooked separately, they were combined with the aromatics and a delicate sauce of chicken broth and rice wine was swirled into the dish at the end.

Trial 1: Results

Not very impressive. The asparagus was indeed crisp tender, the sauce was delicate but the most important part of the dish, the texture of the chicken was pretty far from what I had in Golden House. The exterior of the chicken was softer than chicken breast stir-fried without any velveting but the interior was pretty dry and with 1/4 inch thick pieces that meant that the majority of the chicken was dry. It pretty much reminded me of regular chicken breast dishes I have had in other Chinese restaurant which led me to suspect that velveting is actually commonly practiced in Chinese restaurants but not all restaurants do it well. In any case the technique is obviously not as easy as I thought.

Trial 2: Method

After studying several recipes online which utilized the water velveting technique, I found the velveting marinate to be essentially the same, either 2 tbsp or 1 egg white and 1 tbsp of corn starch to 1 lb of chicken breast, with a little rice wine or water to thin the mixture and 1 tbsp of oil to coat the chicken. However, none of the recipes agreed on the thickness of the chicken pieces, one called for 3/4 to 1 inch cubes, while some others just left it as bite-sized slices. The timings for the poaching were also often not precisely described. How was I supposed to know when the chicken is “90% cooked”? Therefore I gathered that to match Golden House’s soft and succulent chicken, I need to slice my chicken as thin (about 1/8 inch) and then tweak the poaching timing.

About as thin as I could get it to be

About as thin as I could get it to be

I decided to try 3 poaching timings, 1 minute, 45 seconds and 30 secondss but the chicken was clearly uncooked after 30 seconds of poaching so I ended up with just the 1 minute and 45 secs batches.

Poached chicken for velveting technique

Since we just had the Velvet Chicken with Asparagus not too long ago, I decided to use these Chicken in Cantonese style Mango Chicken, also from the Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge cookbook.

Cantonese style Mango Chicken

Trial 2: Results

Disappointingly, neither timings resulted in chicken as silky and tender as the one I had in Golden House though the batch poached for 45 seconds was indeed superior than the 60 seconds poaching which resulted in overcooked chicken breast. So I’ve determined that the thickness of the chicken slices and the poaching timings both play a part in the end result but I still don’t think that my velveted chicken is as good as the one I’m trying to match :(. It might be possible that the restaurant utilizes the oil poaching method but according to Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge the water poaching method results in softer pieces of meat. For my next trial (I dont have a strategy yet), I will taste test my chicken alongside Golden House’s so that I can be sure that I’m not trying to match an unattainable texture from my memory.

Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Mousse and Mascarpone Frosting

Valentine’s Day! The first excuse  occasion of the year to make a cake. I saw this cake on  Chef Dennis’ Google+ post and knew that Chris Henry would love it (and I wanted to use up my huge stash of frozen strawberries from last summer).

Method

Cake. The first problem was that the recipe called for FOUR 9 inch round tins. I have ONE 9 inch cake tin and nope, I refuse to buy another 3 baking tins just for this recipe. Then I remembered a layered carrot cake recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. It solved the very scary problem of tender cake crumbling when sliced through horizontally simply by not doing it. The cake was baked in a cookie sheet, divided into 3 rectangles and then stacked on top of each other. I decided to do the same. Except that on baking day, I realized that I was almost out of parchment paper…why does these things happen to me?? I only had enough to line a smaller and deeper rectangular cake tin so I decided that would have to do, maybe I would have a very tall and narrow cake?chocolate cake slab I made the cake portion exactly according to Chef Dennis’ recipe except that with my bigger cake I had to increase the baking time by 15 minutes, to a total of 40 minutes. I appreciated how the recipe reminded me to let the wet ingredients for the cake to warm up to room temperature before adding them to the softened butter. I usually forget to do that, add fridge cold eggs to my creamed butter and end up with solid butter lumps in my batter.

As per the instructions, I let the cake rest in the tin for 10 minutes then turned it out onto the wire rack and it promptly cracked. This might be because the recipe was working with 4 thin discs while I had a huge slab.  On hindside I should have expected this and followed the method utilized by most cakes in the Ottolenghi’s Cookbook and wait at least 3 hours before turning the cake out. Oh well, there would be lots of frosting right? Frosting covers everything so I decided to press on bravely. In any case the cake smelled heavenly so I wasn’t about to toss it out because of how it looked.

However, it was also apparent that I would have to slice through my cake horizontally into 2 slabs and make another vertical cut because the slab was pretty thick. 4 layers of that would not make a structurally sound cake. I left it to cool for 4 hour before attempting any dissecting and it went surprising well!

Strawberry mousse. Instead of passable early season fresh strawberries, I used my stash of frozen strawberries from last summer and the strawberry syrup was DELICIOUS.  The flavor was obviously more muted after folding in the whipped cream so the strawberry flavor could probably be enhanced if I decrease the amount of cream in the mousse. It is also probably worth a try to dissolve the sugar in hot water then add it to pureed strawberries to avoid boiling (and driving off some volatiles) the strawberry puree- sugar mixture.

Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting. The original recipe required 16 oz of mascarpone, 4 cups of icing sugar and 4 oz of melted choclate. I like frosting but that does sounds a little excessive and I prefer a lighter, whipped cream based frosting. I got some inspiration from this Martha Steward’s mascapone frosting recipe with 8 oz of mascapone, 1/2 cup of icing sugar 1 cup of cream and yes there was plenty of subtly sweet frosting to go around. I still wanted the vanilla and chocolate in the frosting so I added them to the whipped mascapone and icing sugar before folding in the whipped cream. However I misread Chef’s Denis’ recipe and forgot to add in the chocolate gradually so that might be why my mascapone mixture was lumpy after I dumped all the chocolate in at once 😦

Results

A pretty cake this is not but does it taste good? Oh yeah. The tangy strawberry mousse balances the rich chocolate cake and mascapone frosting perfectly. Would I do it again? Definitely and I’m sure It would look much prettier the next time.

The Recipe

Chocolate Cake
  • 2⅔ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Prepare a rectangular cake tin (preferably a baking sheet) with parchment paper and lightly coating the sides and paper with butter
  2. Preheat oven to 350°C.
  3. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa and sugar together, set aside.
  4. Make sure that the butter, yogurt and eggs are at room temperature.
  5. In the bowl of your mixer whip the softened butter and yogurt together .
  6. Add the eggs one at a time fully incorporating before adding another, and remember to scrape down your bowl in between each addition.
  7. Add vanilla and mix until blended.
  8. Add the dry ingredients and mix with the electric mixer just enough to blend them into the wet ingredients.
  9. Spread batter evenly using an offset spatula in the prepared tin/baking sheet.
  10. Bake about 40 minutes (for rectangular cake tin, with convection switched on) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Cool on wire rack for 3 hours then remove from pan to continue cooling.
Strawberry Mousse Filling
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 cups sliced cleaned strawberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 envelope gelatin
  1. Sprinkle gelatin over ¼ cup water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In a food processor, puree 2 cups sliced strawberries and ½ cup granulated sugar until smooth. If using frozen strawberries, a grainy puree is fine, the ice crystals will melt when heated.
  3. Transfer strawberry mixture to a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add gelatin to strawberry mixture, stirring constantly until gelatin dissolves.
  4. Cover and chill until slightly thickened about 30 minutes, stir the mixture every 10 minutes. (For food safety reasons, I let the mixture cool off to room temperature before sticking it into the refrigerator to avoid raising the temperature of the refrigerator.)
  5. Whip cream at low speed until foamy; gradually increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form.
  6. Fold whipped cream into strawberry mixture until well blended. Cover and chill 30 minutes or just until mixture has thickened enough to be used as filling.
  7. Spread about 1 cup Strawberry Mousse between each cake layer, cover and chill for 3 hours or until mousse is set.
Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting
  • 2 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 8 ounces Mascarpone
  • ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips to garnish top of cake
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler/ saucepan put on a simmer burner.
  2. In an electric mixer, whip the cream just until stiff peaks form but do not over whip to avoid a lumpy frosting. Remove into a bowl.
  3. Mix the confectioner’s sugar and mascarpone with the electric mixer till light and fluffy, mix in the vanilla and drizzle in the melted chocolate slowly while mixing continuously.
  4. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture in 3 additions.
  5. Frost the assembled cake immediately.
  6. The cake should be refrigerated but the flavors (especially the strawberry mousse’s) comes out best if the cake is rested at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies

Got an email from a couple of friends asking if they could visit Clare and I went “YES!” immediately, not because Clare needs visitors but because I’ve been wanting to try out this Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies recipe so I need some people to share the calories with.

Trial 1: Swapped the peanut butter for almond butter, used more eggs in a sub-batch

Ingredients

14 cookies

  • ½ cup natural roasted almond butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp natural vanilla extract
  • ½ large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp sea salt for sprinkling

I used almond butter instead of peanut butter because I used up all of my peanut butter after 3 batches of PB&J cheese cakes. Anyway almond is supposed to be more health healthy than peanut right? The proportion of sugar does seem a little excessive but I don’t have much cookie baking experience, especially flourless ones, so I decided to just stick with the recipe for now.

Method

The appeal of this cookie recipe is it’s simplicity. No creaming the butter and sugar with the mixer and risk waking up the sleeping princess.

Since I made a half batch of the original recipe which calls for a whole egg, I beat the egg first and added half of the egg by weight into the almond butter, sugar and vanilla and just whisked it all up with a hand whisk.

As there is no flour in the recipe, I expect the cookie to be crumbly so I wanted to test if adding more egg into the batter would result in better binding and a more well-received texture. Anyway what was I going to do with half an egg??

Therefore I dropped 1 tbsp rounds of half of the original batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper – Batch 1A. I added the remaining half an egg into the rest of the batter ( so this batch got 3X the amount of egg compared to Batch 1A) and similarly, dropped 1 tbsp rounds onto the parchment paper. I flattened the rounds with my fingers and made hash patterns with a fork before sprinkling with coarse sea salt. I made just one set of parallel fork prints on Batch 1A and criss-crossed hash patterns on Batch 1B, the more eggy ones. Into the preheated to 350 °F oven at the they go, for 20 minutes, the baking sheet was rotated at the 10 minutes mark.

Results

My taste tasters arrived a little late so by then Chris and I have devoured almost everything but 4 cookies. The two taste testers independently agreed that they preferred Batch 1A. Batch 1A was indeed crumblier than 1B but this finer texture was more appealing.

Final Recipe

Yields 14 cookies

14 cookies

  • ½ cup natural roasted almond butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp natural vanilla extract
  • ½ large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp sea salt for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients, except for the sea salt.
  3. Drop table spoon-sized “cookie dough” onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The shape of cookies does not drastically change after baking so this is a good one for cookie cutters if you need a break from those sugar cookies.
  4. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional) and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet half way through baking. Enjoy.

Crispy Tofu with Minced Chicken

To cut the long story short, this is THE RECIPE but if you are in the mood, here is the story.

On a particularly lazy afternoon, I found a pack of silken tofu in the fridge and just couldn’t remember which recipe I bought it for. I usually consult a few of a favorite cook books on Saturday morning, pick out 3-4 recipes and do grocery shopping with a shopping list compiled from the menu for the week. This strategy does cut down on the amount of food which goes to waste, except occasions like this when I just can’t remember what the item was intended for…

It’s not me, I blame it on the lingering pregnancy brain. Oh well the tofu still needed to be cooked but every recipe in my trusty cookbooks required at least another ingredient I didn’t have and I didn’t feel like going for a grocery run with Miss Clarey just for 1 ingredient. (My life is full of BIG problems isn’t it?). Anyway thanks to my laziness, I came up with this recipe, with some inspiration from Harumi Kurihara’s Tofu with a Spicy Minced Meat Sauce Recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 block soft/silken tofu
  • About 3 tbsp corn starch for dusting
  • 3 oz ground chicken breast
  • 1¼ cup dashi stock (or 1 tsp dashi instant powder with 1¼ cup water)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (preferably koikuchi)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 cloves garkic
  • ½ oz fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced – for ganishing
  • 1 tsp white sesame seeds (roasted) – for ganishing
  • 1 red cayene or fresno pepper, finely sliced – for ganishing
  • peanut oil or other oil with high smoke point for deep frying
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp canola oil or other vegetable oil

Not all silken tofu are created equal. Some are so soft I can never get them out of their package in one piece, let alone dusting them in corn starch and deep frying them. After some failures with silken tofu, my preferred brand is Azumaya.

Method

I actually had homemade dashi made from kombu and freshly shaved katsuobushi because cH made extra dashi that weekend. Yipee, I love homemade dashi but am too lazy to make it myself. So I combined the precious dashi, soy sauce sugar sake and mirin in a bowl , finely chop the garlic and ginger AND even managed to drain and wrap the tofu in paper towels before Clarey woke up.

The cayenne is from my garden!

The cayenne was from my garden!

After she was fed and happy, I heated the canola oil over medium-high in a saute pan and fried the garlic and ginger for about 1 minute, followed by the ground chicken. While the chicken was browning, I drizzled in the sesame oil, working the oil into the lean ground chicken. I would probably skip the sesame oil if I had ground chicken thigh meat, but I didn’t…

When the chicken was browned, the dashi mixture goes into the pan and as left to simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.

A previous attempt to deep fry a whole block of silken tofu for another recipe didn’t work so well, so this time I cut the block of tofu into 4, dusted each piece in cornstarch and deep fried each block in peanut oil heated to 375 °F separately.

phew, at least they still looked decent

phew, at least they still looked decent

Into the pan goes the cornstarch mixture to thicken things up. After about 30 seconds of stirring, the sauce thicken enough to coat the back of the spoon so I took the pan off the heat and poured the chicken mixture over the tofu and sprinkled with the scallion, cayenne and sesame seeds.

cropped-img_20130911_204628.jpg

Rice please!

FINAL RECIPE (or just the recipe in this case, since I was happy with my first attempt)

  • 1 block soft/silken tofu, drained and wrapped in paper towels for at least 10 minutes
  • About 3 tbsp corn starch for dusting
  • 3 oz ground chicken breast
  • 1¼ cup dashi stock (or 1 tsp dashi instant powder with 1¼ cup water)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (preferably koikuchi)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ oz fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced – for ganishing
  • 1 tsp white sesame seeds (roasted) – for ganishing
  • 1 red cayene or fresno pepper, finely sliced – for ganishing
  • peanut oil or other oil with high smoke point for deep frying
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp canola oil or other vegetable oil
  1. Drain the silken tofu and wrap in at least 3 layers of paper towels.
  2. Finely chop the ginger and garlic.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar.
  4. Heat the 1 tbsp canola/vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium high heat, brown the garlic and ginger for 1 minute.
  5. Brown the ground chicken while folding in the sesame oil.
  6. Add in the dashi mixture and allow to simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, heat about 1 inch of oil to 375 °F in a small sauce pan. Cut the drained tofu into 4 pieces and coat each piece in cornstarch just right before lowering into the oil . Fry each piece separately till lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Allow to drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
  8. Add the cornstarch to the dashi-chicken mixture and stir for about 30 seconds till the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  9. Pour the sauce over the tofu (remove the paper towels first!) and garnish with the sliced scallions, chilies and sesame seeds.

PB&J Cheese Cakes

While waiting for Little Miss Clarey to wake up from her very very long nap, I decided to clear out the fridge. Out goes the half used, jumbo package of cream cheese from Costco. Wait a minute, didn’t I also have a sensible 8 oz package of cream cheese? Found it after more rummaging! It expires in…2 days. Need to use it now!

My regular go-to cheese cake recipes requires 3 packages of cream cheese and anyway I don’t have any heavy cream, maybe it’s time to try a new recipe. Food Network’s Peanut Butter Cheese Cake Minis looks good except that I don’t have any peanut butter cups (my most hated candy, just because). I do however have lots of natural peanut butter AND graham crackers that I want to get rid of so maybe I can make something work. Well it did work, except that I wasn’t very happy with it so even though I did manage to use the cream cheese, peanut butter and graham crackers (woohoo!), I bought more of them for trial 2, 3 and 4…

Click here for the final recipe

Trial 1: Piped peanut butter into the cheese cake batter

Ingredients (6 regular cupcake sized cheese cakes)

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 3 white chocolate chips and 3 dark chocolate chips

Method

I can’t help reducing the amount of sugar in recipes and the safest bet for this recipe seems to be eliminating the sugar in the crust since most graham cracker crusts recipes don’t require sugar at all. So my crust was just a simple mixture of graham cracker crumbs and butter, pressed into 6 of my special (alright, they are from Safeway) foiled cupcake paper liners. They look a little crumbly but I decided to leave it and judge after baking instead of adding more butter at this point.

Preheat oven to 350 °F (note to self: 370 °F on Wright Ave’s oven).

For the cheese cake batter, I beat the cream cheese at speed 8 on my KitchenAid mixer for 1 minute, then mixed in the flour, sugar and vanilla extract at speed 6 for another 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through mixing. The egg was also beat in at speed 6 till the batter was well mixed. I then divided the batter into the 6 graham cracker crusts, there was enough batter for 1 more cupcake so I just poured that into another liner.

To insert the peanut butter into the cheese cake batter, I spooned the peanut butter into a piping bag, put on a tip and SQUEEZED away. Not such a bright idea. The thick peanut butter didn’t get piped out easily and I had to use a knife to scrape the peanut butter off the tip to end each dollop.

Oh well, finally each of the 6 cheese cakes got some peanut butter ( I left the crustless one plain). I placed a chocolate chip on each just for fun and in they go into the oven for 20 minutes.

Results

2 cheese cakes

The cheese cakes looked fluffy and soft out of the oven. I tried one once they have cooled for about 15 minutes since the recipe didn’t call for any refrigeration. Hmm..I wasn’t very impressed, it just tasted like an extremely sweet but otherwise tasteless sponge cake. Oh well, I decided to stick them into the refrigerator since I do usually prefer my cheese cake cold.

3 hours later, I tried another one and it tasted much better cold. The cheese cake’s texture firmed up and the tangy cream cheese flavor could be discerned.

I LOVED the peanut butter in the cheesecake, it added such a nice surprise to boring old cheesecake but I just wished that there was more of it! I want each bite of my cheesecake to have some peanut butter, but Chris (the guy in my life who I have to try very hard to please) thought that  having peanut butter throughout might make the cheese cake too heavy. My brilliant idea: let’s make it his favorite, PB&J. That should make the peanut butter less dry.

They weren't great but we still polished them off.

They weren’t great but we still polished them off.

The crust was a little too crumbly for neat eating so Jazzie had too great a time vacuuming up the crumbs under the table.

Trial 2: Spread peanut butter and blue berry jam on top of the graham cracker crust

Modifications

1) The cheese cake itself is a little too sweet for me and since I’m going to be adding blueberry jam, I decided to reduce the about of sugar in the batter by 25%.

2) I will also add ½ tbsp more butter to the crust to take the joy of if Jazzie’s life and of course add some blueberry jam to the peanut butter and spread it across the whole crust.

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ⅜ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp natural peanut butter mixed with 1 tbsp blueberry jam
  • 3 tsp of blueberry jam

Method

Graham cracker crusts

I crushed the graham crackers and added the extra ½ tbsp of butter before pressing them into the cupcake liners.

PB&JTasting as I go, I settled on the proportion of 3 tbsp peanut butter to 1 tbsp blueberry jam for the PB&J mixture. Instead of messing about with the piping bag, I just spooned the mixture directly onto each crust and smoothed them out with the back of the spoon. For 3 of the crusts, I added an extra teaspoon each of jam on top of the PB&J mixture, just to test if more jam makes things better.

The cheese cake batter was prepared as before, though with less sugar. This time, there was enough batter for 8 cheese cakes (6 with crusts and PB&J, 2 plain). In they go again into the 350 °F oven for 20 minutes.

Results

Tada! Products from round 2, after refrigeration.

Tada! Products from round 2, after refrigeration and after a few disappeared into my tummy.

I used the positions of the chocolate chips to mark the different kinds of cheese cakes here. Extra jam = choco chip in the middle, no extra jam = choco chip to the side, plain = no choco chip.

Chris didn’t care if the cheese cake had extra jam, just PB&J was enough to make him happy! I preferred those with extra jam but overall I still felt that even more jam would make things even better.

I also loved having PB&J in every bite but the problem was that with the crust and thick layer of PB&J, there weren’t much cheese cake at all in each small cake…

Trial 3: Less crust, more jam, more cake

Modifications

1) Instead of using 10 graham cracker for 6 crusts, I shall use 8 graham crackers (60g) for 8 crusts. The amount of butter for the crust shall remain the same (higher ratio of butter : crackers) for even better binding.

2) Thicker cheese cake layers by dividing the cheese cake batter between 8 cheese cakes with layers of crusts and PB&J, instead of 6 crusted,PB&J cheese cake and 2 plain cheese cakes.

3) More jam per cake by changing the PB&J mixture to 2 tbsp peanut butter and 2 tbsp jam.

Ingredients

  • 60 g graham cracker crumbs
  • 2½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ⅜ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter mixed with 2 tbsp blueberry jam

Method

Only managed to prepare the crust and PB&J mixture before Little Missy woke up

Only managed to prepare the crust and PB&J mixture before Little Missy woke up. Oh well, the cream cheese needed time to warm up anyway.

Crushed the graham crackers and mixed them with the melted butter.

Next, I mixed the PB&J.

I over stirred the PB&J mixture a little, the mixture was a much more attractive swirl of brown and purple before I gave it another two stirs…

Pressed the graham cracker crusts (graham cracker crumbs and melted butter) into 8 cupcake liners and dropped ½ tbsp PB&J mixture on each.

Whipped up the cheese cake batter as before and scooped them into the liners

Decorated with chocolate chips because I like chocolate. Shove them into the 350 °F oven before Clarey burst into tears.

Yay! Looks much better after cooling and 3 hours in the fridge.

Results

Look at the pretty layers!

Look at the pretty layers!

I’m pretty satisfied with the product for this trial. There is a nice balance between crust, peanut butter, jam and cheese cake and I know this is really pretty good because cH and I still find this good after having at least 6 cheese cakes each in the past 2 weeks! Off to the pool I go after posting the final recipe.

FINAL RECIPE (for now)

8 cheese cake minis

  • 60 g graham cracker crumbs (1 pack of Honey Maid fresh stack)
  • 2½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ⅜ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter mixed with 2 tbsp blueberry jam
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Mix the graham crackers crumbs with the melted butter and press them into 8 cupcake liners in a muffin tin.
  3. Mix the peanut butter and jam, do not over stir for pretty swirls. Spoon ½ tbsp for each crust.
  4. Beat the cream cheese at high speed till fluffy (speed 8 on my KitchenAid for 1 minute), then beat in the flour, sugar and vanilla till well mixed (speed 6 for 40 seconds, scraping down the sides halfway). Beat in the egg till well mixed (speed 6).
  5. Divide the cream cheese batter among the 8 cupcake liners, decorate with chocolate chip if desired.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, chill before serving.