Chocolate Creme Brulee

So, even though I used the exact same recipe as I did the first time, it decided to not set on me – which is possibly the most devastating (I do realize that’s overly dramatic) thing that could happen when working with creme brulee. In fairness, it was probably my fault as I messed with the sugar ratio and texture by blindly adding melted chocolate chips. The only thing left for me to do – aside from trashing it all – was to of course muster all the common sense I had to tackle this issue. So then I thought about all the ingredients I used and figured out which one was most likely the contributing factor. Through trial and error, I finally added just the right amount of egg yolks in the mixture for it to set properly, after reheating everything on the stove and chilling it overnight, (an undesirable and time consuming process that you will now avoid should you ever encounter this problem. You’re welcome.) it resulted in the perfect consistency. I even topped it with some berries just for aesthetics :). I’m getting better at this guys.

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See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil

A lot of you may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging about my kitchen creations since my return to Brisbane. I’m not lazy, nor did I lose interest. Just that the student life is catching up to me. I have a shitty oven that merely holds a 5lb bird, and very limited kitchen supplies – ’cause it would be silly if I lugged it all back from Canada. Well, I have pots and pans and basic utensils. But I miss my electric mixer, baking trays, spices, and… coffee maker. The things I would give for my coffee maker right now. Nope, not about to get into what my instant coffee tastes like. Anyway, I find it frustrating to search for proper ingredients at grocery stores in this area. Last year, in an attempt to recreate a cupcake recipe of Martha Stewart’s, I quit after failing to find half of the ingredients at Coles. HOW IS IT THAT YOU DON’T HAVE BROWN SUGAR IN STOCK!?

… *ahem*

So, I’ve temporarily taken a new direction with this blog while I’m overseas. I will write about my new experiences with food as I utilize my precious last 7 months exploring Brisbane. A food-travel blog, if you will.

Of the 3 years I have spent in Brisbane, and being a cafe lover, I have found THE gem in this city. And from this place, located subtly on a street corner in a suburb called West End, the most delicious piece of chocolate cake was discovered.

The Three Monkeys

The first time I came here I almost missed it. It didn’t look like a cafe from the outside. Through the miniature front yard and sliding door, there’s an immediate claustrophobic feeling that is dissipated as quick as it came as soon as you walk down the side corridor into another backyard seating area. That’s probably what it feels like to enter Narnia from the wardrobe…

You can now sense that this is not just your typical cafe or a hole in the wall, but rather somewhere inbetween. It can be private and peaceful but at the same time filled with so much character that you cannot help but to come back again and again. ONE cake in the front display case hits the jackpot every. single. time. Their variety of teas is amazing; from the typical store-bought flavours to the tropical fruity herbal spicy soothing light surprising kinds whatever it’s there.

Filo wrapped chicken mushroom ham with garden salad seasoned with rosemary. It may not look like a big portion size but took me ages to devour this plate and still had leftovers. You can taste the quality and freshness of their ingredients. A nicely balanced lunch.

Saving the best for last. Who is Diane and what other heavenly cakes does she make!?!? Diane, if you’re out there, just know that I will bow to you when you show your face. Do not underestimate this piece of cake, for it is the best chocolate cake I have ever had. Moist cake and fluffy mousse layers. Covered in a thin coating of dark chocolate, but not thick enough that you need a glass of milk. That’s my rule for cakes: if I need a glass of milk to wash it down, it ain’t good enough. It’s obvious that I am about to make it my life mission to figure out the recipe. If you are a chocolate cake lover, or not, go try it. More importantly, if you know the recipe, don’t tell me. This is a personal challenge.

This post is dedicated to my best friend, who is just as unreasonably crazy about Chocolate Diane as I am. The obsession began when she visited me in Brisbane last year. I’m confident she will appreciate the fact that I have the advantage of enjoying this cake whenever I want since she is far away now. It’s a cruel world we live in. But no fear, when I have successfully imitated this god-sent cake, I will share the recipe with you all. 😀

To sum it all up, this is Three Monkeys in my books:

  1. Quality food. Check
  2. Reasonable price. Check
  3. Good atmosphere. Check
  4. Speedy service and friendly staff. Check

I would say my checklist is quite reasonable in terms of what I look for in cafes. But surprisingly it’s not easy coming across places that can check off all 4. If you’re looking to steer away from the hectic streets of the city, and the uncomfortable silence of your own home, Three Monkeys is your temporary escape.

Stuff it good!

Stuffing food is great fun, it’s capable of sealing in a lot of food and flavours into a pocket that is, guess what, made out of more food. Get a grasp of this: you don’t need to bend over backwards in order to make something delicious. Exhibit A: strawberry stuffed cheesecake.

What fascinates me about stuffed foods: it’s kind of like eating an oreo. We all love it when life gives us options. You can (try) force the whole thing in your mouth, you can eat the cookie part first, or the filling! Whatever tickles your fancy. There are no rules. In a way, stuffed food brings out the kid in me.

It reminds me of this commercial…

Anyways…

Bite sized strawberry cheesecake

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for this recipe. I googled it. I can briefly walk you through the steps. It was ingeniously simple and stupidly time-consuming.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the most time consuming part goes into carving out the centre of the strawberries. Tip: buy mutant large strawberries. The bigger the better in this case. Screw the “motion of the ocean” attitude. It really does make your life easier if you’re able to carve out a decent sized cavity without demolishing the sides.

So, you will need: Philadelphia cream cheese (light for me), softened. 1 tsp vanilla extract, about 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (adjust to taste), and crushed graham crackers (optional).

After all of the strawberries have been carved, whip the cream cheese, vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar using a hand mixer until smooth. Yup, that’s pretty much the basis of all cheesecakes that you get at stores and restaurants. If they can do it, so can you!

Using a zip lock bag, I snipped the corner and spooned the filling inside. You know what to do next! For the complete cheesecake look, sprinkle crushed graham crackers on top.

For about 2 dozen strawberries… it took me around half an hour with my sister’s help (she carved most of it… muahaha).

May I now introduce you to my newfound love. Stuffed mushrooms, ladies and gentlemen.

After making the stuffed strawberries, I was really getting into the stuffing groove. I knew that mushrooms are awesome stuffers…because you can find “Stuffer Mushrooms” at the supermarket.

If you are a mushroom lover like me (we all love a fun-guy. Haha.. that one hasn’t gotten old for me yet), you need to try this.

I still consider this recipe pretty simple. I mean, unlike the strawberries, you will need more than 2 ingredients, but I promise it’s going to rock your taste buds.

What I used for the stuffing:

  • Handful of chives. Chopped
  • Spring onions. Chopped.
  • Garlic. Chopped.
  • Bacon. Cut into small pieces. (Easier to deal with if it’s partially frozen)
  • Mushroom stems. Finely chopped.
  • Bread crumbs. The Italian seasoned ones are the best!
  • Chili powder or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt and pepper of course

Firstly, you need to clean and de-stem the mushrooms and lay the caps on a baking tray. Remember to save the stems! Bake it for about 7 minutes at 400F. The purpose of this is to extract as much of the juices so the end product doesn’t get soggy. When that’s out of the oven, lay them right side up on paper towels.

Sautee onions and garlic in just a tad of olive oil on medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 10 minutes. The longer the crispier the better!

Then I added chives and mushroom stems and cooked for 5-7 minutes more. Seasoned it with some chili powder, pepper and a pinch of salt. When I say a ‘pinch’, I really mean ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon. You know sometimes on TV how they throw in a good handful of salt as if saying that’s the correct definition of “a pinch?” Maybe I missed a website called foodurbandictionary.com but I normally try to cut down on as much of that stuff as I can; especially in this recipe where the bacon is already salty.

When you’re ready, remove from heat and stir in a liberal amount of bread crumbs. It’s important that you don’t cook the bread crumbs on the stove as it will burn.

Start stuffing the mushrooms! Grate some parmesan cheese on top and bake in the oven at 400F for 8-10 minutes. It’s good isn’t it?

My third dish…

Was a disaster.

It was mostly out of curiosity when watching Chef at Home one day. I am not at all against the combination of sweet and savoury. I believe that some things that wouldn’t normally SEEM to go well together can surprise me. So, I really wanted the idea of apples and pork to impress me. It was just not appealing in my mind. Nonetheless, I was excited to give it a real shot…

*sigh*

Essentially, I caramelized the apples and onions in olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Seasoned with rosemary, a bit of thyme, salt and pepper, and a dash of soy sauce. There were pieces of garlic in there somewhere too.

I marinated two slices of pork center loin and seared it in the pan on both sides. Instead of cutting a pocket out of a thick slice because that’s not the kind I bought, I sort of folded a pocket out of it and they were secured with toothpicks. I stuffed it and put it in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 400F.

I did not like it for a few reasons:

#1: Apples and pork did not impress or surprise me. It tasted just as unappealing as I had imagined.

#2: Meat was tough.

#3: I should have saved the apples for an apple crumble.

Christmas tart

Ready for Christmas!

Thanks to my sister and Najin for having enough patience to cut and arrange the fruits on top! It is actually my least favourite part. I know this because I had to make another one the following week all by myself and boy is it tedious (especially peeling those kiwis). Even though the end result is totally worth it 😛

It’s not as complicated as it looks. I can assure you it’s a piece of cake (I had to).

For the tart shell you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of butter. Slightly softened.
  • 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • Veggie oil (optional)

For the filling:

  • About 150g of white/milk chocolate chips (you can add more or less depends on how sweet you like it)
  • One package of Philadelphia cream cheese (I like using the light version. It’s better for you and I barely taste the difference)
  • 1/4 cup of whipping cream (18% cream worked for me too but it made the filling taste more like cheesecake)

For the topping:

  • Use any fruits you desire!

For the glaze:

  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • A “splash” of white wine (you can substitute with more lemon juice or leftover canned pineapple juice if you’re using pineapples for the topping. I got a little booze happy during Christmas though 🙂 )

Let’s get started:

Note: You can make the tart shell and slice up your fruits days ahead of time and store it in the fridge until ready to assemble and eat. This is very helpful if you’re on a tight schedule especially during the holidays.

  1. Preheat oven to 300F. In a mixing bowl, use your hands to mix confectioners sugar and butter until light and fluffy. I like using room temperature butter for this. Microwave the butter for about 10-12 seconds if it was refrigerated.
  2. Slowly add in the flour. It might be easier to do this on a board instead of a bowl. You really need to work it in with your hands. One way I can usually tell if it’s moist enough is when you grab a chunk of it in your fist. If it doesn’t crumble when you let go then it is ready to be molded into the tart pan! If it’s too dry, a bit of veggie oil will do the trick. Be careful not to go overboard with it.

    Have patience for this step! 🙂

  3. Place it on the middle rack in the oven for about 25min or until light brown. Then let it cool. If you want to store it in the fridge make sure you cling wrap the hell out of it!
  4. For the filling, empty the chocolate chips into a heat proof bowl and position it on top of a saucepan of simmering water at medium heat. Stir until melted.
  5. You will need a hand-held electric mixer for this step. Hulk-like biceps and a strong whisk would work too if you can’t afford the former. Add the cream cheese chunks at a time to the chocolate and beat until smooth and uniform. Then add the whipping cream and give it some more action until fluffy! Spread the mixture into the crust.
  6. Arrange the fruits on top in any pattern you like. Almost done!
  7. For the glaze, heat the lemon juice, sugar and corn starch on medium low heat stirring gently with a whisk. Add the wine and bring it to a bubbling thickened mixture. Remove from heat as soon as it’s boiling otherwise you will be cooking off a lot of the alcohol. Coat the fruits with a pastry brush once it’s cooled.
  8. Don’t say “just a sliver”. It’s Christmas! Enjoy a big piece 🙂

Note: This recipe is a derivation of Claire Darby’s creation on All Recipes.com

Bucket list

  1. Start a blog
  2. Eat a coconut macaron
  3. Make macarons (doesn’t look like an easy task but I can’t wait to try it!)
  4. Pick a coconut off the tree with my bare hands (who knows when that will happen)
  5. Make a fondant covered cake from scratch
  6. Make kimchi
  7. Make pho
  8. Meet an iron chef. Preferably Morimoto. (Not a fan of Flay’s attitude)
  9. Meet Jamie Oliver (this list is looking very ambitious, I know. But you gotta dream big!)
  10. Eat something from “The Best Thing I Ever Ate/Made” (WARNING: Do not watch this show at night, or you’ll be wiping saliva off your face before you even fall asleep)
  11. Master a rockin’ mussels dish (without the need to turn it into a pasta instead)
  12. Participate in a cook-off (hit me up if you’re down for a challenge!)
  13. Open a bakery

JUST DO IT

I’m done exams, time to bake!

It’s my first day back at it after exams. It felt SO nice to be able to unwind again in the kitchen. No more flipping through endless notes, drinking what seemed like a bottomless pit of coffee and yet still somehow managing to walk around like a zombie. I lost 6lbs and haven’t done any type of physical activity for over a month! (do we really burn calories from straining our brains?) Except walking to the library, to my exam, and back to the library from my exam.

What actually gave me that kick-start in the kitchen again was the idea of combining pumpkin and coconut as two main ingredients. I can never get enough of coconuts. Whether it is used in curry, hand lotion, scented candles, or just drinking pure coconut water. It is definitely a fruit that hits my soft spot every time. I love the aroma, the subtle sweetness with a creamy aftertaste. Nothing can compare. Pumpkins on the other hand, can be repulsive looking and smelling when raw but I quickly learned that once it is used in baking, it could be transformed into something impressive. Not to mention it adds a moist texture, which is preferable in some types of baked goods, such as muffins. Okay, here’s my experiment.

Keep in mind that I had no recipe to go by, just blindly mixing ingredients together.  You’re probably seriously questioning my baking skills right about now (or lack there of) judging by that big clump of mess in the photo and the fact that I am using a pair of chopsticks to mix that batter; “did you lose your whisk!?” you might ask. I cannot explain that ugly chunk of dough because as great as it FEELS to be back in the kitchen, I am rusty as a nail. Now, with the chopsticks…

I think this was at the point where I started to realize my batter was too dry.

*tick tock tick tock*

I don’t even want to get into how long that took me

The last bit of it. *chucks whisk over shoulder*

Moral of the story: do not underestimate chopsticks. A lot of times I prefer to use them when I’m cooking (less often when baking) instead of other utensils. I can stir/mix with them, I can easily pick stuff up with them, it doesn’t make an awful scratching noise at the bottom of pots and pans, it doesn’t get too hot to touch after a while AND it’s impossible to lose (how irritating is it when we let go of a spoon or fork for a second and it drowns in the pot of boiling soup?).

Let’s just see how this turns out. Topping each muffin (or icing-less cupcake if you will) with frozen berries. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries oh my!

Ready for the oven!

Looking non-disastrous so far. By the way, I really need to get a muffin tray that has smaller sized holes so that they do not expand outwards as much in the oven.

…The aftermath

My muffins bled and tasted too bland. E for Effort…?

Deedee’s “redemption”

You can probably sense a little bit of frustration, eagerness, with a hint of perseverance from this photo. When the chopsticks failed, I had to bring out the big guns.

Although the second batch turned out slightly better than the first, it was a taaaad too moist for my liking. Having experienced both ends of the spectrum in terms of moisture content in today’s amateur baking session, I have gathered -and learned- several points about muffins:

#1: Wet ingredients go in one bowl. Dry ingredients in another. Add wet to dry.

#2: Think “fold” rather than “mix” when adding wet ingredients. Don’t over-mix. Walk away even if you see clumps.

#3: Pumpkin and coconut do not go well together. Perhaps a lime coconut experiment next time!

#4: I have a LOT to learn

If I won the lottery…

My absolute ultimate outdoor dream kitchen. Yes, hence the title of this entry.

It’s not just a wine cellar, it has a mystical feel to it that I could not resist sharing this photo

And a list of few other “affordable” kitchen gadgets I would love to have:

What a beauty

Gonna start saving up to make this bad boy mine!

Not only would my strawberry Belgian waffles be freakin’ delicious, they’d be heart-warming in more ways than one.

Well it’s not a lemon-shaped kettle

I don’t consider this as a kitchen essential but I find this gadget intriguing. Apparently this Blomus Lemon Squeezer will get every last drop out of that fruit. Wouldn’t a regular lemon squeezer do the job too? Ohhh the curiosity…

Potato masher

Probably the most affordable and practical item in this entry yet. Believe it or not, I haven’t come across any. Maybe I just have tunnel vision for all the other cool kitchen gadgets that I make a beeline for every time I enter Kitchen Stuff Plus. Great store by the way if you haven’t checked it out yet. Lots of deals!

…to be continued