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Category: Starters and Salads

Potluck favourite – potato dauphinois

Over the holidays, I have attended a few potluck parties. When it comes to bringing the appropriate food, it is always a bit tricky. It must be a dish that can withstand time (not everyone will arrive at the party on time), ability to keep warm and hopefully not require any heating up (not every house has an oven or an available stove) and most importantly easy to transport from your home to the host’s house.

Potato dauphinois is one dish that fits all the three requirements. It is essentially potato and cream with a hint of garlic. Seriously what’s not to love about potato and cream? This French dish is not terribly difficult to prepare and the ingredients are very easy to obtain. In addition, this dish can feed around 10 people as starter. It is also a great complement to any meat or fish dishes.

Besides being a starter, you can also prepare potato dauphinois as a meal, serving it with salad. If you like, you can add in protein to give it a bit more substance. However I don’t think this dish needs any cheese as the cream provides sufficient richness.

Potato dauphinois
(Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen)
I am not very particular about the choice of potatoes – waxy (the potatoes will hope their shape, giving the dish a bite) vs. floury (the potatoes break down easily so you get a creamier gratin). In Singapore, the potatoes are not labelled but most of them are floury. If you like your potatoes to hold their shapes, cut down the cooking time in the pot.

Ingredients
1)      1kg potatoes of your choice
2)      300ml milk (and a bit more)
3)      300ml thickened cream (I used Bulla’s)
4)      A pinch of nutmeg (I prefer to use freshly grated nutmeg)
5)      1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6)      1 teaspoon (kosher) salt (Table salt is fine)
7)      1 clove of garlic, halve
8)      A knob of soft, unsalted butter
9)      Chopped parsley or dill (optional)

Methods
-        Prep the potatoes – peel (with a vegetable peeler) and slice them into 3mm-thickness. I like to use the mandolin for this as you will get a consistent result. If you do not have a mandolin, I would strongly urge you to get one. If not, take your time to slice the potatoes. Similar thickness will ensure even cooking.
-        In a large pot, pour in the milk, thickened cream, salt, nutmeg and mustard and give it a quick stir. Add in the sliced potatoes in the liquid mixture and put the pot on a stove and let it simmer for 10 minutes. If you like your potatoes to hold their shapes, you can cut down the cooking time to 7 minutes. In addition, if I am bringing this dish to a party, I tend to add in a bit more milk to prevent the potatoes from drying out during transportation and while sitting on the dining table.
-        While the potatoes are cooking (you can leave them alone to cook, there is no need to stir them; just make sure the cream don’t boil over.), preheat the oven to 200oC.
-        Using the cut side of the halved garlic, rub it around the inside of the baking dish. With the knob of unsalted butter, grease the inside of the baking dish. You can use any baking dish that will fit 1kg of potatoes and 600ml of liquid.
-        After the potatoes are cooked, place the potatoes and cream mixture in the baking tray. At this stage, I will pick the slices that are not broken and set aside. These pieces will be used to decorate the top of the dish.
-        Once the potatoes are placed evenly in the dish, you can put the picked slices of potatoes on top of the dish. It is not necessary for you to do this – I just like to present a pretty dish.
-        Bake the gratin for 35-40 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Be careful not to overcook as the cream will curdle. Once again, if you plan to bring this dish to a party, under-bake it (around 25 minutes) – the residual heat will cook the dish.
-        Serve hot with a sprinkle of chopped parsley or dill.

Dorie Greenspan’s gougeres

I have been wanting to make gougeres for the longest time. I have this phobia of making choux pastry, fearing my roux would burn, the mixture becoming lumpy and so on. Since I was in the “French” mood, I brave up and attempted to make some gougeres.

Oh man, gougeres were so easy to make. My roux didn’t burn and everything was taken care by the mixer. The only tedious work that need to be done was grating of cheese. And silly me who got so scared about gougeres.

The wonderful thing about making gougeres is that you can prepare extra and freeze them, and bake them when needed. Dorie Greenspan’s version uses Gruyere cheese which is salty and delicious. You can also use other cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Comte and so on.

I like gougeres when they are fresh out of the oven – they are crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. I brought them to my friends’ office and served as breakfast – they actually don’t mind them at room temperature. Still, I think they are best consumed while warm.

Dorie Greenspan’s Gougeres

(Adapted from Around my French Table)

Makes about 36 gougeres

Ingredients
1)      120ml (½ cup) whole milk
2)      120ml (½ cup) water
3)      120g unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
4)      ½ teaspoon salt
5)      120g all purpose flour
6)      5 large eggs (280g without shell), at room temperature*
7)      170g coarsely grated cheese (Gruyere or cheddar)**
8)      Pinch of black pepper (optional)***

Methods
-        Preheat the oven to 220oC. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking sheets or parchment paper.
-        Add the milk, water, butter and salt in a saucepan and place it on the stove (At this stage, you should also standby your wooden spoon). Over high heat, bring the mixture to a rapid boil.
-        Add the flour all at once and reduce the heat to medium low. With your wooden spoon, quickly stir the mixture. A dough will be formed and a light crust might develop. Just keep stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes to dry out the dough. You should end up with a smooth dough.
-        Remove the pot from the heat and place the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer. If you are using a wooden spoon, you need to work fast).
-        Let the dough sit for a minute – I would usually turn the mixer on a low speed and spin the dough a couple of rounds to release the heat.
-        On medium speed, slowly add the eggs one by one until everything is incorporated and the dough is thick and shiny. If the dough separates while you are adding the egg, do not panic. Everything will come together when the last egg is added.
-        Once all the eggs are added, you can beat in the grated cheese and season with a pinch of black pepper (if you are doing so).
-        The dough needs to be spooned out immediately.
-        I like to use an ice cream scoop (about 1 tablespoon size) to spoon the dough – this way I will get even-sized gougeres and I don’t have to worry about the dough sticking onto the spoon. If you do not have an ice cream scoop, you can use 2 spoons – one to scoop the dough and the other to push and drop the dough. Drop the dough onto the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space in between.
-        If you do not wish to bake all the gougeres, once you have spooned the dough onto the baking sheet, put the sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, you should be able to lift the gougeres off the sheet easily and pack them in ziplock****.
-        Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately drop the temperature to 190oC. Bake for 12 minutes, rotate the baking sheets, from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougeres turned golden brown and formed a crust. They should also puff up at this stage. This will take about 12-15 minutes.
-        Once the gougeres are done, you can serve them immediately. If not, transfer them to rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day you made them.

The inside

*The size of the egg is quite important for this recipe. Do not use those extra large eggs – too much egg will cause the gougeres to collapse. If you want, you can actually measure the amount of egg as stated above (A large egg is around 56g without shell).
**In Singapore, not every supermarket stocks Gruyere cheese. If you spotted Gruyere cheese, make sure it is AOC certified – you would be able to see the Le Gruyere Switzerland branding on the cheese rind.
***Beside black pepper, you can even try out freshly grated nutmeg, chilli flakes and so on.
****You can bake the frozen gougeres straight from the freezer (no need to defrost). You might just need to bake about 1-2 minutes longer.

A simple lunch

Recently I had this insane craving for asparagus. Perhaps it was all the tweets about spring time and the abundance of asparagus. Or maybe it was all these recipes on this gorgeous vegetable.

Asparagus is one of the easiest vegetables to cook and there is almost no prep work needed. All you need to do is trim or snap off the woody ends and they are ready to be cooked. Before I start to cook asparagus, I like to blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds. This process turns them into a brighter green.

For lunch, I pan-fried some homemade chorizo. While the sausage was almost done, I threw in the (blanched) asparagus for a quick stir-fry. In this way, the asparagus will be coated with some of the oil from the chorizo.

A simple lunch – asparagus and chorizo

To serve, I placed some alfalfa sprouts on the plate, topped it with the asparagus and chorizo. I finished off with spoonful of cottage cheese and a bit of Colman’s English mustard. If I had crème fraiche in my fridge, I would mix it with a bit of mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, and you get this sharp and creamy dressing.

This lunch is quick and easy to prepare and great on a bloody hot day.

Rachel Khoo’s oeuf en cocotte

I rarely like female host for cooking shows. However recently I made an exception for Rachel Khoo. I started watching The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo a couple of weeks ago and got addicted to the show. Now, I want to cook all things French.

The concept of The Little Paris Kitchen is to demystify and simplify French cooking. What I really like about the show is Rachel used a few quality ingredients and managed to whip up all these delicious looking dishes in her tiny (and almost non-existence) kitchen. That is a pretty amazing feat.

Breakfast fit for champion!

There are a few recipes that I wanted to try. So baby steps – I chose to make oeuf en cocotte (egg in a pot). Yes, yes I am not a fan of eggs. But when mixed with other ingredients which helped to mask the “yolky” taste, that is when I will eat eggs.

Oeuf en cocotte is a really simple dish to make. And it is also a recipe that is (almost) impossible to mess up. The best part about this dish is that you can even use any leftover in your fridge – that little knob of sausage, the half cut bell peppers – and put them in that little pot with crème fraiche and egg.

In my case, I kept my oeuf en cocotte simple – in my ramekin (sidetrack: I bought these awesome vintage T.G. Green ramekins long ago, so I was super duper happy that I can use them in this recipe), I only put in crème fraiche, egg and some seasoning. To serve, I had it with tuna mixed with this wonderful jar of Waitrose Puttanesca Mix(which has olives, capers and anchovies) and homemade buns. You can have it as afternoon tea or like me, had it for breakfast.

Oeuf en cocotte

Oeuf en Cocotte
(Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen)

Serve 1

Ingredients
1)      1 egg
2)      2 tablespoon of crème fraiche
3)      Seasoning – salt and black pepper. In my case, I also used my favourite Korean chilli powder.
4)      Herbs – Rachel’s original recipe calls for dills. As I don’t have that readily available, I used parsley and spring onion.

Methods
-        Preheat the oven at 180oC
-        Put 1 tablespoon of crème fraiche at the bottom of a ramekin. Season it accordingly. The original recipe calls for salt, black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. In my case, instead of the nutmeg, I used Korean chilli powder.
-        If you want to add in any vegetables or sausages, you will need to cook them first and add in after the dollop of crème fraiche is placed at the bottom of ramekin. You might not need to season the crème fraiche if you have seasoned your vegetables/ sausages.
-        Crack an egg on top. If you are not a confident “egg cracker”, you can crack the egg in a separate bowl and put it on top of the seasoned crème fraiche.
-        Put the last tablespoon of crème fraiche on top and season accordingly.
-        Place the ramekin in a baking dish and pour enough lukewarm water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekin. This will ensure the content in the pot cooks evenly.
-        Bake for around 15 – 18 minutes depending on how you like your egg.
-        To finish, sprinkle some herbs on top. You can use parsley, dills, or even thyme.
-        This dish is best eaten warm with crusty baguette or good bread rolls.

Rick Bayless’ corn tortilla and a d’oh moment

Noticed the gap between the entries for the past two weeks? In case you wonder (and if you didn’t, you heartless cad), I was very sick for an entire week. It started with chills which escalated to high fever. I couldn’t walk properly, I have to be driven to the clinic. To my horror, my doctor told me it could be dengue fever (which was not – it was a case of infection). For one week, I was very miserable. The only thing I could stomach was plain rice porridge. The smell of protein (meat, eggs) made me want to puke.

Right before I got violently ill, I made tacos. I have not been to Mexico but I love tacos. They are like these little pockets of snacks – they are so simple – nothing elaborate or pretentious about them. Till this day, the best tacos I had were from Maxwell Street Market in Chicago.

I made tacos!

Maxwell Street Market is a Sunday flea market where stalls sell all sorts of knick knacks – remote control, vinyl records, screws and bolts. What I love about the market was that it was not touristy hence it was not very crowded. The food at this market was amazing. You could get Polish sausage, cartons of fruits – people were very friendly – one stall owner gave me a peach even though he knew I ain’t going to buy a carton of peaches from him. At the end of Maxwell Street Market, there was a conglomerate of Mexican food stalls. My best friend, Agnes (at that time she resided in Chicago) and I simply chose a stall and shared some tacos. They were so good – corn tortilla with some meat and salsa. Simple grub.

Here in Singapore, it took me quite a while to find masa harina – the main ingredient needed to make corn tortilla. Thank god for Bob’s Red Mill – I managed to grab a pack (after three trips to Jason). When I opened the packet, it smell heavenly – it was like concentrated dried corn.

Before I start making tortilla, I got to “consult” the guru in Mexican cuisine – Rick Bayless. It was then I realised making tortilla was not that difficult – you just need masa harina, water and a bit of innovation. Since I don’t have a tortilla presser, I used the back of my small frying pan. You do not need to get it perfectly round (trust me, the stomach will not judge you), you just try to get it as thin as possible.

This is called improvised

I also made a simple salsa for the tacos. For the salsa, I kept it really simple. This was also the point where I had a Homer Simpson’s d’oh moment*.

I was in the supermarket, hunting down cilantro or coriander which was the pivot of Mexican food. I just couldn’t find it. I even resort to sniffing the herbs to find a close substitute. In the end, I was unsure so I did not buy any. After I googled, I realised cilantro was also Chinese parsley which was plenty in the market. And I sniffed it. My god, am I dumb or what? Anyway there was no cilantro or Chinese parsley in my salsa.

For the protein, I used some leftover roast chicken that I had in my fridge. You can use pork, fish, shrimp, mushroom, spinach and so on. For the second time I made tacos, I pan-fried some chopped chorizo and corns.

I have to say the tortillas were fabulous. They were better than the ones from Spruce Tacqueria. The first bite, I felt I was transported back to Maxwell Market – the smell, and you can taste that corn in the tortillas. The salsa was light and refreshing, and it cut the fats in the meat.

So please I urge you to go grab a pack of masa harina and start making your own tortilla. Your life will be transformed. I promise. Hola!

I made tacos again! This time with chorizo and corns

Eating taco will never be a pretty affair

Rick Bayless’ Corn Tortilla
(Adapted from Rick Bayless)

(This would make around 7 corn tortillas)

Ingredients
1)      120g masa harina
2)      ¾ – 1 cup of hot water

Methods
-        Pour the hot water bit by bit into the masa harina and mix it with a fork (if you feel brave, go ahead and use your hands. Be warned, you are playing with HOT water).
-        Once the mixture has come together as dough (which should not be too stiff or wet), let it rest for 15 minutes.
-        Once 15 minutes is up, divide the dough into 7 pieces. I usually use a weighing scale and divide them accordingly. Once done, wrap the divided dough in plastic to prevent it from drying out.
-        Before you press your dough, shaped it into a round ball. At this point, if the dough feels stiff, wet your hand and gently shape the dough. This should help to loosen the dough.
-        If you have a tortilla presser, lay a piece of cling wrap and put the dough on top. Press the dough gently on the presser and put another piece of cling wrap on top of it. And close the tortilla presser. Once done, remove the tortilla and repeat for the rest.
-        If you do not have a tortilla presser (like me), you can use the bottom of a frying pan. Line a chopping board with cling wrap, put the dough on top, press it gently, and cover it with another piece of cling wrap. Use the flat bottom of the frying pan to press. You might need to press out the edges. It is ok that you do not get a round tortilla. The most important thing is that the tortilla is evenly spread and thin.
-        I like to line each flatten tortilla with either cling wrap or parchment paper. In this case, they will not stick.
-        Heat up your non-stick pan (you can use a skillet) and place a tortilla, and dry fry for 30 seconds on each side. Don’t be alarmed if the tortilla puff up – that is the way it should be. If the tortilla does not puff up, you can gently press it with a spatula or fingers to encourage it.
-        Once the tortilla is cooked, transfer them to a plate lined with paper towel.
-        To ensemble your tacos, I like to line the tortilla with a thin coat of sour cream. This helps to prevent any drippings from making the tortilla soggy and possibly tearing it. Top the tortilla with leftover roast, roasted vegetables and so on. To finish, top it with some salsa and cilantro. Serve it with a wedge of lime.

Tomato Salsa
Ingredients
1)      1 medium sized tomato, coarsely chopped
2)      1 (big) lime
3)      Pinch of salt
4)      A small bunch of cilantro, chopped
5)      Korean chilli powder (Gochutgaru) (optional)**

Methods
-        Chop up a medium sized tomato. You will need to dice it coarsely and put it in a bowl. Do not waste any juices so make sure the juice from the tomato goes into the bowl.
-        Roll the lime*** and finely zest it into the chopped tomato. Be careful not to grate the white rind – they are rather bitter.
-        Sprinkle a small pinch of salt and add in the juice of half a lime into the chopped tomato (with lime zest). Taste and add in more salt or lime juice needed.
-        Garnish it with the chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of Korean chilli powder.
-        You can make the salsa 1-2 hours in advanced. If you leave it in the fridge any longer, the salsa will become watery.

*While I was trying to construct the recipe, I realised I wrote in my notebook, the different names of cilantro which includes hey guess what, Chinese parsley. This will haunt me for life.
**If jalapeño is readily available, you can add in half of deseeded finely chopped jalapeño in the salsa. In my case, jalapeño is something that I need to get it from a specialty shop hence I used Korean chilli powder as substitute.
***Rolling the lime (or any citrus fruits) helps to release both the juice and oil. Hence you get a flavourful zest and more lime juice.

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