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Death By Chocolate Cake

Would you like to die a death by chocolate cake…? Or more specifically, a death by my Chocolate & Hazelnut Salted Butter Caramel Cake? I didn’t know what I was thinking when I decided to whip up this evil thing for a dinner party for our friends, S & C. I probably wasn’t, because I could have killed someone with it.

I think there are different ways to depart this world with this cake. I could have suffocated S or C or M or myself by smothering one of us with the thick, luscious, smooth sour cream chocolate icing, which in a warped kind of role-reversal, is dying to be licked too. I could have choked one of us to death by clogging the throat up with greedy morsels of deep, dense, and very chocolatey cake. Or, I could have dehydrated someone by making one of us weep to death after my rich salted butter caramel has blazed a trail on the tongue, with that tiny savoury-sweet-buttery dribble threatening to leave the corner of one’s lips. Oooh, to kill or not to kill, my caramel has conscience and it ponders.

They say that nothing is certain but death and taxes. I say that nothing is ever worth living if  we don’t die a Death By Chocolate Cake. It is an arguably good way to go; you see, you leave this world with your teeth stained with chocolate, no one judges you for that, you get endorphins buzzing in your head, and then you sigh and go to heaven. So, why not?

P/S: No humans were killed in the making and consumption of this chocolate cake, unfortunately…

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

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Now, go slaughter someone you love with this too (and by the way, if anyone asks, you didn’t hear this evil doing from me):

Chocolate & Hazelnut Salted Butter Caramel Cake
(slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess)

Makes an 8-inch two-layered, ironically, round weapon

To choke someone with the cake:

200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
40g cocoa powder (I used Green & Black)
150ml sour cream
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste

1. Preheat oven (fan-assisted) to 160 degree Celcius. Grease and line two 8-inch sandwich tins.
2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a large bowl.
3. Beat in the softened butter to the ingredients in step 2.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the cocoa powder, sour cream, eggs and vanilla paste till well-mixed, and then add this in a stream-like fashion to the flour mixture from step 3 and beat till everything is well-combined.
5. Pour the batter into the greased and lined sandwich tins (make sure both get equal amounts of batter) and bake for 26 minutes, rotating the cake tins halfway through if your oven has hotspots. You don’t want to overbake these as people might go to hell instead of heaven if you do…26 minutes work well for me, but if you want to check yours, the cakes should just begin to shy away from the edges of the tins, and the skewer should come out almost clean when inserted. Cool the cakes in the tins on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out directly onto the rack to cool them further. In the meantime, work on the salted butter caramel sauce.

To set one’s tongue on fire with the salted butter caramel sauce:

100g caster sugar
55g unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
100ml whipping cream

1. Melt sugar and butter in a saucepan, and caramelise to copper colour (be careful not to burn it). Keep stirring during this process, and keep a watchful eye. Add the salt whilst stirring.
2. Scald the whipping cream in another saucepan (it should be shy of coming to a boil).
3. Remove the caramel from Step 1 from the heat, and add the cream. Be careful here, as the mixture will bubble vigorously and might splatter onto you. Stand far far away, with gloves on as you stir the hot cream and caramel together to form a smooth sauce. You don’t want to die looking like a blistered chef, that defeats the purpose of making this cake as the chef isn’t supposed to die. Let the caramel sauce cool down before use. Next, work on the icing.

To smother someone to death with the sour cream chocolate icing:

150g dark chocolate (I used 85% Lindt, broken up into small pieces)
105g unsalted butter
150ml sour cream (room temperature)
75ml whipping cream (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 tablespoon golden syrup
250g icing sugar, sifted

1. Melt the butter and chocolate in a microwave (do this in 20-second blocks because you don’t want to overheat the chocolate and cause it to seize), or if you prefer, do it bain-marie style. Let the chocolate mixture cool slightly.
2. Gradually stir in the sour cream and whipping cream, vanilla paste and the golden syrup.
3. Slowly add the sifted icing sugar and combine till smooth.

Now, to assemble the weapon:

100g blanched hazelnuts, blitzed to tiny chunks in the food processor

1. Outline your serving plate or cake stand with strips of baking parchment, and sit your cake on top of strips, such that the edges of the cake are actually on the parchment pieces.
2. Spread the cooled salted butter caramel on the first layer, and then top it up with the second cake layer.
3. Pour the chocolate icing over the assembled cake, and let the icing flow down the sides while smoothing the surfaces with a palette knife.
4. Propping up your cake at different angles, pat on the blitzed hazelnuts on the sides, and leave the cake to set in the fridge till the icing is less gooey (it should still be sticky though). Remove the cake from the fridge when this is so. Carefully remove the parchment pieces from the plate/stand. You should get a very neat-looking cake.
5. Now, serve the cake to your unsuspecting guests. Remember, you didn’t hear it from me!



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The Prettiest Cake I’ve Made – Ispahan


Mention lychees, rose and raspberries in the same sentence, and the first person you think of is Pierre Hermé, the one pastry chef I truly revere, and the one man I might actually kiss, other than my husband (shhhh, it’s our secret). If you’ve followed this blog since I started, you would have seen how I’ve progressed in the kitchen and how I became increasingly obsessed with macarons and other pastries. Pierre Hermé is the source of my inspiration; his dexterity with pastries is something that I can only dream of, not here but in a parallel dimension. Yes, he is that good.

I love his creativity and his works of art so much that every other friend of mine seems to think I’m a nutcase for his sweets now, and I was very generously gifted one of his cookbooks for my birthday last year. I have yet to actually use any of his recipes, for fear of getting them totalled in an ugly accident that (trust me) will be reality in my incompetent hands; but one day, when I’m good enough, I will plough through each and every of his recipes (they are in French though…) and hopefully, delight my friends with the creations. For now, Pierre Hermé remains a dream that seems too good to be true, and I only aspire to be inspired.

I have managed to tackle the tricky business of macarons, and now, I yearn for more. Iconic and truly delightful, the beautiful combination of lychee, rose and raspberry was first created by Pierre Hermé and it seemed like the perfect way to get started. Yes, my dears, I’m working my way into the heart of Monsieur Hermé.

To you, the Ispahan cake I’ve made here probably isn’t a product of inspiration; the truth is you could probably find it in any pâtisserieBut to me, this cake is a bit of a big deal. I’m used to making slapdash easy-peasy cupcakes, brownies, cakes, cookies and macarons, but an entremet? That’s a tall order. Entremets are refined, very pretty layered and textured mousse cakes that don’t do very well when poked by stubby, careless fingers like mine. Getting them to look perfect is a real challenge for me, and I was terrified of making my first entremet, but I guess, I have to start somewhere if I want to be more prolific in pastry-making. So I hope you’ll see why this Ispahan cake represents a more accessible way in, to that Pierre Hermé cookbook that has been sitting on my shelf for more than half a year, and also to more good things that will hopefully turn up in my culinary adventures.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present my first entremet to you, possibly not the prettiest cake you’ve seen but definitely the prettiest cake I’ve ever made. It is not perfect, but I hope to make it so one day. For now, the flavours tease and delight, as they should and as they did when I first had an Ispahan years ago. The sweetness of lychees, tartness of raspberries and lingering aroma of rose bring a sensual touch to this cake. It’s hard not to be drawn in, even M loved it. For me, I was extremely pleased to see it come together (as opposed to it falling apart…). Here’s the recipe that I tweaked from Okashi to include the signature Hermé flavours of lychees, rose and raspberries, and I hope you enjoy making it as much as I did!

Ispahan Cake

Makes two 4.5cm (diameter) cakes and one 15cm cake
(adapted from Okashi by Keiko Ishida)

Special Biscuit Sponge

15g corn flour
15g plain flour
17g unsalted butter, melted
45g egg whites
40g egg yolks
40g caster sugar

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Line 15cm by 25cm tray with baking parchment.
2. Sift flours together, twice, and set aside.
3. Beat egg whites in a bowl until foamy. Add 1/4 of the sugar and beat briefly, before adding in the remaining sugar. Continue to beat until stiff and glossy peaks are formed.
4. Lightly beat the egg yolks, add them to the meringue made in step 3 and gently mix till combined. Do not overmix.
5. Sift the flours again, into the batter from step 4 and fold the flours in gently till batter is glossy. Pour the melted butter into this mixture and fold gently to combine.
6. Pour batter into the lined tray, and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven.
7. Once baked, remove sponge from the tray and cover it with a clean tea towel. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.

Flavour for the sponge

35g water
12g caster sugar
1 tablespoon canned lychee juice
1 tablespoon lychee liquer
1 tablespoon essence of rosewater

1. In a saucepan, heat up water and sugar to make a sugar syrup. Remove from heat and add lychee juice, liquer and rosewater essence. Stir to combine. Set aside and let cool.
2. When sponge is fully cooled, cut out (diameter) 4.5cm and 15.5cm round pieces with the mold rings.
3. Brush sugar syrup from step 1 over the sponge cut-outs.

Crème Mousseline

235g whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
3 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
20g plain flour
5g corn flour
135g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canned lychee juice
1 tablespoon lychee liquer
1 tablespoon essence of rosewater

1. Bring milk and vanilla to boil in a saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
2. Whisk egg yolks and sugar till mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add flours to this and mix well.
3. Pour the hot milk from step 1 to the egg mixture, and fold to mix thoroughly. Return this to the saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat. Stir continuously. This forms the pastry cream. Beat the pastry cream, whilst in the saucepan, until smooth, thick and glossy. It should resemble the gloopy filling you see in cream puffs. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and transfer the pastry cream to a clean tray. Cover the tray with cling film and let cool in the freezer. Do not allow it to freeze.
4. In a clean bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add the cooled pastry cream and beat until combined. At this point, beat in the lychee juice, liquer and essence of rosewater. This is your crème mousseline.

To assemble

100g raspberries, halved
7 lychees (I used canned ones), drained thoroughly and quartered

1. Place the flavoured sponge cut-outs into the respective mold rings.
2. Pipe a thin layer of crème mousseline onto the sponge. Spread this evenly (you want uniform layers so the entremet looks pretty).
3. Arrange the halved raspberries, cut-side facing out, against the inner surface of the mold ring. Arrange lychee quarters and remaining raspberries in concentric circles as you move inwards from the outer edges. Note that for the smaller mold ring, you won’t be able to put in extra raspberries in the middle, there will only be enough space for lychees.
4. Pipe another layer of crème mousseline on top of the raspberries and lychees and make sure you level this layer of crème (remember entremets need to be pretty and neat when you unmould them!). Place the cake in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Next, prepare the Ispahan jelly.

Ispahan Jelly

70g water
1 tablespoon canned lychee juice
1 tablespoon essence of rosewater
5g sugar
3-4 raspberries, washed
2g gelatine sheet, soaked in ice water to soften
1/4 teaspoon red food colouring

1. Bring water, lychee juice, essence of rosewater, sugar and raspberries to boil, remove from heat and then add softened gelatin sheet.
2. Run mixture through a sieve to remove any debris. Let cool slightly before using (but do not allow it to set).
3. Remove the cake from the freezer and gently pour the sieved liquid on top of the crème mousseline. Leave to set overnight in the fridge (mine took only a few hours, but best to do it overnight).
4. To unmould, warm sides of the mold ring with a warm towel. You will need to do this a few times before you even attempt to unmould it. Unmoulding the cake prematurely will only create mess, so make sure you do this after you’ve warmed the mold ring sufficiently!

If you love lychees, check out my lychee chiffon cake or my lychee mascarpone & Emperor’s Seven Treasures macarons here!

*Updated: This post was featured on Freshly Pressed on WordPress.com! Check out my other Freshly Pressed post hereThis post has also been featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lime & Ginger Whipped Cream

I’m not always a chocolate-and-cream kinda girl. Sure, chocolate comforts and soothes my soul, but sometimes, I like a little zing in my sweet treats. There’s something about citrusy bites that puts a spring in my step, that makes me feel like spring/summer is around the corner. Perhaps it’s the bright yellows and greens or that burst of orange, but yes, occasionally, I like to dish out sunny cheerful bakes in my kitchen. Besides, M loves tangy treats more than sweet ones, and we were calling out desperately for winter to ‘go-away-already!’ as January slipped by. Those were good enough reasons for me to bring a little zing into our home.

I happened to have some lemons, limes and ginger lying around the pantry, and if you don’t know already, nothing pleases me more than to put something together with what I already have at home. I’ve said before that ‘waste not’ is something I’d like to practise in my kitchen, and it makes me happy that indeed, nothing goes to waste when I manage to conjure something out of ingredients that might have otherwise landed in the bin. Since I always have butter, flour, sugar, eggs and milk in my kitchen, it seemed pretty obvious that I should make some lemon cupcakes with lime and ginger whipped cream.

The lemon and lime combination was a no-brainer. Trying to get the ginger into the party was a little tricky. I wasn’t sure if it would worked, but in my head, a subtle heat that comes through after all that tanginess, seemed pretty damn fine. As I was expecting guests that evening, I didn’t want to overwhelm them with something too adventurous, and added only a teeny bit of ginger juice to the whipped cream topping. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when one of my guests said she doesn’t like ginger and was glad that she couldn’t taste it. You see, I really like ginger myself, and would have preferred a stronger flavour to come through. Oh well, I’m going to be heavy-handed with the ginger next time. Otherwise, the cupcakes were moist and citrusy, and gently perfumed with the smells of summer. The whipped cream lent a certain lightness to the cupcakes, and it made for a (deceptively) guilt-free treat!

Here’s the recipe:

Lemon Cupcakes with Lime & Ginger Whipped Cream
(adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

For the lemon cupcakes:

Makes 12

120g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
40g unsalted butter, room temperature
100ml whole milk
20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with muffin cases.
2. Beat flour, sugar, baking powder, zest and butter in a mixer at slow speed until combined.
3. Gradually add the milk and lemon juice and beat at the same time until just incorporated.
4. Add the egg to the batter and beat till mixture is smooth.
5. Spoon the batter into muffin cases until each is 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until skewer comes out clean after being inserted. Do not overbake as it can dry out. 6. Leave the cupcakes to cool sightly in the muffin pan before turning them out to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the lime & ginger whipped cream:

1 and 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest, plus extra for decorating
1/4 teaspoon juice squeezed from freshly grated ginger (you can increase this to 1/2 or even 1 teaspoon, adjust to taste)
200ml whipping cream
2 and 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar (adjust to taste)
A very, very tiny drop of liquid green food colouring (you want a very pale jade cream)

1. Whisk cream, ginger juice, zest, colouring and sugar till stiff peaks are formed.
2. Frost cupcakes and decorate with sprinkling of grated lime zest.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Portuguese Egg Tarts

Portuguese egg tarts. Mmmm. My love affair with them began many years ago. I shan’t try to talk about it again (with stars in my eyes, if I might add), but suffice to say that after my trip to Porto, I am irrevocably in love with these wobbly golden nuggets. I was determined to learn how to make Portuguese egg tarts but was discouraged by the fact that puff pastries are difficult to master. Many a times, people have suggested using ready-to-roll puff pastry, but to me, that defeats the purpose of learning to make something from scratch. After all, pastry wasn’t something I had attempted properly before (except when I was a kiddo, when dad taught me how to make croissants – I learned nothing because I was not interested) and it remained something that I would like to master.

So on a crazy day in January, I decided that I was going to conquer it all – pastry, custard, the works. I flipped through one of my birthday presents  – Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – and found an exceedingly simple recipe. I was skeptical that something as delicious and layered as puff pastry could be made so easily, but hey it was Nigella’s recipe, and she has a knack of simplifying the most laborious tasks, so I went with her, bought a tonne of butter and some strong white bread flour. After a quick long-distance phone call to my dad to ask about the principles of making puff pastry, there was no looking back. I was ready to roll, quite literally.

Pastry making wasn’t daunting at all. It was quite an experience and really quite satisfying for a bake geek like me, as I worked through the dough and thought about what my dad mentioned during the phonecall. Seeing the layers come together thrilled me to no end, and watching the pastry huff-puff into a beautiful shade of fluffy gold was nothing short of…orgasmic (excuse me). Funnily, it was the custard that got me a little flustered. I was so intent on getting the pastry right that I neglected the custard. A few seconds of looking away was all it took for the custard to scramble ever so slightly while it was cooking, I was a little miffed at myself but thank goodness, I could salvage it by running the custard through a sieve to pick the scrambled bits out. It was mostly smooth, with some bits that escaped the clutches of the sieve, I wasn’t completely happy with it, but I knew that I was being careless more than anything else. Anyway, my point to you is, don’t ever look away when you’re cooking the custard, tend to it like your life depends on it or you’ll find yourself scrambling to save a kitchen disaster you could have averted by simply paying attention, something that I was clearly incapable of….

Now, before I leave you with the recipe, I urge you to try making puff pastry. It’s therapeutic, fun and this recipe worked beautifully. The pastry was flaky, buttery and puffed really well; I used it to make chicken curry puffs (post to follow soon), and it was mind-blowing. Try it, you won’t regret ditching the ready-to-roll pastries.

Here’s the recipe:

Portuguese Egg Tarts

For the puff pastry:
(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess)

Makes 10 tarts (each to fill a hole in a standard muffin tray)

150g strong white bread flour
Pinch of salt
150g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 cm slices, cold
2 teaspoons lemon juice
7-8 tablespoons iced water

1. Freeze flour and butter together for 1/2 hour. Preheat oven to 210 degrees Celsius.

2. Briefly pulse this mixture in food processor with salt. The butter should still be in good-sized chunks and should not be disintegrated.

3. Turn out the pulsed mixture to a large bowl, add juice and water. Go easy on the water, you should only add a little bit at a time, until it’s just enough to bind the dough. 7-8 tablespoons of water worked for me, but you may need less or more, so be careful here. At this point, don’t worry if the butter chunks are still visible, they’re meant to make their presence felt. This is key to getting the pastry to puff and form layers at the later stage. Wrap the dough up with cling film and freeze it for 1/2 hour.

4. It is important to work very quickly at this point, to prevent the butter from melting. If you feel that the butter isn’t cold, feel free to pop the dough into the freezer for a bit, before continuing with any of the steps. Cold butter is absolute key to getting good puff pastry. Dust a clean working surface with the bread flour, roll out the dough into a rectangle. This will be a little bit difficult because the butter chunks are still there. Don’t worry about getting a homogeneous layer, because you’re not supposed to at this stage. Fold the rectangle in 1/3 sections, like you would a business letter (basically, left and right edges of the rectangle should be folded inwards, and you should get a folded pastry that is 1/3 of the original size). Turn the folded ‘letter’ such that closed end of the ‘letter’ faces you. Roll the pastry out to flatten it. Fold the left and right edges in again, like what you did before, ‘business-letter’-style.

5. Repeat the roll and fold, then finally roll the pastry out again. By doing this, you’re creating invisible layers, the cold butter when heated in the oven, will help with the puffing to create separate layers of pastry. If the butter melts at any point when you’re working with the dough, the flour absorbs it and you will end up with greasy, soggy pastry, which is not what you want.

6. To create concentric layers for the egg tart (notice how the pastry layers puff outwards in circles?), roll up the rectangle along the length of the pastry like you would a Swiss roll. Freeze this roll for another 1/2 hour.

7. Grease the holes in the muffin pan with butter. Cut the roll into 25-30g portions. You should see circular layers on the cross-section of the dough (see photo of dough above). Making sure that the cross-section is facing up (like in the photo), press the dough evenly into each hole until a lip forms slightly over the edge of the hole. You will find that the rest of the dough pieces will start to feel greasy as the butter melts, so it is a good idea to pop the dough pieces into the freezer as you work on each muffin hole.

8. Finally, place the muffin pan into the freezer for about 15 min. If you have extra pastry dough, don’t worry, just keep them frozen and you can use them another day. I kept mine for a few weeks and they were still very good when I made curry puffs. In the meantime, prepare the custard.

For the custard:
Makes about 7 tarts (I was putting a recipe together randomly for this and didn’t manage to make enough for 10, feel free to scale this up or scale the pastry portions down).

100ml whipping cream
100ml whole milk
Pinch of salt
Dash of ground cinnamon
1 strip of lemon peel (about 5cm by 1cm long)
50g caster sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks

1. Lightly beat the 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks together and set aside.

2. In a saucepan, dissolve sugar in milk and cream. Do not bring this to boil. Add salt, lemon peel, cinnamon, followed by the beaten eggs. Keep stirring while cooking till the custard coats the spoon. Make sure the pan isn’t too hot as the eggs might scramble. Strain the custard to remove the lemon peel and set it aside to cool.

To assemble:

Spoon about 2 tablespoon of the custard into each of the pastry-covered holes in the muffin pan (each should be 2/3 full). Bake at 210 degrees Celsius for 18 minutes, then using the broiler function, bake it for another 2 minutes. This should brown the custard further in patches, which are characteristic of Portuguese egg tarts. Remove the tarts from the oven and let cool slightly as they will be too hot to eat. But have them warm, and you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker. Check out my profile on Foodgawker to see my other featured posts!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

A Leisurely Lunch Date at Lanka

After the Mont-Blanc-that-wasn’t, M took me out to take the edge off. It was sunny and warm, with gentle breezes meandering through the city, and true to the spirit of spring in London, there was no better time than to take a walk at Primrose Hill.

Believe it or not, for the 3.5 years that I’ve been here, I’ve never been to Primrose Hill, and neither has M who has been here for about 7 years. We don’t live that far off from the area, and it’s surprising that we haven’t dropped by sooner. Primrose Hill is a beautiful and happy place to be when the sun takes its rightful place in the sky, but I shall leave this story for another day.

The one thing that I really want to rave about is the intimate, yet casual, lunch date that I had with M at Lanka on Regent’s Park Road. I first met E from Heaven in a Wild Flower and W from Going With My Gut at Lanka last year, and we bonded over our Singaporean roots and insatiable appetite for food over pretty Japanese-French pastries. I recall being a true-blue Singaporean; I turned up early to ‘chope’ (Singaporean slang for secure or reserve) seats at Lanka, after E told me that the tea salon is really small and that it doesn’t take bookings. Back then, I didn’t quite realise what ‘small’ meant, and I had a bit of a shock when I found myself in front of the most narrow tea salon I’ve ever been to. It was so inconspicuous, save for the small crowd that had gathered in the shop, that I missed it as I was walking down Regent’s Park Road. I had a green tea tart then, which was delish (although it was a tad sweet with the white chocolate shavings), and I loved the simple, quaint interiors, as well as the quiet but friendly faces at Lanka. E and I took a lovely stroll down Regent’s Park Road, zipping in and out of kitchenware shops, furniture boutiques and florists that carried some really beautiful blooms. We even spotted some famous faces including Tim Burton and Helen Bonham Carter, who were having a day out with their children. I had such a nice time that I made a mental note to take M out for a date along Regent’s Park Road. Saturday was such a day.

Ferociously hungry from the lack of breakfast, we made a beeline for Lanka after walking down Primrose Hill.  Half expecting it to be full with the eat-in lunch crowd and a snaking queue for the mere 12-14 seats they had in the salon, we were so pleasantly surprised that no drama was needed to get us two seats in the house. At least I didn’t have to kill anyone in the quest for lunch. Why lunch? You may ask, since Lanka is primarily a cake shop and a tea salon. Well, according to our trusty foodie source, D, Lanka serves up simple but very tasty, flavoursome lunches at good prices.

So, consider this, and imagine my horror when I browsed through the menu and realised that lunch wasn’t served on the one day that I brought M here! What followed must have been comical to watch. The menu at Lanka is simple – there’s the drinks section that prescribes a good selection of tea and Monmouth coffee, and there’s the all-day breakfast menu. M and I drew a blank on our faces when we thumbed the pages. Very soon after, I was flipping them back and forth to see if I had somehow missed the lunch menu.  I declared, more loudly than I should, that lunch wasn’t available. Almost immediately, a gentle voice sneaked up behind us. I turned around in my high chair, and found a neatly dressed, rosy-cheeked Japanese man smiling at me. He must be the chef, Masayuki Hara, I thought. He began to explain that he had to cater tonnes of cake for a function that evening, and he had to cut back on the lunch menu to just two items in view of the workload – Caesar salad with roast pork and Smoked salmon with cream cheese on country bread, both of which didn’t appeal to us. We were looking for something more substantial than a salad or a sandwich.

He looked at us earnestly for a response, and all I could muster were blank looks and daggers at M that screamed ‘Say something!!’. Masayuki was quick to pick up on our hesitation, and for a moment, he looked down on the floor and was lost in his thoughts. Then he offered quietly with yet another sincere smile on his face, ‘Why don’t I make you some roast pork, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and white asparagus served on country bread with some rockets on top? The roast pork has got a bit of crackling on it and it’s really nice!’. M and I looked at each other with delight, pronto, I mean, how could we say no to that rosy face, and how could we say no to lunch that has got crackling in it?!

Wahey, lunch was saved by the chef himself. I had the roast pork dish, which was magnificent to say the least! Probably one of the best roast pork dishes I’ve ever had, the meat was moist, so very tender, well-flavoured and man, the chef was generous with the portions too! The crackling was a beautiful contrast to the warm, juicy and well-marbled pork and the lightly grilled mushrooms, white asparagus, peppery rockets and sweet tomatoes lent the right summery touch to the dish. It was simplicity at its best, and it epitomises the value of sourcing good, honest ingredients and putting them together on a beautiful plate of flavours. I started to wonder why other chefs can’t pull of what Masayuki can. M had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon (something on the all-day breakfast menu) for a bit of variety, and those eggs were a real treat. Buttery, creamy with just the right texture, breakfast dreams are made of this. Of course, the roast pork fared better for both of us; M was really envious that I had the whole plate to myself, but hey, you can tell that I have a heart of gold because I did cut two very generous portions for M to savour. I didn’t even try to steal a piece of smoked salmon from him, in what competitive foodies would call an-eye-for-an-eye.

We resisted for only a second to move on to dessert (both of us are trying to eat in moderation given our recently burgeoning bellies and butt cheeks), when M announced that he would take revenge and have a chocolate croissant AND a cup of Monmouth coffee (with milk, he emphasised) just to spite me. I retaliated with a slice of green tea & strawberry cake. This time, M was channelling his inner meanie beanie; I offered him a bite of my cake and look who didn’t get an invitation to the chocolate croissant…!

Food battles aside, we couldn’t ask for a better lunch on the whim. It was affordable, hearty and very delicious, and most importantly, we spent time with each other (even though we were more interested in picking at each other’s plate…). We walked off the calories at Camden Market, took lots of photos of pretty flowers and kaleidoscopic quirks and soldiered up Primrose Hill again before we went home. What a day, even if the Mont Blanc refused to behave…

Check out my other food adventures!

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker to see my other featured posts!

Lanka is located at:

163 Old Brompton Road, London NW1 8UY

I Need A Kick Up My Arse

I have been MIA for almost 3 weeks – that’s record time in blogosphere for me. I have also not been getting creative in the kitchen for almost two months, again record time in my teeny tiny world of cooking and baking. I wouldn’t put it to a mental block, because I still think up ideas of what to do next in the kitchen. I still want to document my activities here. But I seem to have lost the will to do it. Zapped of energy and motivation, what makes me even more frustrated is I don’t know how this could have happened. I really do miss having something to look forward to, and getting excited about my plans in the kitchen, plans that usually give me a high and an avenue to take away the stresses in life.

Some weeks ago, after much inertia, I tried to make a Mont Blanc, but I ended up screwing up the swiss roll sponge before I could even get to making the chestnut cream. True to my perfectionist self, I angrily chucked the sponge straight into the bin. It was as if I knew that I was going to fail before I even began. The buzz that I usually get when I’m about to get busy in the kitchen had gone. I thought that it was a phase, so I told myself to move on and let nature take its course. Even kitchen geniuses need to take a break, let alone amateurs like me. M convinced me to go out on weekends to try and soak up what the city has got to offer, to see if I might get the zing back. Then this happened. Thoughts about getting the kitchen mojo back flew out the window.

After that, we went out on trips that we had booked long ago. The first was meant to be a break for us to spend time with each other after the craziness that was the thesis writing, PhD viva and our hectic lives. Given recent events, we didn’t want to go but Expedia wasn’t able to give a refund so after assessing the situation in Singapore and making sure that everything was alright, we went to Florence anyway. A bit of a shame because despite the magnificent city, I was mostly pre-occupied with thoughts of my family. When I finally let go and was ready to enjoy the company of M in such beauty, our trip had ended and we were due to return to London.

Then, M’s parents visited, bearing good news after they visited my dad. We spent lots of time together and took them to Spain during the royal wedding weekend. These things kept me busy, I didn’t have time to think about the disinterest in the kitchen that has hit me like an unfriendly, ugly shadow that refuses to leave me alone. M’s parents just left this week, and it’s our first weekend alone, with nothing to do and yes, those horrible thoughts of mine have returned to haunt me. I dreaded this weekend, I wished I could drown myself in work so I wouldn’t have the chance of feeling dead inside. I spoke to M about this and he said that I should perhaps stop thinking and just throw myself into the last thing I wanted to make. So I attempted a Mont Blanc again yesterday morning.

It was a disaster. The swiss roll sponge came out wrong again, although I did manage to make the creams before I realised that. I was about to throw in the towel, and dump everything into the trash, when I stopped myself for a second and thought, maybe it’s time for me to accept this. That it’s okay to not feel excited about the things I used to be singing about, that it’s okay to feel dead for a while, that it’s also okay to not want to do the things I usually like to do, to just to give it a go than to regret not trying.

The swiss roll sponge did end up in the bin eventually, but not before I used it to learn to construct and plate up my ‘Mont Blanc’. At least one good thing came out of it; I thought the ‘Mont Blanc’ looked decent, imperfect yes but decent, and I practised shooting it with my new-ish lens. The creams were thankfully delish and I snuck a few licks of the spoon, so all was not lost.

I don’t know when the crazed kitchen maniac will be back to inhabit the shell that is me, but bear with me as I get back on track. I may need a kick up my arse along the way, or perhaps you could suggest something to help me retrieve that energy; in the meantime, allow mawkish me to entertain myself and you, my friends, with tales from the past. I guess this might be the best possible time for me to let you in on kitchen adventures that I embarked on months ago (I have almost two dozen drafts of entries….), and to tell you the stories of our travels beyond London.

For now, this ‘Mont Blanc’ that wasn’t, remains a lesson to me – that when things go wrong, some sense or value can still be made of the worst of situations, even if it comes in the form of a few licks of cream or photos that mostly won’t see the light of day. Erm…right?

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker to see my other featured posts!

A Sexy One for M

Crimson lips on porcelain skin. Blood-red satin skimming luminous legs. Bold, yet shy. Sexy, yet innocent. Red versus white. Yes, beckoning, and alluring. Call me the open-minded, generous wife, because I brought Sexy back for my dear husband. M was craving for it, and yes, I am not quite a sexy being, but surely I could give him someone something else that fits the bill? It was his birthday, for crying out loud!

We were watching food porn one evening. Sexy filled the bigass screen with her equally voluptuous assets. M got a little hot under the collar, and blurted, ‘Can I have a {Sexy} for my birthday, pleeease?’. Yes I was a little jealous, but the man has his needs and the way to a man’s heart is surely through his………*ahem*.

So I did it. The frumpy ‘housewife’ made Sexy and let the husband do whatever he wanted to it, errrr, I mean her! He certainly was very forward; he ate her and declared that she was one of the best he has ever had. Good-looking, tender, bends to his will, gives, deep, dark, voluptuous, tangy and sweet.

Poor me. I think the girl with the perfect everything actually exists.

Here’s how if you want to make whip up a Sexy. By the way, I was being rude. Even hotties have a name – Red Velvet in this case.

Red Velvet Cake
(adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

For a luscious body:
120g unsalted butter, room temperature
300g caster sugar
2 eggs
20g cocoa powder
40ml red food colouring (only Dr Oetker’s suits her)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
240ml buttermilk
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 quantities cream cheese frosting (see below)

1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius (fan-assisted). Grease a cake tin (with removable base, 8-inch diameter) with unsalted butter.

2. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer with paddle attachment till light, pale and fluffy.

3. Add eggs one at a time and beat until everything is well incorporated.

4. In a separate bowl, mix cocoa powder, vanilla extract and food colouring to make a thick dark paste. Add this to butter mixture and beat briefly until well-combined. Slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well mixed, add half the flour and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until the remaining buttermilk and flour have been added. Add salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar at this point and beat the batter until well mixed.

5. Tip mixture into cake tin and bake in preheated oven for 40 min. Turn oven up to 160 degrees Celsius and bake for another 20-22 min. Test if the cake is cooked using the skewer test – it should come out clean. Leave cake to cool slightly in tin before turning it out onto cooling rack to cool completely.

6. Once the cake is completely cooled, cut the cake into three layers.

7. Sandwich the layers with cream cheese frosting, and dress the cake all up in more frosting.

Cream cheese frosting:

300g icing sugar, sifted
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g full-fat cream cheese, cold

1. Beat cream cheese and butter together until well-combined.

2. Add icing sugar and beat till completely incorporated, and that frosting is light and fluffy. Do not overbeat as it can become runny. Add more icing sugar if you like it to be sweeter, or ease up if you prefer it to be less sweet. Do note that the lesser sugar you add, the runnier the frosting will be.

Enjoy her company.

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

 

Japanese Cheesecake with Rose Whipped Cream

Seeing is believing, and in this case, tasting is believing. Here, we have a Japanese Cheesecake. Lighter on the palette and boasting fluffier naughty bits than its Western cousin, it deceives you into thinking that it is good. But no, if you look beneath its angelic exterior, you will find that the cream, the cheese, the fattening bits are all in there; they’ve only been whipped into shape by egg whites. The mere incorporation of air fools us into thinking that the Japanese Cheesecake is healthier….but is it?

*pause for dramatic effect*

OH BUT WHO THE HELL CARES?! Sorry for the outburst but okay, maybe I ain’t sorry, Japanese cheesecakes are just too good to ignore, alright?! I first had one when Fiesta (a Japanese sushi chain in Singapore) churned out all sorts of flavours many moons ago. My favourite was the plain one, and it was impossibly light and creamy. I remember wondering, ‘How does a cheesecake get so light?’. Back then, I was a real noob at baking, and I didn’t know how to make a cheesecake, let alone a Japanese one. It took years for me to figure it out.

Incidentally, I have recently been the worst nightmare of eggs. I dismember them, I turn my nose up at the yolks and I go in for the kill. I whip the egg whites till they beg for me to stop, and then I coerce them into macarons and chiffon cakes. When M’s birthday came around, he requested for a cheesecake; all I could think of was to fashion a Japanese cheesecake out of ’em poor egg whites. Dictator of eggs or not, I was scared shitless. I had no idea how the cake was going to turn out, I was convinced that it would be a flop, quite literally so. Thanks to a trustworthy recipe, the Japanese cheesecake was anything but. It was light and somehow creamy at the same time. Biting into it is very much akin to pinning a cloud, impossible but so very gratifying when you do so. Think cotton candy, but on a cheesecake. You sink your teeth into a whole chunk, only for it to pull a disappearing act seconds later, and then two days later, you find an even bigger paunch (for those who find a paunch that wasn’t there in the first place, good for you because hey, you don’t have a jelly belly to begin with). That, my dears, is the prestige worthy of Houdini. Just be careful not to suffer a death by Japanese cheesecakes; dangers do lurk in magic, even if it’s light and creamy.

Here are the recipes. The ones in parentheses were the first quantities I tried when I was practising. By following the recipe, and changing it to include the ones in parentheses, you’ll get a creamy, slightly heavier cake with an egg-ier flavour. I preferred the other recipe (turned out to be similar to the original recipe by Alex Goh, it is also the one that I followed for M’s birthday cake), which yields a lighter and less egg-y cheesecake. I also frosted the cake with rose whipped cream; the addition of rosewater masks the otherwise distinct milky taste of whipped cream and gives an understated hint of fruitiness to the creamy cake. You could add rose essence instead of essence of rosewater to give it a more floral kick. I would, if I had rose essence in my pantry.

Japanese Cheesecake with Rose Whipped Cream

Japanese Cheesecake
(adapted from Alex Goh’s Fantastic Cheesecakes)

Ingredients that yield a lighter cake:

160g full-fat cream cheese
25g unsalted butter
100ml full-fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
40g plain flour
20g corn flour
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
100g caster sugar

Ingredients that yield a creamier, egg-ier cake:

160g full-fat cream cheese
80ml whipping cream
25g unsalted butter
50ml full-fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
40g plain flour
20g corn flour
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
80g caster sugar

1. Preheat oven to 140 degrees Celsius (fan). Grease and flour an 8-inch cake tin (with removeable base) generously. Wrap the sides of the cake tin in aluminium foil.

2. Sift flours together and set aside. Beat egg yolks in another bowl and set aside.
3. Melt cream cheese, milk, butter, vanilla paste (and cream, if using) in a double-boiler (over barely simmering water) until smooth. Leave mixture to cool slightly.
4. In a clean bowl, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar till foamy, then add pinch of salt and caster sugar. Whisk till you get soft peaks.
5. Mix the sifted flours into the cream cheese mixture until relatively smooth. Then, mix in the beaten egg yolks until well-combined.
6. Next, gently fold 1/3 of the meringue from Step 4 into the mixture from Step 5. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until batter is well-combined.
7. Place the cake tin (which has been wrapped with foil) in a deep oven tray, pour batter into the tin, and gently rap it on the tray a few times to get rid of air bubbles.
8. Place the tray with the tin into the oven, and carefully pour boiling water into the tray till water level is about one-inch high. Do not be overzealous with the pouring, in case the tin starts floating and water seeps in.
9. Bake for 35 minutes at 140 degrees Celsius, with a piece of foil loosely covering the top of the cake tin. Remove the foil after 35 minutes (or when cake has risen and threatens to stick to the foil…), and continue to bake for another 20 minutes. Switch off oven and let the cake cool in the oven, with the door left ajar for 1 hour. You might want to do a skewer test before the cooling process, the skewer should not be wet, and should be almost clean.
10. Remove the cake from the oven, and turn it out to a cooling rack to cool further.
11. Frost with rose whipped cream (recipe below).

Rose Whipped Cream
250ml whipping cream, cold
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon essence of rosewater

1. Whisk whipping cream till frothy, add sugar and whip till thick and of piping consistency.
2. Add essence of rosewater and whisk briefly to combine.
3. Frost cooled cheesecake. Plonk some raspberries on the cake. Dust the raspberries with some edible gold lustre, and there you have it, magic!

I have been working on a fundraising event on my blog for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. You can visit this post here to find out more details. I’m pledging a USD100 Amazon gift card to one lucky donor who donates before 31 March 2011, so please, please dig deep and help! – Updated: We have a a winner, and we raised £1510!!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker to see my other featured posts!

I Cherish My Weekends Because…

Can you smell Saturday? Can you feel that Saturday is here? Well, I don’t know about you, but I can! The recent two weeks have been rough, the first being designated the week as the new girl at work who had so much to learn (the work is interesting, people are wonderful and workplace is swanky, can’t complain there….), and the early half of the second was a bit of a turmoil as I was ill. So as the weekend approached, I couldn’t feel more appreciative of time off for myself and for M.

To celebrate the weekend, I decided to shower M with some gifts. He loves a good punnet of strawberries, and good coffee, so during my lunch break on Friday, I managed to get hold of a crate of some really stunning strawberries for only 6 quid, and some really fragrant freshly ground coffee. It was funny how someone commented to her friend that she was happy to smell some good coffee instead of stinky armpits when we were all packed like sardines during the evening rush hour in the tube. I happily declared that the coffee was mine, much to her amusement. I think I did well as a loving commuter and a doting wife.

When I got home, M was so happy to see the Spanish strawberries, beautifully lined up in the crate. I casually told him that I was going to photograph it the next morning with my new lens as I caught him leaning in to took a whiff. I thought I had made myself pretty clear….little did I know that the crate was already semi-molested when I woke up today. Someone clearly had itchy fingers last night…..and snuck some of it when I wasn’t looking!

But I can’t quite blame him, because these strawberries were impossibly scrumptious! Firm, juicy, ripe and sweet, yes my dears, I was a teeny bit annoyed at the half-empty crate but since it was already compromised, one strawberry for the missus couldn’t hurt.

I thought about baking something with these babies, but they are so sweet and fresh that I wanted M to have them as how they should be consumed. So I woke up this morning, gently cajoled him out of his sleep, and asked him if he would like to have American-style pancakes for brunch. ‘Yes’, came a muffled reply from this heap in between the pillow and the sheets.

I put the batter together really quickly, washed and sliced up some strawberries, whipped up some cream and drizzled golden syrup all over our brunch. I got the sleepy boy in for some us-time. We chatted, mmmmm-ed, oooooh-ed and aaaaaaah-ed over the fluffy and thick pancakes. M also made cappuccino with his new Nespresso, gifted to him by generous friends as an early birthday present. It was such joy watching him wolf down the pancakes and the strawberries, and I was happy to spend time with him. Plus, it is sunny in London, can you believe it? How precious!

These two weeks have been exhausting. But I thank the heavens for tough times, because they really make me appreciate the good times. So, gather your strawberries, make a good cuppa and whip up some pancakes. Find joy in a good breakfast with your loved ones, and forget about work….until Monday comes a-knocking anyway.

Here’s the recipe:

American-style Pancakes

135g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
130ml milk
1 large egg, beaten
Unsalted butter for pan-frying

1. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Lightly whisk milk and egg together in a separate bowl.

2. Pour milk mixture into the sifted ingredients, and beat using a fork, until you get a smooth batter. Let the batter stand for a few minutes. The batter is very thick, but this is what you want for fluffy pancakes.

3. On medium heat, melt a knob of butter in a non-stick frying pan. Add a ladle of batter (depending on size of your pan, I could do three at once). Once you see a few bubbles on the top of the batter, lift the bottom of the pancake up to see if it’s dry and a nice golden-brown. If it is, just flip the pancake over and cook until both sides are golden-brown. When you repeat this with the rest of the batter, make sure pan isn’t too hot by then, you might want to lower the heat. Wrap the rest of the cooked pancakes in foil to keep them warm until it’s time for your brunch to make a grand entrance.

4. Have the pancakes fresh from the pan, with lots of golden syrup and freshly whipped cream, topped with fruit toppings, if you like!

This recipe makes about 6 thick pancakes of 3-inch diameter each, if you’ve got a hungry pack waiting at the other end, make more portions of this recipe.

Enjoy!

Updated: I have been working on a fundraising project on my blog for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. You can visit this post here to find out more details. I’m pledging a USD100 Amazon gift card to one lucky donor, so please, please dig deep and help!

Check out what’s cooking in my kitchen!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

 

 

Sweet & Spicy Korean Pork Belly

Someone has been very, very naughty, because she has been very, very tardy with writing, and that someone would be…..me.

*Sheepish*

I have been blazing a trail in the kitchen, coming up with new recipes to play with and tinkering with my camera so much that I’ve neglected my writing. Someone motivate me, prettttttt-ay please…..because this newfound tardiness has made me unknowingly exclude you from a foolproof recipe that will sort out all your dinner troubles. I solemnly swear that you will love this recipe if you have a penchant for Korean flavours. I don’t claim to know anything about Korean cooking, so please don’t be offended, but with a tub of gochujang in hand, I find it hard not to dabble in my version of K-cooking.

Gochujang, a spicy and pungent fermented red pepper paste, is a godsend in weekday cooking. When I’m sick of doing the usual marinades or when I’m running short of time to whip up a flavoursome meal, gochujang comes to the rescue in all its feistiness. It imparts such a spicy and savoury punch to everything you smother it in – chicken thighs, pork shoulder steaks, pork belly, you name it – that it’s hard to believe you only spent half an hour on the cooking. The flavours of these dishes blow me away, and meats grilled in gochujang bring forth a hearty meal when eaten with plain rice, wrapped in iceberg lettuce etc. The possibilities are endless when cooking with gochujang, so go wild and experiment. I recommend making up a marinade with it, tasting as you progress before slathering it over raw meats, so you can tweak the flavours to your preference.

For my recipe, I introduced some sweetness into the marinade with mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine), brown sugar and golden syrup, all of which are really good for cooking meats. This worked really well, and M and I really enjoyed the fruits of our (barely-there) labour. Since I’m going to be out and about like a real adult in a few days’ time, I think this marinade will be my new best friend. Say hello to quick fixes for your weekday dinners!

Here’s the recipe:

Sweet & Spicy Korean Pork Belly
Makes 2-4 servings

740g pork belly, sliced to 1.5cm thick
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Maggi’s garlic chilli sauce
2 tablespoons gochujang
Sesame seeds for garnish
Chopped spring onion for garnish
Cooked white rice or iceberg lettuce

1. Mix ingredients for marinade and combine well. Marinate the pork belly slices for at least 15 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
3. Grill pork belly slices for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature up to 210 degrees Celsius, and grill for another 4 minutes.
4. Remove pork belly from oven, serve on rice or with iceberg lettuce, and garnish with sesame seeds and chopped spring onion.

Enjoy!

Check out what’s cooking in my kitchen!

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!