May 26, 2010

Belated Birthdays and Home-made Pizzas Galore!

May has always been one of the busiest months for my family. There are myriad excuses reasons for all the flurries. To cut the story short, besides celebrating my mom’s birthday, which often coincides with Mother’s Day, my youngest brother’s birthday also falls in May.

Being the youngest in the family, DS has been showered with lots of TLC since his first day on earth. Of course, I don’t deny the fact that as the eldest sibling, I often bullied him too. But that was those good old days when I’d still put on school uniform. Hahaha! Now, how bad does that sound? *Eyes rolling*

When I left for the States in January 2007, DS was shorter that he’d still have to look up to me as we stood side by side. The then-13-year-old still possessed that innocent child-like look and qualities in him. He just entered high school. He was just about to embrace adolescence and those spurts of growth.

But in August last year, when I saw DS again in nearly 3 years, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t convince myself of what was before me. There stood a 16-year-old young lad who is now a little taller than me; who now has an Adam’s apple, with a deep manly voice; who now has a pair of fuzzy legs. That’s my baby brother, who’s outgrown that 13-year-old – who’s now growing to be a man.

May 19th, was DS’s 17th birthday. But in our household, we don’t quite celebrate commemorate the days we arrived on planet Earth. For us, birthdays are just any-other-ordinary days. My dad always tells me, “Birthdays aren’t necessary so long as we’re one family.” I couldn’t help but to nod my head in agreement. “As long as we live in peace and harmony, we should feel thankful and blessed.”

Anyway, none of us were in the mood for a birthday cake for myriad factors. Plus, I believe birthdays don’t necessarily spell “c-a-k-e-s.” But as the eldest, I wanted to do at least something for my darling brother. So, I asked DS what he’d like for his Big Day. “Tiramisu,” he said. Not quite a cake. But pretty close. Alas, that pick-me-up never gets delivered to my brother’s doorstep. Blame myself for not planning time properly. (Dammit!) While cramming for imminent exams, he empathized with my horrible time management and second-guessed, “Hey, I could use some pizzas!”

Pizza. I’d not made pizza since December last year. (In fact, I haven’t even blogged about them! This is how efficient I can get. Hahaha! Shall do so in the near future.) His wishes are my commands. So, I turned my family’s kitchen into a pizzeria, by churning out two mini and two large trays of pizzas last Sunday.

I love making pizzas, from scratch. The nice things about home-made, from-scratch pizzas are that you get to decide your own blend of topping; that you get to decide how lean and flavorful your pizza crust ought to be; and that you get to decide how cheesy your pizzas ought to be. (I get to knead bread dough, too! So therapeutic.) Ever since I ventured into pizza making in April 2008, I’ve never looked back.

The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza,” a well-written article from The New York Times, caught my attention. Highly informative I’d say. If you’re interested in the art and science of bread making, do hop over to read it. The principles mentioned therein apply to not just pizza but also bread making in general. Pizza making is in the air. I may try a thin-crust. I may try sourdough starter in my pizzas for that sourish bite. I may just take a basic pizza dough (made via the direct method) and let the yeasts do the magic, at low temperature. Oh, how I miss those days when I had my own fridge to do as I pleased! I’m dreaming about that complex and yet nuanced, aged flavors of good bread!

Getting back to the “birthday pizzas.” They received thumbs up from the Birthday Star, my co-workers (and myself)! My brother even went for seconds and thirds. *Grinning* The crust and Pei-Lin’s special blend of toppings complemented each other! Glad that insanity struck me just before I plunged myself in the whirlwind of flours that very Sunday morning. Glad that my experiments worked out. The crust was made via a recipe I adapted from one of my collectibles (cookbooks). I blended hard and (unbleached) soft flours:
“… Blending the flours doesn’t mean they cancel each other out. ‘It’s like mixing vinegar and olive oil,’ said Edoardo Mantelli, the pizzaiolo of Saraghina. ‘Together they create a different flavor’” (Strand, 2010).
The statement above holds true. The crust, when served hot and fresh, had a slight crisp on the outside while being fluffy on the inside – with a subtle chew to it. Very savory. A perfect match for my choice of toppings. I made two variations. Instead of the usual tomato base, I spread on my par-baked pizza crusts a layer of home-made pesto. And these are generally how I constructed the toppings for my pizzas, from bottom up:

Variation A: home-made pesto --> sautéed chopped leek and flaked canned tuna --> mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese

Variation B: home-made pesto --> sautéed onions, ground beef and diced capsicums --> mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese

Need I say more? Toothsome combos, aren’t they?

I made the pesto with a basic recipe taken off The New York Times. Now that I’m addicted to pesto. Thanks to Mark Bittman, The Minimalist whom I enjoy watching a lot. (His sense of humor, cooking skills, simple and yet yummy dishes never cease to enthrall me.) Pesto is damn good! I blamed myself for not making pesto earlier! It’s extremely easy and quick to whip up, requiring minimal preparation and just a push on the “Start” button of your food processor. Last but not least, taste a fingertip of this flavorful paste to adjust to taste. It looks green and not “children-friendly.” But, heck! It’s healthy and yummy. So, who cares?

Basic home-made pesto, to be served with my "accidental" whole-wheat flatbread. (Well, I shall leave that story till next time. *Sigh*)

Here, I’ll include the recipes for the pesto and pizza crust, along with some brief description on how I prepared my toppings. (I don’t quite have a recipe for the toppings – in fact, any toppings. Just be imaginative and eyeball as you go along.) I know many of you either have found THE perfect recipe or are still in the midst of settling down on one. I’m sharing these anyhow, for my own record and all you pizza lovers who’d like to try making pizzas from scratch.

Before I stop jabbering, here’s to send belated birthday wishes to my baby brother DS and my good friend Swee San, who just celebrated hers last Saturday. We got to chill out together with another good friend Tracie. We enjoyed each other’s company and immersed in long hours of good chat, some shopping and eating! Thanks, gals! (Oh, also thanks for transforming me into a Daiso addict! I spent some dough on a cookbook, too. Whoa! Talking about shopaholics, here’s one …)

And just a note: pardon me for my absence lately. Been VERY busy and down, partly due to job (and some other unnecessary troubles issues). Simply burned out, mentally and physically. Can’t believe I finally said this to the world! I hope I can keep up with the battles; I want to keep marching on. Till then, even if you haven’t opted for the recipe below, or haven’t tried how great home-made pizzas taste like, I sincerely hope you can get around doing so. Take my words on this, you’ll never regret. The slow route to home-made pizza? Most definitely – and with satisfaction guaranteed.

Basic Pizza Crust -- Made Via the Direct Method (For Busy People Who're Pressing for Time)
Adapted from "Delicious Savoury Bakes," by Wendy Woo   摘自《西式鹹點》。胡惠君 編著

* I multiplied the following recipe by 1.5, which was enough for two mini and two large trays of pizzas. *

12 g instant (dry) yeast
250 mL water -- at 43°C

250 g bread flour (I'm determined to get unbleached bread flour soon though it's pricey! Definitely worth the money spent.)
250 g cake/pastry flour (I used unbleached cake four. Love it! It's more flavorful and deeper in color.)
8 g salt

250 mL olive oil

Enough string (mozzarella) cheese -- for stuffed-crust pizza
* Well, you can in fact cut out enough cheese for that from the large block of mozzarella you bought -- if that's what you're planning to use. *
  1. Dissolve (A) together real well, then set aside for 5~10 minutes -- the mixture should look foamy by then as the yeasts have been activated in 5~10 minutes
  2. Combine (B) together, then gradually stir in the yeast mixture -- mix the two mixtures together as you do that, till a "crumbly" dough forms. Now, gradually mix in the olive oil to incorporate well
  3. Turn the dough out on the counter and knead till you get one elastic, non-sticky and rough dough. No worries, you need not dust the counter, your hands and anything that will come into contact with the dough throughout the kneading process.
    Now, round the dough up and place it in an oiled bowl; cover with a sheet of cling wrap and set aside to proof till the dough has gotten doubled in size. (Because I was having other foods cooking up at the same time, I let mine proof for 3 hours.)
  4. Deflate the dough. Depending on your situation e.g. how many and how deep, what size and shape of baking pans/trays/sheets you're planning to use, divide the dough up accordingly. Next, cover the dough with sheet(s) of cling wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
  5. After the resting time to relax the gluten within the dough, roll each portion out into desired thickness with help from a lightly floured rolling pin -- here, you'll have to picture how thick the dough will eventually get upon the second round of proofing and baking.
    Transfer the rolled-out dough into an oiled baking pan/tray/sheet; around the edge, roll some dough over to create taller, thicker rim -- be sure to pinch to seal the dough real well. For stuffed crust, you may roll in the string cheese now. Repeat the same to the remaining dough. Now, cover them with cling wrap and let proof till the dough looks almost doubled in size.
  6. Right before baking, perforate the dough, save for its rim, with a fork. This will help prevent the dough from "swelling" by too much that it looks like it's grown a "hump." Now, for large pizzas, blind bake the dough, without any topping on, for 10 minutes at 200°C; if smaller, adjust the time accordingly. When it's done, it should have lost its raw look.
  7. Remove the par-baked pizza crust(s) from the oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  8. Now, top the par-baked pizza crust(s) with your desired blend of topping. For me, it's always, from bottom up: sauce(s) --> main ingredients --> cheeses. Of course, you can reverse the layering order. It'd be fun to experiment with something different each time.
  9. Bake the topped pizza crust(s) at 210°C for 10 minutes or till the topping looks golden brown and cheese is bubbly.
Bow-tie pasta, served with pesto and more parmesan cheese

Basic Pesto (Yields 2 Cups)
Adapted from the recipe by Florence Fabricant, as featured in The New York Times

2 cups fresh sweet basil leaves -- no stem; rinsed and drained well
2 Tbsp chopped pine nuts/walnuts -- toasted and cooled (I used walnuts)
2 large cloves garlic

118 mL olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used powdered parmesan)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Process (A) together in a blender or food processor till they look "puréed."
  2. With the machine still running, slowly dribble the olive oil into the basil mixture to combine well.
  3. Stir in the cheese and process briefly -- long enough to just combine. The cheese should have thickened up the pesto for quite a fair bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste -- process real briefly to combine the mixture very well after adding the salt and pepper.
  4. Serve or store the pesto in a covered container in the fridge. You may freeze it, too. Before use, just thaw the pesto in the fridge overnight.
    * The oil within the pesto will separate from the rest after sitting for a while. So, be sure to stir the pesto up very well before each use. *
My pesto, beef and capsicum pizza

Pesto, Beef and Capsicum Topping for Pizza

You'll need:

Ground beef -- marinated in a bit sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, freshly ground black pepper, cornstarch and a little bit of olive oil for 30 minutes
Onions -- roughly chopped
Capsicums -- roughly diced up
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pesto -- for the base
Mozzarella cheese -- sliced up (I bought a whole block of it and sliced it up. Instead of the shredded one, I prefer it this way.)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Powdered/Freshly grated parmesan cheese
* The ratio I prefer for my cheese topping is 3:2:1 for mozzarella : cheddar : parmesan *

Here's how I did:
  1. Heat a large skillet (I used a wok) over high heat, then pour in oil to heat it up; lower down the heat to medium. Sauté the onions till they start to give out aroma and become translucent.
  2. Add in the diced capsicums and cook till they've become half-cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Push the onions and capsicum aside, or you may opt to dish them out for the time being.
    Now, add beef into the skillet and brown it -- of course, don't overbrown it. If necessary, season to taste with salt and pepper. Dish the beef out. Set everything aside to cool before use. As they cool, they will give out some liquid, which is OK. Just drain them well before using as pizza topping, you may reserve the "broth" for some other uses.
  3. To top the pizza, spread some pesto over the slightly cooled par-baked pizza crust except its rim. Now, evenly scatter the beef, capsicums and onions over the pesto-slathered crust -- save for the rim, then followed by the cheese. Bake as per the recipe's instructions.
My pesto, leek and tuna stuffed-crust pizza

Pesto, Leek and Tuna Topping for Pizza

You'll need:

Leek -- with the bottoms cut off; sliced into strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Canned tuna chunks (in oil, water or brine) -- drained and flaked
Pesto -- for the base
Mozzarella cheese -- sliced up (I bought a whole block of it and sliced it up. Instead of the shredded one, I prefer it this way.)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Powdered/Freshly grated parmesan cheese
* The ratio I prefer for my cheese topping is 3:2:1 for mozzarella : cheddar : parmesan *

Here's how I did:
  1. Heat a large skillet (I used a wok) over high heat, then pour in oil to heat it up; lower down the heat to medium. Sauté the leek till they start to give out aroma and become almost wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dish out and let cool slightly before using
  2. To top the pizza, spread some pesto over the slightly cooled par-baked pizza crust except its rim. Now, evenly strew the leek and tuna over the pesto-slathered crust -- save for the rim, then followed by the cheese. Bake as per the recipe's instructions.

May 15, 2010

Colorful Bibimbap (비빔밥) to Celebrate Life's Milestone

I’ve been back to Malaysia for close to 9 months. Whenever I reminisce about those good ol’ college days in northern Minnesota, an overwhelming sensation pounces on me. Memories flash back. I skim through the photo album that’s been stored on my mental back burner. I know it’ll come in handy. Amidst the clutters and stress in life, I find warmth and happiness in this nostalgia. I feel consoled. Strong enough to keep moving on (with my insanely hectic life now).

In fact, one of the most memorable chapters of my life took place just over a year ago. After getting transplanted across the Pacific Ocean; after 4 years worth of assignments, papers, quizzes, exams and all-nighters, I donned the black gown and cap. I joined the Class of 2009! I finally graduated on May 08, 2009!

The Commencement took place just a few weeks before I plunged myself into the Great Food Blogosphere. So, it took me 372 days to share these exuberant moments with you. But really. It’s never too late, right?

Boy, could you believe we walked in 3°C/37°F on Commencement ... in early May!? Oh, well! It's northern Minnesota! Winter seems like forever there ...

Graduation is one of life’s milestones. Living in the 21st century, it’s no doubt that many of us have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience it. I’ve never regretted taking this path in pursuit of my college education. It was an investment worth the money and that will benefit me for life. It had brought utter changes in me and will never cease impacting me on the rocky days to come.

As I marched down this winding path over the last 4 years, I met great people who had remolded me into who I am today. I’ve learned to become culturally appreciative. I’ve learned to become independent. I never knew it’d train me into becoming a journalist and writer. What was the least expected: I never knew it’d train me into becoming a hobbyist cook and baker – and an avid food photographer who’d style her foods when time allows.

A photo taken with family friends, classmates and their parents. At the Commencement Brunch. The tallest guy in the middle is my professor, Prof. Carl Sewall. He influenced me A LOT in my writing and pinpointed to correct my English errors in my work. Hahaha! Thanks, Carl!

I vividly recall my pre-graduation talk with my dearest father over the Internet. (My parents didn't make it to the Commencement. But, it was fine with me.) Ever since I fell in love with the art and science of food crafting, I gathered all my courage and told him, “Papa, can I study at Le Cordon Bleu?” To my surprise, he replied, “If that’s what you’re truly interested in and passionate about.” Unlike typical Asian parents, this was where his East-meets-West mentality came in. “You need not worry about how others may perceive you. Go for it.”

Alas, my Le Cordon Bleu dream could never happen. Knowing that my father is the only breadwinner in the household, I took my words back and let my heart break, in silence. I discarded the thought, as of now. It’s sharing room with the photo album on my mental back burner. Safe and sound. (This has reminded me of my long-time friend You Fei, of Loving Baking, who shares the same sentiment. But hers is a different story for different reasons. We got to know each other first through Flickr then followed by our common interest in baking.)

“Oh, so you went for a culinary degree too,” my family and close friends often tease me. “Didn’t you?” I’d smile, shrug and reply, “Maybe I did. But that wasn’t my initial plan.” I went to America to live my American Dream: to earn a good degree and an invaluable experience, with a high-paying job in an ad agency eventually. Ugh! That was the ambitious Pei-Lin who dreamt about climbing the corporate ladder. A typical city girl, I’d say.

After all, I did get my degree. Not in advertising, but in journalism and psychology officially – and in culinary art unofficially. Never had I thought of becoming a Pei-Lin who now struggles to lead a balanced life between career and family; who daydreams about being a good daughter, wife and mother; and who strives to keep her passion for baking, cooking, writing and food photography alive despite her tight schedule.

This reflection has made me realize that life is truly colorful, especially when we seek living to its fullest. So, to celebrate this precious gift called “life,” I feel compelled to share this colorful Korean dish with you.

Bibimbap (비빔밥), a name that’s fun to say and fun to listen to. It literally means "mixed rice" in Korean. Once a stranger, I immediately became fascinated by the vibrancy inherent in its beauty. It was love at first sight when I caught Steve’s rendition of this Korean classic. (Steve is one of my favorite Flickr-ites. I’ve been inspired by his amazing skills in cooking, baking, food photography and styling since early 2008.) The dish had been on my to-do list since then.

Making bibimbap. From right to left, anticlockwise: soybean sprouts, julienned carrots, shiitake mushroom strips, julienned Japanese cucumber and marinated ground beef. In the center: julienned daikon (Ahem, pardon me for the overexposure here ... Oops!)

You’ll never tire of bibimbap. Though I don’t have stone bowl, I wasn’t discouraged. Glad I gave it a shot. It’s now my favorite Korean dish. The namul (나물) is a harmony of characters. These fresh veggies are mildly seasoned and tender-crisp. Juxtaposing the namul is the intensely flavorful beef, which has been marinated before cooking to give it that sweet kick. And buried underneath them all is the piping-hot steamed rice. It’s a little sticky as short-grain rice is used.

To top it all off are the sweet, piquant hot gochujang sauce and an egg – one that comes with a runny yolk. I left out zucchini, nori and toasted white sesame seeds on purpose. But as I plunged my chopsticks and spoon into that bowl of steamy goodness, there wasn’t the least bit of grouching. It was love at first bite. After my last heaped spoonful, I burped (oops!) and murmured with an utter sense of satisfaction, “Yumm!” (Oh, did I also tell you my lacrimal gland was triggered by the hot gochujang sauce?)

Bibimbap 비빔밥 (Serves 4)
Adapted from "The Food and Cooking of Korea," by Young Jin Song

* I used Chinese sesame oil (麻油) for my bibimbap because I don't want to stuff an additional item in my pantry. I just grabbed whatever I have. *

2 Tbsp dark soy sauce (I used Chinese dark soy sauce 老抽)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced scallions
1 tsp sesame oil *
1 tsp rice wine (I used Japanese one 料理米酒)
2 tsp cooking oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200 g beef, sliced into shreds (I used ground beef)

Enough white sesame seeds, for garnish -- toasted and cooled (I skipped these)

400 g short-grain rice -- rinsed and drained well
A drop of sunflower oil (In fact, any neutral-flavored edible oil will do)
Enough water

Enough cooking oil, for stir frying

1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil *
1 tsp minced garlic
150 g daikon -- peeled, cut off the head and cut into thin strips

Daikon and Japanese cucumber (Sorry for the lousy shot)

1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil *
1 tsp minced garlic
2 carrots -- peeled, cut off the heads and cut into thin strips

(D) -- I totally skipped zucchini because I forgot to buy it. *LOL*
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil *
1/2 tsp minced garlic
A little water
1 zucchini -- cut off the heads and cut into thin strips

150 g soybean sprouts, trimmed (NOT mung beansprouts, which are relatively smaller in size)

1 Tbsp sesame oil *
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Korean chili powder (I broke the rule this time -- I used Indian chili powder! Hahaha! So, I adjusted to taste.)
1/2 tsp white sesame seeds -- toasted and cooled
A pinch of caster sugar

 Dried shiitake mushrooms (Sorry for the horrible shot)

6 dried shiitake mushrooms -- soaked in warm water till softened
Salt to taste
1/2 Japanese cucumber
4 quail's eggs (I used chicken eggs)
1 sheet of nori/dried seaweed (I skipped this)

1-1/2 tsp sugar/honey
2 tsp sesame oil *

Korean gochujang chili paste (고추장): an essential in Korean cooking
  1. To marinate the beef: mix (A) together, then add the beef to combine well. Set aside to marinate for 1 hour.
  2. Toast all the white sesame seeds over low heat in e.g. a wok or skillet, stirring at all times, till smelled nutty. Dish out and set aside to cool completely.
  3. Place the rice in a kettle and add enough water till the water level is 5 millimeters above the one of the rice. Add the sunflower oil, then cover and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 12~15 minutes -- don't remove the lid as the rice cooks. After 12~15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the rice steam for another 5 minutes, covered. Set aside till ready to use.
  4. Now, let's prepare the namul:

    • Toss (B) together, then flash-fry over high heat, with a little bit of cooking oil, in e.g. a wok, till the radish is tender-crisp; dish out and set aside
      • Toss (C) together, then flash-fry over high heat, with a little bit of cooking oil, in e.g. a wok, till the carrots are tender-crisp; dish out and set aside
      • Toss (D) together, then flash-fry over high heat, with a little bit of cooking oil, in e.g. a wok, till the zucchini is just soft; dish out and set aside.
      • Briefly blanch the soybean sprouts in pot of boiling water -- this doesn't take too long. The bean sprouts shouldn't be cooked till limp and waterlogged. Instead, they should still remain tender-crisp. Now, dish out with a slotted spoon and drain them real well in e.g. a colander. Meanwhile, blend (E) together. Coat the drained bean sprouts evenly with the mixture; set aside.
      • Drain the shiitake mushrooms very well, then discard the stems and slice them lengthwise into 1 inch-thick strips. Flash-fry in some cooking oil, season with salt to taste lastly. Dish out and set aside.
      • Seed the cucumber and cut into thin strips; transfer to a plate and set aside till use later.
    • For the beef: heat 2 tsp cooking oil in e.g. a wok and stir-fry the meat till tender and golden brown. Dish out and set aside.
    • Heat some cooking oil in a nonstick skillet, crack and fry the eggs like how you'd do for a sunny-side up -- don't overcook them and be sure that the yolks still look soft and runny. Dish them out one by one carefully and gently to a plate -- don't break the yolks! Set aside.
      * Some people prefer to have raw egg in their bibimbap instead. But not for me. It's a matter of preference. *
    • Roll up the nori sheets and slice into real thin strips; set aside.
    • Blend (F) together; set aside.
    • To assemble: divide the hot steamed rice among four bowls. Then, spoon to arrange the namul veggies and beef on top of the rice in whichever way that you like. (Well, for me, it's for the sake of presentation. *LOL*). Now, carefully lay a fried egg in the center of each bowl -- atop all the aforementioned elements, including the namul and beef. Garnish with the nori strips and sesame seeds as you like. Spoon desired amount of the specially prepared gochujang sauce over each (not on the yolks though) -- on top of everything else.
    • To serve, this is where things get dirty and messy, toss everything in the bowl together till they look "mixed," literally speaking. Devour your bibimbap hot or warm ... though the mixed rice ain't that bad at room temperature.
    ONCE AGAIN, CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CLASS OF 2010! Have a splendid weekend, everyone!

    May 6, 2010

    A White Chocolate-Orange Cheesecake for All Mothers Out There!

    To the two greatest ladies of my life:
    My dearest Mama, here you're ... You’ve turned 54! Hard to believe but it’s true! I grabbed the calculator, re-entered and recomputed the figures, rubbed my eyes again and again … I was still getting “54!” Time has been cold and cruel – it is where the wrinkles on your face and hands are conceived. But, my love and gratitude for you withstand the test of time.
    My mom is VERY camera-shy. This is the best I could get ... *Sigh*
    I’d been a rebellious teen; I’ve been an unruly daughter. I’ve hurt you in innumerable ways; I’ve been making you worried day in and day out. Nonetheless, you’ve been showering me with unconditional love and motherly advices.
    You’ve never taught me how to cook or bake. You never let me enter the kitchen before I left you for the States. But, I want to thank you (and Papa) for granting my wish of studying abroad. That very nod of yours had transformed me in ways unimagined. I’m not the whiny little girl I once knew. Not the Pei-Lin who ran away at the thought of holding knives and standing by the stove. Not anymore. Albeit our constant, inevitable disagreement and argument – be it outside of or in the kitchen, I still want to thank you for giving me the chance to discipline myself; to keep growing; and to learn how to independent.
    My mom only bakes chiffon cakes, which is one of her quirky sides that my family finds adorable. She doesn't have too sweet of a tooth anyway, I guess it's that Chinese blood in her. Pictured here is her apricot chiffon cake, a new recipe she just tested two days ago. Not bad, not bad! (Ahem! Sorry for the horrible shot ... I took it after work.)
    The strength and courage in you are the force that pushes me further, every day. The stroke that struck and took the half of you away 6 years ago has made you even stronger. You continue to shine with your beautiful laughs and that positivity of yours. You’ve inspired me with your never-say-die attitude.
    Mama, the Sixth of May has been and will always remain a special day for me and the rest of us in our household. A Happy Birthday to you once again! I love you, forever and always!
    My dearest Bonnie, a Happy Belated Birthday to you! You just turned 60 on April 30! I’ve always thought of you as my American mom, and will always do. Thank you for taking me as one of your daughters!
    Meeting you for the first time on Jan 16, 2007, while it was still freezing in northern Minnesota, I’d never thought that your presence would bring a positive change in me, for good. Without you and your family, my 2 years and 8 months of life away from home would have been harsh and torturing. I admire your benevolence and generosity. I was selfish and stony-hearted. But, you taught me how to love and share. You showed me the joy of loving and sharing with others. I was and am convinced.
    Who’d have thought the summer "boot camp" on your farm from 3 years ago had transformed me inside-out! I raided your berry patches. I seized hostage of your kitchen. But, you didn’t stop me. You’d set me free; you’d set my creativity flowing; you’d ignited in me the passion for cooking and baking. You brought me into the world of cooking and baking. You showed me the joy of home cooking and baking. And, I've never looked back.
    One of Bonnie's signature dishes: pumpkin bars with maple-flavored frosting! These were one of the many things I was first introduced to in the U.S. Oh, I do miss these yummy treats dearly! Might as well just whip up these bars someday ...
    Three years from then, Pei-Lin can now chop up onions with a knife being held sturdily in her hand. She also turns to butter, flour and sugar when she’s frustrated. I’m proud to say that I’m a once-rusticated wild city girl who now misses life as a country girl. Thanks for letting me discover the once-hidden side of me!
    I certainly do hope this message doesn’t come too late for you. Though we’re now miles apart, I’d still want to wish you a Happy Belated Birthday, once again! I love you, too, forever and always. Hope we get to meet again someday!
    These two extraordinary women created and transformed me to redefine who I’m today – in two opposite ways. Without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. To celebrate this wonderful gift called motherliness, here’s to dedicate this cake to my beloved moms and all you mommies out there this Mother’s Day! Oh, yes! How can I not say "Happy Mothers' Day!"

    Bite by slow bite, this white chocolate-orange cheesecake gently renders you in a state of dreaminess. It’s got that creamy and velvety mouthfeel as the cake slowly breaks down in your oral cavity. The citrusy orange zest balances the sweet white chocolate with a nice little tang – one that you can barely tell if you pay close enough attention to your senses, actually. What’s also worth trying is its crust – that fruity and nutty crust. Definitely not your ordinary cheesecake crust.

    I’ve got to admit that the cake is rich. It’s intensely flavorful. Devouring a slice sliver of it is pure indulgence. It’s that occasional ritual you’ve just got to do. But, beware of overdosing yourself in decadence.

    White Chocolate-Orange Cheesecake   白巧克力柳橙乳酪蛋糕
    (For one 23-centimeter round springform pan)
    Adapted from "The Cheese Cake Book," by Yanase Kumiko, Yasuyo Shida and Junko Fukuda   摘自《我愛乳酪蛋糕》     柳瀨久美子。信太康代。福田涥子 / 著

    * The original recipe is meant for two 12 cm-in-diameter round springform pans. Thus, the quantity for each ingredient has been adjusted for my 23-cm round springform pan, which are as shown below. In other words, I multiplied everything -- except the baking time -- by 1.2. Partly, I also made the changes to get a taller cheesecake. Well, sometimes you can't just stick to a recipe through and through. So, should you experience similar situation like mine, feel free to adapt the recipe to suit your need. *

    For the crust:

    120 g digestive biscuits/graham crackers -- use the plain/original ones
    48 g butter -- either the salted or unsalted one will do
    33 g candied orange peel -- chopped up into real tiny bits
    * I subbed dried apricots for this. *
    1. Completely melt the 40 g butter in a double boiler, over low heat, gradually. Alternatively, you can do so in your microwave on LOW. But, be careful of overheating the butter with your microwave!
      Once melted, remove from heat and set the butter aside to cool slightly before using. (Well, unless you don't mind burning your hands.)
    2. Now, grease the cake pan and line the side with parchment. Then, place the prepared cake pan in a relatively larger baking pan and set aside for use later. The baking pan needs not be relatively deeper though because the cheesecake won't be baked in a bain-marie or in an improvised bain-marie.
      * This little step is to ensure that in the event of the batter seeping out of the cake pan, you won't end up with burned, stubborn mess to deal with later on. You like scrubbing your oven out, do you? *
    3. Process the digestive biscuits/graham crackers in your food processor till they're pulverized.
      * Alternatively, you can try what I sometimes would do when insanity strikes me. I'd throw all the cookies into a Ziploc bag, seal the bag (not too tightly of course) and start crushing them with my hands and with help from my rolling pin. What a way to vent my anger! Ha! *
    4. To make the crust, combine the slightly cooled melted butter, pulverized crackers and chopped candied orange peel together really well. Then, firmly press the mixture onto the base of the cake pan -- making sure that the base of the cake pan gets covered completely and that the layer is even
    5. Refrigerate the whole deal (uncovered) till you're ready to bake the cheesecake
    For the cheese batter:

    120 g good-quality white chocolate

    300 g regular cream cheese -- softened
    36 g butter -- either the salted or unsalted one will do
    144 g caster sugar

    36 g regular sour cream
    2-1/2 Tbsp heavy cream

    2-1/2 large eggs -- at room temperature and slightly beaten
    2-1/2 Tbsp cake flour -- sifted

    2-1/2 tsp cherry brandy
    * I used rum instead. *
    Finely grated zest of 1-1/2 orange
    * I was a bit generous with the tang here. *

    Enough powdered sugar, for garnish -- optional
    1. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler over low heat till completely melted; remove from heat and set it aside to cool till it feels like our body's temperature before using
      * Of course, don't let the melted chocolate cool away far too long ... because it gets hardened up more and more as it cools ... So, be sure to keep it warm enough to stay melted -- not too hot though. (Duh!) *
    2. Whisk (A) together till thoroughly combined and look smooth. Now, mix in (B) to blend well
    3. Stir the melted white chocolate into the main batter to incorporate
    4. Gradually mix the slightly beaten eggs, in 3~4 portions, into the main batter. Next, sift the cake flour over the batter and whisk just to incorporate
    5. Stir (C) into the batter to get a homogeneous mixture
    To bake the cheesecakes:
    1. Pour the batter into the cake pan -- making sure that the surface of the batter gets smoothed out
    2. Bake at 170°C~180°C for 30~35 minutes or till the cake is just cooked. Towards the end of the baking process, say 5~10 minutes before the time's up, check for the doneness of the cake by poking a toothpick into the center of the cake. DON'T OVERBAKE IT! (You don't want dry cheesecake, do you?)
      Upon removing the cake from the oven, you don't have to worry as the residual heat (in the cake itself and from the pans) will cook the cheesecake a little bit more while the cake cools away.
    3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and set it on a cooling rack to cool completely -- let the cake cool away in the pan, there isn't a need to unmold it.
    4. Once the cake has cooled off completely, refrigerate for 2~3 hours before serving.
      When it's time to serve, unmold the cheesecake from the springform pan and sift some powdered sugar over the cake. Now, slice the cake up and enjoy the fruit of your labor! (Boy, what a long wait!)
      * For some reasons, I found my cheesecake to be on the harder side when it's REALLY cold. So, I let my slices of the cake soften up at room temperature for 40 minutes to 1 hour before diving into the cake. But, this could just be a quirky side of me. It really depends on personal preferences. *

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