Foodiva's Kitchen: February 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

5-Star Makeover: Beetroot Shikai Maki with Shiitake Mushroom and French Bean Filling

I really don't know where the time went...2012 seems to whizz by so fast and now the time for the second 5-Star Makeover Challenge of the year has arrived. I missed last month's challenge due to disorganization on my part, plus I think I must've lost my creativity cap somewhere during the end-of-year festivities and holidays :). Well, I found it again (just) and for this month's key ingredient, beetroot, I decided to go for an Asian-themed dish.

Diva D is an excellent sushi-maker and her deep love of Japanese food and culture has compelled her to learn how to prepare all sorts of Japanese cuisine from cookbooks and yes, YouTube. Her sushi-rolling skills are pretty advanced to the point that she is now teaching me how to do some of the more creative patterns. Like this pretty Shikai Maki roll, for example.

Watching her make some plain ones a few days ago inspired me to created this beetroot shikai maki. I thought the red of the beets would be visually striking contained within the squarish roll. A shikai maki usually has an empty space in the middle and this can be filled with all sorts of flavors. This time round, I opted for a totally vegetarian dish.

I got hold of some sweet and tender baby beets that I cooked and mashed into the sushi rice. To complement the beet-flavored rice, I made a filling out of Shiitake mushrooms and French beans sauteed with a dash of oyster sauce, honey and seasoning. Wrapped up in Nori, this beet-themed dish had a lovely and a not-too-overpowering sweet and savory note to it.

On hindsight, I wish I'd created an equally 5-star dipping sauce to go with the shikai maki but I was in a bit of a rush to finish photographing and writing this post, it completely slipped my mind! Oh well, let's just say that simplicity and elegance is the order of the day. :)

As always, many thanks go to our superb challenge hosts, Natasha of 5-Star Foodie and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks! The round-up of participants' makeover dishes will be this Friday over at Natasha's blog, so don't forget to head over there to see what innovations they've come up with.

PS. I did a photo-tutorial on how to create this shikai maki pattern below. If I had more time (read: if I had better time management), this would've been a video.

Beetroot Shikai Maki with Shiitake Mushroom and French Bean Filling
Serves 2
3 square nori sheets
2 cups cooked sushi rice
5-6 baby beetroot, roasted or steamed until very soft
2-3 tablespoons vinegar
4 French beans, each sliced into two
6 fresh Shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 scallion, finely diced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, for sautéing
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon honey
Approx ½ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Prepare the filling: Heat olive oil in a pan on medium high heat and sauté the garlic and scallion for 1 minute. Add the French beans and mushroom and stir for another minute.
2. Stir in the oyster sauce, honey and water and cover pan to let the vegetables steam and soften, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. Preparing the sushi rice: Add vinegar to the hot rice in a bowl and stir until well incorporated. Add the softened beetroot to the bowl and with a fork, gently mash the beets into the rice. Let this cool slightly before using (see below).


1. Cut one square sheet of nori into two. Overlap them to create one long piece.
2. Arrange a thin layer of beetroot-sushi rice covering the entire length of the nori. Roll tightly from one end to the other.
3. Cut roll into quarters lengthwise. Flip the quarters so the inside corners face outwards.
4. On another half-sheet of nori, place bottom two quarters and place mushroom and french bean filling along the crease created between these two quarters.
5. Place the remaining two quarters on top of the filling, then carefully wrap the half-sheet of nori around the four quarters, rolling the whole thing into a square. Do the same with the remaining nori sheets.
6. With a very sharp knife, slice roll according to desired thickness. Serve immediately with soy sauce dip.

• When pressing the sushi rice down on the nori sheet, frequently dip your fingertips (if using) or the back of a spoon in a small bowl of salted water. This prevents your fingers or the spoon from sticking to the rice.
• When slicing roll, wipe blade of knife with a damp cloth in between slices. This allows for neater cuts and prevents sticking.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Muffin Monday - Blackcurrant Cheesecake Muffins

I think we're seeing in working mothers a change from "Thank God it's Friday" to "Thank God it's Monday." If any working mother has not experienced that feeling, her children are not adolescent.
- Ann Diehl 

Now that I no longer have to go into an office to do a regular 9 to 5, I really look forward to Mondays. For a start, I have the whole house to myself and after what is a normally hectic weekend full of activities, the peace and quiet is a much welcomed relief. Another reason I now look forward to the start of the week is of course, Muffin Monday, our weekly cooking group hosted by Anuradha of Baker Street.

This week's recipe is Berry Cheesecake Muffins, and it was up to us what kind of berries we wished to adopt in the recipe. I was all excited and enthusiastic until I went grocery shopping and no fresh berries were to be found anywhere! Which was really strange because only a few days ago, the store shelves were lined with punnets upon punnets of the most beautiful strawberries... That's one of the hazards of living out here in the low-lying tropics, we rely on the regularity of overseas shipments for fruits such as these and unfortunately, they are not as regular as I'd like... 

And so I surrendered to the fact that my muffins would not contain any fresh berries this time round. I located a jar of blackcurrant jam instead and used that as the filling for the cheesecake muffins. The jam was already very sweet so to compensate for that, I reduced the amount of the other sugars stated in the recipe. The added lemon zest provided a warm citrusy note that balanced off the sweetness and creaminess of the muffins quite well. 

The sight of some of the hot jam oozing out from underneath the batter as these came out of the oven simply added to the muffins' allure. If you love the idea of mini New York-style cheesecakes, then these muffins are  definitely for you!

Note: Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop in a quick line to join her on her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.

Berry Cheesecake Muffins
Adapted from
1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (I reduced this to 1/4 cup)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup brown sugar (I reduced this to 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry jam (I used blackcurrant jam)

1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
2. Beat together cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together egg milk, brown sugar, butter, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Stir egg mixture into dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.
4. Spoon half of batter into muffin cups. Top each portion with 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture and 1 teaspoon jam. Spoon remaining muffin batter on top.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove muffins and cool on rack. Store in airtight container.

Friday, February 17, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie - Mussels With Mushroom and Peperoncino Pasta

The only kind of seafood I trust is the fish stick, a totally featureless fish that doesn't have eyeballs or fins.
~ Dave Barry

I bit my nails when I saw that this week's French Fridays with Dorie featured mussels. Not that I have an aversion to it or any seafood in general, and in fact, I love to eat all sorts of creatures that come out of the sea! What I'm not a fan of is the cleaning and preparation side of things. So every time someone brings any seafood into this house (I've never bought or caught any of it), they'd better be all ready-to-cook or somebody else better be willing to get their hands dirty and smell of the stale sea for a while. 

You can therefore bet that I went and searched for the cleanest, most prepped mussels and found these ones that have been quick-frozen on the half-shelf. I high-fived myself in my mind when I scored these. Firstly, they don't smell much and best of all...there were no more beards to clean up!  Sure, aesthetically they didn't look as good as the two-shelled mussels but since we were not going to eat the shells anyway, I didn't let that small detail get to me. 

I also wasn't keen on mixing my seafood with meat, so I omitted the chorizo and substituted it with some tender brown beech mushrooms. And the bell pepper was replaced with chilli peppers although I must make a disclaimer that I deseeded most of them (you know how awfully chicken I am at the prospect of too much heat in my food).

I served the mussels and mushroom up on a bed of Spaghetti al Peperoncino that was slightly spicy but manageably so. Eating this brought back fond memories of my frequent day-trips to Brussels, a mere two-hours' drive from where I used to live in Germany. Basically, I only went there for three reasons - to eat Belgian chocolates, waffles and their famous moules. Sightseeing? Forget it. 

Before this week, I thought there was no way I could replicate those fine mussels from Brussels (sidenote: why does an image of Jean-Claude Van Damme come up every time someone says that?) in my very own kitchen. After cooking this, well I'm very sure I hadn't replicated them at all. But boy, it was a very good try. No bad shellfish-related incidents occurred on this occasion and everyone in the house lived to tell the tale! :)

On a final note, I've recovered somewhat from the nasty bug that got hold of me over last weekend and earlier this week. Thanks to all of you who dropped by and shared your comments and kind wishes. With your encouragement and friendship, I'm getting my blogging mojo back although it's proving to be a bit slow on the uptake...  (remember, I used to post 3-4 times a week...oh, what happened to those days?). In the meantime,  I shall come over to yours and check out some of your talented offerings. 

Have a gorgeous weekend, Doristas and everyone else!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Muffin Monday - Triple Chocolate Muffins

In my dreams I gorge on chocolates, I roll in chocolates, and their texture is not brittle but soft as flesh, like a thousand mouths on my body, devouring me in fluttering small bites. To die beneath their tender gluttony seems the culmination of every temptation I have ever known.
~ Joanne Harris, Chocolat

So are you ready to face your week head-on with these devilishly decadent Triple Chocolate Muffins? I'm very late for this week's Muffin Monday, so late in fact that there's only a few hours left to my Monday over where I'm at. Let me explain the reason for this unusual (but fast becoming the usual!) tardiness - it's partly because I'm sick as a dog today, but mainly, it's because I've been very disorganized. The complete opposite of our event host, Anuradha of Baker Street, who actually sent this recipe early on last week. My apologies again, An and many thanks for letting me still participate. 

Get ready for some love....and lovin'.

Chocolate is hands down my most irresistable indulgence, as in, I am not able to resist having it in any of its forms. Sounds a bit like an illness when I put it that way, but maybe it is a kind of addiction. Well let's be grateful that at least it's legal :).

I looked through the recipe and the 'triple-ness' came from the cocoa, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate chips, with a dash of espresso powder to give the muffins a kick. My sister had brought back a stash of some rather lovely Swiss chocolates the last time she came home to get married (actually, she only got married once), so I decided to use some of those in place of the chocolate chips. I'm surprised we still had some left over, or perhaps our chocolate stash was really the size of a sweet-toothed pirate's treasure loot... ;).

I chopped up a handful of bite-sized, white-tipped Toblerones which went into the batter as chips and to top each muffin, I placed a slice of milk chocolate filled with salted caramel in the middle. I don't have to tell you how good this combination of chocolate-everything tastes like as you bite into the muffin's warm belly, do I?

The recipe is so easy that I did everything by hand as soon as I rolled out of bed and had these ready in time for breakfast! We don't normally start off each day with Triple Chocolate Muffins (unfortunately, sanity and willpower prevail) but this one time we did, you can bet we walked out the front door with an extra bounce in our step!

Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop in a quick line to join her on her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.

Muffin Monday: Triple Chocolate Muffins
Makes 12
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
1 3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dutch-process cocoa
11/4 cup sugar
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips (I used mini-white topped Toblerones, cut into small chunks)
1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I used salted caramel-filled milk chocolate, as a topping)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp white vinegar

1. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cups. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 425.
Melt the butter; set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, sugar, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chopped chocolate.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla and vinegar until blended. Stir in the cooled, melted butter.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir with a rubber spatula, just until blended.
5. Spoon into the prepared muffin liners…the cups will be very full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the muffins bounce back when pressed with a finger. Cool on a wire cooling rack for 5 minutes.
6. Remove from the pan and let them cool just a bit longer. Serve warm.

Friday, February 10, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie - Nutella Tartine

Chocolate, thick and oh so sweet
From a spoon, it's you I eat,
You look so good, taste so nice
I'd even eat you on fried rice...
~ Nutella poem, Ninja Girl
January was a write-off as far as blogging is concerned. Here I am thinking February will be much, much better but I've already missed last week's French Fridays recipe, Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche, something I had so wanted to bake as well! Already, I'm running out of excuses as to why I've gone MIA lately...let's just say life has taken over and left me with very little time and energy to focus on my culinary activities and writing. To quote E.B. White, "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day". Yes, too right, my friend!

Anyway, back to today....I couldn't possibly pass up the chance to make this week's FFWD recipe, Nutella Tartine. Well, it isn't even a recipe per se but an assemblage of several beautiful ingredients we all have in our pantries (and if you don't, you should start questioning if you're really living, you know).

Nutella Tartine is a favorite French after-school treat and apparently - because I hardly drink coffee - it also goes quite well with a hot cup of espresso. All you have to do to make it is warm up several spoonsfuls of Nutella, then drizzle it over buttered, toasted brioche slices. In Pierre Hermé's version as recounted by Dorie in Around My French Table, the toasted bread is slathered with bitter orange marmalade, Nutella and sprinkled on top with chopped hazelnuts and fleur de sel. 

Of course, in my version of Nutella Tartine, that would be wholemeal toast spread with a layer of butter, a layer of peach jam (I had run out of marmalade, sadly) and frivolously decorated with thin orange slices, warmed-up Nutella, toasted almonds and pink river salt. These deviations from the original Tartine didn't affect its deliciousness one bit, that much I can assure you. 

So Voilà...this week's recipe has been accomplished! Next week's will be a savory one - Mussels and Chorizo with or without Pasta. Oh, that will be a challenge for me as I'm really not that good with all things seafood, or let me rephrase that, all things savory. If you're keen though, come back next week to this same spot to see how I've done. No sorry, don't come back....just come and cook with us in French Fridays with Dorie :). 

I've really missed you, Doristahs (my Dorista sistahs and brothahs). Here's wishing all of you a weekend crammed with heaven!

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