Friday, August 21, 2009

See ya soon!

As you can tell by now, I am absent for a long time, and then suddenly bombard you with a whole load of posts. I don't like this situation AT ALL. But 'what to do', 'mei ban fa', 'cest la vie', 'macam mana'? For the time being, I will have to live with writing on a separate document and then updating this blog when the situation permits. And you will have to live with marathon reading! Kinda like being on a hunger strike and then finding a seat at the world's longest buffet huh? I feel that way.

I have been in Penang (hence the uploading), but it's time to bid adieu. I enter the blogging void again. Well, maybe the situation might change and I can blog in a timely fashion again. Who knows!

And as I leave the comfort of mom's and brace for the teary plane ride home, I take comfort thinking of the tea-time laughs with the girls, and the welcoming arms of my Kenwood.

Monday, August 10, 2009

German Party Bread - PartyBrot

Delicious, dense and moist bread.

Bread dough before the second proof

Hot and humid weather calls for bread making. I've had this recipe for a while from Flagrantedelicia and have been wanting to try it for a while. We were rained in for the entire day, and with time on my hands, I decided that this was the day to try this out. Besides, the boys could help me roll the dough into balls.

I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of using bread flour instead of plain flour and using the mixer (as opposed to rolling out by hand). I glazed with milk and water instead of egg. This is by far the best bread that has ever resulted. Soft yet dense and filling, with an appearance that I was very proud of. No wonder it's called a Party Bread. Will definitely be on my 'what to bring for potlucks' list. It uses little yeast, with a long proofing time, which chef/restaurateur once told me, is the 'little secret' behind a bread with good texture.

Bread flour 560g

Salt 2 tsp

Milk 250ml

Dry yeast 2 1/2 tsp

Sugar 2 tbsp

Butter 60g

Eggs 2

Milk for glazing

Poppy seeds

Sprinkle yeast into 100ml of the milk in a small bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes then stir to dissolve.

Warm the remaining milk in a pot along with the sugar and butter. Stir constantly until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool. Stir in the beaten egg a little at a time.

In the bowl of a mixer, mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in both the yeast mixture and the milk/egg mixture. Mix on low till combined then continue to mix on medium till the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Leave in an oiled bowl, covered with a clean tea towel, place in a warm place for 1 – 1 ½ hours till double in bulk. Punch down, and leave for 10 minutes, then roll into 19 equal sized balls. Place in a greased 9” (24cm) loose-bottom pan. Place 12 rolls along the perimeter of the pan, followed by 6 rolls inside, and finally 1 roll in the middle. Cover with a towel and leave to rise for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Glaze with milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake in preheated 200C oven for 30 minutes till golden brown. If the rolls are browning too quickly (as mine did – my oven is small), cover with a sheet of aluminium foil.

I would suggest using the loose bottom pan if you have it. It's easier to slide the rolls out this way.

Char Bee Hoon - the secret is in the 'char'

Fried rice vermicelli with a whole load o' ingredients

Char Bee Hoon – fried rice vermicelli, is a popular Malaysian/Singaporean dish. There's even a dish called Singapore Char Bee Hoon, a recipe obviously perfected by the Singaporean. My version of char bee hoon came from a relative, an 'aunty' who had years of char bee hoon experience. While I don't remember asking her the specific steps, I remember her making a gravy of soya sauce and other seasoning, in which the meats and vegetables quickly cooked and she dumped in the soaked bee hoon. This allows the bee hoon to soak up all the lovely gravy. It's worked well so far and the trick lay in the amount of gravy. Too much water and you'd end up with soggy bee hoon.

I was at YP's house today (kids playdate) and she shared with me her method of frying bee hoon. She fried the ingredients separately and then lastly fried the bee hoon with some basic seasoning. Return the ingredients to the bee hoon and fry to your preferred dryness. And being the kind person that she is, I left with a bagful of bee hoon and some vegetables, eager to try this method for dinner tonight.

Here's my take on the char bee hoon recipe. Note that I've not made any measurements as I eyeballed it. No worries, you just add the amount that you like, within reason, of course.

Bee Hoon
Chicken, pork or beef, sliced
Carrots or cabbage, sliced thinly
Dried Shitake mushrooms 3-4 pcs soaked and sliced
Egg 1
Garlic 1 clove
Ginger 2cm, sliced thinly

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Turn off heat and soak the bee hoon for 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Cook the egg omelet style, slice or chop and set aside.

Season the meat with soya sauce, salt, pepper and sesame oil. Heat oil in a wok and fry the meat till done. Set aside. Add a little more oil to the wok and fry the vegetables and mushrooms. Season to taste and set aside. Add a little more oil to the wok and give the garlic and ginger a quick fry. Add the soaked bee hoon. Toss till coated with the oil. Season with soya sauce, salt, pepper and sesame oil. (A little oyster sauce would also be nice). Add the chicken, fried vegetables and egg. Toss till all mixed through.

Phantom Car

Can you guess what this is made from?

I had a few ladle-fulls of Konnyaku jelly the other day and just poured it into a Vintage Car mould I had. I lack a good camera and lighting equipment and this was the best I could do. In the hands of a professional, this would, without a doubt, be an awesome picture.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Walnut Pesto

Delicious homemade pesto - easier than you think

The basil plant is overflowing. By the end of the summer, I won't be surprised if I can climb up that stalk into the realm of the Goose that lays the golden eggs. Maria advised me to pick the larger leaves for cooking, and they were so ready to be picked. The bugs love them too, so before one bug clues his other buggy friends in on the Shangri-La that is growing on the balcony, I'd better harvest them gorgeous leaves. I would not insult the leaves by freezing them. Besides, 'fresh' is what I'm looking for. The answer – pesto.

I wanted to try the recipe from Sugar & Everything Nice, but I've not been able to access any blogspot sites. So I searched and came across one by Delia Smith. I used to watch her programmes years and years ago, and is a personality I had not seen for a long time. I replaced the pine nuts with walnuts (which I happen to have). I will have to add more nuts next time as the flavour of the walnuts didn't come through. (The recipe below indicates the amount of nuts I intend to use next time. Try it out and add or reduce the amount as you wish).You really need a lot of leaves for a small amount of ready pesto. But the end result is worth it.

Pesto (adapted from Delia Smith)
Fresh basil leaves 50g
Walnuts 40g
Garlic 1 large pip
Olive oil 8 tbsp
Salt ½ tsp
Grated Parmesan cheese 25g

Blend all ingredients together except cheese. Mix cheese in. Makes about 1 cup.

Banana Walnut Cranberry Bread for Father's Day

Nutty bread with sweet-sour cranberries. Perfect for breakfast or tea.

CS is one for 'adult' type of desserts – breads and pastry. Nothing too chocolatey or sweet. Special combinations that are away from the usual chocolate or vanilla (unless it's done really well). He loves bread and well made pastry, so I decided on this Banana Walnut Cranberry Bread for him this Father's Day. I had most of the ingredients (and half a bag of dried cranberries left over from the Cranberry Bread Pudding), and my fruit vendor was happy to get rid of some very ripe bananas. (The locals like their bananas under-ripe, which to me, has a sour and sappy taste. To each his own).

The original recipe comes from My Kitchen Snippets, and looked absolutely divine. I substituted sour cream with buttermilk. (Sour cream is not a pantry item for me). The result was a very moist bread, which I assume is the result of this substitution. Next time, if using buttermilk, I shall use small eggs instead of regular sized eggs and see if that makes a difference. I also had to bake it for 1 hour 15 minutes instead of the 45 minutes suggested. Taste? Fabulous!

Banana Walnut Cranberry Bread

Butter ¾ cup

Light brown sugar ¾ cup

Eggs 3 small

Buttermilk ½ cup (½ cup milk plus ½ tsp vinegar)

Flour 2 cups

Baking powder 1 tsp

Baking soda ½ tsp

Vanilla 1 tsp

Salt ½ tsp

Mashed bananas 1 cup

Walnuts ¾ cup chopped

Dried cranberries ¾ cup

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a loaf pan. Set aside. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time and beat till incorporated. Add buttermilk and mix well. Add bananas and vanilla. Slowly add in the flour and mix well. Fold in the nuts and cranberries and transfer the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes till a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn the bread out onto a rack to cool completely.

NB : using small eggs instead of large ones did yield a bread that was not as wet.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Moist Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache, and my first attempt at White Icing

I have been on a roll making cakes for the birthdays of friends' children. Jodi asked me to make little chocolate cupcakes last week for Renee's birthday, which I was glad to do. They were 'bare' as she frosted and decorated them herself. Topped with chocolate frosting and M&M's on the top, they were a chocolate sensation!

This week it's Keane and Zern's birthday. They're friends with Etienne, and their mom YP is a good friend of mine. They're chocolate lovers and so Chocolate Cake it was. This time I simply poured a chocolate ganache over and let it drip down the sides. The combination of the two was chocolate heaven.

I knew I wanted to dress the cake up with more than just sprinkles. So I decided to attempt white icing. I had always felt intimidated by white icing, thinking it would be hard to do, and had to be very careful when handling it. Temperatures had to be right or it would be too soft, too dry or too hard. So with cornstarch in hand, I tackled a pack of ready made white icing, and simply cut the shapes out. Not knowing how they'd feel, I thought I'd keep it simple this time. It was surprisingly easy. Felt like the paper clay projects I used to make way back when. I feel brave enough now to attempt other shapes and figurines. For Keane and Zern, I had just stamped their initials out with a cookie cutter and set them on a circle. KZ looked like it was short for 'Kazam!' and that prompted me to add lighting bolts for that 'superhero' feel.

I am very pleased with the way the entire cake turned out. The cake was just the right chocolatey sweetness, and the ganache simply highlighted that flavour. Dark and delicious. The colours of the white icing stood out against the chocolate. The white icing was merely for show and we peeled it off before eating.

Prior to this I wanted to (and still do) learn more about white icing. I tried to look for information but could not find the answer to my question. What's the difference between fondant, sugarpaste and white icing? Is it the same thing by a different name? If not, what's the difference and how should it be treated? When modelling figurines, must I use only sugar glue or will water do? What's the best type of food colour to use? Answers very much appreciated. Thanks.

Chocolate Cake (adapted from Betty Yew's Kitchen Secrets)

Makes 1X8” square cake

Butter 180g
Sugar 360g
Eggs 3 large
Instant coffee 1 tsp
Hot water 1 tbsp
Vanilla 1 tsp
Water 1 cup
Plain flour 240g
Cocoa powder 75g
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt ½ tsp

Grease and line an 8” square cake pan. Sift the dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Dissolve coffee in 1 tbsp water. Stir in vanilla and add the remaining cup of water. Fold in the coffee mixture alternately with the dry ingredients in 3 batches, starting with the flour. Blend well and pour into the tin. Bake in preheated 175C oven for 55 minutes. Test with a skewer. Leave to cool in pan for 20 minutes and then turn onto rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate 200g, broken into pieces
Whipping cream 150ml

Place both ingredients into a bowl and set it over a pot of simmering water (double boiler style) do not allow the water to touch the bowl. Allow the chocolate to melt. Stir till the mixture is smooth and shiny. Remove from heat and allow to cool a little. When slightly thickened, pour over the cake allowing the ganache to drip over the sides.

Cranberry Bread Pudding

Easy to make bread pudding

Dried cranberries were on sale. Imported foodstuff is very expensive here and so things that we took for granted at home becomes a luxury in these parts. I was coveting Craisins, but at RMB33 for a small bag, I could only admire from afar. But this past weekend, they were doing a 'buy one get one free' at Freshmart, and so I grabbed a pair. (We're in a recession – I do what I can) They could go down cheaper if the supermarket finds there are no takers, but I was willing to take the risk!

Dinner was a simple affair last night so I decided to make up for it with a baked dessert. I had not made one in a while. Looking into the pantry I found I had all the ingredients for bread pudding. Throw in a handful of cranberries and we've bumped it up a notch. This is a recipe I concocted a while back – another one of those “use up what's in the pantry” days. Measurements are approximate.

Bread 4-5 slices
Eggs 2, lightly beaten
Milk 1 ½ cups
Sugar 1/3 cup
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Dried cranberries a handful
Walnuts a small handful

Cut the bread slices into cubes or tear them up roughly. If you wish, you can also butter them, put them together sandwich style and cut them into cubes. Place in an ovenproof bowl. Add the dried cranberries and walnuts. In a separate bowl, mix the beaten eggs with milk, sugar and cinnamon. Pour over the bread slices. Allow the egg/milk to absorb into the bread for a few minutes. You can also toss lightly to evenly coat the bread slices. Bake in preheated 180C oven for 30-35 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or evaporated milk.

You can substitute the cranberries with raisins and chopped apple. Instead of walnuts, you can also use almonds or pecans. I don't like my bread pudding too wet. This recipe yields a firm textured pudding.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Ginger Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Cupcake with Ginger Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting for my 40th birthday

Tea-time spread

It's my birthday!! The big 4-0. Yup, I'm a grown up. Grown up as in the people who were my parents' friends when I was 7 years old. The 'Uncles' and 'Aunties' who were the parents of my friends. The grown ups who seemed worldly. I'm one of them now. A grown up. Can't believe it though – I still feel like I'm 20-something. I don't feel any wiser. I feel more stressed, but not wiser. Strange feeling....

The posse of friends – and I dare say the best gals I'll ever encounter, helped me celebrate with a lunch at Dream Herb, a Taiwanese style restaurant. It was a joint birthday celebration with YP, whose birthday falls in early July. Since we'll all be away for the summer holidays then, we decided to do this together.

Dream Herb grows their own herbs and uses them in their dishes. My favourite is the Chilli Chicken with Lavender. Annie, the Manager always serves us their wonderful pot of herbal tea. A tad bit minty today but still very good. We then, as usual, adjurned to someone's house for what we call tea break laughs. You can identify the house from the shrieks, squeals and outright booming laughter.

Jodi prepared a wonderful spread of brownies, fruit salad and ice cream and Blian made Konnyaku jelly. And it being my birthday, I made Chocolate Cupcakes with Ginger Lemon Cream Cheese frosting, the recipes I got from Cupcake Bakeshop. If you haven't been to her site, you should! It's a gorgeous menu of tried and tested cupcakes with every frosting imaginable to suit every occasion. I've been baking 'kid' cakes and cookies for a few weeks and was so ready for an 'adult' dessert. Cupcake – adult, and very stylish. Ever since Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbs bit into one, it's been the iconic dessert for women. So, very suitable for a gathering of my best lady friends.

I used Cupcake Bakeshop's Devil's Food cupcake with Ginger Lime Cream Cheese Frosting. I didn't have lime and so substituted with lemon. I didn't use as much icing sugar either as I was afraid it might be too sweet. The icing was very soft, and I used for swirling. Sadly, the hot and humid weather was unforgiving, and even though I refrigerated them when I got to my destination, it melted. Fortunately everything was contained within the cup. Next time I shall add the full amount of sugar and only, ONLY try this when I don't have to transport the cupcakes, or during low temperatures. Still, I'm so glad I tried it out. The cupcake was moist and dark. On its own, I have to say I've tasted better chocolate cake. But the combination with the Ginger Lemon frosting was divine. I am happy with this combination, just have to work on the consistency of the frosting.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lemon Curd Cupcakes

Lemon Curd Cupcake

Cookies and Cupcakes on Michelle's booth

The international school in our area hosts an annual International Day – a fun-fair sort of event where all the different nationalities host food tables, local vendors set up shop for the day selling anything from food, toys, carpets, books, tea or clothes, and the school conducts raffles, tombola and a myriad of games and performances. My friend Michelle opened up a coffee booth for that day, and I got to sample one of the best iced coffees I've had in a while. I could've gone for another cup, but one can only have so much of Joe in a short space of time, and with two children to look out for, 'twas not the day for leisurely sipping coffee. But never fear, I shall be back for more, now that I know there's more than Starbucks and Coffee Bean where I can seek my caffeine refuge.

On this day I supplied Michelle with cookies to go with the coffee, and as a summertime special, Lemon Curd Cupcakes. I wanted to indulge in cupcakes with sinfully creamy frosting, but alas, the hot and humid weather would only ensure disaster. I had to bake something with a better temperament.

My previous attempt at making Lemon Curd was less than perfect. Now armed with what NOT to do, I knew I'd get it right this time. I used Sophistimom's recipe and it was a charm. Perfect tasting lemon curd, with the right curdy consistency.(Which, by the way, is great on toast). I used Kitchen Wench's Lemon Cupcakes recipe and the combination of both worked out great for me. I filled the cupcakes with lemon curd, and after they were baked, I spooned some curd on top of the cupcakes and sprinkled on some granulated sugar.

I had one problem with the cupcakes though. It shrank from the sides of the paper, and the bottom of the liner had almost come loose from the cake. Kitchen Wench had advised not to overbake the cupcake as this would result in it being dry. I watched it closely and used the skewer to make sure it was not underbaked. I did use a new batch of paper liners and perhaps this was the issue. I will bake with them again and see if the problem persists. In the meantime, if anyone has any other idea, I would appreciate the feedback. Thanks.

Maria's Basil

The bottom left corner of the box is bare because I gave a couple of plants to YP, who is an avid gardener.

Last autumn, my friend Maria Reyes conducted an Italian cooking class in her home. While she had planned for 3-4 people, only 1 (me) turned up in the end. I felt quite bad, as she still carried on with the class knowing I was her only 'student'. I'm really glad she did, though, because that gave me the opportunity to meet one really great lady. Maria makes her own food – and by that I mean she makes her own jams, yoghurts, cheeses and what have you's. She buys organic and uses only the healthiest ingredients for her family. She has a respect for her planet, and those who live in it. She is a calm soul, speaking softly and gently to her two gorgeous daughters. It's through her that I decided it wouldn't be that hard to provide healthier options for my family, and have fun doing it too.

At the end of the lesson, Maria gave me a packet of basil seeds and told me to plant it in April. And I did. I have an absolutely gorgeous, and I mean GOR-JEST crop on my balcony. It smells great (the bugs will attest to that!). It has wonderful peppery flavour, and just tearing them up into Maria's Pasta Primavera elevates the dish to a new level.

Maria will soon leave for a new posting in another part of the world. I have been fortunate to have met Maria, even if ever so briefly. Good luck and God Bless, Maria. The basil will always remind me of our friendship.

Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars - over 100 star shaped sugar cookies for classmates and teachers

To celebrate Children's Day (June 1) and Etienne's 9th birthday (May 30), and from the many requests by his friends, I decided to bake a huge batch of cookies for Etienne's classmates. Some of his classmates got wind of my baking abilities, and often when I pick him from school, they hint (OK, downright ask) for cookies. Etienne gets lots of candy on his classmates' birthdays,and he requested the same. I'm not a fan of children eating candy. Aside from the sugar, there are other additives and colouring to be concerned about. A few is fine, as you really cannot separate candy from kids. But I find the consumption by some kids truly frightening. So, for 47 kids X 2 cookies per kid plus a few teachers, Sugar Cookies was the way to go.

I used the sugar cookie recipe by my friend Terri, which is really a pate sucre, and frosted them with a simple glace icing. For a co-ed class, stars was the obvious choice. I got this really pretty picture of the stars cooling on the wire rack. This is a sweet cookie, as the name suggests, but not overly sweet that you taste nothing else. I used lemon juice in the glace icing to offset the sweetness, and that worked out great.

Butter 1 cup

Sugar 1 cup

Egg 1 large

Vanilla essence 1 tsp

Baking powder 2 tsp

Flour 3-4 cups (I started with 3 cups but found the dough still too sticky and just added on till I got the right consistency).

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Sift flour and baking powder and add to batter till a stiff dough is achieved. Roll out between sheets of plastic (I recycle the waxed bags from boxes of cereal), dusted with a little flour. Cut out using cookie cutters. Bake 4-8 minutes in a pre-heated 200C oven. Cool on a wire rack and decorate with glace icing.

Glace icing

I use the 'eyeball' method when making glace icing. Just add lemon or orange juice, milk or even plain water to icing sugar till you get a drizzling consistency. Be aware that very little liquid is required to melt down the icing sugar. Add food colouring of your choice. I use a small resealable bag to pipe. Cut a small tip off one corner and pipe away. The resealable bag prevents any back-flow and keeps any icing from drying out. Small bits of dried icing getting in the way while you work is quite irritating. If you have any leftover, just seal the clipped corner, and it keeps neatly in the fridge.

Wizard Cake - Etienne's 9th Birthday

It's Etienne's 9th birthday. I can't believe it. My baby's all grown up. I still remember his birth and the cute things he used to do. Now he's 9 and tormenting me with his 'tween' behaviour. I remember that behaviour (when I was a struggling tween) and the things that used to go through my mind. Oh, how I must've tormented my mother. And now I understand why my mom put up with all my growing pains – just as I am trying to guide Etienne on the path of life. It's not an easy thing – being a guardian.

While going through a Harry Potter spell (get it? Harry Potter. Spell.) Etienne wants a Wizard Cake. Errr.. wizard as in wave my wand and a cake appears, or a wizard theme cake? OK, wizard theme cake. I tried my best and spent many sleepless nights and poring though books to see what I could achieve with the tools at hand. I came up with this cake, which is a basic vanilla butter cake and vanilla buttercream frosting taken from my Vanilla Cupcake recipe. I spread on the uncoloured buttercream and used a toothpick to draw the outline of the wizard. (Figured I could 'erase' any mistakes easily). Then coloured the buttercream and filled in the picture. Then coloured the remainder of the buttercream with cocoa, and piped in the outline. A few sprinkles and we were set.

When he's 19, will he appreciate a homemade cake by mom. Or will he think that's juvenile and rather spend the day partying with his friends?

Happy Birthday darling. Mom loves you very much!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hello, Hello!

I have blog access!! I am trying not to get too excited because access could be only temporary. I am back in Penang for the summer holidays for a few weeks and will update as much as I can. I may continue to be blog-less when I return to Suzhou, and then have access again when I come back to Penang for the next holiday. (I feel like it's a long distance love affair!) Still, I will update this blog for all those who would like to visit, and for me as a personal journal of my cooking experiences. Although I was unable to post, I still to wrote about my projects in a separate document in the hope that I wwould be able to upload at some point.

More tomorrow. I am still whacked from the flight back.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unable To Post

I have been unable to get into the blogsphere for the past week or so. Not only am I unable to update my blog, but I've also been unable to visit all my favourite blogs. Very frustrating. But I've worked out a temporary solution, while waiting for this problem to resolve. I hope that within a few days I will be able to post regularly. In the meantime, posts could be few and far between. I also apologise if I'm unable to respond to your comments.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mulberry Muffins

Deep purple mulberries - mild and best eaten on its own
Loses its flavour in a muffin
I thought mulberries were a figment of someone's imagination - some person who had tricked children into running around an imaginary bush so early in the morning. But lo! When we arrived in Suzhou, famous for its silk, we were told that the silk worms feed on mulberry leaves. So, if there were mulberry leaves, there must be - mulberries! It's sold in the markets, and there's even a tree in our compound. I must've missed it all these years, or just never paid any attention, or maybe the fruit sellers just decided to add this to their stalls. The mulberries have a very short life - they go bad the next day. The flavour is mild compared to strawberries or blueberries. I thought I'd have a go at making mulberry muffins.

The result - not impressive. The muffin was dense, and the berries just didn't give off any flavour. Just plain bland. Perhaps it would taste better with a different muffin batter recipe. I'd like to say I will tweak it, but this is one I will just let go. Savour the mulberries as they are and move on to the next recipe.

Monday, May 11, 2009

No Cake for Mother's Day

Happy Belated to all Moms out there. Surprised that there's no cake today? I am. I had planned on baking a wonderful Only-Moms-Allowed dessert on this day and sharing it, but I think you can guess, it did not happen. CS and I spent the day at B&Q, looking at floors, tiles, paint, wood and sanitary ware in gazillion options for our new home. We're in the midst of doing up our new apartment (which, those close to me will know is way long overdue). Still, I didn't want to miss wishing all Moms a Happy Mother's Day! I hope the kids behaved.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lemon Slices

It's warming up - and I mean warming up - here in Suzhou. Maybe 'heating up' would be a better word. In the sun, it was probably hotter than in Penang. But it's not that bad yet. Soon, humidity will pick up and by July/August, Suzhou is one giant sauna. These are great temperatures for baking bread though. There will be more bread posts coming up so watch this space.

In this heat, I had a hankering for something lemony cool - like an ice cool lemonade. I saw this recipe on Baking Cakes Galore and decided to make it. Again, it was fast to make, with no-fuss ingredients. I completed the job in about an hour, baking and washing up included. The lemon topping has real pucker-power. Be ready for an explosion of sour - and I mean that in a good way. The leftovers were left in the fridge and the next day tastes even more like a piece of cold lemonade.

Butter 125g softened
Icing sugar 40g
Plain flour 150g
Eggs 3
Caster sugar 225g
Lemon zest 2 tbsp finely grated
Lemon juice 125 ml
Plain flour 2 tbsp

You will need 20cm (8 in) square tin, line the base and sides with tin foil, extending the tin foil 2cm (¾ in) above the edge of the tin. This will help to ease out the bar when ready for slicing.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. Beat the butter and icing sugar in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in the 150g (5 oz) of flour. Press the mixture evenly over the base of the prepared tin. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes until browned lightly. Meanwhile, place the eggs, caster sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons flour, zest and juice in a bowl. Whisk until combined. Pour the egg mixture over the hot base. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until firm. Cool in the tin on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Dust with extra sifted icing sugar, if desired or a slice of thinly sliced lemon/lime. Store sliced, covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chocolate & Macadamia Nut Spread

I seem to be making a lot of spreads these days. I guess today I was just moved to make this mock Nutella, and as luck would have it - I had all the ingredients on hand. It's been on the 'want to try' list for a while, but just could not find hazelnuts. Even our favourite nut seller at the Nan Men market didn't have them. (Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of nuts at that market, opening up just endless baking options).

What I did have on hand was macadamia nuts. So I decided to substitute the hazelnuts with macadamias.

I was extremely happy with the end result - for a first try. The consistency and the sweetness was just right. However, the aroma of the macadamias did not come through as I imagine hazelnuts would have. It produced a handsome quantity - enough to fill a large jar. Definitely more ecomonical to make your own than buying. Well, at least in Suzhou.

Macadamia nuts 2/3 cup
Condensed milk 1 tin 370g
Chocolate chips 1 cup
Honey 4 tbsp

Process the macadamia nuts till pasty. (If you can get the nuts to liquefy, this will result in a smoother spread). Set aside. Put the condensed milk, chocolate chips and honey in a large bowl and sit it on a pot of simmering water. (Double boiler would work great). Stir occassionally till the chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate mixture into the hazelnuts and blitz till the mixture is smooth. Transfer into an airtight container, cool. Enjoy!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pineapple Jam

Chunky pineapple jam
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - so say the experts. I agree - I find that if I don't eat a proper breakfast (with my all important cup of Joe), I'm sluggish, irritable, and tend to snack all day long. Breakfast has to be fast on weekday mornings with people rushing off to school and work. Bread with spreads like jam and PB is fast and filling. So I have to be on the ball where breakfast is concerned. No time in the morning for elaborate preparation. (I tend to be a little more relaxed on weekends, so I sometimes make pancakes or muffins).

So jam is a good thing. Slap it on some bread and we're in business. Etienne said he'd like some pinapple jam, so I set off to find a good recipe. As always, cyberspace is loaded with recipes. I needed one that would be good as a spread, and not the thick ones used for Jam Tarts. I stumbled upon Chop Chop A to Z and decided to go with that one. I halved the recipe, but will go with the full one next time. It did not yield a lot, and the way it tastes, I figure it'll be gone in no time. I also omitted the cinnamon and cloves. Thought that would taste too much like a Jam Tart jam. Cooking time was reduced to 25 minutes. I would also grate the pineapple next time, not just chop it.

This is a really good tasting jam and is a keeper. It was all fruit and packed full of zing and ka-pow! I could probably eat it with a spoon. The pinapple was from Hainan Island. That and the variety from Taiwan are one of the best I have ever tasted.

Try making it - you won't regret it.

Ripe pineapples 2 medium, peeled and grated
Sugar 1 cup
Lemon juice 2 tbsp

Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it comes to a boil, stir occassionally, and boil for 20-25 minutes till the jam thickens. Allow to cool and store in an air-tight container. You can also can it if you intend to keep it for a long time. (Not me!)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vanilla Cupcakes

It's Sweet & Simple Bakes time again. This time it's Vanilla Cupcakes. I have to say, this is a great and very easy recipe. All the ingredient go into the mixing bowl, mix it up and pop them into the oven. I was a little apprehensive when the recipe didn't start with "Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy". I wondered if the texture would be compromised. Little bits of butter just wouldn't blend in at first, but increasing the mixer speed soon solved that. A minute later and the batter was - you guessed it - light and fluffy. The most fun part was decorating the cupcakes. I chose sprinkles, M&M's and gummy candies. There are tons of ideas in cyberspace for all kinds of occassions. Can't wait to try them out.

For me, the cupcakes were perfectly moist and the sweetness just right. I would definitely use this recipe again. Making the frosting ahead and refrigerating it, the cakes themselves can be made from start to finish in under an hour - perfect for 'in between errands'.

Oh yes - if anyone can help me solve my 'dome tops' problem, that would be great. Please read my post on 'Problem - Dome Cupcakes'. Thanks lots.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chwee Kueh

Preparing the chai poh (preserved radish) and batter
Chwee Kueh freshly out of the steamer
The soft texture and tastelessness of the dough suports the saltiness and cruch of the fried preserved radish.
Nyonya Kueh are traditional 'cakes' in Malaysia and Singapore, which essentially, is a marriage of Chinese and Malay flavours. Nyonya describes a culture that was born when the Chinese came to Malaysia as part of a wedding entourage, and then settled there. Their Chinese heritage merged with the Malay culture. What stands out in this amalgamation of cultures is its food. Chinese style cooking using the South East's herbs and spices, the evolution of which results in a unique blend of textures and flavours.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post - Chwee Kueh. Coming from Penang, hailed as a food paradise, I had not heard of this kueh. Seemingly, it's a popular breakfast item in the southern states of Malacca and Johor and the island republic of Singapore. My friend YP needs to make a typical Singaporean food item to be served at her sons' school's international day. Yvonne came to the rescue and gave YP a lesson in Chwee Kueh. Yvonne is the expert in this area as she comes from a family of 'Asian delicacies' makers. Curious, I decided to find out more about this 'unknown' kueh.

Chwee kueh involves making a mixture of rice and corn flours, water, salt and oil and then cooking it till it thickens, then poured into small moulds and steamed till done. Preserved radish is chopped finely and fried in plenty of oil till it turns crispy and fragrant, adding garlic and toasted sesame seeds to the mix. After the dough has cooled, it's scooped out and served with the preserved radish mix on top, and if you like it spicy, with a side of chilli paste.

Believe me, it sounds easy but it isn't. As with all kueh, the ingredients are simple, but the technique is what sets one kueh maker apart from the rest. Mastering the skill to make a kueh of the perfect texture takes practice, and can't be learnt just by reading a recipe. Traditional recipes such as kueh came from a generation of people who would make everything literally from scratch, with love and attention to detail. They would not rush, and would lovingly stir a pot, coaxing the contents to reach perfection. Having said that, Yvonne's recipe yielded Chwee Kueh that was soft, firm and packed with the zing of the radish. She is, after all, the expert...

It's nice to meet you, Chwee Kueh. I'm sure we'll be meeting again.....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Problem - Dome Cupcakes

I made my entry for this month's Sweet & Simple Bakes challenge - Vanilla Cupcakes. So very excited about posting it but have to be a little more patient till posting date on May 1st. (Only a week away....) In making the cupcakes, I encountered a 'phenomenon'. I have a small oven so had to bake the goodies in 2 batches. The first batch yielded flat topped cupcakes - great. But the second batch yielded dome-topped cupcakes. Same batter, same temperature, same tins. Only difference was obviously, the second batch had to sit a while. When making cupcakes, I've almost always had slightly dome-tops, and always thought I had over-filled each case and always reminded myself to put in less batter (notice I said 'always' but guess I keep forgetting!)

So, what am I doing wrong here? Anyone had the same experience and can share their expertise? Anyone.... help....?
What happened? First batch on the left, second batch on the right.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Origami Birds for Earth Day

It's Earth Day, but I think we should wake up everyday thinking of how we can protect the environment in our own little way. I'm no technical genius on how to harness natural power, nor can explore the heights and depths of the world to chart its deterioration. No, I try to do what I can from my own little kitchen. I'm sure you do to.

To celebrate Earth Day, I made these little origami birds out of newspaper for Etienne to take to school. One for each classmate and for his teachers. Nothing spectacular, but a simple message which 8-9 year olds can relate to. Repurposing old newspaper into crafts.

Happy Earth Day! Reduce, reuse,recycle,repurpose.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sesame Noodles

A tangled mess of sweet, sour, savoury and nutty

'Sesame Noodles - a sure hit with kids' was what I read in a magazine years ago. I don't remember the exact recipe as I tried it once, and never again. It was a peanut butter and sesame seed sauce which was tossed with spaghetti. Eh? I should have stopped when 'peanut butter' and 'spaghetti' were said in one breath. So I was curious when I saw this recipe on Tastespotting. Sweet Amandine shared this recipe. One look at it and I knew it would be winner. It has vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and sugar, which invoked a feeling of flavours bursting in my mouth. It was good.... The only problem the kids had was biting into bits of garlic - not their favourite. I could overcome this problem by mincing it even finer and thus will cook faster and eleviating some of the 'sting'.

Again, extra points from me for a fuss free recipe and ingredients readily available in your pantry.

Sesame Noodles

Garlic 6 cloves, minced
Sugar 3 tbsp
Rice vinegar 6 tbps
Soy sauce 6 tbsp
Sesame oil 2 tbsp
Sesame seeds 3 tbsp, toasted
Spring onions 1/2 cup, chopped
Spaghetti 500g

Place the first five ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Pour the sauce over the boiled and drained pasta, add the sesame seeds and chopped scallions, and mix thoroughly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chocolate Fudge Easter Cupcakes

Easter is not a big celebration for us. It's pretty much another day. But I couldn't just let it pass without even the smallest chocolate treat! So I baked these absolutely yummy Chocolate Fudge Easter Cakes that I found at the The Goddess's Kitchen. It's a simple recipe, where all the cake ingredients are mixed in one go, and you can decorate the cupcakes anyway you like. I believe in the original recipe the cupcakes were made smaller, but I had Easter design paper liners, which were regular size, so I used them instead. With this size, I baked them for 25 minutes. I don't have golden caster sugar, so used regular caster sugar, and reduced the amount a little. I used hundreds and thousands to sprinkle and topped them with a small chocolate egg, which I got at the bi-monthly Farmer's Market.

You can find the original recipe here.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Soft butter 140g
Caster sugar 130g
Eggs 3 medium
Self raising flour 100g
Cocoa 25g sifted

For the frosting:
Baking chocolate 85g, broken
Soft butter 85g
Icing sugar 130g, sifted
Hundred and thousands
Chocolate Eggs

Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5 and line a muffin pan with paper liners. Tip all the ingredients for the cake into a mixing bowl and beat for 2 mins with an electric hand-whisk until smooth. Divide between the cases so they are two-thirds filled, then bake for 12-25 mins until risen, depending on size. Cool on a wire rack.
For the frosting, microwave the chocolate on high for 1 min. Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the melted chocolate. Spread on the cakes and decorate.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Strawberry Jam

Strawberries destined for the jam jar

All the ingredients neeeded for yummy Strawberry Jam

I am on a roll after the success of my Homemade Peanut Butter. Since the jam jar is almost empty, I decided to make Strawberry Jam. A couple of reasons - I've always wanted to try making jam but never got down to it; and strawberry season is almost over in Suzhou, so I'd better do it now or wait till the end of the year.

Again, it was so easy, it's mind boggling. Why did I not try this before? This is where I stop to thank all the foodies out there who share their recipes and inspire a mere mortal like me. So, Thank You, Xie Xie, Terima Kasih!

The jam was wonderful, and the perfect partner for the Peanut Butter. In future I may cut down on the sugar just a bit, as the strawberries were already on the sweet side.

You can find the original recipe here, along with other tips.

Fresh strawberries 500g, washed and hulled. Cut the big ones into smaller pieces
Sugar 350g
Lemon 1/2 juiced and zested
Sterilised jam jar

Place all the ingredients in a pot. Heat over low heat till the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up to medium high and boil the mixture rapidly for 15 minutes. Stir occassionally to prevent burning. Skim off scum. Do the wrinkle test. Drop a ball of jam onto a cold plate. Push against it with your finger. If it wrinkles, this means the jam is ready. If not, boil for another 5 - 10 minutes and test again. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes and then fill into the sterilised jam jars.

I like my jam a little runny, so in future I will look for the 'soft wrinkle' stage. Remember that the jam will thicken as it cools, so don't judge by what it looks like while still cooking in the pot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Homemade Peanut Butter

Rich, homemade PB

Would you like some bread to go with that?

Surfing the net, I've discovered that peanut butter is one of the easiest things to make at home. All dressed up at the supermarket, I had the impression that it was laborious. True, homemade peanut butter doesn't quite taste like the store bought ones, but in my opinion, it tastes even better. It's just all peanut, which makes it very rich. Imagine making Peanut Butter Cookies with this - heavenly! The cost? Just a fraction of what I pay at the supermarket, minus the additives and preservatives. China grows peanuts, and so it's pretty cheap and readily available here.

I came up with this recipe based on a few I'd seen in magazines, on the net, and read articles about. In the process of making, I improvised. I dare not say it's the best formulae yet, but not bad for a first try.

Raw peanuts 1 cup, roasted in a dry pan and skinned
Vegetable oil 1 -2 tbsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Honey 2 tbsp

Blend the peanuts coarsely. Add 1 tbsp oil and continue blending. If mixture seems too dry, gradually add more oil. Add the salt and honey and blend till you get the consistency you desire. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Butter Cookies

Melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies - doesn't look fantastic but tastes great.

"Mom, spell my name!!"

I had half an afternoon to spare, and thought I'd fill up the cookie container. The Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip cookies are all but gone, and the sweet tooth in us all was pretty much craving for something satisfyingly...sweet! I scanned the cookbooks and found this simple Butter Cookie recipe. Cream the sugar and butter, plonk in the dry ingredients and pipe them out. Easy peasy, and they should be ready before the dinner rush. All was smooth running till I had to pipe it out. While the dough was soft, it wasn't soft enough. We had a wrestling match - the piping bag and I. I ripped 4 bags in total. (Well, the bags were thin to begin with). There were moments when it piped out smoothly and then hit a snag again. I suspect it's due to the unusually cold spring we've been having. 'Room temperature' has been rather low, and this kept the butter mixture harder. I was going to give up on it as it took me longer than I had wanted.

After I had cleaned up, and nursed my sore hand, I sat down to see if my efforts were worth it. And it was! We were rewarded with short, melt-in-your-mouth cookies, bursting with the flavour of butter. I recommend getting the best butter you can afford. I will certainly make this again, but will do one of two things - either wait for warmer weather or get myself a cookie press. (I think you know which one I'll choose *grin*). Hmm... maybe a larger nozzle might work too?

All purpose flour 250g
Corn Starch 3 tbsp
Butter 250g, diced
Icing Sugar 100g
Vanilla Essence 1 tsp

Sift flour and corn starch together. Cream butter and icing sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla essence. Add flours and mix till well blended. Pipe out on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated 175C oven for 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Steamed Egg

Eggs - a staple in all households. What would we do without the humble egg? Stir it, whip it, beat it, bake it, fry it, steam it. A dish in minutes. Which brings me to last night's dinner. I had a 'neither here nor there' situation. I needed another dish and a light one would be just right. Enter - the egg.

I love Chawan Mushi - the very soft, steamed egg custard served at Japanese Restaurants. It's silky smooth with lots of flavour. At home, try this version when you need that little something extra. I made this with chicken, but you can substitute with prawns, and even add slices of mushrooms. I've heard from friends that they make it with chicken stock instead of water and seasoning.

Chicken meat a few slivers for each cup
Eggs 3 large, beaten
Water 1 1/2 cups
Salt 3/4 tsp or to taste
Sugar 1/4 tsp or to taste
White pepper 1/4 tsp or to taste
Chopped spring onions 2 tbsp

Bring a steamer to a rapid boil. Mix eggs with water and seasoning. Place a few slivers of chicken at the base of a cup or small bowls. Divide the egg mixture between cups. Top with spring onions. Place cups in steamer and steam till just set, about 5-8 minutes. Makes 5 servings.

Note : beat the egg gently to avoid froth. Be sure to place cups in the steamer when it's already at a rapid boil. Avoid over steaming (as I did yesterday - forgot to watch the time) as the surface can become pock-marked. The egg/water proportion is important. If you want a firmer custard, you can reduce the water slightly. Avoid black pepper as they leave specks (did that yesterday too!).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sweet & Simple Bakes' Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Cookies - hearty and completely addictive

OK, so I'm excited about this one. Not because it's a Chocolate Chip cookie (which is a favourite in our house) but because it's for my very first virtual bake party! Sweet & Simple Bakes is a blog set up by two ladies who are passionate about baking and wish to promote the art. Rosie and Maria present a recipe each month and everyone is invited to bake along. I'll not spoil the fun here, so click on the links to find out more.

My official flour 'stir-it-up' guy

The cookie itself was very, very good. I followed the recommended recipe almost to the T. Just full of oatmeal, which makes it hearty. I substituted a small handful of choc chips for raisins, and that brought just the right balance of sweet/fruity. I expected it to spread more while baking, and so increased the baking time to accommodate the mass. This resulted in a harder cookie than I would have liked, and will remember to shorten the baking time next time. This will definitely be a common feature in our house.

Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Butter 110g (4oz), softened
Caster sugar 110g (4oz)
Soft brown sugar 110g (4oz)
Egg 1
Water 2 tbsp
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
Porridge oats (rolled oats) 250g (9oz)
Self-raising flour 110g (4oz)
Salt 1 level tsp
Chocolate chips, raisins or chopped nuts 110g (4oz)

Preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF), Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg, water and vanilla extract while still beating. Reduce the speed and gently mix in the oats, flour, salt and raisins to form a dough. Using your hands, roll the dough into walnut sized balls and place slightly apart on two baking trays. Bake in the oven for 12-25 minutes or until light golden brown but still slightly soft in the centre. Allow to cool on the trays for a minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Corn Loaf

I've been experimenting with a lot of breads, sometimes plain, sometimes with nuts, seeds or wheat germ. I've been meaning to try this Corn Loaf recipe again. I tried this recipe many years ago, and not knowing what corn meal really was, I used corn grits (roughly ground dried corn). The teeth took a beating! A friend clarified (thanks Mary) that corn meal is also known as corn flour - not to be confused with corn starch that is used to thicken sauces. I searched in Auchan, and lo and behold, the golden gleam of corn flour in the rice and seeds section! The result - a sweet, golden loaf with wonderful texture.

Egg, 1, combined with enough water to make up 1 cup
Milk 1/2 cup
Oil 1/4 cup
Sugar 1/3 cup
Salt 2 tsp
Bread flour 4 cups
Corn meal 2/3 cup
Dry yeast 2 tsp

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a breadmaker and set it to 'Dough'. Remove when the programme is complete. Punch it down, shape it and set it in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or double in bulk. Bake in 185C oven for 30 minutes. Cover with aluminium foil if the top browns too quickly.

Steamed Chicken with Salt Fish

I was a busy bee yesterday. Felt like quite the domestic goddess. In addition to the usual bread, which I seem to be baking every 2-3 days, I made 'Mua Chi' or 'Ma Zi' in Mandarin, and tried a new dish for dinner. Yes, I was quite the busy cook. The Mua Chi was good, but not quite up to my expectation. I shall tweak that and post another time. The bread turned out wonderfully and the dinner dish was yummy.

Dinner dish was Steamed Chicken with Salt Fish. I adapted the recipe from At Home with Amy Beh that my Mom and brother gave me for Christmas. It received the thumbs up from my guys, and bonus points from me for a fuss-free recipe.

Here's what I did...

Chicken 1/2, chopped
Salt & pepper
Sugar 1 tsp
Sesame oil 1 tbsp
Chinese cooking wine 1 tbsp
Ginger 3 cm piece, sliced
Salt fish 50g, choose the meaty type

Marinate the chicken pieces with salt & pepper, sugar, sesame oil and cooking wine for at least 2 hours (Amy suggests marinating a few hours or overnight). Fry the salt fish till crispy. Set aside. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok and stir fry the ginger till fragrant but not brown. Add the chicken. Stir fry for 3 minutes. Transfer into a steaming dish, and top with salt fish pieces. Steam over rapid boiling water for 20-25 minutes or till chicken is cooked through. Serve hot with rice.
Note : do not add too much salt as the salt fish will lend much of its flavour into this dish.