Monday, 30 March 2009

Wholesome Bites

A couple of weekends ago I was at of my favourite shopping places, I spotted a set of lovely animal-shaped cookie cutters. It was love-at-first-sight. Thank goodness the price is very reasonable and I didn't feel guilty having to add them to my collection of cookie cutters.

If you happen to read my previous post on Chocolate Chips drop Cookies, you would have known the reason why the list under 'My Cookie Jar' category at the side bar will be getting longer and longer ;) Yet, I find it a challenging task to look for cookie recipes that would promise snacks that are wholesome, nutritious and at the same time taste as delicious as they look. Fortunately, I have cultivated a good habit of keeping recipes...anything that looks good, low fat and requires less sugar will get to find a place either in my recipe folders or my notebooks. I know, I will get to try out the recipes some day.

I managed to dig out this Wholemeal Cookies recipe from my stack of recipes and after a quick run through of the instructions, I though it would be very suitable to use my newly acquired set of cutters for these Rolled cookies.

For rolled cookies, the cookie dough MUST have the right consistency. If the dough is too dry, it will crack and crumble easily...if it is too wet, the dough will be too sticky, making it really difficult to roll and cut out the cookies, and it will spread too much during baking. It was only after adding in the flour mixture that I realised this recipe produced very very wet and sticky dough. I was quite certain that I had measured the ingredients correctly and followed the steps very closely. I followed the instructions to gather the mixture to form a dough, placed it in a plastic bag and left it to chill in the fridge. While the dough was getting firmed up, I took the time to look for ways to overcome the problems that I was very sure I gonna faced.

I was lucky to be able to find all the solutions from one of my cookie bibles. To prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin, it is best to roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper or clear plastic sheets (cut outs from plastic bags). This is something I have been practising for quite sometime already especially when making pastries for tarts. The next tip is something new though. After rolling, slide the dough (do not remove the parchment papers or plastic sheets) onto a baking tray and leave it to chill in the fridge again for another 15 ~ 30 mins or so. When the dough is firm enough, it will be much easier to stamp out the cookies.

I have also learned that there is one extra step after stamping out the cookies, ie to chill the cut out doughs again for at least 30 mins before baking. This helps to retain their shape and prevent the cookies from spreading too much especially if it is a wet dough.

Well, I followed the above tips and it took me a lot more time than I had expected. I find it quite troublesome having to chill the dough in between rolling and cutting out. Even after chilling, the dough started to soften and got sticky again before I could finish stamping out one tray. It was a nightmare trying to transfer the soft and fragile cut-out dough to the baking tray. The bigger cutters gave me more headache than the the smaller one. Nevertheless, it was a good learning experience, and having gone through the hassles of making them, the finished cookies didn't disappoint me. They were so GOOD, very crispy and crunchy! I really like the nutty texture thanks to the wholemeal flour. These cookies are certainly worth the extra efforts! My younger boy loves this healthy snack to bits (literally!), he would pick up every single cookie crumbs from the table and put it into his mouth. The cookies were so well received that they were all gone within 3 days. I will certainly be making these wholesome bites again and again...but the next time, I would probably just roll them into small discs instead of sweating it out with the cookie cutters ;)

Wholemeal Cookies


100g butter, softened at room temperature
80g caster sugar
1 egg (about 60g with shell), lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
150g wholemeal flour

  1. Preheat oven to 180degC. Line baking trays with parchment paper.
  2. With a wooden spoon or electric mixer, cream butter and caster sugar in a mixing bowl until the mixture turns pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg gradually. Mix well after each addition. Add in vanilla extract, mix well.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder over the mixture, add the wholemeal flour. Fold in with a spatula. Mix and gather to form a soft dough. Lightly knead the dough for a few seconds until smooth. (Do not overwork the dough or the butter will start to melt and the gluten will develop giving the cookies a tough texture.)
  5. Shape the dough into a ball then flatten slightly into a round disc. (This will make it easier to roll out.) Wrap in cling wrap or a place it in a plastic bag (to prevent the dough from drying out) and leave in the fridge for about 30 mins or until firm. (If the dough is left in the fridge for too long, it will harden, if this happens, leave it in room temperature for a few mins until it is soft enough to roll out.)
  6. Between two sheets of plastic sheets or parchment paper, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 5mm. After rolling, leave the plastic sheets/parchment paper in place and slide the roll out dough into a baking tray and leave in the fridge for about 10-15mins or until firm. (As this dough is rather sticky even after rolling out, by chilling the dough it will be easier to stamp out the cookies.)
  7. Dip cookie cutters into some flour and stamp out cookies. Transfer cut-out cookies to the prepared baking trays, leave a space of about 1" in between each one. Gather up the scrape and re-roll to make more cookies (repeat step 6 if necessary). Chill the cut-out cookies for at least 30 mins before baking. (This helps to retain their shape.)
  8. Bake for about 15-20 mins until the cookies turn pale golden brown. Rotate the baking tray halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning.
  9. Remove the cookies from the oven and leave on the baking tray for 2 ~ 3mins (to allow the cookies to firm up a little) before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Recipe source: 好想为你亲手做出美味的甜点! 检见崎聡美著

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Weekday Lunch Express - Hotdog Bento

Once in a while, when my kids got really tired of the usual (equals boring!) weekday lunch meals I prepare for them, I will jazz up a simple hotdog and make it into a kiddy bento lunch.

The good thing about making a hotdog meal is, I can get the kids to get involved. The younger one will butter the buns and arrange the cheese slices, while my older boy helps to pan fry the cheese sausages.

We usually top the sausages with ketchup or chili sauce and some mayonnaise. This time round we sprinkled it with some leftover bacon bits. As for the sides, it would be anything that we can find in the fridge. Usually it will be just fruits or I'll make some simple salad to go with it. The kids get to decide on the 'treats' to go into the bento...either jelly, yoghurt, sour bears gummy candies or even cookies. A bottle of vitagen or a glass of ribena will complete the meal.

As for my share, I like to top the hotdog with my favourite hot & spicy salsa sauce. This must be one of the easiest and delicious meal, yet, I won't make it an everyday food as it is best to restrict the amount of processed food that goes into our diet.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mini Melon-pans

These are not ice creams...

and they are not muffins either.

They are actually mini melon pans...sweet bread buns covered with a layer of crispy pastry dough. Besides the plain buns, there are also green tea and chocolate ones. The original recipe calls for baking 3 mini buns in a special mould. Since I don't have such moulds, I baked them separately in my muffin cups (it seems like I take forever to finish using up all my muffin liners!). The finished buns looked almost like muffins or scoops of ice creams :)

I could have added too much flour to the pastry dough, and as a result, the dough was quite dry and crumbled easily while I try to wrap it over the bread dough. Upon baking, the pastry crust was a bit too hard :(

Fortunately, the texture of the bread was fine, it was soft and tasted good on it's own. I like the green tea version best, and as usual, my kids prefer the chocolate ones.

(makes 12 mini buns)

Dough Ingredients:
160g bread flour
30g cake flour
25g caster sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
10g milk powder
1 egg yolk
100ml water
15g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp green tea powder

Pastry Ingredients:
45g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
40g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
10g milk powder
70g cake flour

1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp green tea powder

  1. Prepare Bread Dough - Place water, egg yolk, salt, sugar, bread flour, cake flour, milk powder and yeast in the pan of the bread machine (according to the sequence as stated in the instruction manual of your bread machine). Select the Dough function of the bread machine and press start. After about 8mins of kneading (the ingredients should form a smooth dough by now), add in the 15g of butter. Let the machine continue to knead the dough. After the kneading cycle has stopped (20mins), Stop and Restart the machine. Continue to let the machine knead for another 10mins.
  2. Stop the machine and remove dough from the bread pan. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions (about 120g each). Take one portion of the dough and knead in cocoa powder, until the cocoa powder is fully incorporated into the dough. Repeat the same for the other dough with green tea powder. Leave the third dough plain. Shape each dough into a smooth round and place in separate mixing bowls, cover with cling wrap and let them rise till double in volume about 50 ~ 90mins.
  3. Prepare Pastry Dough - With an electric mixer or a manual whisk, cream butter & icing sugar till pale and fluffy. Add in egg yolk gradually and beat well. Add in milk powder and cake flour. Fold with a spatula and gather the mixture to form a dough. Divide the pastry into 3 equal portions. Knead in cocoa powder, green tea powder separately into two of the portions, leave the 3rd portion plain. Divide each pastry dough into 4 smaller portions. You should have 12 doughs in total. Cover with cling wrap and leave it aside for 10 mins.
  4. When ready, remove bread doughs and give each dough a few light kneading on a lightly floured work surface. Press out the trapped air as your knead. Divide each dough further into 4 smaller portions (about 30g each) and shape into balls.
  5. Flatten each pastry dough into a round disc. Wrap each bread dough with it's corresponding pastry dough. Wrap the pastry dough over about 2/3 of the bread dough, leaving the bottom 1/3 unwrapped.
  6. Place doughs in paper muffin cups, cover loosely with a damp cloth or cling wrap and let dough proof for 25 - 30mins or till the dough reaches almost to the rim of the paper cup.
  7. Bake at preheated oven at 190 degC for about 18 mins. Rotate the buns halfway into baking to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack
Recipe adapted from 孟老师的100道面包

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Kimchi Chigae

Thanks to the numerous Korean dramas that we have been watching, I have been wanting to learn how to cook Korean dishes like dukboki (spicy rice cake) (this dish is featured in almost every single K-drama!), bibimbab and jajangmyun (black bean paste noodles). My elder son is especially keen to tuck into a bowl of jajangmyun. Just watching the characters in those K-dramas slurping away a bowl of thick, black, noodles would make him hungry!

As I can't even cook a proper Chinese dish, the only Korean dish I have tried to replicate at home was Kimchi Bokkumbap (kimchi fried rice). Since then, I only managed to venture a little 'further' by cooking a pack of Korean instant noodles with kimchi. I also attempted to make Korean pancakes with a pack of premix...but it ended up looking like seafood prata ;')

It was by chance that I came across this particular issue of a local magazine. There was this section on Korean food. I looked through the several recipes that were featured, and I was happy to discover that this Kimchi Chigae (or Jjigae) dish seems quite straight forward and easy for me to handle. I almost wanted to make this kimchi stew right away once I bought a pack of kimchi. (For local readers, I get freshly made kimchi from this Korean food stall/restaurant at Wisma Atria's Food Republic). Fortunately, I did a little search on this Korean dish and I realised that it will be better to cook it with older kimchi. So I waited for over a week (I couldn't wait any longer!), before I attempted on this dish.

I was very satisfied after I finished cooking this pot of kimchi stew. It looked so appetising and tasted good! I adapted the recipe slightly as the original one doesn't include gochujang or Korean hot pepper paste. Since I have a tube of pepper paste given to me by my friend, I added a tablespoon to the stew. Most kimchi chigae recipes will also require the addition of gochugaru or Korean hot pepper flakes. However, since I didn't have that on hand, I omitted it.

Although it was my maiden attempt, this stew turned out to be very delicious and full of flavours. It tasted much better than the one I had tried at a foodcourt stall which was way too sour for my liking. Even though my kids found the soup a little too spicy, they finished up all the ingredients in the stew. So, before I attempt on other Korean dishes, this is going to be a regular meal on our dinning table!

(serves 3 to 4)

200g thinly sliced pork belly
400g kimchi, drained, cut into smaller pieces, reserve liquid
1 tablespoon oil
3 to 4 cups stock (beef or chicken, use canned)
1 tablespoon Korean chili paste (gochujang)
1 tablespoon Korean pepper powder/flakes (gochugaru)
300g tofu, cubed
a handful (or more) of enoki mushrooms, ends sliced off
two spring onions, cut into thin strips
some spring onions to use as garnish

  1. Remove the skin on the pork belly ( I got the friendly butcher to do it for me!) and cut into thin slices.
  2. Cut kimch into smaller pieces (if necessary), drain and reserve liquid.
  3. Heat oil in a wok/a large skillet/frying pan, over medium heat.
  4. When hot, stir fry pork for 1 min.
  5. Add drained kimchi. Mix well for 2~3mins or till fragrant. (If your frying pan is not deep enough, you can transfer the mixture to a pot before proceeding with the following steps.)
  6. Stir in kimchi liquid, stock (I used canned chicken stock and add water to make up to 3 ~ 4 cups as stated in the original recipe, some recipes only call for water), chili paste, chili powder. Add salt to taste (optional).
  7. Bring to a vigorous boil. Add tofu, enoki mushrooms and spring onions.
  8. Bring back to a boil and serve hot with rice. (Easy isn't it?!)

Friday, 13 March 2009

Drop Cookies

It's becoming apparent that my elder son is displaying some signs that he is undergoing a growth spurt lately. I feel that he has grown so much taller and the most obvious tell-tale signs are, he has increased his meal portions, and during the late afternoons, he will start looking around in the kitchen for food.

I bake cookies only occasionally as I find them far too fattening. Since my boy has been asking for Chipsmore, Tim Tam and Oreos more frequently than usual, I've decided that it's time that I start making homemade cookies as a routine. At least I know what goes into the cookies I made, than to have him snack on commercial biscuits which are usually very high in fat and sugar content.

So, here's the first batch of cookies I tried...they are none other than the familiar Chocolate Chip Cookies, originally called Toll House cookies. These must be one of the simplest form of cookies, as what all baking books will tell you, they are also know as Drop cookies. They are so called as the cookie dough is so soft that it drops off the spoon and onto the baking sheet. Drop cookies are mainly made by the Creaming method...where you beat butter and sugar till the mixture turn pale and fluffy. Eggs are then added in followed by flour and any other flavourings such as chocolate chips, nuts or raisins. It's pretty simple and straight forward. However, there are still a couple of things to look out for...besides bringing the butter to room temperature (take it out from the fridge and leave it at the counter for about 30mins); the eggs have to be at room temperature too. The butter mixture tends to curdle when eggs are added, especially if they are not brought to room temperature. To prevent curdling, it is always a good practice to add the eggs a little at a time (I do it a teaspoon at a time, I have a little helper who is always eager to give a helping hand whenever he sees me busy with butter, flour and eggs), and beat well with each addition. If the mixture does curdles, just add in 1 tablespoon of the flour before adding more eggs. To make sure the cookies do not spread too much, you can always chill the dough in the fridge before baking. I didn't have problem with these cookies though.

Another good thing about making these drop cookies is that you don't even need an electric mixer. A wooden spoon can complete the task, although it does require some arm power when you first beat the butter and sugar together. Let the machine do the job if you don't want to develop huge biceps ;)

As usual I seek my kid's opinion on what kind of cookies he would prefer, and without thinking, he requested for chocolate chips cookies, and he likes them to be crunchy, no chewy cookies for him. I went through 3 cookie bibles and almost gave up before I saw this basic chocolate chip cookies from this book The Cookie and Biscuit Bible. It is so basic that the recipe is found under the introductory pages instead of the rest of the chapters, I'm so glad that I didn't let it slipped away.

These cookies taste fabulous. They are the best chocolate chip cookies I have made. I'll have to attribute the rich flavour to the 3 main ingredients I have used: SCS pure creamery butter (those that come in a silver wrapper) which has got a very nice buttery flavour and reasonably priced; semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips which are really rich and creamy; and that one teaspoon of Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla extract from Nielsen-Massey works wonder. It's amazing how good quality ingredients can make such a great difference to an otherwise ordinary batch of cookies. These cookies have also the right crunch, unlike store bough cookies which I find way too crunchy and dry.

Having raved about how good these cookies are, I still find it difficult to convince myself that homemade cookies can be in any way a much healthier choice. Till I can find a recipe that has been proven to yield both delicious and yet healthy cookies, it remains as a challenge, and requires some careful balancing act (I can't help for the pun!) to choose the right snacks for my growing up kid.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(makes about 24 cookies)

115g butter, softened
115g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
175g plain flour
175g plain or semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 180degC. Line baking trays with parchment paper.
  2. With a wooden spoon or electric mixer, cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until the mixture turns pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg gradually. Mix well after each addition. Add in vanilla extract, mix well.
  4. Sift the flour over the mixture, fold in with wooden spoon or a spatula. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Drop tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough onto the prepared baking tray. Leave some space between the cookies to allow for spreading. Flatten each cookie dough slightly with the back of a fork, keeping the shape as even as possible.
  6. Bake for 10 mins or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
* Chocolate - substitute 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder for the same amount of flour.

* Replace chocolate chips with equal quantity of whole or coarsely chopped nuts such as macadamia nuts or hazelnuts; or use combination of both chocolate chips and nuts - 75g of each.

Recipe source: The Cookie and Biscuit Bible

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Bacon & Cheese Bread

I have been back to my usual bread-making routine for quite some time, you don't get to see much of my homemade bread here as I have trouble trying to keeping up with my blog posting. I definitely bake faster than I could blog!

For the past week, I have made mini-polo buns, a wholemeal raisin loaf and the latest is this Bacon & Cheese loaf.

As usual, I used my bread machine to do the was almost like making a plain sandwich loaf, except for one little extra step of pan-frying some bacon. It could be due to the 'cold' flour (I stored it in the fridge) or the temperature of the water, this dough took quite a long time to rise, especially during the 2nd was almost 2 hours later before I could pop it into the oven. Other than a slightly 'shorter' loaf than usual, the end result was very satisfactory.

I went weak the moment I unmolded this loaf and removed the parchment paper. It was baked to a gorgeous golden brown all over...the aroma from the loaf freshly out of the oven was simply irresistible!

It was a joy eating a slice of this bread...the bacon bits and mild peppery taste from freshly grounded black pepper was a match in heaven...not forgetting the savory melted cheese on the crust. The bread kept well too...which I have stored in a Lock & Lock bread container. Since homemade bread tends to 'age' faster, keeping them in air-tight container is the best solution. The bread was still soft on the 3rd day and I toasted the last slice, which I saved just to test the texture...and it tasted just as good.

Bacon & Cheese Bread


3 slices of bacon; finely chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper

250g bread flour
15g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
150ml water, lukewarm
20g unsalted butter

40g grated mozzarella cheese
1/8 tsp black pepper
some dried parsley

  1. Pan-fry finely chopped bacon over low heat, until brown and crisp. Drain off any excess oil and mix in the black pepper. Set aside to cool.
  2. Place all ingredients B, except the butter, in the pan of the bread machine (according to the sequence as stated in the instruction manual of your bread machine). Select the Dough function of the bread machine and press start. After about 8mins of kneading (the ingredients should form a smooth dough by now), add in the 20g of butter. Let the machine continue to knead the dough. After the kneading cycle has stopped (20mins), Stop and Restart the machine. Continue to let the machine knead for another 10mins.
  3. Add in the bacon and black pepper mixture and let the machine run for another 1~2 mins until the bacon mixture is incorporated into the dough.
  4. Stop the machine and remove dough from the bread pan. Shape the dough into a smooth round and place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, cover bowl with cling wrap and let dough rise till double in volume for about 80 ~ 90 mins.
  5. Remove dough and give a few light kneading on a lightly floured work surface. Press out the trapped air as your knead. Shape into a round dough and cover with cling wrap, let the dough rest for 15mins.
  6. Flatten and roll out the dough into a rectangular shape (20cm by 15cm). Roll up swiss roll style and pinch the seam in place. Place dough in a loaf pan (size, 7.5"x4"x4", lined with parchment paper, both bottom and sides), seam-side down. Cover with cling wrap and let dough proof for 50~60mins or until the dough reaches about 90% of the height of the pan.
  7. Sprinkle top with grated cheese, black pepper and some dried parsley.
  8. Bake at preheated oven at 190 degC for about 30mins until the bread is golden brown all over. Cover the top with a sheet of aluminum foil if the surface browns too quickly.
  9. Remove from oven and unmold immediately. Let cool completely before slicing.
  10. Recipe adapted from 孟老师的100道面包

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Peach & Strawberry Yoghurt

I can't help but to put this post up as soon as I downloaded my photos. I just can't wait to share this simple dessert with you.

I 'made' these Peach & Strawberry Yoghurt parfaits for our after-dinner dessert the other evening. It is so quick and easy to put this delicious and healthy dessert together. You will only need to layer a glass with some sliced canned peaches, some plain natural yoghurt, some fresh strawberries cut into chunks, another layer of yoghurt, some more peaches, cover with more yoghurt and finally top if off with strawberry (cut into halves).

I have been buying punnets after punnets of Korean strawberries lately...they are so fresh and sweet!

I have actually planned to use blueberries for this dessert, but the pack of blueberries I bought was soooooo sour. I'm so glad this peach and strawberries combination taste just as good! and who said dessert can't be healthy?!!