Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Baking Journal

1095 days
259 blog posts
210 recipes
58 cakes
53 breads
35 simple dishes
22 cookies
21 muffins and quickbreads
11 chiffons

I am two days behind my 3rd blog anniversary.

I spent the past two days putting together my favourite recipes and photos into a book. Yes, I created my own cookbook, sort of ;)

This book will remain in a digital form, as I will be adding in recipes every now and then, plus, it will be too expensive to get it printed!

To thank all of you who have been spending your time reading about my baking adventures, and for leaving encouraging comments and very kind words on this humble blog, I will like to share this collection of my past baking and cooking repertoire with you. I do hope you enjoy flipping through the pages :D

Happy 2010!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Beijing by Foot

It was love at first sight when I first set foot on Shicha Hai (什刹海) early autumn this year. I did the touristy thing...a rickshaw hutong tour. I didn't particular enjoy the ride as I prefer to take my time walking along the banks of the lakes. So, I made a promise to myself that I would revisit this scenic spot again, by foot.

Located in the north of central Beijing city, the Shicha Hai area is made up of 3 man-made lakes - Qian Hai (前海, Front Lake), Hou Hai (后海, Back Lake) and Xi Hai (西海, West Lake). During the imperial eras, these lakes were part of a system used to transport grain by barge from the Grand Canal to the Forbidden City. In recent years it has become famous for its nightlife as many popular restaurants, bars, and cafes now lined the shores of Hou Hai.

After a late lunch at the QuanJuDe (famous for it's Peking roast duck), we took a slow stroll from Qian Hai, before heading north to Hou Hai and back to our starting point at Qian Hai.

Picturesque Qian Hai (前海) in winter...I am no good with words, all I could say is, this place has transformed from a gorgeous young lady in autumn to an elegant ice beauty in winter. (这里的风景有如从一位娥娜多姿的少女演变成一位优雅的冰山美人, 个有个的美!)

Sugar blower at Qian Hai, blowing animal figurines with caramel sugar. It took him less than 2 minutes to blow a tiger and about 1 minute for a snake figurine. We were very impressed with this traditional handcraft. I first saw this art from a travel documentary, it is never the same when you see it with your own eyes. I bought two Chinese zodiac signs from this sugar blower, later that day I noticed others are selling at half the price I paid.

Someone has left a fresh stalk of rose on the frozen lake...I wonder why?

Seeing double? The reflection on the lake was more vivid than the real scenery.

Hou Hai in the afternoon...

endless row of willow trees along the shore...

My kids were very amused when they saw this half-naked man jogging along Hou Hai.

At this recreational area, residences are either kicking colourful shuttlecocks...or

having a friendly game of table tennis...

and the few brave ones, taking a dip in the icy lake...

Many small booths and cafes offer yoghurt served in traditional ceramic bottles...and yes, with a straw.

This signboard at a tiny shop says "Number One Smelly in the World"...

people are queuing up its stinky or smelly tofu...

deep fried fermented tofu, which didn't taste as smelly as I had expected.

It was only four in the afternoon but the sun was calling it a day.

We were greeted with a beautiful sun set. Before the night fell, we took refuge at a nearby Starbucks from the cold, before heading out for more street food at the night markets at Wangfujing. It was a leisurely 2 hours walk along the lakeside, and I have to declare that it was the best walk we took in Beijing.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Barrel of Wishes

It's the time of the year again...

To my child, being born at the end of the year has never been a good thing to him. He has to wait, and wait and wait for his is an agony for him to watch the rest of his classmates celebrate their birthdays one after another.

To reward him for his patience, I wanted to bake a cake that would really make him feel that it is worth the long wait. I googled with the key words "cake", "chocolates", "candies"and "birthday". We were blown away by this particular image of a cake that is decorated with lots of M&Ms, and covered with sticks of Kit Kats! I was then left with the task of replicating this Candy Barrel cake.

Without any basic baking tools, I could only bake a cake out of a box. A cake mix would be good, but I read the instructions on the box, I would need to use an electric whisk or at least a manual one. I have none of these with me. So I bought a pack of Betty Crockers brownies mix...Supreme Hershey Walnuts Fudge Brownies instead, since all I need is just a spoon.

In order to get a more cake like texture, I followed the instruction, to use 3 eggs instead of 2. The end result was not too bad, it was quite close to a dark, dense chocolate cake.

This is an excellent cake for someone like me, who can't frost or pipe a cake properly. The candies covered up whatever flaws that I made along the way ^_^"

I baked the brownies in a big pan (it's actually a roasting pan!) and cut out two 5" rounds (yes, it is a very small cake), stacked them on top of one another, sandwiched with a layer of chocolate ganache. I then covered the entire surface with the remaining ganache and 'glued' the kit kat all around the sides. I didn't cover the top with heaps of candies as I think it would be just too much (I used 3 small packs). Instead, I filled up the barrel with lots of wishes for my little one.

Here's a tip: if I were to make this again, I would bake a tall sponge cake, so that it would come up almost to the rim of the kit kat barrel. In that way, I won't need to use lots of candies to create the impression that it is holding tonnes of M&Ms ;)

With a ribbon, a tag (which I brought all the way from home) and a numeric candle (guess how much I got this from Carrefour here?? It costs only one yuan, which is equivalent to S$0.20!!!), I thought I have made the most awesome looking birthday cake, ever! and, this is so fool-proof!

The birthday boy was thrilled when he saw the cake, he gave me a warm hug and a sweet kiss ;)

The cake tastes as good as it looks...chocolaty, rich and dense, perfect for any chocolate and candies lovers.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Quick Fix Meals - Simple and yet Delicious

There are not many eating places within close proximity to this apartment that we are staying here in Beijing. Even though there are a couple of local fast food joints in the neighbourhood, we rather stay indoor than to walk in the cold just to get our daily meals settled. So I ended up having to prepare home cook meals every single weekday even though I'm suppose to be on vacation.

Since we would only be here for a few weeks, I could not bring myself to stock up too many ingredients. Hence, fixing 2 meals a day proofs to be quite a challenging task especially for someone who is not a good cook to start with.

With a rather empty pantry, I could only prepare very simple meals using minimal ingredients, seasonings and utensils. There is no wok in the kitchen, so I can't even cook fried rice as the frying pan that's available is too small and shallow for any serious stir frying!

Thank goodness my kids don't mind having porridge for their lunch here. Back at home, they would definitely prefer having their favourite takeaway food from the hawker centre than to eat the usual porridge I prepare for them. Only barely two weeks, they already miss their laksa, nasi lemak, chicken rice, fried carrot cake, char kway teow and roti prata!

This bowl of porridge is cooked with short-grain rice or what the locals refer to as "大米". Unlike long grains, it is quite sticky and I had to keep adding water to the pot of bubbling porridge. Yet, I still ended up with very thick and gooey porridge, very much like the baby food which I used to prepare for my kids when they were still toddlers.

To make a simple minced beef porridge more appealing visually, I threw in some frozen vegetables to an otherwise plain, mono-tone meal. There were not a single word of complains when I served the porridge with lots of pork floss as toppings ^_^'

It turns up to be a good thing that I have to work within some constraints, otherwise I would never discover that I could actually make roast chicken with just salt, pepper and some butter! These delicious drumsticks were seasoned with a generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper. When the oven was preheated to 200 degC, I rubbed some butter all over and under the skin before popping them into the oven. Less than half an hour, I was rewarded with a tray of roast chicken drumsticks...with crispy skin and tender juicy meat. The trick to getting crispy skin? Just make sure that after cleaning the chicken, pat dry with paper towels...make sure it is very very dry before seasoning with salt and pepper as you do not want to create any steam in the oven.

Now, I am all set and ready to roast a chicken for our Christmas eve dinner ;)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Winter in Beijing

Although it may appear that we are on a long vacation here in Beijing, the fact is, we spend our weekdays carrying out activities just the way we would normally do when we are back home.

It is only during the weekends that we would do some sightseeing and tour around the city. This is partly because the cold weather has been keeping us indoor most of the time, (and it 'sgetting colder each day!), and partly because we have been to most of the 'must-see' spots in this ancient city when we were here during the autumn.

We went to the YiHeYuan or the Summer Palace two weeks ago, since I didn't have the chance to include this place in our itinerary during our last visit.

It was a bright and sunny day...this picture may give you the wrong impression that it must be quite warm. No, we are not looking out of the window from our flat back home in Singapore. This is Beijing, and it was freezing COLD. The temperature was below freezing point. Coupled with the breeze, it made us wondered why on earth we would go to a SUMMER resort for the emperors, during a cold WINTER day?!

The entire KunMing Lake was all frozen.

We took a long walk along the KunMing Lake...crossed the 17-Arch bridge (we counted the number of arches, and yes, there are 17 of them) to the Nanhu Island. Now, you may wonder why they built 17 and not 18 arches along the span of the bridge? We know that the number 8 is a homonym for luck or wealth in Chinese, but, the 9th arch in the centre, which is also the largest, is considered the number most auspicious for emperors. So the emperor or the 'Son of Heaven' (天子) is symbolically positioned in the middle with good fortune (8 arches) on both sides!

One of the four magnificent "guarding angels" at the ends of the bridge...

There are 544 stone lions (and a mysterious Bob) on the railings of the 17 Arches Bridge. No, we didn't count them, I got the number from the web ;)

We tried having a little picnic by the bench at the tiny Nanhu Island...but it was another great mistake we made! It was so cold to sit down to rest. We had to keep moving in order to stay warm, and the sandwiches I made turn dry and hard the moment the toast bread met the dry cold wind. It was a good thing that we brought along some chocolates, it gave us the necessary energy and brought us some cheery smiles from the kids. Well, for someone living in a tropical island, I also found it very amusing to discover that our haversack became a cooler bag!! Our drinks were icy cold, as though we have just taken them out from the fridge.

Despite the ammonia smell, I resort to seeking refuge in the warm public toilet ^.^" I wasn't alone, I found out later that my kids made clever use of the hand-blower in the gents...they managed to trap some warm air inside their gloves.

We would have walked along the Nanhu Lake if the weather was warmer. In the end, we didn't brave the cold and had to shorten the trip and made our way back to the palace area.

A colourful sight of hawkers, hawking their wares...

Even though it was too cold for comfort, the scenery was simply awesome.

I didn't take that many pictures because every now and then I had to thaw my frozen fingers inside my pockets, but I promise, there will be more pictures on my upcoming post.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Cookies from a Box

To satisfy my baking craves, I was contemplating whether to bring some of my baking tools along to Beijing when I was packing for the trip. In the end, there was simply no space left to stuff in that tiny diet scale (yes I use it for all my baking) not to mention the electric hand held beater or even a balloon whisk.

The service apartment that we are staying comes with a handsome built-in oven, it makes my tiny tabletop oven at home seems so miserable. It would really be a shame if I am not able to do some baking with my dream oven. To my delight, I chanced upon boxes of Betty Crockers at this little gourmet store near our apartment. Without much thinking, I grabbed a pack of chocolate peanut butter chips cookie mix.

It was only after I got home that I realised there is no measuring cup in the apartment's kitchen. Since I have no intention to go hunt for a measuring cup, I had to think of a way to measure the amount of oil required to make the cookies.

It happened that I bought a pack of 250ml whipping cream to cook some cream sauce pasta, so I used the empty carton as a reference and was glad to discover that the volume of one of the mugs is exactly 250ml. But, that didn't solve the problem altogether, the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of oil. So I poured one cup of water equally into 3 paper cups and made a marking on one of them. Voila! I made my own measuring cup :)

To stir up a batch of cookies from a box is so simple, quick, and very convenient especially when there are no basic baking tools on hand. I only need to mix some water, oil and an egg with the powder mix, and in a matter of minutes, I was able to pop a tray of cookie doughs into the oven.

While the cookies were baking in the oven, I suddenly remembered that there was no cooling rack in the apartment. At that point in time, to end up with a tray of soggy cookies would be unthinkable.

After some quick thinking, I came up with my improvised cooking rack...a set of chopsticks which I brought along came in handy!

While the cookies were cooling off, the boys couldn't resist the sweet aroma, so they kept 'wondering' into the small kitchen, hoping to steal a cookie from my 'cooling rack'.

For the rest of the week, I was able to enjoy my afternoon cup of coffee with some homemade cookies. They are not as bad as I thought. In fact, I didn't expect them to taste so good...crunchy on the outside and a little soft in the inside, way better than those I had tasted at some cafes. These are just a little on the sweet side, but once I dunk it into my cup of latte, the sweetness was just right. Till we get back home, I must say I am very satisfied with these homemade cookies, from a box.

Friday, 11 December 2009

A stroll...

There is this nice little park at the apartment we are staying. It is very well maintenance and has got a nice landscaping design. There are a couple of garden mazes, a small playground, pretty porches, several fountains (although they are not operating at this time of the year), beautiful pebbled paths and the park is dotted with many shrubs and trees. Whenever the weather is 'warm' enough, I will bring my two kids for a stroll.

Come, join me for a walk in the garden...

There were many pretty roses when we were here in autumn, now most of the flowering plants have been pruned down. It it inevitable for me to take notice of the evergreens instead. This close up picture reminds me very much of the tip of a milk bottle brush ;)

There are several species of pine trees in the garden. I spotted this one, which looks exactly like those artificial Christmas trees on sale at shopping malls back home. It is known as Pinus Armandii Franch or Armand Pine. This conifer has got leaves that grow in clusters and branches out to make them look like pom-poms. The tips of the needle-like leaves are tinted yellow...this makes the pom-poms appear to glitter and glow.

When I first saw these trees, I thought they were Pussy Willows, those decorating plants the Chinese love to deck their halls with during Chinese New Year.

Those flurry flowers? or buds? feel just like the catkins of the pussy willows, but they do not have long branches.

I have this habit of collecting pine cones whenever I go to temperate countries. I searched around, but there were none on the ground :(

So, I can only satisfy myself with pictures of these cones which are still pretty much attached to the branches. (Yes, I tried plucking it! I know, I am being very naughty ^_^")

This is part of a structure of a giant fountain...

filled with plenty of pebbles...I am sure this spot would look awesome during a summer night.

More trees along the way...

the leaves were all gone, I don't know what are these plant parts remaining on the branches...are they buds? fruits? or flowers?

Are you able to spot the strange 'claw-like' branch in this photo?

This is something interesting for us, since we don't own any pets. It's a trash bag dispenser, for pet owners to 'pick up' after their dogs.

Another interesting tree with unique patterns on the tree trunk, just like the prints on army uniforms!

At the end of our short walk, my hands were all frozen after exposing them in the cold for so long. I hope you have enjoyed this photographic 'stroll' as much as I do.