Tuesday, 23 August 2011

a prelude

I know, there are still six days to go before the lunar eighth month...or another three weeks before the mid-autumn festival. I am not in the hurry to make any mooncakes before the end of next week.

What you see here are not traditional mooncakes which we are familiar with...

rather, they are steamed purple sweet potatoes...moulded with a mooncake mould...

and served with maple syrup and chopped nuts. I got this recipe from a magazine, and it is actually a recommended dish to serve to guests during the Chinese New Year festive season.

Visual wise, the clever use of a mooncake mould does make it a very presentable and stylish dish. However, what is important to me is, I've found an interesting way to eat steamed sweet potatoes ;) The maple syrup helps to moisten the sweet potatoes...which tends to get dry especially when it is left cold. The pairing of chopped nuts lends a sharp contrast to the soft texture of the mashed sweet potatoes. My younger child who doesn't care for sweet potatoes or pumpkins, helped himself to as many sweet potatoes 'mooncakes' he could stuff inside his stomach. Overall, it is a simple, healthy and delicious 小吃 (snacks), something to reach out for in between meals instead of unhealthy snacks or junk food :)

Sweet Potatoes 'Mooncakes'


300g purple sweet potatoes
50g chopped cashew nuts (or walnuts, pistachios, hazel nuts, peanuts etc)
20ml maple syrup or honey (adjust according to preference)

  • Roast nuts (of your choice) with a small frying pan over low heat until lightly browned, stir constantly. Leave to cool and coarsely chop the roasted nuts, set aside.
  • Wash, peel sweet potatoes. Cut into small chunks.
  • Steam under high heat for 15-20mins until soft.
  • Mash sweet potatoes with fork. Mould into small round balls about 30g each, (my mooncake mould is for 50-60g mooncake). Place inside the mould (comes with a plunger), push the plunger to release the sweet potatoes.
  • Drizzle over maple syrup or honey and serve with roasted nuts.
Recipe source: adapted from 贝太厨房

Friday, 19 August 2011

Let the pictures do the talking

I'm at a little lost for words...

so, I shall leave the pictures to do most of the talking...

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful;
they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.   Luther Burbank"

Here's a basket of pink roses, gerberas, carnations, that was delivered to my doorstep a few nights ago. What a lovely surprise! I can't even remember when was the last time I have received flowers...it must have been a decade ago. Thank you AK and AM, you have certainly brightened this aunty's day, and many days that followed. Oh how I love the fuchsia theme :) 

Those flowers certainly make me feel better, so much so that I have chosen to bake an apple frangipane tart...something that requires a little extra effort to put together. I don't even mind the trouble.

Besides flowers, an apple a day is something I need to keep myself healthy. This is the first time I am baking something with apples. Yes, the very first time since five years into my baking journey. Pardon my ignorant, I didn't know that the skin would turn a ugly dull brown after spending 45mins in the oven. Next time I should just peel the apples. Most apple tart recipes would recommend a good coating of apricot jam over the apple slices when the tart is out from the oven. I never like glossy looking pies or tarts, so I skip the step and dust it with some icing sugar instead.

A rather cheery and sunshine looking apple tart, don't you think so? I wish I could share it with my friends...hey, someone should start a food dispatch service here!

The pastry crust and frangipane filling (pastry cream made with grounded almond along with sugar, butter, and eggs) tastes really good...but I can't say the same to the baked apple slices. Well, they are a bit soft...a texture I am not used to associating it with crunchy, juicy apples. The tart is best served on the day it is baked, somehow the crust will lose some of its crisp when left over night...could it be due to the high humidity? (If this happens, just warm it in the oven and the tart will taste like freshly baked.)

I am submitting this apple frangipane tart to Aspiring Bakers #10: Easy as Pie (August 2011) hosted by Janine of Not the Kitchen Sink! Thanks Janine for hosting this round and Small Small Baker for championing this monthly baking event!

I thought I would leave the pictures to speak for themselves, alas, I am the one who did most of the talking (*^_^*)

Apple Frangipane Tart

(makes one 18cm tart)

pastry crust:
40g unsalted butter, soften at room temperature
30g caster sugar
1 tablespoon (15g) lightly beaten egg
20g almond powder (grounded almond)
80g cake flour

60g unsalted butter, soften at room temperature
50g brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
80g almond powder (grounded almond)
10g cake flour

2 apples, cut into thin slices
15g unsalted butter, melted
icing sugar for dusting

  • Lightly grease an 18cm tart pan (with removable base) with butter, set aside.
  • Toast almond powder at 100 degC for 10 mins. Stirring in between. Let cool.
pastry crust:
  • With a manual whisk, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Dribble in the egg, whisk and mix well. Add in the almond powder and fold with a spatula. Sieve over the flour and fold in with the spatula. Gather the mixture to form a dough.
  • Flatten the pastry dough to form a round disc. Roll out dough in between 2 sheets of baking paper(I used two plastic sheets cut-out from clear plastic bags) to about 23cm in diameter. Remove one side of the baking paper/plastic sheet. Gently lift up the other sheet of baking paper/plastic (with the pastry dough still on it) and flip the pastry dough over the prepared tart pan. Remove the baking paper/plastic sheet. (Don't worry if some parts of the pastry broke off. It can be moulded easily back into the tart pan.) Mould the pastry into the tart pan, smoothing the edges and the rim carefully. (If the pastry is too soft to handle, chill the rolled out dough in the fridge for 10~15 mins before moulding.)
  • Prick the pastry surface with a fork (this helps to prevent the pastry from puffing up when baking, refer picture of a baked pastry crust here). Cover and chill the moulded pastry in the fridge for 20mins (this helps to prevent the pastry from shrinking too much after baking.)
  • Brush the top of the rim with some egg wash (optional). Bake in pre-heated oven at 180 degC for 10~12 mins or until the pastry is lightly golden browned. Let cool and set aside.
  • With a whisk, cream butter and brown sugar till the mixture turns fluffy. Add in the egg gradually, mix well each time the egg is added.
  • Add in grounded almond powder. Fold with a spatula till well incorporated. Sieve over the flour onto the mixture. Mix with the spatula. Add in vanilla extract and mix well.
  • Spread 1/3 of the filling onto the cooled pastry crust. Line with some apple slices. Spread the remaining filling evenly, ensure the edges are filled up. Arrange apple slices on top. (Make sure the apple slices are well drained.) Brush the melted butter over the apple slices.
  • Bake in pre-heated oven at 170 degC for 40 ~ 45mins, until the edges and filling turn golden brown. Leave to cool for a few minutes. Unmould and let cool completely, and dust with some icing sugar. Best serve on the day it is baked.
Recipe Source: adapted from Delicious!! Baked Cakes, Ikuko Omori

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Cooking without fumes

While I was flipping through my chiffon cake book, I found a newspaper cutting between the pages. It is a recipe which I had taken from a local Chinese newspaper several months back. I have totally forgotten that I had wanted to try this easy home cook dish when I first saw it.

After seeking my children's opinion, I gladly went ahead to prepare this dish...Braised Pork Belly with Hard Boiled Eggs, 卤蛋红烧肉.

This is not the first time I have tried to cook this dish, but my first attempt produced something that was just edible (^^') I didn't follow any recipe or rather there wasn't any good and easy recipe for me to follow. I added whatever ingredients, spices and seasoning according to my own whim and fancy. Naturally the food was just passable not because it tasted ok but rather I have kids who are very accommodating to my cooking ;)

This recipe is really simple even a lousy cook like me is able to put it together without much effort. The best thing is, there is no stir frying involved, making it a 'no-fume', hassle free home cooking meal. The original recipe only calls for pork belly and hard boiled eggs as the main ingredients. I have taken the liberty to add in tau kwa (firm bean curb) and tau pok (fried bean curb puff) to make it a hearty one pot meal to go with plain rice.

The one cooking tip that I have picked up from this newspaper article is that, the pork belly has to be cooked in a pot of boiling water for five minutes to get rid of the impurities (I usually place pork ribs in cold water and bring it to a boil to remove the impurities, rinse and then place in boiling water to prepare the soup). To prevent the meat from losing its juice, the water has to be boiling before the pork belly is added in. While the pork is cooking, the sauce is prepared in another pot and brought to a boil. When ready, the pork belly is then transferred to the pot of sauce. The important thing to note here is, the sauce has to be boiling before the pork belly is added, that is, from one hot pot to another. By doing so, the meat will cook faster and will be tender soft.

I was so proud of myself when the dish was ready :) It was even more satisfying to watch my kids savour every bit of the food. My younger son is never a fan of pork dishes, I was pleasantly surprised that he could finish all the meat I placed on his plate of rice. My elder son loves pork belly and I am sure he will keep asking for this dish.

After I was done taking pictures of the dish, I noticed the sun setting. I get to enjoy sunset every evening. It is impossible for me to miss it since I am someone who likes to pause every now and then to enjoy the beautiful nature, be it the sun, moon or tiny flowers on the road side. I have so many times stood at the window to watch the golden yolk disappear into the horizon. Do you know? It doesn't take too long for the sun to set, it is gone within a few minutes. I was not even fast enough to get decent shots, and this is the best my very old point-and-shoot camera could produce.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this little snapshot of my life...thank you for visiting.

Braised Pork Belly 家常卤蛋红烧肉

(serves 4)

300g pork belly
4 - 6 hard boiled eggs
2 tau kwa (firm tofu/bean curd), cut into big chunks
4 - 6 pieces tau pok (deep fried bean curd), cut into half

2 cups water
3 tablespoons dark soya sauce
2 tablespoons light soya sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon five spice powder (not included in original recipe)
some rock sugar (amount not stated in original recipe, I used about 30g, adjust according to taste)
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick (about 1.5" in length)
1 whole bulb of garlic, separated but not peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon hua tiao wine (Shao Hsing Hua Tiao Chiew)

  1. To cook hard boiled eggs, place eggs in a pot. Fill it with water enough to cover the eggs. Bring to a boil, continue to cook for about 10mins. Remove from pot and run eggs under cold water (to make it easy to remove the shells). Remove shells and set aside.
  2. Wash, clean and cut pork belly into big pieces. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add in the pork belly and let it boil for 5 mins.
  3. Place 2 cups of water in another pot. Add dark soya sauce, light soya sauce, oyster sauce, five spice power, rock sugar, star anise cinnamon stick and garlic. Bring to a boil.
  4. When ready, remove and drain the pork belly in step 2. Add to the pot in step 3 (make sure the sauce is already boiling). Add hard boiled eggs. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat and let it simmer for 1 hour.
  5. Add the tau kwa and tau pok. Let it simmer for another 10 mins. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat. Stir in hua tiao and serve the dish.
Recipe source: adapted from 联合早报(早报周刊)

Friday, 12 August 2011

for the love of baking

I guess you are already used to my long silence.

If you are still reading and keep coming back to check on this humble blog, I thank you :D

I have no excuse for my tardiness. Except for having volunteered to look after a sick toddler who was down with hand foot and mouth disease for a week, the last 21 days flew past without me knowing that I didn't bake a single thing. I thought I have lost interest in baking, or rather, lost any interest in food per se. I have not been blog hopping and am terribly guilty of not even leaving any words of encouragements and support on those rare occasions when I visit my regular food bloggers. My apologies.

Why, I asked myself? Could it be my allergic rhinitis (aka sinus problem) which keeps haunting me since the beginning of the year? I keep sneezing the first thing in the morning...even when I was brushing my teeth! I am ultra sensitive to dust, even flipping a book from the library will send me sneezing away. My nasal will get all blocked whenever I turn on the air-conditioner in the room. Many weeks have past with me waking up in the middle of the night fumbling for tissue papers. I believe my bad habit of stuffing tissue into my nostrils have made them bigger than ten cent coins! My condition only improved if I take medication...ie anti-histamine and nasal spray. Once I stop, the problem will come back...*sigh*. My elder child went through the same thing since he was a baby. It took him many years before his health improved. He grew up taking medicine more than candies and ice cream. I wonder how long I'll have to battle with this illness?

Lately, instead of reading cookbooks and playing around with flour and eggs, I found myself reading novels, watching Korean dramas and movies, online. I feel shy to admit, but I think besides allergic rhinitis I am suffering from love sickness (*^^*) as my better half has been away for the longest time. I know I should spend my time on more worthy stuff yet it soothes me whenever I immerse myself in the storyline, especially love stories in Korean drama, haha! 

Well, I guess these are the reasons that kept me away from my oven. The one good thing for not indulging in any baking frenzy is that, I have actually lost some weight. I managed to shed a few pounds without having to do any exercises. So, imagine, how much damage had done to my body in the past when I was baking almost every other day?!

Yet, I couldn't help but to bake something this week. My baking passion is not all gone :)

I have lined up a list of chiffon recipes to try, and I picked this Cranberry Yoghurt Chiffon cake since I have all the necessary ingredients on hand. This is nothing new as many bloggers have already tried it. I was interested in this recipe as it calls for yoghurt, something new to me, when it comes to baking a chiffon cake. I was curious whether yoghurt will work its wonder by making a chiffon cake very moist and tender as good as when it is used in other cakes.

I made it a point to read the fine prints in the cookbook, and did the right thing to chop the dried cranberries into smaller pieces and diligently coated them with some flour, to prevent them from sinking into the bottom of the cake. Well, although most of the cranberries were well distributed in the cake, quite a number still sank to the bottom. So, I ended up with a polka-dot cake ;)

I don't really know whether yoghurt has contributed to the soft and tender texture of this cake. It is just like any other chiffon cake I have made. However, I find the taste really interesting. The sweetness of the crumb is just right, but when the tangy dried cranberries hit your palate, it will sure wake up all your nerves ;) Great choice to have it for breakfast! This recipe is something worth trying, that is, if you have not done it before.

I have already lined up my next to-dos...orange chiffon, orange pound cake, black sesame chiffon, lemon pound cake and even a sakura chiffon cake. I guess I will put the extra pounds back once I am back to my baking mood!  

Cranberry Yoghurt Chiffon Cake

(for 17cm tube pan)

3 egg yolks (use large eggs)
25g caster sugar
40ml vegetable oil
80g plain yoghurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
80g cake flour

4 egg whites (use large eggs)
55g caster sugar

60g dried cranberries
some cake flour for dusting

  1. Sieve flour and set aside. 
  2. Chop dried cranberries into smaller pieces. Coat with flour and sieve to remove excess flour. Set aside.
  3. Place egg yolks in a mixing bowl. With a manual hand whisk, whisk the yolks a little. Add in sugar and whisk to combine.
  4. Add in vegetable oil gradually, whisk to combine. 
  5. Add in yoghurt and lemon juice. Whisk to combine. Sieve over the flour and whisk till the flour is fully incorporated. Do not over mix. Set aside.
  6. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with a handheld electric mixer on low speed until mixture becomes frothy and foamy.  Add half of the sugar amount and turn to high speed and beat the mixture. Continue to add in the remaining sugar and beat until the egg whites reaches the soft peak stage.The soft peak stage is reached when the peaks of the whites curl over and droop slightly. The egg whites should appear smooth and glossy. (Do not over beat the whites still stiff, it is better to beat the whites still soft peaks for easy folding with the yolk batter.)
  7. Add the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk batter in 3 separate additions, each time folding gently with a spatula until just blended.
  8. Add in the prepared dried cranberries. Fold in until just blended Do not over mix.
  9. Pour batter into a 17cm tube pan (do not grease the pan). Tap the pan lightly on a table top to get rid of any trapped air bubbles in the batter.
  10. Bake in pre-heated oven at 180 degC for 30 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, when lightly pressed the cake will spring back. Invert the pan immediately and let cool completely before unmould. To remove the cake from the pan, run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the pan and the center core. Release the cake and run the knife along the base of the pan to remove the cake.

Recipe source: adapted from 好吃戚风蛋糕轻松上手, 福田淳子