Thursday 26 February 2009

Weekday Lunch Express - Salmon Onigiri

Whenever I run out of idea what to prepare for lunch, I will just make some Onigiri or Japanese rice balls. These are just so simple to will only need to cook some Japanese rice or use any short-grain rice like CalRose. I made these Salmon Onigiri with a brand of Australian CalRose rice...which I spotted on a supermarket shelf. I bought it to try as it's available in a 1 kg small pack.

One good thing about onigiri is that you don't have to add any sushi vinegar to the rice, it takes away the hassle of mixing the rice and fanning it at the same will know what I mean if you have tried making sushi rice. In order to make good onigiri, there is this extra step which I'll follow, that is, after washing the rice, I will drain away the water, and set the rice aside for 30mins to an hour. When ready, I cook it with a rice cooker...using the ratio of 1 cup of rice to 1 cup of water. Just like cooking our usual long grain rice, I will not open the lid until 10-15mins after the rice has been cooked. I'm not really sure what's the reason behind, but it has long became my habit to do so.

The salmon fillings is very easy to prepare too. You will only need to season the salmon with some salt and/or ground pepper...pan fried it till cooked and flaked it with a fork. I used the salmon fillings in two ways. I used some to wrap inside the rice balls, and the rest I mixed them with rice, some black sesames, and some furikake (Japanese rice seasoning), before shaping them with a set of onigiri rice mould.

I dressed up an otherwise plain looking rice ball with seaweed, and with a kitchen scissors I cut out some eyes and mouths. I thought they look like little men in tuxedos?! My kids love rice balls...especially those I made using fillings such as pork floss or otah ;) We find these salmon version a little bland on it's we dipped them in some Japanese soya sauce.

I can't remember how I stumbled onto this site, which provides many fun image effects for free. Thanks to FunPhotoBox I am able to create such a lovely photo effect. Hope you will also have fun playing around with your photos too :)

Saturday 21 February 2009

Brownies Rediscovery

My boys don't see eye to eye on most things. Brownies are just about the few things that they share a common view. It is also the only thing that both would crave for, constantly. They will be very happy if I were to make brownies for them every other day. Both like their brownies dense, fudgy and most importantly, without any nuts!

I like brownies too...both making and eating them :) My first ever bake that I did on my own was a tray of brownies, out of a box of premix (without nuts). He was only 2 and half years old when my elder son tried my first homemade brownies, and it has since been his favourite treat of all time.

Although brownies come in a variety of forms and flavours, they usually come in two textures: fudgy or cake-like. The fudgy type of brownie has got moist and dense interior, and depending on the recipes, can be chewy or gooey. Cake-like brownies are lighter, airy and slightly fluffy.

So how do you know whether a recipe will give a fudgy or cakey brownie? What I have learned so far is that when a recipe calls for a relatively small amount of flour, chances are it will yield fudgy brownies. The other thing that I have noticed is that fudgy brownies are usually made with liquid fat...either oil or melted butter. Most of the time the chocolates are melted with the butter before the rest of the ingredients are added in. The larger amount of sugar vs flour also contributes to the fudgy-ness of the brownies. Due to the high sugar content, a thin crust would form on the surface. I find fudge brownies so easy to make as I would only require a wooden spoon or a spatula and everything can be done with a saucepan.

To get chewy brownies, it will require slightly more flour and usually cocoa powder is used in place of melted chocolates. The proteins in the flour and cocoa powder will give the chewy texture and make the brownies less gooey.

If a brownie recipe calls for creaming the butter with sugar, you will likely get a batch of cake-like brownies. Always use room temperature butter for creaming, that is it has to be soft, but still firm. I read from a cookbook that you can test by pressing your fingertip onto the butter. It should be able to leave an indentation and yet feels firm. You can also gauge by leaving the butter on your counter for 15 - 30mins (depending on the weather) before using it. If the butter is too soft (it will appear very greasy), it will melt even further when beaten, resulting a chewier textured brownie. Chemical leaveners such as baking powder is always used in cake-like brownies to give it a fluffier texture. It is especially important not to over-bake this type of brownies(in fact it applies to all brownies!) otherwise it will dry out and you will end up with a chocolate cake instead. Even after removing from the oven, the brownies will continue to cook for a few minutes from the residual heat. I always under-bake my the toothpick should still have a few moist crumbs cling onto it when you do the doneness test.

I have always been making fudgy brownies. It was only recently that I first attempted a cake-like brownie. I put it right on top of my to-do list the moment I first saw this Chocolate Walnut Brownies recipe from Grace's Kitchen Corner. The recipe uses much less fat and sugar as compared to my usual brownie recipe, and I wasted no time to make a batch for my kids who have been deprived from brownies for months.

I followed the recipe quite closely except that I used brown sugar, and after constant reminders, I omitted the nuts. My kind offer to use pistachios was also turned down flatly. I don't have 100% cocoa powder, all I have is a can of Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa. I guess that's the reason why my brownies were not as dark as Grace's?

I was a little alarmed after I added in the coffee mixture...the batter started to look almost curdled. But there was really no cause for concern, once the flour and cocoa powder is added in, the batter became smooth and thick.

It's always a joy to detect the intense flavor and aroma being released into the air when you are baking a tray of brownies. Although lighter in texture, these cake-like brownies are really delicious. I like the tiny bits of chopped chocolates which did not melt away after baking. My kids were happy to have their cravings satisfied, although the younger fellow requested that the next time I should make him 'those brownies with hard crust' which he is more familiar with.

I prefer fudgy brownies but I would not be able to resist a square of cake-like brownie. So which kind of brownie is your favorite?

Sunday 15 February 2009

Banana Blueberry Chiffon Cake

I wasn't in the mood to make any bread fact anything that appears too complicated would be strike out from my to-do list. I sat down one morning and spent some time running through my pile of recipes before I finally decided to make a chiffon cake. Although the steps are pretty straight forward, I always find it very challenging when it comes to making a chiffon cake. I have to keep my fingers crossed all the time...from the beating and folding of the egg whites, the baking temperature and even the unmoulding. I would only heave a sigh of relieve after I cut a slice of the cake. I would never know whether I got a chiffon cake right until I have tasted it.

I adapted the recipe that was meant for a strawberry chiffon cake and turned it into a banana blueberry flavour by using my homemade banana & blueberry jam. The preparation of the cake was the ingredients are really very simple and the steps easy to follow. The only thing that I am still not sure was when to stop beating the egg whites!

I was lucky that my oven was under a rather stable condition...the cake rose high and mighty during baking...and even when it was close to the finishing time, it didn't deflate too much. This is indeed a rare occasion, most of the time, my chiffon would start sinking even before I removed it from the oven. I would also attribute it to the recipe, as I find that recipes from this Taiwanese author, 曾美子 are very reliable.

I allowed the cake to continue to bake for a further 5 mins beyond the recommended time as I have little faith in my oven ;) I was glad I did the right thing as the cake has got this lovely golden brown crust after I unmoulded it.

The texture of the cake was wonderful...light, cottony and very fluffy. It was an instant hit with the kids. However, I find the cake a tad too sweet, likely due to the sweet jam. I like the chunks of blueberries embedded in the cake though. I'd made a mental note that I'll have to cut down the sugar a little the next time I were to make this again.

Banana Blueberry Chiffon

Ingredient A:

3 egg yolks
20g caster sugar
3 tablespoons blueberry jam (or any jam of your choice)
40ml vegetable oil
40ml fruit juice (I used cranberry juice)
70g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Ingredient B:
3 egg whites
50g caster sugar

  1. Sieve flour, baking powder together, set aside.
  2. Separate egg yolks/whites and bring to room temperature. (It is easier to separate eggs when they are cold.)
  3. Place egg yolks in a mixing bowl, add in sugar, and with a manual whisk, whisk till the mixture becomes very sticky and turn pale. (Test by lifting the whisk, once the batter is able to leave a ribbon-like trail behind, you are done. Another way to gauge: your arm should be very tired by now.)
  4. Drizzle in the oil, whisking at the same time till the mixture is well combined. Repeat the same for the fruit juice. Add in the jam, mix well. Sieve over the flour mixture and whisk until flour mixture is fully incorporated into the batter.
  5. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until mixture becomes frothy and foamy. Beat in the sugar in 3 separate additions on high speed until  just before stiff peaks form* (after note: after several attempts at baking chiffon cakes, I learned that the whites should be beaten until just before stiff peaks form).
  6. Add the beaten egg white into the egg yolk batter in 3 separate additions, each time folding gently with a spatula until just blended.
  7. Pour batter into a 18cm (7 inch) 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.
  8. Bake in pre-heated oven at 170 degC for 30 ~ 35mins or until the cake surface turns golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven and invert the pan immediately. 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 adapted from: 曾美子戚风cake零失败

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Banana Blueberry Jam

Here's my second jar of homemade jam. This time it's jamming banana with blueberries :)

I have written quite a fair bit about the homemade jam recipes from a cookbook in my last post on jam making. Hence, I will just go straight into this recipe.

I bought some blueberries which were on sale several months back. I have since learned how to freeze them for later use by following the instructions here. The only thing I do differently is, I do not wash the blueberries before freezing them, as I guess they have already been pre-washed and packed into punnets for sale here.

I thawed the frozen berries and gave them a light rinse before crushing them lightly with a fork. With the same fork, I mashed up the banana, and mix it with the berries, sugar and some lemon juice. I like how easy it is to make this delicious jam. Not only there is little preparation required and it could be done with only a few kitchen utensils. The cooking time is also quite short, all you need is to bring the mixture to a boil and let it continue to boil for another 5 ~10 minutes.

The finished jam was only able to fill up a 1 cup empty jam jar. I thought the amount is just right for our family, since I have not formed the habit of stocking up jars of jam in my cupboards.

This homemade sweet jam tastes as good as my favourite store bought blueberry jam, minus whatever preservatives that you get from ready made ones. I like the presence of the chunks of berries, although like most jam it tasted a tad too sweet for me. Don't ask me about the banana, I think it is added mainly for its higher pectin level...which helps to thicken and set the jam, since no pectin is used in this recipe. Incidentally, pectin content in bananas is water-absorbent which helps create the necessary bulk in easing constipation;)

Besides spreading it over a plain slice of bread, this jam is so versatile that I have also thought of other delicious ways to use it. I have since made a banana blueberry chiffon cake, and I really think the jam would do good to a batch of muffins, and I hope I have time to make some Jammie Dodgers soon!

Banana Blueberry Jam

(yields about 1 cup of jam)

100g bananas (1 large very riped), mashed
200g frozen blueberries, thaw
230g granulated sugar*
juice from 1/2 a lemon

  1. Rinse and thaw frozen berries. With a fork, crush the berries so that some berries are mushed up leaving others only lightly crushed.
  2. Place mashed bananas, lemon juice, sugar and blueberries in a pot or a large saucepan. Mix well.
  3. On medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or a wooden spoon, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (where the bubbles do not stop or lessen when you stir it). Once the mixture starts to boil, skim away any excessive foams or bubbles, stirring constantly all the time.
  4. Keep at a rolling boil for another 5 mins, stirring constantly till the mixture thickens, becomes clearer and transparent (no more foams). The entire cooking time should be around 10 ~ 15 mins.
  5. Remove from heat. The jam will be a little runny when hot but the consistency will be just right after it has cool off.
  6. Ladle hot jam into hot sterilised jars leaving a gap of about 1~2cm from the top. (Since I do not have an appropriate ladle or funnel, I poured the jam into my measuring cup before filling the jars. The sprout on the cup helps easy and clean filling.) Secure lids. Let cool. Jam will keep up to 3 months if stored in fridge or in a cool, dark cupboard. Once opened, store in fridge and best consumed within 3~ 4 weeks.

    Recipe source: adapted from 鲜美果酱轻松做! by Romi Igarashi
Note: *Do not reduce the sugar, as the amount is required to preserve the jam.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Yummy Delight

What do you do with a block of cream cheese, a cup of plain yogurt and a bottle of Ribena in your fridge?

With some digestive biscuits, butter, sugar and gelatin powder, you can turn these ingredients into a no-bake Ribena Marble Cheesecake :)

I happened to pick up a free Ribena recipe booklet at the supermarket many months ago. I was really amazed by the list of yummy treats that can be made with Ribena. All along I have only enjoyed it as a cold refreshing drink and the furtherest I did was to make them into ice lollies. You can actually use this blackcurrant cordial to make smoothies, slurpees, puddings, and even a purple version of the bandung drink! I've also been keeping a Ribena recipe card which came with a local magazine. Besides this marble cheesecake recipe, you can also make pancakes with Ribena apple sauce and layered Ribena with chocolate mousse.

It's not the first time I have made a no-bake cheesecake, but it is definitely my first attempt at making a marble cake or any sort. I followed the instruction and used a knife to swirl over the 'dual-tone' blobs of cheese mixture. It made me really happy to discover that it is actually very simple to make the swirls. I never knew that I would be able to create such a lovely marbling effect. I was so glad with the result that I decided to skip the mirror-layer which is meant to top off the cake.

I would consider this a rather light cheesecake since plain yogurt is used in place of thickened cream which is usually called for in a chilled cake. I could taste the Ribena flavour although its presence is not really strong. I guess the whole cake will taste more 'Ribenay' if I were to made the mirror-layer. Nevertheless, the cheesecake tasted very good. I cut a slice for my elder boy and another to take the above picture. He was eyeing at the slice when I was still not done with my 'photo-shoot'. There is no surprise that, what was supposed to be my share landed in his stomach as well.

Ribena Marble Cheesecake


150g digestive biscuits, finely crushed
60g butter, melted

100ml water
20g (2 tablespoons) gelatin granules/powder
250g cream cheese, soften at room temperature
75g caster sugar
250ml (1 cup) natural plain yogurt
75ml Ribena blackcurrant juice cordial

topping: (I omitted this)
100ml water
2 teaspoons gelatin granules/powder
80ml Ribena blackcurrant juice cordial


  1. Line the sides of a 18-20cm round pan (with a removable base) with parchment paper or clear plastic sheet (I cut out a strip of plastic sheet from a cookie bag), set aside. To make the crust, combine crushed digestive biscuits and melted butter together in a mixing bowl. With the back of a spoon, press the biscuit crumbs onto the base of the prepared pan. Chill in the freezer compartment for at least 1 hour. (To ensure the crust is even, I used the base of a flat-bottom glass to press down the crumbs.)
  2. Filling: Measure water into a bowl and sprinkle in the gelatin (without stirring with a spoon). Set aside to allow the gelatin grains to swell (10 mins) before setting the bowl over a pot of simmering hot water. Stir with a spoon and once the gelatin melts, remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Add in the gelatin solution and yogurt, beat till the mixture turns smooth.
  4. Divide mixture evenly into two bowls (about 1 cup each). Add 75ml of Ribena into one of the bowls and mix well with a spatula.
  5. Spoon the two mixtures in alternate blobs into the chilled crust. Level top and swirl with a knife through the mixture to create a marble effect. Refrigerate until set (about 2 hours as stated in the recipe, but I left mine to set over night since I omitted the topping).
  6. Topping: Measure water into a bowl and sprinkle in the gelatin. Set aside to allow the gelatin grains to swell (10 mins) before setting the bowl over a pot of simmering hot water. Stir with a spoon and once the gelatin melts, remove bowl from the pot and stir in 80ml of Ribena. Set aside to cool. When completely cooled, pour mixture over the cheesecake and chill for several hours or overnight until set.