Friday 10 December 2010

Joy of Giving and Receiving

Do you have a list of favourite places that you would want to visit in your lifetime?

My cyberfriend, VB once told me there are two places that she must visit in her lifetime. It is not so much of the 'place' but the 'scenery' she wants to view. One of which is to be able to see maple leaves turning red in autumn. The timing has to be right and the weather has to be good too. I am glad she was able to catch the red maple leaves in 'full bloom' on her recent trip to Korea. I was very happy for her when she sent me a photo of her standing under an astonishing sea of golden yellow maple leaves. Me being so ignorant, didn't even know that maple leaves could turn yellow too (^^')

I got to know VB when she left her first comment on this blog 3 years ago. Even though we have never met each other, this kind lady has been sending me gifts 'on a regular-basis', so much so that I think she has even made it a point to mail me a 'goodies parcel' each time after her holiday trip :)

I grew up in a family where everyone got to learn to be independent. As much as we can, we try not to rely on others for help. We prefer to give than to take. I used to have this mindset that whatever kind gestures I received from others, I have to return it back one day, and, as soon as possible. As such, I prefer to give, as I find receiving any gifts in any form from others, could become an invisible burden. I will only have peace in my mind after I have duly returned the kind gestures.

I understand the joy of giving, and it is a tremendous pleasure knowing that the receiver loves and appreciates what you have given. But, it was only in recent years that I appreciate the joy of receiving, minus the self-imposed obligation. I am now able to view the whole situation in a different perspective. By receiving, you are actually giving the chance for the giver to enjoy the pleasure of giving and sharing. I hope I am right to say so.

It is with these thoughts that I enjoyed this cup of icy cold omija tea VB sent me...along with many other goodies :)

I am sure most of you would be quite familiar with Korean Yuja tea or commonly known as citron or yuzu tea (柚子茶). This is the first time I have heard of omija tea.

I googled and learned that omija tea, a traditional Korean tea, is made from dried fruits of Schisandra chinensis. Also known as 五味子 in Chinese or "five flavor berry" as it has a mixture of sour, sweet, salty, spicy, and bitter taste. 五味子 is also commonly known as 山花椒 (wild peppers?). No wonder, I thought I could smell pepper from a cup of steaming hot omjia tea!

This lovely pinkish tea has a slight tang to it and it tastes really refreshing when served cold. The tea is neither bitter or salty. It reminds me very much of drinks made with Roselle (洛神果) and it has a similar sourish sweet taste like hawthorn (山楂). The tea comes with tiny bits of nuts, I believe they are either pine nuts, almond bits, or sunflower seeds. When served hot, this lovely sweet and tangy tea is a great way to end a meal, especially if it is a heavy one ;) If you happen to go to a Korean restaurant, do check whether it serves this beverage, I am sure you will enjoy this drink, be it cold or hot.

As the season of giving draws nearer, here's wishing all my readers Happy Shopping for your gifts and presents for your friends and loved ones! And, in case you ask, my favourite places to visit in my lifetime: flower fields at Furano and tulips in Holland, what about yours? 

Tuesday 23 November 2010

The heart of my home

Ever since I started planning for my renovation, I realised that my kitchen is the Heart of my home.

Although the kitchen occupies a space that is less than ten percentage of the whole house, I spent the most time planning for it. Other than the two bathrooms which are giving me headaches because of the poor layout, the bedrooms and living areas don't really need my full attention. Thanks to the 'standard' layout of our flat, there is nothing much one can play around when it comes to designing the bedrooms and living room. The beds have got 'designated' areas...the wardrobes got to be at that corner, unless you want to hack away walls and combine two bedrooms into one. My living room is worst...mine is a square...there really isn't much choice after considering human traffic and our life style...the tv has to be against that particular wall, the sofa set will naturally be placed around it. I only have to agonise over the selection of floor tiles and the choice of colour for the walls.

In contrast, my small kitchen, with a size of around 100 sq ft needs careful planning and attention to details. There are so many decisions I have to make...from selecting the wall tiles, floor deciding on the material for the kitchen counter top, the type of stove, sink, oven; down to dish racks and even the tap for the sink! The 'right' decisions has to be made as once the things are fixed up, it is not easy to make changes.

I was a little surprised when my renovation contractor handed me this 3D drawing so that I could visualise how my 'new' kitchen will look like. First of all, he is not an interior designer, I have engaged him because of his many years of experience as a contractor. With our simple layout, we don't really need an interior designer, and also, I am very much a DIY person, I like to do things the way I want it ;)

I am also surprised how well he has captured what I had in mind...I would say his 3D drawing (likely done up by his staff, as I really doubt he knows how to use any electronic devices except his mobile phone) is close to 80% of what I had envisioned. What amazes me is that, he doesn't carry a notebook (be it paper or electronic) to jot down whatever details that I have told him, yet he is able to remember every single item...he has to run several projects at a time and not forgetting he owns the firm. I wonder how he manages his schedule...he doesn't rely on a blackberry or an iphone (he told me he junk it after 3 days because the battery doesn't last long enough for his usage), neither does he carry a traditional diary or planner. He records everything in his brain. I really wonder what he puts inside his business suitcase which he carries along when he meets potential clients?!

I have been asking my contractor when I could get the detailed drawings of the kitchen cabinets, he told me they could only provide it after taking the exact measurement, ie when the floor and wall tiles are up. So, instead of waiting for his drawings, I did up my own.

I used to have a U-shape kitchen layout with the sink at the side. I didn't like the awkward position of the sink, so my kitchen will be a L-shape. There is space for a tiny island, but I didn't want anything 'fixed' or 'cast in stone'. I rather place a small dining table in the middle of the kitchen...which can double up as breakfast counter or a workplace for me to knead bread dough.

My ceiling height is higher than is almost 10ft or 3m high. As such I am doing away with the top cabinets this time so that it goes with my 'design principle'...easy maintenance and less things to clean. I am also spared the agony of deciding whether my kitchen will be an open concept design...the layout of my house just doesn't allow it.

After converting my existing store room to a walk-in-wardrobe, I need to look for alternative storage space. With the benefit of a high ceiling, I am able to build a tall cabinet tower at the side of the kitchen. I already told the contractor that I wanted to have more drawer units, and he has kindly agreed without charging me extra. I guess I should be happy with 4 drawer units compared to just 1 previously. The drawers will come in different heights to provide greater storage flexibility. I have also requested for more shelving as my previous kitchen cabinets only have got 1 layer of shelf.

If you have noticed, unlike most common practice, I will be installing stainless legs for my kitchen cabinets instead of letting them sit on concrete base. This is slightly against my design 'principle' as this means I have to take extra effort to clean and mop under the cabinets. Personally, I think this is a small price to pay in the longer term. The main reason that prompted me to renovate my whole house was that my old kitchen cabinets were growing mould! Especially those areas near the sink and floor trap. My old cabinets were sitting on concrete base, and due to humidity, condensation occurs underneath the sink area, creating a very conducive environment for mould to prosper over time. So, I rather spent some extra effort to clean the place than to worry over that I am storing my kitchen utensils inside 'incubators' for mould and fungus.

Although I do not know much about interior design, I have read about the kitchen work triangle ever since I got the keys to my house many years ago. I am glad that my new kitchen design is able to adhere to the work triangle even with the new location of the fridge. I have made the right decision to reposition the entrance of the guest bathroom and the store room. With the corner all sealed up, I am able to place the fridge in that location and free up the ex-fridge space to make way for the build-in oven and more kitchen cabinets. And it just happens that the new position for the fridge is between the stove/sink and the kitchen entrance. This allows other family members to access the fridge without 'interfering' the work triangle when someone is cooking.  I will probably have to look for a small side table to be placed at the side of the fridge to help ease in unloading groceries.

The main fault of my kitchen layout is that it doesn't adhere to good feng shui principle :( The stove is opposite the kitchen entrance...a no no for someone to cook with his/her back facing the entrance. Besides feng shui, it is for obvious safety reasons too. One way to overcome this is to place a mirror above the stove to allow the cook to know whenever someone enters the kitchen. Even though by placing a mirror above the stove will also serve to magnify wealth, I doubt I will ever install one! Not everyone looks like a domestic goddess in the kitchen and I certainly can do without a mirror when I am going about preparing dinners! I guess I should be fine with this layout since I am already used to getting startled whenever my kids stealth into the kitchen while I was cooking (^^')

See, I am not kidding, there is so many things to consider when planning a kitchen. Now that the kitchen wall and floor tiles are almost done up, the next daunting task for me is to select the laminates for the cabinets and the colour of the kitchen counter top.

Thanks to all readers for sharing your experience with your ovens and taking time to participate in the poll. Here's the result of the poll:

Bosch HBN331E2J 81 votes (46%)
Brandt FE811XS1 47 votes (27%)
Ariston FZ61.1IX 45 votes (26%)

I have finally decided that I will be getting Bosch HBN331E2J after hearing good reviews about it. Besides, it has emerged as a clear winner in the poll, with 81 votes out of 173. It is a close fight between Brandt and Ariston though, with Brandt leading by two votes. I am sure they are all good basic ovens to begin with.

I promise I will do a review of the Bosch oven when I get back to my baking routine. In the mean time, I will love to hear your comments on my kitchen layout/design, I welcome any suggestions to make my kitchen a functional one so that it can really serve its purpose as the heart of my home :)

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Is it B, B or A?

When I started planning for my home renovation, looking for a suitable built-in oven was one of the very first item I researched on. It has been 3 months since, but, I have yet to make the final decision (^^')

It was only after reading through comments and reviews from various online forums, I learned that there are many features and functions available in built-in ovens. Terms such as pyrolysis cleaning, catalytic self cleaning, tangential ventilation got me really confused. Pardon my ignorance...for the past few years, I have been using this simple, small (20 litres) table-top oven with only a set of heating elements at the top; whereas even the most basic built-in ovens have got top, bottom heating elements with a fan. To make things more puzzling...different brands use different terminology when it comes to naming the numerous cooking functions Traditional Pulsed, 3D hot air, Multi-cooking sounds different but they actually refers to the same function. I had to study and compare the various catalogs in order to fully understand the differences.

After going through all the information I have gathered, I decided that I will only need a very basic oven. I do not need one that comes with self-cleaning functions, since I do not do that much of roasting. Furthermore, most ovens that come with pyrolysis self cleaning (heating the oven to 500degC for 1 ~ 2 hrs to 'burn' the stains on the walls to ashes, so no cleaning is needed, you just need to wipe away the ashes) would require a loading of 15 or 16 Amp (our current flat can only take up to 13Amp). Even if a separate socket is installed, the air condition and oven is not to be operating at the same time, to prevent tripping of the electric power. I do not need an oven from a higher one that comes with 10 cooking functions as I doubt I will use all the functions. So the very good ovens from brands such as Miele and De Dietrich will never get into my list. Since I am not a professional cook or baker, I would probably not be able to do justice to using such good ovens. Even if I have the budget, I would rather spend the money on a holiday trip ;)

Besides the price, the main selection criteria when it comes to choosing an oven for my 'new' kitchen will be the oven door! The oven door has to be sturdy and will close tightly. The oven should come with tangential ventilation, ie, when the oven reaches a certain temperature it will blow out hot air to cool down the oven. I am also looking at ovens that have got triple or at least double layers of glass doors.

After visiting showrooms to look at the physical products, I have finally narrowed down to 3 choices...they are the basic range from Bosch, Brandt and Ariston. They are all within the same price range, offering similar functions. In fact, they are so similar that I am not able to make up my mind which one I should get?!

So, will it be this B...

Bosch HBN331E2J
* Capacity: 52 litres
* 5 Cooking functions:
  - Conventional top and bottom heat
  - 3D hot air (top, bottom and heating element
    around fan)
  - Bottom heat only
  - Hot air grilling (grill and fan operate alternately)
  - Full width variable grill
* EasyClean enamel coating
* Electronic clock with timer
* Double layer glass door (removable for cleaning)
* Oven accessories: 1 universal pan, 1 split grill tray
* Energy efficiency class: A
* Country: German Brand
* Retail price: $749

or this B?

Brandt FE811XS1
* Capacity: 52 litres
* 6 Cooking functions:
  - Traditional Pulsed (top, bottom heat and fan)
  - Traditional (top and bottom heat)
  - Fan Assisted Grill (top heat and fan operate
  - Grill (top heat)
  - Pulsed Oven Shelf (bottom with light grill and fan)
  - Special Poultry (top with some heat from bottom)
* Activemail interior (anti-stain, anti-corrosion,
temperature resistant enamel)
* Timer function
* Double layer glass door (not removable)
* Oven accessories: 2 safety grid racks, 1 large drip tray
* Energy efficiency class: A
* Country: Made in France
* Retail price: $899

and what about this A?

Ariston FZ 61.1 IX
* Capacity: 58 litres
* 6 Cooking functions:
  - Traditional (top and bottom heating)
  - Multi-Cooking (top, bottom, circular and fan)
  - Barbecue (top only)
  - Gratin (top and fan)
  - Pizza (bottom, circular and fan)
  - Baking (rear heating and fan)
* Inox clean stain resistant surface
* Timer function (w/o auto cut off)
* Triple layer glass door (removable for cleaning)
* Oven accessories: 1 dripping tray, 1 grid
* Energy efficiency class: A
* Country: Made in Italy
* Retail price: $709

Decision, decision, decision...

Which one will you choose?

Thursday 11 November 2010

The end is the beginning

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” ~ T.S. Eliot

It took me 4 days to clear away every single item from my house. I was really surprised by the amount of 'junks' I have been keeping for the past 14 years (^^')

Even though I must have thrown away half of our 'possessions', I still ended up with 30 boxes of barangs barangs (personal belongings). Here's some stats to illustrate...I sold away:
~ 100kg of old textbooks, activity books, worksheets, assessment books, magazines, etc,
~ 50kg of old clothing, bed sheets, towels, etc
to the karung guni (modern form of rag and bone men). I 'earned' a total of $15. I also sold away my fridge, washing machine, two fans and a radio for a total of $70. I got $10 by selling away my king size bed.

I managed to clear away 90% of our old furniture, and I do hope my 'new' house will not have more than 8 pieces of furniture. I am a minimalist...but this time I will work even harder to keep everything main aim is to minimise daily cleaning and maintenance :)

After 4 days of hacking, my whole flat was stripped down to its core. Here's my looks almost like a war zone!

There will only be bottom cabinets for my kitchen...and a tower unit by the side. This is my first step of reducing storage space. You may think I am crazy since most people ask for extra storage space. For me, the more space I have means I will fill it up with more junks! I used to have a row of top cabinets which I used it as a 'store'...keeping things I hardly use at all. One classic example: we have been keeping bottles and bottles of Coke which we bought during our holidays overseas. I spent close to 20mins opening 40 bottles (or more!) of Coke and pouring away the content before I could dispose off the empty glass bottles. Not forgetting the numerous cans of Coke I have throw away several years back. This is something I don't wish to happen again.

This is my guest/common bathroom...I have re-positioned the entrance so that the new entrance will be at the service yard instead of the kitchen.

New entrance to the guest/common bathroom. I won't have to see my younger child doing his business in full view any more ;)

This is yet another step to 'reduce' storage space. The entrance of the store will be shifted from the kitchen to the bedroom. I am going to convert the existing store room to a 'walk-in' wardrobe...literally. The space is only 1m by 2m...just enough for a person to walk into the closet to retrieve the item. Yes, it is going to be a tiny closet...but I am the sort who can survive with less than 10 sets of cloths, the space is more than sufficient. Without a store room, the only problem I am going to face is to find storage space to keep my kids' books...I hope the new build in wardrobe cum book shelves will be big enough to address this issue.

Although I have no intention to convert this into a renovation blog, I won't be able to post anything on baking for the next couple of months. I hope I don't bore you too much with this post (^_^).  

Friday 29 October 2010

Purple Sweet Potatoes Chiffon

This must be the longest October for me.

I spent the first two weeks of the month sourcing for renovation contractors, reading up on renovation, visiting tile shops to select tiles, shopping around for lighting, bathroom sanitary ware, cooker hobs, oven, etc, etc. This is in preparation for my upcoming renovation of our house. The next two weeks were spent packing, packing and packing. On top of that, it was an anxious week when my elder son took the PSLE examination. I am glad that all went well, but before I could take a breather, it was soon my younger child's turn to sit for the year end school examination! Finally, his exam is over today. I am not done with packing yet...I still have to conquer the kitchen...which I have no choice but to leave to the last.

Anyway, I miss I am here to share with you yet another chiffon cake recipe, before I dismantle my desktop computer and pack it into boxes.

This chiffon cake was made with purple sweet potatoes. I have came across two types of purple sweet of which comes with purple skin but the inside is yellow...and the other with both skin and the inside purple. This chiffon cake was made with the latter. It was by chance that I bought a bag of purple sweet potatoes. I actually wanted to get some spring onions and nothing else...but I was too shy to ask the stall owner. So I looked around and spotted the sweet the end I only paid for the sweet potatoes and the stall owner gave me the spring onions for free (^^')

There was no surprises when I went about preparing this chiffon cake. Although I must say, it was like attending some Chemistry lesson. I was amazed that the egg yolk batter, which was a deep purple because of the sweet potatoes, turn into a pretty pinkish batter the moment the few drops of lemon juice was added to it!

After the past few experiments in making chiffon cakes, I was quite satisfied with how this one turn out. The cake rose well in the oven, and it didn't shrink too much upon cooling :)

A few readers have asked me how I managed to unmold my chiffon cake nicely.  This time, I made it a point to take step by step photos to show all of you. I guess, the trick is to use a very thin bladed knife. When running the knife inside the cake pan, try to slide the knife as close to the inside of the pan, avoid slicing the cake crumb. I am not sure whether it is because of the quality or the type of cake pan that I am using, I am able to remove the cake effortlessly, without creating any mess. See photo 3 above...upon unmolding, there were not much crumbs left inside the pan.

I think it is also the type of cake pan that I am using, I always end up with chiffon cakes with 'pork-floss' like crust.

This chiffon cake was very soft and moist. The crumbs was a light pink...if the lemon juice were to be omitted, the crumbs would end up dull purplish. It was a fun experiment for me! This cake tasted really good, but I would still rank that banana chiffon cake as the best chiffon cake I have ever made ;)

I won't be sharing any baking post for the next two months as my kitchen is officially closed for renovation starting from today. However, I will still try to update my blog...but it will probably on the progress of my renovation or the holiday trips that we have planned.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

dessert in a toast box

十月六日...对很多人来说,只是一个普通的日子。不过今天对我的老大来说却是个大日子。今天是小六会考的第一天!真相希望他在考场能够有所发挥 :)

It's the start of the PSLE today. In a week's time, the examination will be over, and it also means that my elder child would have completed his 6 years of primary school education. How time flies! While I was packing up our old photo albums, I couldn't help but laughed at how cute he looked when he was in primary one ;)

As the examination drew closer, I found myself more relaxed. I believe I have finally reached the S4 level as a 'leader' based on the Situational Leadership model (by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey) and my child as a 'follower' has moved to the D4 level (someone with high competence, high commitment – experienced at the job, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well, may even be more skilled than the leader.)

Two months ago, I noticed my elder child began to pick up momentum in his preparation for the exam. He demonstrated a zealous attitude in wanting to do well...he planned out his revision schedule and time tables, and even set his own targets for each subject. I didn't even have to sit down side by side with him to go through his work. He did his revision mostly by himself. Whenever I felt guilty, I would spend a few moments of my time just to check that he was doing ok on his own. When it was down to 4 weeks before the D-day, I was too preoccupied with the planning of my home renovation. I am glad that without my close supervision, he was still able to study hard, real hard, I must say, for he is still a child. Sometimes, I even joked that it was as though he was preparing for some university entrance will be amazed with the piles and stacks of files, assessment books, etc, lying all over our house. As the day drew even closer, I found myself giving him lots of hugs everyday...I am so pleased with his learning attitude. My role as a 'coach' now, is to keep encouraging and assuring him that he will be fine. Very often, he worries that he won't pass with good grades...he lacks self-confidence. So I have to tell him, with the effort he has put in, I am sure even if the end result is not as expected, he won't live with regrets. I hope he understand what I meant when I told him..."The process is more important than the results. Some other people may think otherwise, but to mama, your learning attitude is more important than anything else, and I want you to hold these values with you all the way to your adulthood." I know very well his limits and potential. I don't expect him to pass with flying colours (it will be a miracle), but I am assured that he won't do too badly either. What more can I ask for?

On a lighter note, I will like to share with you this sweet treat...Dessert in a Toast Box! I happened to chance upon a video clip when I was looking for recipes on how to make Korean mochi buns. This is something so interested that I wasted no time to try it once I managed to bake a decent homemade pullman loaf.

It is basically a bread 'box' topped with fruits and scoops of ice cream. Inside the 'box' are layers of toasted bread 'cubes' drizzled with honey. I also topped it with some homemade breakfast granola. Sounds delicious isn't it?! I have tried with both a plain white loaf and a wholemeal bread...both are equally good. I hope the instructions I have posted below is clear enough...and if you happen to try it, I am sure you will have fun both preparing and eating it!

Friday 1 October 2010

Sweet Treat

Dear Reader,

Here's wishing you a Happy Children's Day :)

Children's Day is a good time to remind ourselves that we were once kids, and we should take this opportunity to recapture our childhood innocence, shouldn't we?

This year, it will be the last day we are celebrating Children’s Day on 1st October. Starting from 2011, Children’s Day will be celebrated on the first Friday of October instead. The rationale is to offer an extended weekend to students and to give parents more time to spend with their children :)

After a fun-filled day in school, my kids were still in a merry-making mood...and upon their request, I made them some caramel popcorns for their afternoon treat.

This is not the first time I am making popcorn at home. I used to think that popcorn can only be made with a microwave oven...using those microwave popcorn packs. After stumbling upon some video clips sometime back, I realised that popcorn can be easily prepared with a pot over a stove. After watching the video and looking at some online recipes, I jumped head-on to pop my first bowl of popcorn. My first attempt failed miserably, there were far too many unpopped kernels left in the pot and the popcorn didn't taste as light and crispy. On my second attempt, I burnt most of the popcorn (^^'). It was only after spending 15 minutes watching a free demo session by a lady who was promoting some anodised woks in a departmental store, that I learned the correct method of popping popcorn. By following her method, almost every kernel pops, and I have not burnt any popcorn since!

The caramel for the popcorn is very simple to use need to melt some sugar in the wok before tossing in the popcorn with some grounded peanuts and sesame seeds. This is a delicious treat both children and adults would enjoy. If you ever happen to try this, I hope you will enjoy making the popcorn as much as eating it. Once again, Happy Children's Day!!! 

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Our Weekend Breakfast

Our weekday breakfast foods are usually quick and simple...nothing beyond the usual bread with peanut butter, or the occasional slice of cake. Only during the weekends, I can afford the time to prepare something hot and delicious for my family.

I cooked this egg over toast over one of the past weekends. My elder boy likes sunny-side-ups. For a lousy cook like me, it is a challenge to cook it the way he likes his eggs done! That is, the yolk has to be slightly undercooked so that it will ooze out like golden lava when he pricks the 'sun' with a fork. Most of the time, the yolk already broke in the frying pan. If it is lucky enough to survive under my spatula, I would probably over cooked it (^^')

Nevertheless, no matter how it turned out, my child would still savor each morsel of his breakfast as though it was the most delicious food he has ever had. Am I asking too much if I were to blame my very forgiving children for my terrible cooking skills?!

My younger child, on the other hand, likes his eggs scrambled. The toast was a slice of homemade wholemeal bread I made using the tangzhong or water roux method.

Since I am watching my diet, I skipped the eggs and opted for some oven roasted cherry tomatoes to go with my toast. It is a simple dish to prepare with just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I used my small toaster as it heats up so fast that no preheating is required.

I will be updating my blog less regularly as the year draws to a close. I will be shutting down my kitchen by the end of next month as I am planning for a major make over, or rather, an overhaul of my entire house. I do hope I could still find time to do a little baking at my 'rented' kitchen.

In the mean time, I am calling all local home bakers, do let me know if you know of a good basic build-in oven to recommend. Yes, I am planning to get a bigger oven...50 litres compared to my current 20 litres is big! I really hope I am able to bake better cakes and bread with a better oven :)  

Thursday 23 September 2010

Back to Basics

I think I am almost there...

I don't seem to have much luck when it comes to making loaf bread lately. I always have this problem with dough taking too long to fill up the bread pan during the second rise. Most of the time, the dough rose beautifully within an hour or so, during the first proof. But, after shaping, it took forever before the pan is 80% filled. There was not much of an oven spring too...the bread didn't expand much upon baking. I experimented with different recipes...using straight dough or tangzhong (water roux) method. At first, I thought maybe the dough is too little for my pan, so I even tried increasing the portion, even then, the dough just couldn't fill up the pan.

It soon occurred to me that I should just go back to the very basic of bread making, that is, to make a simple white bread. I went on to choose this recipe using the gelatinised or scaled dough method. Besides the gelatinised dough, an overnight sponge dough is also called for in the recipe. Both have to be done the night before, as they need to be chilled for at least 12 hrs. They were rather easy to prepare, as all that was required was to mix the ingredients to form a rough dough, no kneading was required.

It was a pleasure to knead the main dough...soft and elastic, and not too sticky. I was able to knead until it pass the window pane test...I could stretch it fairly thin before it started to tear away :)

Most importantly, the dough proof very well during the second rise. I am quite sure it has got nothing to do with the yeast as I didn't use a fresh pack. My pullman tin was 80% filled within 50 minutes. It has got nothing to do with the room temperature either, as the weather was just like any other day, around 29 ~ 30 degC.

I was very so pleased with myself when I removed the bread from the pan! What a lovely loaf...with straight sides and yet the edges are slightly rounded and not too sharp. This means the dough was sent into the oven at the right time...if the edges are razor sharp, it implies that the dough was slightly over-proof.

The only problem I had was, the crust was not baked to a nice golden brown. Thanks to my oven! Despite preheating it to 230 degC, the oven temperature dropped by about 20~30 degC, so the loaf was baked at a temperature of 200 instead of 220 degC. The other reason for the slightly under-browned crust was, I lined my pullman tin with parchment paper. I had to resort to using parchment paper as I had difficulties unmolding bread from the pan :(

The crumbs was very soft and light, and the crust was so thin that I wouldn't even consider it as crust. The bread was so tender that a slice would flopped over if I slice it too thin. I tasted one slice of bread everyday, plain, without any jam or butter. The very first slice, a few hours after the bread was baked, was cottony soft and I could even feel the moisture in it. It must be the most delicious slice of bread I have ever made. It was also the first time my untrained palette could detect this nice fragrant from the wheat flour! It tasted better than any store-bought bread. The second slice, 24hrs later, tasted good...just as tender and soft...comparable to any commercial loaf. The third slice, 48hrs later, had aged a little. It felt heavier, and the surface was a little dry. Nevertheless, I still think it tasted good. I had the last piece 72 hrs after it was out from the oven. The bread had aged further. The texture was just like any commercial bread that was just before its shelf life. Even though I could still eat the bread without having to toast it, I had to spread some kaya to make it taste better.

There is no doubt that this recipe is going to be a keeper. It is the perfect recipe for me...the dough is not too difficult to knead by hand, and the finished bread could stay soft for days.

Friday 17 September 2010



My elder son wrote the above Chinese phrase when he took part in a Chinese calligraphy competition earlier this year. After the competition, he showed me his work. He wrote a few sheets and submitted the best. While he was fishing out the crumbled sheets of rice papers, he grumbled that the words were something so kiddish...he was expecting something more profound, like those in past competitions. When I saw what he had written, I felt in love with the lines right away.

I told him those few simple words were my exact sentiments, every day.

Loosely translated it means:
"开开心心上学去" - going to school with a happy mood
"平平安安回家来" - coming back home safe and sound

Now, this is what a Stay-at-Home-Mum like me expects on every school day. Every morning, I will wave to them in the semi darkness while the school bus starts pulling away from the curb. In my heart, I am sure they are going to have a great day in school. Every afternoon, I will keep a look out for their footsteps at the doorway. I will start to get anxious if they were just a couple of minutes late.

Once they step into the house, they will always ask me this question: 'What are we having for lunch today?'. Then they will start taking exaggerated deep breathings...trying to make a guess what would be on the dining table that afternoon. I will then leave them to negotiate among themselves...who will be taking the shower first?...base on...who has got the most homework that day; while I head back to kitchen to dish up their lunch. Only when I am in a super good mood, I will start picking up their socks, pants, shirts...that they left all over the floor as they start stripping away (^^').

Yesterday, we had Heng Hwa noodles for lunch. This is a regular home cooked food I grow up eating. We call it "Pah Mee" (pronounced as 'pa-ah' 'mee'), based on the Chinese form, 打面, in our dialect, heng hwa (兴化). Heng Hwa cuisine started to gain its popularity recently. In the past, whenever anyone asked me which dialect group I am from, I am always met with a confused look. This is not surprising since heng hwa still remains as a minority dialect group here. But by now, I am sure when I mention Pu Tien (莆田) many locals would have heard about it.

I grow up calling this dish 'Pah Mee', but for those who are from different dialect groups, you may find this name Heng Hwa Lor Mee (兴化卤面), more familiar. No, I don't regard this as lor mee, never, ever. My feelings for this dish is so strong that I really feel like hammering whoever who came up with this absurb alternative name. It is pah mee, not lor mee, ok. The ingredients, the noodles, the way it is being cooked has got nothing to do with lor mee.

I followed the way how my mum used to cook this dish. The noodle is cooked in a pot of soup together with some pork slices, dried bean curbs, vegetables, dried mushrooms, clams and fish balls. A special type of dried clams is usually used to prepare the stock, which makes the dish so delicious and gives the umami taste. An authentic bowl of pah mee is served with deep fried seaweed (a special type too, see pic here) and peanuts as garnish. Just like the other dish Heng Hwa mee suah, this noodle is very well-liked by the adults and children in my extended family, including my husband and brothers/sisters-in-laws who are from different dialect groups. I am nowhere near my mum's standard. Even though I know they could tell the difference between a good bowl of pah mee from a sub-standard one, my lovely kids were all thumbs up and happily slurping away ;) Even my husband could only lick away from his screen when I sent him a picture of it, commented 'ma chiam from putien' (almost like the one served at the pu tien restaurant we frequent).

My kids have came up with many different versions of the Chinese phrase above, eg: 伤伤心心上学去,快快乐乐回家来, or 开开心心上学去,哭哭涕涕回家来, 哭哭涕涕上学去,开开心心回家来, etc. However, I am glad to say, most of the phrases they came up with, always end with looking forward to come back home or at least coming back home to seek consolation :D

Wednesday 15 September 2010

10 min breakfast

It is a fact that homemade bread doesn't keep well, it ages at a pretty fast rate. I will be lucky if the bread I made would stay soft for two days. In order to keep homemade bread fresh, I usually store them in an airtight container...almost right away when it feels cool to the touch. Homemade bread dries up quickly so it is best not to leave them out in the open for too long. For any left over bread that I need to keep for another day, I will even wrap it up with cling wrap before storing in the container.

Yet, there are times when the bread I made didn't turn out soft even on the day it was baked. So besides following the same storing method as above, I will usually toast the bread just before serving. This will make the bread taste so much better. If I were in a hurry, the quickest method is to place a slice of bread over my cup of hot coffee. The steam from the coffee will provide moisture and soften the bread right away.

If we have the luxury of a late breakfast, I would even make a 'grilled' sandwich.

This banana nutella sandwich is made with my two day old banana bread. It is something very quick and easy to prepare, everything can be done in less than 10mins. The most important thing is, it tastes really delicious. Besides nutella, I have also tried it with peanut butter, which is equally good. I 'grilled' the sandwich in my non-stick frying pan, there is no need to add oil or butter. Simply heat up the pan, and grill it. The only thing to note is, the toast browns within seconds, so do check the underside and keep a close watch. Flip the sandwich over with a spatula once it starts to brown. Press it down a little with the back of the spatula, and within the next few seconds, you are ready to serve it.

Do let me know if you have any tips on keeping homemade bread fresh :)

Monday 13 September 2010

The lure of bread making

There is something magical about bread baking, something that I could hardly express with words...

The mere act of combining the simplest ingredients and kneading them together with your very own hands will set off a chain of magical chemical reactions. As you work your way through the combined mess of ingredients, kneading and stretching repeatedly, will magically transform something shaggy and ugly to something as smooth and soft as a baby's bottom. It is also about the mysterious actions of yeast coming to live, releasing carbon dioxide as it starts feasting on the sugars, causing the dough to rise and expand, all happening under a warm and comfortable environment. The aroma of bread baking in the oven...the moment of satisfaction when a freshly baked loaf emerges from the oven...makes me feel that all the extra effort is worth it. It is such a wonderful and rewarding experience only those who have walked through the entire process would be able to appreciate and enjoy their fruits of labour.

For the past week, I was able to indulge in my favourite past time. I finally got down to made this simple banana loaf bread, a recipe which I have copied down for quite sometime. Yes, my recipes are mostly handwritten as they are mainly copied from books which I borrowed from the library. I use a mixture of English and Chinese, using terms and codes that probably I am the only one on earth who could decipher ;)

As compared to store-bought banana-flavoured loaf bread, this homemade version has got only a slight hint of banana fragrant... it is 'there and yet not there', you know what I mean? Even though this bread is made with the straight dough method, without using any sponge dough or tangzhong, the texture remains soft for two days. Yet, this loaf may not pass a bread making test. I read that it is not the best way to judge a loaf just by its appearance and texture. Although the texture is soft, and the holes on the crumb appear to be evenly spaced out, lots of bread crumbs fell off as I sliced up the loaf. Evidently, I must have over-proof the dough, either during the first fermentation or the second rise :(

I guess, partly because of my repeated failures, I am constantly lured to make the next loaf, again and again. I probably won't give up until one day I am able to churn out a satisfactory loaf from my kitchen.

Thursday 9 September 2010

No cook lunch

The biggest problem of having a hobby is that sometimes it can get out of control.

I treat baking as a hobby, but lately I think it is more like an obsession than an innocent past time. I don't know why, but ever since I picked up this hobby four years ago, my enthusiasm never seems to subside. It is not something bad since my time and effort is well spent on creating homemade cakes and bread for my family. Except for the occasional kitchen mishaps, nothing is gone to waste...

really, nothing is gone to waste...whatever I baked and subsequently consumed have found their way back on my body :_(

Like what my cyberfriend VB once said, at our age, we grow fat even by breathing in air! One of my friends had also warned me that a person will put on weight just by thinking about food!  Now, how do you expect a food blogger not to think about food all the time?! So, once in a while, I make it a point to cut down on my calorie intake and also to 'clear my body'.

While my children slurped up their laska with relish, I prepared a no-cook lunch for myself.

This simple, just toss salad is a complete replica of what was served as a side along a breakfast meal I had at the coffee beans. This combination is easy on the palette even for someone who doesn't like to have their greens raw. What can go wrong with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries and toasted almond flakes? All you need is just a simple lemon vinaigrette to dress it up.

Throughout our meal, my elder child kept eying my salad, totally green in envy. He told me he also wanted the same thing the next day. I granted his wish and he got to prepare his own no cook lunch the following afternoon. Instead of the lemon vinaigrette dressing, he came up with his own concoction...mashed hard boil egg with mayonnaise. I must say it tasted really good if you don't mind the extra calories! Even his brother who is not a salad person was completely sold. I didn't have chance to take a photo as he was already busy eating while I was clearing up the mess. His salad somewhat reminds me of caesar salad, which happens to be my all time favourite. I am quite inspired by his dish and it is no surprise that I have just placed caesar salad on top of my to-do list :)

Recipe for my lemon vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or salad oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (adjust to taste, add more if a more lemony taste is desired)
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Monday 6 September 2010

My Kitchen Lab

In between my bread baking frenzy, I was pretty much involved in conducting experiments with chiffon cakes. It is a cinch to make a chiffon cake...everything can be done within 30mins, and that includes cleaning up. Unlike bread making, even if I ended up with a flat layer of foam board, I don't have to nurse my sore arms and shoulders for the next few days.

Chemistry happens to be my worst subject in school. Many a times, my experiments were not able to yield the desired outcome, even though I followed the steps closely. It is also not uncommon for me to break a test-tube or two, or destroy the test samples. Most of the time I ended up copying the test results from my friends (^^')

So, it is not a surprise when I failed miserably on my first attempted to make a matcha cranberries (my short-cut version of adzuki beans) chiffon. With the newly acquired knowledge that matcha powder tends to absorb moisture from batter (bakes made with matcha powder tends to be on the dry side), I added one extra tablespoon of water into the yolk batter. This small amount caused the batter to become so thin and runny that I had problem folding in the whites. It didn’t help that I beat the whites to stiff peaks, ie when the paddle of my handheld mixer was lifted up the peaks were pointing 90 degree upwards. Naturally, I deflated most of the whites, and the final batter was so thin that it only filled 50-60% of the tube pan. The cake did rise all the way to the brim during baking, but after it was cooled, it shrank at least an inch below the rim. The cake, although edible, didn’t taste good as I have added too much matcha powder, and I have to conclude that cranberries and matcha don't really go well hand in hand :(

Lessons learned: do not play around with the ingredient amount especially when you are making delicate cakes like a chiffon; when forcing a marriage between two different ingredients do not expect a fairy tale ending.

My second experiment with a nutella version needs further ‘analysis’, and probably requires another follow-up experiment before I could draw any meaningful conclusion :_(

My third experiment with a banana chiffon cake was a great success. Well, it is actually not an experiment since I followed the ingredient amount to a T. The only difference is the way I prepared the batter. I did not follow the instructions as stated in the cookbook. This time, I stick to my usual way of making a chiffon…steps that I am already familiar with. For example, the recipe recommends using a mixer to beat the yolks, I choose to do it with my manual whisk. It also recommends beating the whites before the yolks. This is something I won’t follow as I find it troublesome having to whisk the whites again just before mixing it into the yolk batter. Or rather, I worry I would over beat the whites. I didn't even heed the advice of using fresh eggs, even though I have learned that fresher eggs will produce meringue which is more stable. I left it to the cornstarch to work its wonders to stablise the egg whites.

Although the instruction says to beat the whites till stiff, I make it a point to stop whisking once it has reached the soft peak stage. The peaks curl and droop over when the paddle was lifted up. This really makes the folding later much easier. The only problem I faced was, I couldn’t tell whether those tiny lumps in the batter were the whites or were they the tiny chunks of banana (^^”)

The final batter was quite thick and it filled up 80% of the pan. The cake expanded quite nicely during baking, although I wished the batter could climb higher. It didn’t shrink much upon cooling and I was quite satisfied with the height of the cake.

This chiffon cake passed my taste test with flying colours. Besides being so light and tender, it was super moist! I must thank the person who first started baking with bananas! I attribute the flavourful and moist texture of this cake to the sweet, over-ripped bananas. Allow me to exaggerate…it was almost like eating a slice of ‘cloud’. I have bookmarked another 3 recipes from this book (戚风蛋糕秘法传授) and I can’t wait to try them, hopefully my next baking experiment will be as successful as this one. Wish me luck

Banana Chiffon Cake

(for 17cm or 7" tube pan)
(measurements in brackets are for 20cm or 8" tube pan)

40g  (70g)    egg yolks
20g  (30g)    water
40g  (70g)    vegetable oil
55g  (90g)    banana, mashed
55g  (90g)    cake flour
85g  (140g)  banana, diced
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

110g (180g)  egg whites (cold from fridge)
55g    (90g)  caster sugar
5g     (10g)   corn flour

  1. Sieve cake flour, set aside. Sieve corn flour, set aside. 
  2. Place egg yolks, water, vegetable oil, vanilla extract (if using) and mashed banana in a mixing bowl. With a manual hand whisk, whisk the mixture to combine. Sieve over the cake flour and whisk till the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and sticky. Add the diced bananas and mix to combine.
  3. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture becomes frothy and foamy. Turn to high speed and gradually beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, add in the corn flour together with the last tablespoon of sugar. 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.)
  4. Add the beaten egg white into the egg yolk batter in 3 separate additions, each time folding gently with a spatula until just blended.
  5. 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.
  6. Bake in pre-heated oven at 160 degC for 35 mins, (for 20cm pan bake for 50 mins) or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. (When lightly pressed the cake will spring back). Remove from the oven and drop the pan at a height of 20~30cm onto a table top. This action helps to keep the springy texture of the cake when it is left to cool.
  7. 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 戚风蛋糕秘法传授 by Noriko Ozawa

Friday 3 September 2010

My Bread Baking Frenzy

I caught the bug again! Not ordinary flu bug, but bugs that sent me conducting one failed experiment after another, again and again in my kitchen.

I have been in a bread baking frenzy over the past couple of weeks. I got hooked into making different loaf breads, but so far none has met my expectations. First, I made a matcha red bean swirl loaf, using another (烫种) scalded dough recipe. I even put in that extra effort to cook the red beans. The loaf ended up looking very pretty, but failed my taste-test. The texture was too dense! I sensed trouble coming when the dough appeared to be quite stiff while I was kneading it. I blamed it on the recipe, and decided to try it again using the tangzhong, water roux method (汤种). Instead of making swirl loaf, I mixed the red beans into the dough. Everything went well except for the final proofing. I left the dough to proof for 2 hours and it still didn't fill up my pullman pan. I popped it in the oven, hoping the oven spring will expand the loaf a little. Well, the miracle that I was hopping for did not occur. The loaf did not even expand a single bit upon baking. I was left with a short and dense loaf.

You would think I should have given up by now. No, I didn't. I am quite surprised by my own stubborn persistence. Unless you have done it before, kneading dough occasionally by hand is therapeutic to most people, but doing it every time, means a lot of hard work, especially when you have to wrestle with a wet and sticky mess . Despite my aching arms and shoulders, I continued my quest for a perfect homemade loaf. I tried another tangzhong loaf recipe. This time I made a black sesame seeds loaf, thinking that maybe the red beans had 'broken' the bread gluten while I was trying to shape the dough, causing it not to rise well. So since sesame seeds are smaller grains, it would not do any damage to the bread. Alas, the tragic history repeats itself! The loaf came out of the oven dense and short.

After tasting a small piece of it, my elder child remarked, "It tastes like beer." To cover up my embarrassment, I told him 'that's because beer is also made with yeast, your know'. I learned the lesson not to over proof the dough, especially during the second rise, unless I intend to make a tiger beer bread ;) I also finally realised that I am not using the right amount of dough to fill up my bread tin. In order to fill up the tin, the dough should weigh at least 600g, or as a rough gauge, I should follow recipes that calls for flour amount that is at least 300-350g. Since I can't feed the ducks with my bread, I had no choice but to feed the bin, which I deem as one of the most annoying thing that could happen in my baking repertoire!

I was itching to make another loaf this week, but dismissed the idea as I strongly believe the Chinese sayings "祸不单行" or the English equivalent, 'bad luck comes in 3s'. I am glad that I stayed away from loaf bread as I managed to make a decent bread roll yesterday :D

This soft and yummy log is made using none other than the tangzhong method. It is amazing how a single ingredient can make a whole lot of difference. What I am referring to, is those spring onions dotted all over the bread roll. Spring onions smells and taste really pungent when raw, however, just like garlic, when it comes in contact with heat, the aroma that it releases makes it such a delightful experience even though I was standing vigilantly in front of the hot oven, keeping a close watch.

It did take a few extra steps to make these pork floss rolls, but the effort was worthwhile. At least I was rewarded with a tray of edible buns. When my kids got home from school, my elder child wanted to have one right after lunch, but I told him to wait till tea time. These rolls tasted soft and delicious and I noted there was a slight chew to it, probably because of the way the dough is made. We had them for tea and breakfast the next day. The rolls stayed soft over night and they definitely did not taste like beer ;)

Seaweed Pork Floss Rolls (65degC TangZhong)

(makes 6 rolls)

water roux:
20g bread flour
100ml water

195g bread flour
90g cake flour
30g caster sugar
12g milk powder
6g salt
6g instant yeast
60g egg, lightly beaten
65ml water
75g water roux (tangzhong)
45g unsalted butter

chopped spring onions
sesame seeds
seaweed pork floss

to make tang zhong:
  • Place 20g bread flour in a saucepan. Add 100ml water, mix till smooth, making sure there are no lumps of flour. Cook over medium to low heat, stirring constantly with a hand whisk to prevent it from burning. Within 1 to 2 mins, the mixture will start to thicken, stop when you see traces in the mixture for every stir you make with the hand whisk. (Take a look at the video clip here. ) The 65degC tang zhong is ready. Immediately transfer the hot tang zhong into a bowl and cover it with a cling wrap, making sure the cling wrap sticks onto the surface of the mixture. This is to prevent a film from forming on the surface. Leave to cool completely before using it. Measure 75g for the recipe, there will be a little bit of leftover.
to make dough (by hand):
see video here on kneading by hand
  • Mix all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and add in the egg and tang zhong. Reserve about 20ml of water and add the rest into the mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients with hand and slowly form into a rough dough. Add in a little of the reserved water if the mixture is too dry.
  • Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough till smooth. Add in the remaining water a little at a time, knead well after each addition. (This way, the dough will not be too wet and sticky). Use up all the water. The whole process should take about 10mins.
  • Knead in the butter. Continue to knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hand, becomes smooth and elastic. This should take about another 20 to 30 mins. Do the window pane test: pinch a piece of the dough, pull and stretch it. It should be elastic, and can be pulled away into a thin membrane without tearing/breaking apart easily.
  • Place dough in a lightly greased (use vegetable oil or butter) mixing bowl, cover with cling wrap and let proof in room temperature (around 28 to 30 degC) for about 40mins or an hour, or until double in bulk.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and give a few light kneading to press out the gas. Roll into a round dough. Cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and let the dough rest for 15mins.
  • Roll out the dough into a rectangular shape to fit a 30cmx40cm baking tray (I used a 10" by 14" tray). Place dough in baking tray(lined with parchment paper). Cover and let it proof for around 30~40 minutes.
  • Use a fork to poke holes all over the surface of the dough (this is to ensure the bread will not puff up too much during baking). Brush with egg wash then sprinkle with chopped onions and sesame seeds. Bake at 170~180degC for about 15 minutes (do not over bake).
to assemble:
  • Remove bread from tray and leave to cool. Invert the bread on a parchment paper. Cut a few slits along the longer edge of the bread, make the slits only half-way through the bread do not cut through. The slits will make rolling up the bread easier.
  • Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the surface and sprinkle with pork floss. From the longer edge, roll up like a swiss roll. Wrap the bread roll with the parchment paper. Secure and leave it for about 30mins so that the roll can stay in its shape without unrolling. (I tried to tape it down, but the tape couldn't stick onto the parchment paper, so I had to use stripes of paper to secure the roll.) Trim away the edges and cut the bread into 6 portions. Spread the cut sides with some mayonnaise and coat with pork floss.
  • Recipe source: 65度C汤种面包, 陈郁芬