Thursday 29 April 2010

A Jar of Homemade Goodness

For the past couple of months, I have been buying mangoes (Thai Honey Mangoes) almost every other day. I couldn't resist stocking up these sweet juicy fruits even though they took up so much space in my fridge and kitchen counter. We very much enjoy the fruit on its own, but I have also used it to make ice-blend mango smoothies, mango milkshakes, mango puddings and cakes.

With the 'bounty' of mangoes at my disposal, and, to be able to enjoy the fruits when the season is over, I preserved some  in a jar (^_^)

This mango and passion fruit jam is so simple to make! To a lousy cook like me, it is easier than cooking a pot of porridge!

All you need to do is to peel and cut the fruits, put them in a pot with the sugar and cook till the jam becomes slightly thickened. The cooking time is no more than 10mins. The only extra task is to get the jam bottles sterilised just before canning.

The best thing about making your own jam is that you know what goes into the jar...just fresh fruits and no other additives...not even pectin is used to thicken the jam. Clever pairing of fruits with low-pectin level and those with high pectin will eliminate the use of commercial pectin in jam making. Besides sugar and pectin, acid is also needed in jam making, both for flavour and gel formation. The acid content varies in different fruits and I believe passion fruit is paired here with mango as it has got high acid level. That could also be the reason why most strawberry jam is made with strawberries and lemon juice.

Unlike my Banana and Passion Fruit jam, this time, I removed the seeds from the passion fruit pulp, only the juice is used. This lovely homemade jam is not cloyingly sweet when tasted on its fact it has got a slight tang to it...mainly because of the passion fruit, what's more, the jam smells really good! It goes so well with bread toasts that it has got this effect of 'picks-one-up' instantly, especially when we take our breakfast at 6am in the morning. When I told my younger child I used the jam to make a chiffon cake, he let out a loud 'Hah?!!' I was totally amused by his worried and concern expressions over his face...he thought I have used up all the jam to make the cake! After I assured him that there was still some jam left, he actually heaved a sign of relief! There is no surprise that I will make this jam again soon.

Mango and Passion Fruit Jam

(yields about 300ml of jam)

500g mango flesh (use firm, just ripped fruits)
50g passion fruit pulp
200g granulated sugar*

  1. Place passion fruit pulp in a sieve, drain remove the seeds and retain the juice.
  2. Cut mango into small chunks and roughly mash with a fork. Place mashed mangoes, passion fruit juice and sugar in a stainless steel pot or a large saucepan. Mix well. (Note: use non-reactive pots made with  stainless steel, glass or enamel, avoid pots made with copper, aluminum or cast iron which would react with acid).
  3. On medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or a wooden spoon, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (when 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 slow rolling boil for another 5 ~ 10 mins, stirring constantly till the mixture thickens, becomes clearer and transparent (no more foams).
  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, fill to the brim. Secure lids. Let cool. Unopened 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 weeks**.

how to sterilise glass jars and bottles:
Wash glass jars and lids in hot, soapy water, rinse well. Place jars and lids in a pot. Fill with enough cold water to cover the jars. Place over high heat and bring water to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently for 10 minutes. Remove jars and lids from boiling water and drain upside down over a clean tea towel. Preheat oven to 110 degC. Place jars and lids upside down on a baking tray. Place in the oven and heat for 15 minutes. Proceed to make the jam while the jars are in the oven. Do use glass jars with lids that come with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the jar.

*Do not reduce the sugar, as the amount is required to preserve the jam.
** For safe eating practices, do examine the jam frequently for signs of spoilage.

Monday 26 April 2010

Tasty Cake Experiment

Ever since I started baking, I have been making birthday cakes for my family, no more store bought ones ;) I used to get a little nervous at the thought of making a cake for a special occasion, but I am now so used to the task that I am using it as an opportunity to hone my baking and cake decorating skills.

This is one good example of my recent cake-making experiment. This 'made-to-order' birthday cake was created based on just one piece of information I gathered, "lots of fruits, no cheese please".

I was in no mood to baked a sponge layered cake so I settled for a no-bake chilled cake. Instead of digestive biscuits, the cake base is made with crushed oreo cookies, to make the oreo-cookie monsters in my house happy. I removed the cream in the oreos...and it became an instant treat for my child...he gathered the cream and rolled it between his hands to form 'candy balls'! It was really an unpleasant sight!!

I have decided on a mango mousse filling since I have been buying mangoes in 'bulk'. However, I wanted to do away with the whipping cream or heavy cream that is called for in every single recipe that I looked up in the internet. I had no luck with whatever cookbooks I have on hand too. Since I was quite determined to make the mousse filling without any heavy cream or whipped cream, I went ahead to create my own recipe.

I blended fresh mangoes, passion fruits and some non-fat yogurt, the blender I borrowed from one of my siblings came in handy :) To help the mixture set, I added some gelatin powder (melted in water). Even though I used a 7" pan, the mousse, or rather pudding-like filling was too little. The filling layer  came up to only 1.5", as a result, I had a very short cake :(

Decorating the cake was easy, I simply loaded it with chunks of fresh fruits...mangoes, strawberries and blueberries. Little did I know the mousse layer was not really firm enough to take the weight of the fruits, and the cake started to 'sink'! I guess if I were to add the whipping cream, the texture would be firmer? So after I was done with the decoration, I had to wrap the sides of the finished cake with a plastic strip (cut out from a cookie bag) in order to hold the mousse layer together. I left it to chill in the fridge again hoping it would firm up.

Despite the flaws and a rather odd combination of flavours (oreo with fruits?!), the cake tasted very refreshing, full of fruity flavours...sweet, juicy, and a slight tang from the passion fruit. The filling tasted just like pudding. With everyone asking for second helpings, our family of four wolfed down the entire cake in one setting. It was the first time we didn't have to have leftover birthday cakes for breakfast the next day ;)

Note*: I have posted the recipe here for my own reference. In case you are interested to try this, do note that the ingredient amount for the filling needs further fine-tuning, unless you don't mind a short cake.

Mango Yogurt Pudding Cake

(makes one 7" cake)

for the biscuit base:
110g oreo cookies (remove cream and finely crumbled)
40g butter, melted and cool

for the filling*:
300g fresh mangoes (use sweet, ripped fruits)
juice from 1 passion fruit (remove seeds)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
200g mango flavoured yogurt (I used peach-mango flavour)
1 tablespoon gelatin powder#
3 tablespoons (45ml) water#

some fruits for decoration

(# I would use 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of gelatin, and 60ml water the next time I were to make this again.)


to make the biscuit base:
Place oreo crumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Mix thoroughly with a spoon until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into the base of a 7" round pan (with removable base). Use the back of the spoon, smooth out the crumbs and press firmly. You can also use a glass (with a flat base) to press down firmly. Freeze the base for at least 1 hour.

to make the filling:
Measure water into a bowl and sprinkle in the gelatin (without stirring). 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.

Blend mangoes, passion fruit juice, sugar, yogurt until the mixture becomes smooth. Add in the gelatin solution to the mixture, mix well. Pour mixture onto the biscuit base. Cover with cling wrap and leave to chill in the fridge over night or for at least 4-6 hours. Remove cake from fridge, unmold and decorate with fruits as desired. Keep the cake in the fridge before serving.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Have A Snack

I will always pick up a bag of Tohato Caramel Corn snack whenever I drop by Daiso. You can get this snack at most supermarkets, but it's only at Daiso that you get to see a whole rack stock to the bream with colourful bags of caramel corns in different flavours. My kids love these caramel corns, so do I. It reminds me very much of 乖乖 (Kuai Kuai) a similar snack which I grew up eating ;')

Tohato caramel corn is light, airy and very crunchy. It is quite sweet, but, very addictive! Once a bag is opened, it is quite impossible for us to stop before every thing is gone (^^''')

These tasty snacks come in different flavours. Besides the 'original' or regular flavour, I have tasted strawberry, honey roasted peanuts (there are actually a small amount of roasted peanuts in the bag), vanilla ice cream and honey butter. Another thing I love about this snack is the attractive packaging with a cute face on it.

While I was doing my grocery shopping the other day, a sea of sweet pink bags caught my attention. Isn't this design lovely? How could one resist the facial expression on the bag? This is a new flavour I have yet to try. These peach flavoured corns come in 'dual tone', pink and white (pale yellow actually). Apparently it is designed for the Japanese Doll Festival, Hina-matsuri or Girls' Day, held in early March.

Sitting alongside the pink bags were these green ones...Matcha with Kuromitsu. Kuro means black and mitsu means honey, kuromitsu is a sugar syrup made from black sugar (kuro-zato), the famously healthy dark brown sugar produced in Okinawa. This 'limited edition' is available for a limited period only (as stated on the packing). Since I like anything matcha, this went into my shopping basket as well.

and here's my review:

The peach flavoured curly corns do have a very slight hint of peachy taste, the colours are pretty too. Whereas the matcha kuromitsu flavour ones are in a familiar matcha dull, greyish green. No matter how hard I tried, my untrained palette simply couldn't detect any matcha flavour. Nevertheless, it still taste lip-smacking good :[)

I guess only a junk food junkie like me would devote a post on this snack! Hope you didn't find it a waste of time dropping by here (*^^*)

Friday 16 April 2010

Fruit Pastry Cake

I have to thank my friend VB for recommending this Fruit Pastry Cake. This cake was very popular among local bloggers sometime back. I told her I would probably give it a try when she first made this cake. Almost two years down the road, and I totally forgot about it until I saw her photo of this same cake recently. With fruits piling over a thick layer of beautiful golden crumbs that comes with a nicely browned crust, how can anyone not fall in love with it?! Since I would be meeting VB's friend to collect a cookbook from her, I thought it would be an excellent idea to make this cake for her.

Since this would be the first time I am making this cake, I baked one to test it out. Except for the little extra effort to wash and cut the fruits, and making sure they are well drained, this cake was easy to prepare.

This is how the cake looked like after baking. I was really surprised at how beautiful it turned out. Even my children were "wow-ing" all over when they saw the cake cooling on the dining table. They were really impressed :D

The recommended pan size for this cake is either a 9" round pan, or an 8" square pan or a 7x11" pan. I used my 8" round pan instead. The cake took 75mins to finish baking, and I got a taller cake. I found the cake slightly on the sweet side even though I have cut down the amount of sugar from 200g to 160g. It tasted a little sweet on its own, but the slight tang from the strawberries (I don't seem to be able to get really sweet strawberries here) helped balanced the sweetness. My kids didn't mouth a single complain though.

After checking with VB, who follows the original recipe to a T, I was slightly convinced that I could increase the amount of sugar. I do understand why some recipes call for large amount of sugar. Sugar used in baking is not just for the purpose of sweetening. It has got other important roles to play. For example, sugar helps to attract moisture in the batter, and this in turn helps to reduce the amount of gluten formed in the flour. Recipes with large amount of sugar content will yield a baked good that has got a more tender crumb; and since less gluten is formed in the batter, the resulting baked good will rise better during baking giving it more volume.

So, for this cake I made for our friend, I used 180g of sugar, still not the full amount but a 'great improvement' from my first attempt.

With the experience gained from my previous attempt the day before, I was able to arrange the fruits in a more 'symmetrical' manner. I thought I was quite brave to give away something that I only tested once! I just pray that the cake was well baked. What could be more embarrassing than to give away something that is under cooked? Even testing with a skewer may not guarantee that the cake is cooked right through.

The cake is soft, the texture is almost like a cross between a sponge cake and a butter cake. As the amount of fat used is not too much compared to the amount of flour, the cake doesn't feel greasy and yet it doesn't taste dry. My family members love it!

I have to warn you, this cake is addictive!

I am addicted to baking and eating it! I made the same cake again a few days later. This time, I used 2/3 portion of the ingredient amount and bake it with my 8" round pan. I also replaced about 1/3 of the plain flour with wholemeal flour. The resulting cake was shorter but it tasted as good. I like the nutty texture from the wholemeal flour, it was like eating something baked with ground almonds, minus the fragrance ;)

Afternote: I made the same cake again one week later. This time I used the full portion of the recipe, but replaced one third of the plain flour with wholemeal flour. I used the same 8" pan, and the result was fabulous. So far this is the only cake that could cause an immediate addiction in me...both baking and eating it!

Monday 12 April 2010

Happiness is Homemade

What could be better than to indulge in a sweet homemade post-dinner dessert?

It amazes me how easy it is to be able to enjoy a wonderful tasting dessert in the comforts of our own home. Chocolate Fondue is such a luscious dessert that I used to assume it is too difficult to do at home. Even though I have no problem making the chocolate sauce, I do not own a special fondue pot. I have always thought that it is a must to warm the chocolate sauce with a fondue pot. You need the little candle at the bottom of the pot to provide heat to prevent the chocolate sauce from solidifying. I am not the sort who would rush out to get a piece of utensil or equipment which can only be used for one single purpose. So, it has never in my mind to create this at home.

My search for a chocolate fondue recipe only began after my better half asked me one day, out of the blue, whether I could make him this dessert. I googled and searched and most recipes would recommend the use of a fondue pot, until I finally landed on this one. According to this cooking site, a normal bowl should keep the chocolate sauce warm for about 20 minutes. This is good news as I know our family would never have to take that long to finish up the chocolate fondue ;)

You do not need any special gourmet skills to make chocolate fondue. The one basic important requirement for a good tasting chocolate fondue is to use good quality chocolate, ie the best that you could afford! I have low tolerance for any sort of kitchen failures, and hence, I have since developed the good habit of following recipes diligently, but this time, I threw cautions to the wind. I used cheap eating chocolates instead of premium ones...although I did have the sanity to choose a semi-sweet flavour over a regular milk chocolate. The other thing that I didn't follow at all is the type of cream to melt the chocolate with. Most recipes would point to heavy cream, but I decided to use low-fat milk, we really do not need the extra fat.

My kitchen experiment was a huge success, the chocolate sauce was at the right consistency, not too thick and gooey and yet not too thin. The chocolate would envelope the fruits nicely without dripping all over. You can always use a fork to dip your fruits, but I serve mine with wooden skewers or satay sticks, as my children love making their own 'fruit' satay.  We could have taken longer than 20mins to finish up the fondue (I probably took away 5mins to take photos!), the sauce remained 'dip-able' right till the end. If you have not tried this at home, don't wait any longer!   

Homemade Chocolate Fondue

(makes 125ml chocolate sauce, serves 2 ~3)

100g good-quality semi-sweet chocolate
65ml milk (I use low-fat fresh milk)

- Break chocolates into small cubes/chunks.
- Place milk and chocolate in a clean and dry saucepan. Place on stove and heat at the Lowest heat possible. It will take less than a minute for the chocolate to start to melt. Once the chocolate starts to melt, stir the mixture till all the chocolates is melted. To prevent the chocolate from burning, remove the saucepan from heat as and when needed.
- Transfer chocolate sauce to a bowl. Serve with favourite fruits and marshmallows.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

French Almond Cake

I have not been doing much baking lately. Although I update my blog regularly, the last 5 posts have got nothing to do with my oven (^_^"). I used to bake bread at least once a week, but ever since my bread machine broke down, I got lazy. Even the thought of baking a chiffon cake seems like a tall order. So, whenever I craved for some baking activities, I turn to simple cakes and muffins recipes.

One great example of a super simple bake is this French Almond Cake. It is taken from this book "Easy Cake" by Linda Collister. I love all her books! I find her recipes easy, straight forward and very doable. You will be surprised at how easy to prepare the batter...the ingredients are all mixed together in a mixing bowl, all at the same time. It takes less than 5 mins for me to get it mixed and transferred to the baking pan, so it is a must to turn on the oven before you start gathering the ingredients. Even though it is such an easy, almost fool-proof cake, I made a big blunder when I first baked it.

I have since named this My "Black Beauty". Look at the beautiful golden hue on the sides...and yet the top was charcoal black?! I couldn't even bring myself to post the top plan-view of this cake, for fear of creating "eye pollution" to you, my dear reader ;')

I had made a serious mistake of leaving the cake in the oven, and, not returning to check on it until I spotted a slight burning smell coming from my kitchen. Even though it was only half-way through the baking time, the top was almost burnt. It was too late to do anything, the only thing I could do was to tent the top with a foil and left it to finishing up baking.

Even dusting it generously with icing sugar couldn't cover up the flaws! But, the cake tasted good, very good indeed, just look at the crumb:

I have used a smaller pan the first time I made this cake, as a result, the cake was much taller than this latest version...

This was baked using a 20cm pan as recommended by the recipe, the cake was quite flat upon cooling, making it looked almost like a sponge layer. The cake was nicely browned this time as I covered the top with foil once the surface started to brown. The cake is excellent, it is deliciously moist, very fragrant and I could even taste the bits of ground almond in the crumb. The flaked almonds makes the texture even more interesting. A piece of this goes so well with a cup of afternoon tea, or anytime of the day. Plus, I won't be hesitant to bake this to give away anytime.

French Almond Cake

(makes one 8" cake)

110g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and leave to soften
150g caster sugar (I cut down to 120g)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
90g ground almonds (almond powder)
40g self-raising flour**
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
1 tablespoon flaked almonds for sprinkling
some icing sugar for dusting

** if you do not have self-raising flour, substitute with:
40g plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and a pinch of salt

  1. Pre-heat oven at 180degC. Grease (with butter) and flour the sides of a 20cm pan, line the base with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. Place butter, sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl, add almond powder, flour, milk, vanilla extract (optional) then beat with an electric mixer or whisk. When quite light and fluffy, spoon into the prepared pan and spread the batter evenly. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top.
  3. Bake at 180degC for 30-35mins, or until the sponge just springs back when pressed (mine took 40mins), or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. (Important Note: Cover the top with foil about 15-20mins into baking to prevent the top from over browning.)
  4. Run a thin bladed knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
            Recipe source: adapted from Easy Cakes by Linda Collister

Saturday 3 April 2010

Grow a Bottle

I first saw this pretty glass canister at Daiso when I was looking for a container to store cookies. I was drawn by the shinning label and the equally shinning lid. I had planned to make some cookies to give away to a friend, I was sure the cookies would look wonderful in this pretty container. However, in the end, I didn't buy any as I changed my mind (on the spot) and bought a set of pretty paper loaf pans instead. I thought I should bake her a banana loaf cake, the cookies can wait (^^). A few weeks later, I went back to get the canisters, not to store cookies though, I wanted to use them for another purpose :)

It all began when I started helping my elder son to make a garden terrarium for his school's Science project. I went around sourcing for the necessary materials...small pebbles, activated charcoal and suitable plants. After getting three pairs of hands all covered with soil and dirt, we were very happy with how pretty the terrarium looked. The plants have grown very well even though we didn't water the terrarium for 3 weeks. Hop over to this site if you are interested to learn how to create your own terrarium.

I decided to use the glass canisters to make three terrariums to give away to my friends. They are either working singles or full-time working mum. I am sure a bottle terrarium will be a great item for their office desk. If the ecosystem in the bottle is well maintained, that is, the plants are growing well, receiving enough sunlight and the humidity is controlled at the right level, the plants need to be watered only once a month or even longer.

I decorated the bottle terrariums with tiny toadstools, flowers, butterflies and even lady bugs, all made with jumping clay (read about it in my previous post). Since one of my friends is a totoro fan like me, I made a thumb-size blue totoro figurine for her terrarium.

I created these 3 bottle terrariums with the help from my two children. The bottles appeared huge in this photo, but they are not more than 5 inches in height.

A closer look of the side view:

View from the top...are you able to spot the ladybug? These plants with pretty foliage are known as fitonnia.

I have wanted to make this into an aquarium, so I decorated it with some of my precious shells, but, after adding the other figurines, it doesn't look like an aquarium at all (^^"). My younger boy sponsored two of his jumping clay creations...a bird...

and a cute little froggy ;) I planted Dill and Rosemary (both from my little herb garden) in this one. I hope they will grow well. This is specially for one of my friends who likes to cook and bake as well. I am certain she will like the lovely smell from the herbs each time she opens the lid to water them.

I like this photo best...I could almost imagine there is a cloud of question marks (?????) hovering over the totoro's head ;)

Gardens in bottles, all ready to be given away. I hope my friends will like them :)

Thursday 1 April 2010


The title of this post is in fact the title of a book "我的小孩也能轻松长高10cm" which means "my child can grow taller by 10cm". I have two boys; my younger child is quite tiny compared to his peers. Although his parents are not very tall, we are not that short either. My elder child is average in height and built, however, he doesn't seem to be growing very much lately..some children of his age have already grown so much taller and bigger. So naturally, this book caught my immediate attention when I saw the title on its spine.

I read with great interest how a child could grow much taller through exercises which involve moving the body through a full range of motions, sports such as swimming, basketball, volley ball, badminton,  are good examples. These sports help to stimulate the bone and cartilage growth. Doing stretching exercises; yoga; maintaining a good posture will also help to strengthen the spinal column.

The next important factor for a child to grow taller is to have enough rest. This means having at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, especially during one's growth period or adolescence. It is during sleep that our body will produce and release growth hormones which causes the thickening and lengthening of our bones. The first couple of hours of sleep is the most critical, this is the time when the pituitary gland produces the maximum growth hormones for release to the body system. Incidentally, while writing up this post, I read from several websites that sleeping without a pillow will be easier for our spine to align (as straight as possible) and allow it to be fully decompress. Sleeping on a firm and yet comfortable mattress also helps flatten our back. Using a pillow will cause the neck to bend forward and arches the back as well. In my opinion, a pillow provides support to our neck, as long as the pillow is not too high, causing the head to bend too much forward, I wouldn't force my kids to sleep without one.

Besides exercising and adopting a good sleeping habit, the third factor to help a child grow taller is through eating a proper balanced diet that contains calcium-rich food and proteins. It is also important to include food that is rich in Vitamin D as it helps to assimilate the calcium for better bone growth.

I would regard this as a cookbook rather than a parenting/child-development book. More than half of the book is covered with simple and yet delicious looking meals which I think most adults would even find them appealing.

The first recipe (which happens to be the first recipe in the book) I followed is this Fried Rice with Dried Anchovies and Vegetables. Dried anchovies or better known as Ikan Bilis over this part of our world, is a good source of calcium. According to the book it is considered the king of calcium (eaten with the bones in tact). A 100g of dried anchovies (small ones) contains 902mg of calcium, whereas a 100g of milk (normal, not fortified with calcium) contains only 120mg.

Besides carrots, green and red bell peppers, I added sweet corns and stir-fried the rice with an egg. Instead of ikan bilis, I used dried silver fish. While I was cooking the dish, the aroma from the dried silver fish reminded me very much of this common hawker fare, nasi goreng ikan bilis (fried rice with anchovies).

Please pardon me for the poor image quality, the photos were taken under florescent lights, as a result, the colours lose their overall balance and appear unnatural. My photos didn't do any justice to this delicious one-dish meal. It is such a satisfying meal by itself that we can have it for week-day lunch or a hassle-free dinner on any nights :)