Wednesday 30 November 2011

baking away from home

(the photos in this post appear faded and washed out, which is intentional...)
Nothing beats a nice, warm homemade muffin over a cup of hot coffee, especially in a cold, wintery afternoon.

These banana raisins muffins are the very first bakes I made in the tiny kitchen of this small service apartment that we will be staying for the next few weeks. The kitchen area is not more than 1.5m by 1.5m, but it is very well equipped. Besides the basic utensils, there is even a spatula and a stylish balloon whisk.

Knowing that I will miss baking for the entire period that we are away, I brought along my digital weighing scale, a small pack of caster sugar, and at the very last minute I stuff in a pack of flour into my luggage, just in case. I had reminded myself to bring along some disposable foil pans but had totally forgotten about muffin cups. Luckily, I manage to get some while shopping for groceries here, if not, I am sure my cyberfriend, VB would be more than eager to dispatch some over to me ;)

I have on hand some very rippped bananas, a small pack of raisins, eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, flour and baking powder. With just a few strokes, these basic ingredients was magically transformed into a batch of soft and fluffy muffins. I stood by the oven to watch how the muffins ballooned and domed…at the same time letting myself engulfed in the wonderful sweet aroma of banana muffins baking in the oven.

The oven in the apartment didn't disappoint me. I really like how these muffins turn out…the crust is a little crisp, yet the centre is very soft and moist. One of the simplest pleasures in my life…is to be able to sink my teeth into a delicious medley of fluffy crumbs, tiny chunks of bananas and sweet, plumped raisins. A simple cake is all I need to keep me very happy the whole day :)

Banana Raisin Muffins

(makes 7 muffins)

50g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten (about 50g without shells)
50g vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
2 large over ripped bananas, roughly mashed (about 210g)
150g cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
50g raisins

  1. Pre heat oven to 180degC.
  2. Soak raisins with some water or orange juice for about 10-15mins. Drain and pat dry. Lightly coat with a teaspoon of flour (extra), remove any excess flour.
  3. Sieve flour and baking powder, set aside.
  4. Roughly mash bananas with a fork.
  5. Place sugar, eggs in a mixing bowl. Whisk with a balloon whisk to combine.
  6. Add in oil, whisk to combine.
  7. Add in mashed banana, stir with a spatula to combine.
  8. Sieve over flour mixture, stir with spatula until just incorporated. DO NOT Overmix. The batter should appear lumpy.
  9. Spoon batter into paper muffin cups, fill to ¾ full.
  10. Bake at 180degC for 25mins until golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack, leave to cool completely.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Just another day

It was the first Monday morning of the school holiday…just like any other day for me...

After a not so good sleep the previous night (maybe the bed was too comfortable?), I went about doing the usual chores that I would usually do back home…woke the elder boy up (the younger one has got an internal alarm clock in his body), prepared breakfast…the usual bread with coffee or milk for the boys…but for once for after a long break, I got to send my better half to work in the morning.

After pottering around doing this and that to get everything organised, I left the kids in the apartment and went off to the nearby local supermarket to get some groceries. My boys were too engrossed with the monopoly card games they got from the friendly air stewardess the day before…after working for 2 hours on their assessment books right after breakfast, they were not too keen to venture out into the cold.

The temperature was about 6 deg C when I got out of the house in the late morning. A lovely sight greeted me in the cold, and yet nice and comfortable weather in Beijing….a colourful fruit stand!

Next to it was a messy, make shift vegetable stand…

A huge pile of Chinese cabbage by the roadside…definitely not a common sight back home…

There was a good variety of vegetables, from leafy spinach, to cucumbers, colourful capsicums, mushrooms, onions, etc…

What caught my eyes were these big red tomatoes…nothing close to their small, yellowish orange cousins back home. I asked the friendly Ah Yi (Chinese for aunt) whether these taste better than those small mini ones I spotted in another crate (which by the way looked like some expensive vine ripped tomatoes). She assured me that these bigger ones were good…she then pointed to a small pile of red, squashed skins on the ground behind where she was standing, and told me she just finished eating one (^_^''') I bought just two fruits to try, telling her I would come back for more if they were really good. I paid $1.60 yuan for two huge tomatoes which works out to be less than 40 cents in Singapore. I also bought some fresh white button mushrooms, which cost less than one third the price.

I took about 5 mins to walk back to the apartment...savouring the sights of this quiet neighbourhood, a great contrast to the bustling main streets just a few hundred metres away. I felt as though I am a local, I bet no one would think I am a foreigner as long as I don't open my mouth, haha! Even though I speak Chinese, my accent will give me away. The locals could tell from my accent that I am from the South, although not many would have guess correctly that I come from the little red dot.

I got back in time to prepare a simple lunch and my kids spent the rest of the afternoon doing art and craft…

It was the first time their Chinese calligraphy teacher instructed my elder son to practise writing during the holidays…being a very obedient student, he brought his brushes, writing materials and ink along. Despite having attended weekly lessons for the past 7 years, he still has got a long long way to go before he could master this Chinese art…

The younger fellow spent his time working on this mulberry paint artwork (mulberry paint is made from the bark of Mulberry tree). It is quite a tedious task trying to 'stick' tiny lumps of damp, pulp-like stuff onto the template with just tweezers and a pointer. There is actually a warning stated on the package…ie. kids shouldn't spent more than 30mins on it if not they may faint! Well, my child really enjoyed doing this craft, he told me he didn't faint even thought he had already been working on it for more than an hour ;)

After a light, home cooked dinner, my boys managed to persuade their daddy to play card games with them, while I unwind in the couch…playing my favourite role as a couch potato ;)

That pretty sums up my first day in Beijing…just like any other day, hope I didn't bore you to death! And oh, by the way, the red tomatoes were really good, I cut one into wedges and ate it like a fruit, even my boys ate them without a wince…I wouldn't say it tasted very sweet, but it was juicy and not sour at all, it definitely won't leave you with a tart tomato-y after taste! I could imagine having them for breakfast, lightly roasted and topped with some salt and black pepper :D

This post is published via email, I hope it works well, but my photos may not appear clear or sharp as they were all taken with my iphone. I will try to update this blog as regularly as I could...will love to share with you any interesting sights and food that I come across during my short stay here in Beijing.

Saturday 19 November 2011

cake in a cup

It is more than a month since I last baked something! I was so caught up with cleaning up the house, clearing the clutters, removing old textbooks to make room for new ones, and shopping for winter clothes and gears for our trip. When I have time to take a breather, I would be crawling over the web, looking for ways and climb over the Great fire Wall of China.

We will be spending the year end school holidays in China, where blogger, wordpress, youtube, facebook, twitter are all blocked. After testing out a few alternative ways of climbing over the great firewall, I managed to find a possible solution to update my blog without having to access Blogger. The one that works well is to publish a post via email. So instead of creating a new post in blogger, I have to compose the post within an email. It will be posted once I sent it to my mail2blogger address. The next issue is, how to view my blog post or visit the blogs that I frequent...the way to get around it is to read blog updates via Google reader. However, I won't be able to view the images, only text will be displayed, I tested out RSS feed reader, but it didn't work well. The worst is, I won't be able to leave any comments on blogs or reply to any comments or questions on my own blog post. I will have to be a silent reader until we pardon me if I am not able to answer your questions promptly. Well, at least I get to update my blog!

In my attempt to clear the leftover ingredients in my fridge, I planned to make my favourite Fruit Pastry Cake. However, to save time from lining my cake pan, I baked the cake in paper muffin cups. I also took the liberty to cut down on the sugar amount from 150g to 120g. To speed things up, I transfered the finished batter into a clear plastic bag, snipped off a corner of the plastic bag, and used it like a piping bag to fill up each paper cup. Not only it makes spooning of the batter so much easier, it was neater and no mess!

But, my brain has gone rusty...blame it on the long break in between my baking sessions...when I was about to put the tray of filled paper cups into the oven, I was greeted with a 'dark' oven. I had totally forgotten to turn on the oven! There was no choice but to let the batter wait for the oven to be preheated. I thought it was going to be a gone case...but to my surprise, the cake rose high up over the rim just 15mins into baking :)

Thanks to my baking fairy, the blunder I made didn't affect the texture or taste of the cake at all. Even though it is a cake, it is quite similar to a muffin. It was a real breakfast treat for me as I haven't had any homemade cakes for weeks.

Although this is not a cupcake per se, I will like to submit this Blueberry Cake in a cup to Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes! (November 2011), hosted by Min's Blog. I hope it will be accepted :)

Blueberry Cake in a cup

(makes about 9 cupcakes)

100g unsalted butter, soften at room temperature
120g caster sugar
50g yogurt (plain or blueberry flavour)
3 eggs, (medium size) lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
210g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
some fresh blueberries

  1. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add yogurt, mix to combine.
  2. Dribble in the eggs gradually and beat till incorporated in the batter. (The mixture may appear slightly curdled.)
  3. Add vanilla extract, mix to combine.
  4. Sieve over flour and baking powder and mix with a spatula till smooth.
  5. Spoon batter into paper liners, fill it to about 3/4 full. Top with some fresh blueberries (if using frozen berries, do not thaw).
  6. Bake in pre-heat oven at 180degC for 25-30 minutes until golden or a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre. 
  7. Transfer to wire rack to let cool completely. Dust the top with some icing sugar if desired. Serve warm.

Friday 4 November 2011

cooking without a recipe

I have never baked anything without following a recipe closely...the same thing doesn't seem to apply when it comes to cooking...

I don't usually follow any recipes when preparing our daily meals...unless it is a special dish...

While we were heading towards the supermarket entrance I asked my elder child what would he like to have for lunch today, he came back with, "How about pasta salad?"

And so the two us spent the next 10mins picking up the ingredients and we were soon on our way home. I had about 45mins before my younger child came knocking on the front door...the timing was just right, although I would love to take a 15mins rest instead of having to prepare lunch right away.

Here's our simple lunch today...potato macaroni salad with chicken breast, carrots, Japanese cucumbers, and hard boiled eggs. I used two separate pots to cook the ingredients so as to speed things up...the sequence of cooking the ingredients are important when you want to save time. The first two ingredients to be cooked were the hard boiled eggs and the macaroni as there is no preparation required...while they were boiling away,  I diced the carrots, potatoes and the cucumbers. Then I boiled the potatoes, blanched the carrots and cucumbers, and cooked the chicken breast. While these were cooking, I removed the shells of the eggs and cut them into chunks. Everything was drained and placed in a big mixing bowl...I added some salt, freshly cracked black pepper, dried parsley and some mayo, just enough to coat the ingredients. I even managed to clean and tidy up the kitchen counter before my son stepped into the house.

I must say this dish is good to serve as a side...somehow, something is lacking when eaten as a meal on its own. But we still enjoyed our simple lunch...although the younger boy did make a comment that it would be good if I had cooked him some soup, especially when the weather was nice and cooling. Will certainly remember to do so the next time...