Sunday, December 13, 2009

Curly Sage

Honestly, I didn't think that the sage I bought in September would survive my black fingers..

But somehow, it did.. (thanks to tips from a fellow forummer from GCS. See below for details..) But my sage is not doing very well. The leaves are curling up quite a bit and becoming really brittle.

I know that the sage plant is a native of Mediterranean areas - it likes full sun and does not like too much watering. So, I have been letting the soil dry out a bit in between waterings..

Perhaps it is lack of water that is causing the curly leaves.. but I'm afraid that it'd rot from overwatering.. Actually, I suspect the curly leaves can be blamed on the mealy bugs I have been finding on the plant. I have been faithfully checking the plant for mealybugs for the last month and killing any I see off.. But somehow, I still see the odd mealybug now and then.

Hopefully, I can get this plant to survive my trip.

Tips for growing sage in tropical Singapore (see original forum post here):
  1. Soil - grow in a well draining mix. Add 2 parts of sand into potting mixes (like Green Lover, which is a mix of burnt earth, compost, etc).
  2. Light - Morning direct sunshine is essential. Keep away from noon sun (which is a little too hot, esp lately).
  3. Water - With the growing conditions in 1 and 2, plants are watered once in the morning. If it wilts later on, water again. If not, wait till next morning.
  4. Fertiliser - slow release osmoscote pellets coupled with water soluble fertiliser like phostrogen or gaviota weekly at half strength.
  5. Air circulation - Grow sage in a well ventilated place. This is important.

Homemade vanilla extract - One month later

About one month back, I made my own vanilla extract and wrote this post.

This is how my vanilla extract look like one month later:

The vanilla extract is much darker now

It is now looking much darker.. but one thing is for sure.. the 6 - 8 weeks stated in The Traveler's Lunchbox is just not going to work for me!

Vanilla extract - now and then.. The colour is quite
different now.. compared to one month back...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Homegrown Lady's Fingers

My Okra plant is all grown up.

She is now bearing a proud little fruit, just about 2 inches long.

A few websites have some really good tips on growing and harvesting the Lady's Fingers plant.

Here are a few tips I found particularly useful:
1. Harvest the okra when the pods are young as they become tough, woody, and inedible if left on the plant until they mature, usually under one week. (Some sources say 4 days)
2. If growing conditions are good, even larger okra can still be tender and edible. Test for tenderness by snapping off the end of a pod. If it snaps, it hasn’t become touch and fibrous yet and should still be good for eating.
3. Maturing, older pods sap strength that could go to keeping the plant producing new pods daily. Unless you desire ripe pods for seed saving, overmature pods should be removed
4. Okra plants do not like to be transplanted, so make sure you grow them in large enough pots if growing from seeds so that you do not have to move them.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Less Fruity Fruitcake - Attempt 2

With some adjustments to the recipe and careful measuring... I think I got the Less Fruity Fruitcake right.. or at least better this time...

135g mixed dried fruits (I used a mixture of raisins, cranberry and prunes)
110g Dark Rum
65g Unsifted Cake Flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
113g unsalted butter
60g sugar (The cake would be darker if dark brown sugar is used. I used raw sugar)
1 large egg
80g unsulfured molasses
30g milk

What I did
1. Soak the dried fruits in rum for at least one day in advance (I did it last week)
2. Add all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and mix well
3. Mix the milk and molasses and set aside
4. Cream the butter and sugar til light and fluffy
5. Add the egg in and mix well
6. Add the flour into the mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the molasses and milk mixture
7. Add in the dried fruits (leave the excess soaking rum behind.. it can be used to soak another batch of dried fruits)
8. Bake at 170 deg C for about 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.

  • It could be because of the dried fruits.. but the Cake Bible's directions were to add all the soaking rum into the batter. I didn't do that. The batter was already quite curdled when I added in the soaked fruits.

  • The Cake Bible's directions were to bake for about 20 minutes. Again, 20 minutes just wasn't enough for me.. I baked for about 40 minutes in total..

  • Unsulphured molasses is made from mature sugar cane, which does not require treatment with sulphur. Sulphured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulphur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, is added during the sugar extraction process.

  • This one is for the holidays season!

    This cake has a VERY strong rum taste.. For adults only..

    Flowers of the Malabar Spinach

    I am delighted to find flowers on my malabar spinach. They seemed to come out of nowhere.

    One day my Malabar spinach was just a normal looking plant.. and then the next day beautiful flower budes dressed in purple with a slight tinge of yellow and green appeared. Or at least I thought that they were just flower buds at first. Then I rememebered Petunia's post - they were not flower buds but flowers.

    The Malabar Spinach has been growing very well especially with the heavy rains and hot sun that we get towards the end of the year. But I'd have to cut it up significantly before I leave for my trip so I thought I'd take a picture of it because I'd be chopping it down for a yummilicious salad.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    To-Bake List

    Time really flies.. It's December already and this is the last week where I'd be spending a full week at home. After this week, I'd be travelling and will only be back next year.

    This year, I have attended a number of baking classes and bought (or rather The Husband bought) lots of cookbooks.

    And there are so many things I want to bake. I just either have been too lazy sometimes.. or some kind of excuse comes up and I didn't bake.

    The excuse at the beginning of the year was mostly because I didn't have a good mixer and it was too tiring to do everything by hand. But then we bough The Beast and that excuse wasn't valid anymore.

    Then the most common excuse was that there was no one to help eat my bakes.. and I thought the year end festive season would kind of put an end to that excuse.. But then we have all these travel plans.. so no time to bake.

    OK, so now I have decided to come up with a To-Bake list. So that I can use it to make sure I really get down to it. And I'm going to make sure that I'd bake all these stuff on my To-Bake list over the next few months.
    1. Less Fruity Fruitcake (My first attempt didn't turn that well..)
    2. "Real" Banana Bread (Real bread.. not quick-mix cake like the one I previously made, from Jamie Oliver)
    3. The Big Melt-down (Chocolate cake with melty centre.. looks really fantastic actually , from Kitchen Tigeress)
    4. Baked Cheesecake (from Baking Mum)
    5. French Apple Tart (from Baking with Julia)
    6. Tomato and Basil Galette, or Mixed Berries Galette (Same dough recipe, from Baking with Julia)
    7. Carrot Cake with Frosting (from The Cake Bible)
    8. Earl Grey Bread (Recipe from a friend)
    9. Pear and Peach Tart (Recipe from a baking class I took)
    10. Chocolate Almond Biscotti (from Evan's Kitchen Ramblings)
    Oh.. I have to really get started soon!

    They look so happy and serene..

    And the other is White...

    A couple of months back, I blogged about one of my 2 hibiscus seedlings.. It produced bright pink flowers..

    I didn't know what colours the other seedling would produce.. because I had gotten the seeds mixed up during the germination process.

    For the past week, I've been eagerly watching 2 flower buds of this seedling grow..

    On Saturday, I was quite delighted to see a little bit of white popping out of the buds.. could it be...

    And today, I see this..

    White hibiscus in full bloom.. such a big flower

    Actually, I've known for a couple of days now, that this plant will produce white flowers... because the buds were white. But it was only yesterday that I realised it'd be a white flower with a red centre because I could see a hint of red in the centre of the bud as it slowly opened.

    How it looked like yesterday.. I could see the colours already..
    but it looked much smaller!

    I'm not sure if it is just me.. but I feel this white hibiscus' flower development (from bud to full bloom) is much slower compared to the pink one.. But then, maybe it's just because I'm impatient to see it in full bloom..

    I feel very lucky to have both colours in my garden.. because these are the only 2 seedlings that managed to germinate out of the 4 or 5 seeds I've sown.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    Kumquat Tea

    Kumquats are grown in many homes in Singapore and I was surprised by how little I know about these fruits until I lived in Beijing. To me, these are plants that are grown during Chinese New Year for luck or prosperity... or something along that line.

    It has never occured to me that the fruits can be eaten.

    In Beijing, fresh whole kumquats (including the skin and all) are eaten and enjoyed as a simple after-dinner snack. I think the variety that they have in Beijing has a thinner skin and therefore taste good when eaten this way. The kumquats I bought in Singapore have a much thicker skin and I didn't like eating it fresh as much.

    I was still thinking about how to finish off all the leftover kumquats I had when I came across this post. Inspired by it, I decided to something with all the leftover kumquats I had. I didn't want to make candied kumquats because I know I won't end up eating them very much.. and they'd inevitably spoil in my fridge.

    So I decided to make kumquat syrup. It's something like kumquat jam, except I'd be using it for kumquat tea instead of having it with toast.

    Kumquat Syrup
    A pint of kumquats
    A few tablespoons of sugar, to taste (I used vanilla sugar)

    What I did
    1. Washed and blanched all the kumquats in hot water
    2. Thinly sliced and de-seeded most of the kumquats, leaving about 4 to 5 whole
    3. Placed all the kumquats (sliced and whole) into a small pot and pour water to just cover the kumquats
    4. Put a few tablespoons of sugar into the pot (to taste.. I added sugar and some honey)
    5. Boil until the water level is half that of the initial level. Press the whole kumquats to squeeze out all the juices inside
    6. Continue boiling until the mixture is very thick and syrup-like. The entire process takes between 40 - 50 minutes
    7. Let mixture cool and store in jam jar or air-tight glass bottle

    To make kumquat tea, take a tablespoon or 2 of the syrup and mix with hot water. I also like it with iced water.. It makes a very refreshing drink on a hot day like today!

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Less Fruity Fruitcake - Attempt 1

    Amongst all the fruitcake recipes I've looked up, this recipe from The Cake Bible appealed to me the most.

    For one, the name "Less Fruity Fruitcake". Yeah! I don't like fruitcakes where there are more fruits than cake!

    And another, it has lots and lots of alcohol.. and the book said it could be baked in muffin cups which meant less washing up which I liked.

    So I decided to give this recipe a go.

    Sadly, I made a mistake with the measuring of the ingredients.. (I think I added too much alcohol) because the batter that resulted was seriously too watery to be baked.

    I ended up adding more (a serious lot more) alcohol flour (Added 6 Dec 09: I must be drunk when I wrote this! hahah!) so that the mixture would resemble that of a cake batter. And then had to bake it for quite a while longer than what the 20 mins the book said it should take.

    Happily, the cake turned out quite yummy.. and all that alcohol made it smell so heavenly whilst it was cooking away in the oven.

    But still, I haven't quite done this recipe justice.. so I've soaked some more dried fruits and will be making it again next week.

    Less Fruity Fruitcake - Attempt No. 1.
    A yummy but unattractive cake. I'd post the recipe once I get it right...

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Good substitutes

    I am the type of person who needs a shopping list.

    Without a shopping list, I often come home from the supermarket, and realised that I've forgotten to get something.

    When that happens, sometimes my baking plans get delayed.

    And that is not a good thing because I only bake when I am in a particular sort of mood.

    But I've learnt that sometimes, you can substitute an ingredient and still have the bread or cake turn out pretty decent. (Kudos to the baking classes and various blogs I read..)

    And here are a few particularly useful ones..

    Baking Powder -- 1 part baking soda + 2 parts cream of tartar. Use immediately
    Self-raising flour -- 100g plain flour + 0.5tsp baking powder.
    Diary Cream (in butter cakes and frosting) -- Evaporated milk
    Cream of Tartar -- Lemon Juice
    Brown Sugar (1 cup) -- 1 cup white granulated sugar (minus 1 tbsp) + 1 tbsp of Molasses
    Sourcream (1 cup) -- 1 cup plain yoghurt + 1 teaspoon baking soda
    Buttermilk (1 cup) -- 1 cup (minus 1 tbsp) milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice
    Heavy cream (not for whipping) -- 1/3 cup melted butter + 3/4 cup milk

    A very cute cartoon I found online (link here)..
    if only we can substitute french fries for salads instead..

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Jamie Oliver's Banana Bread

    Happy said that this Jamie Oliver's recipe is fantastic.

    And you know, it did met all my criteria for a good recipe - simple to find ingredients and super simple to execute.

    To be very honest, I don't know why this is called a banana bread because the recipe uses no yeast... and so there is no proofing time involved.

    This is a 2 bowls and 20 minutes recipe. Meaning that I only ended up using and having to wash 2 bowls.. (ok, and of course the baking pan, if you are particular) and it took me about 20 minutes, the time it took for the oven to pre-heat, to finish making the batter.

    The original recipe from Jamie Oliver can be found here. I've adapted it a little by adding macadamia nuts (I don't fancy walnuts and pecans) and substituting 20g of melted butter with low-fat yoghurt (I wanted a less oily bread.)

    115 g macadamia nuts, lightly toasted and chopped
    245 g all-purpose flour
    150 g granulated white sugar
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tspsalt
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    2 large eggs, lightly beaten
    93g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    20g plain low-fat yoghurt
    454 grams very ripe bananas (the bananas should be very brown)
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    I banana (sliced), for garnishing

    What I did
    1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and place oven rack to middle position.
    2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl (Bowl #1)
    3. Mash the bananas in a medium bowl (Bowl #2) - not too finely so there are some nice chunks of bananas here and there
    4. Pour the melted butter, beaten egg, vanilla extract and yoghurt into Bowl #2
    5. Pour the banana mixture in Bowl #2 slowly into Bowl #1, folding in carefully as you go along.
    6. Mix until the ingredients are just combined. (Be careful not to overmix). Place some sliced bananas on top for garnishing, if desired (these bananas will caramelised nicely)
    7. Bake in loaf pan (buttered and floured) for 50 - 60 minutes

    This bread is yummy served warm with a glass of cold milk.

    A very healthy looking bread..

    The banana bread - inside and out...
    Actually.. it does look like a bread on the inside..

    P/S: Subsequent to writing this post, I realised this is really not a bread but a quick-mix cake.. and the recipe is not even Jamie Oliver's though it is from the website. The "real" Jamie Oliver's Banana and Honey Bread recipe is another recipe.. and I've tried out out. See here for more..

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    Campfire's burning

    The huge campfire.. one of the biggest I've seen live..
    Good thing we didn't burn anything..

    It's been a long long time since I last saw a campfire.. But yesterday, I managed to join in for the campfire and even got to help with the whole set-up.

    Such a sense of accomplishment when the few sparkles we threw inside ignited a HUGE fire. It was really fun... even though it was really HOT!

    And when the fire died down, The Girls went near to barbeque some marshmellows for supper.

    It brought back all the good old memories of secondary school and JC life.. all the overnight camps we had to attend with limited bathing time.. the (somewhat silly) songs we sang around campfires.. the funny games we had to play..

    The firewood, all nicely set up

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    The 100 Cupcakes Challenge - Part 4

    This is Part 4 and also Part Final of the 100 Cupcakes Challenge.

    I made the icing for the cupcakes this morning.

    The Rachel Rae's recipe I mentioned in Part 2 was supposed to be for 6 dozen cupcakes and according to many of the reviews, just nice in terms of sweetness.. "Not too sweet"..

    Quantity-wise, I think 6 dozen was about right. I made slightly more and had more than sufficient icing for The Girls. But it was rather sweet. I think that the sugar amount can easily to reduced by 30% - 40%.

    Anyway, the Girls did seem to rather enjoy the class... and oh... they were really creative with the icing. I gave them 4 colours - red, blue, green and violet and they made so many different designs and shades of icing.

    In all, I thought that this cupcakes class really took a lot of work.. in part due to my inexperience. I think I would be able to do a faster job the next time around... if I ever have to do it again.

    Though I hope it'd not be in the near future..

    My favourite piece..

    Cupcakes by me..

    Cupcakes by the girls.. They were very creative..

    And more cupcakes..

    A fun and unique design by one of the girls

    Thursday, November 26, 2009

    The 100 Cupcakes Challenge - Part 3

    Today is The Day.

    The Day that I have to bake 100 cupcakes.

    Saturday will be when I have to do the frosting for 100 cupcakes.

    But I'm feeling more confident about Saturday because I have just finished making 100 cupcakes.. and am still alive and unhurt, except for an aching back and a tiny burn..

    To be precise, I baked 111 cupcakes (Who's counting..) and ate 2 of them (Well, someone has got to test them, right?) And so now, I have 109 cupcakes sitting nicely in my kitchen.

    I ended up making half a batch more than what I posted in Part 2, partly because I found out that my muffin cups weren't that mini after all.. (although I must say they looked pretty mini to me in the store..)

     I also ended up making some chocolate chip cupcakes and marble cupcakes.. just for fun and variety.

    My cupcakes look very "home-made" - they are all filled up to different heights.. some too little batter, others too much...

    But hey.. they taste pretty good.. so.. who cares!

    Watch out for Part 4 on Saturday - Cupcakes with Frosting... I'd try to take pictures of those done by me and by The Girls..

    Home-made cupcakes...

    Cooled and in boxes.. I still can't believe I made so many cupcakes..

    100 cupcakes packed away.. Now, where can I store them...?

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    The 100 Cupcakes Challenge - Part 2

    Things I am doing to make my 100 cupcakes challenge viable:

    1. Go mini
    I will be making mini cupcakes for my 100 cupcakes challenge. I decided it is easier (hopefully) to go small.

    I'd also be using mini muffin cups since I don't have enough cake trays for that many cupcakes..

    2. Keep things simple
    I'd be making only 2 different types of cupcakes (Butter cupcakes and Chocolate cupcakes) with essentially the same recipe.

    And all the frosting will all be made from the same (Rachel Ray) recipe.. Just using different colouring for variety..

    3. Think Ready-Made
    Mini chocolate chips and assorted colourful toppings from Sunlik Trading (Seah Street)

    4. Extra extra extra
    I'd try to make an extra amount of everything just in case I make mistakes..

    And I just realised I need more than 2 kg of sugar! Wow... I must remember that.. and try not to eat too many at one go...

    The Recipes:
    For Butter Cup Cakes:
    Butter 280g
    Sugar 520g
    Salt 1tsp
    Whole Egg 4 Nos
    Cake Flour 540g
    Milk 440g (Added 26 Nov 09: I think 400g of milk would suffice)
    Baking Powder 2tsp

    For Chocolate Cup Cakes:
    Butter 280g
    Sugar 520g
    Salt 1tsp
    Whole Egg 4Nos
    Cake Flour 440g
    Milk 440g
    Cocoa Powder 100g
    Bicarbonate of Soda 2tsp

    Steps for the cakes:
    1. Sift all the dry ingredients together
    2. Cream butter and sugar until colour turns light
    3. And eggs one at a time
    4. Add one third of the dry ingredients, then one third of the milk and keep alternating til all ingredients are added

    For the Frosting:
    Butter 450g
    Icing Sugar 1350g (Added 28 Nov 09: I think 1000g of icing sugar is enough..)
    Vanilla Extract 1tsp
    Milk 60g
    4 different food colouring

    Steps for the frosting:
    1. Cream butter til light, adding the sugar gradually
    2. When half the sugar has been added, add in milk and vanilla essence before adding the remaining sugar
    3. When frosting is done, add in desired colouring

    Now, if only my cupcakes could look like that!

    Post script, added 26 Nov 09:
    I think the recipe above is enough for about around 80-90 small cupcakes.. I ended up making another half a batch and ended up with 100 small cupcakes and 11 big ones.

    I also think the recipe for the Butter Cupcakes should be adjusted (by reducing the amount of milk) so that you get a thicker batter... and by error I found that the baking powder can be ommitted - the cake still taste fluffy and nice.. The Chocolate Cupcakes recipe is just fine.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    The 100 Cupcakes Challenge - Part 1

    The challenge: 100 cupcakes + frosting

    The limitations: 1 inexperienced baker, 1 home oven and 1 relatively small kitchen

    The deadline (100% self-imposed): 5 hours for the cupcakes, 2 hours for the frosting, including clean-up and packing time

    I'm supposed to be baking the cupcakes and preparing the frosting for a cupcake icing class that G has asked me to take for The Girls.

    It would be on the second day of The Camp and just in case I have to do some last minute stuff on the first day, I have decided that I would make the cupcakes 2 days in advance (heck the "cakes taste best on the day they are baked" principle) and would make the frosting the morning of the second day.

    For someone who has only ever baked about 10 cupcakes before.. and have only really frosted a couple of cupcakes... 100 cupcakes is a huge challenge. I'm hoping all goes well for the class.. but in case things go badly... well.. it'd be a cupcakes tasting class instead of a cupcakes icing class!

    The last time I made cupcakes... during baking class in Oct

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    More freshly baked bread

    Out-of-oven-time: Usual time, approximately 3pm on Saturday

    Baker: The Husband

    Verdict: Again.. these are better than the last ones.. Practice really makes a difference!

    Freshly baked and consumed on Saturday.. 

    Ham and Egg bread with cheese topping. He also made a very nice
    Coconut Bun.. which I didn't manage to take any nice photos of...

    Meeting Brick Walls

    I have a simple dream.

    (Actually, I have many. But this is one of them)

    I dream of having my own little sit-down cafe.. where students can catch up with one another after school.. where friends meet up for chit-chat on weekends.. where siblings share a dessert and update each other over a cup of coffee.. where tired folks come in after work and get a little refreshment that keeps going.. and where families come in for a lazy weekend brunch and family bonding time..

    And where I get to cook and bake only stuff I like to eat.. and feel like cooking or baking each day...

    One day, I'd open this laissez-faire cafe of mine..

    Coming back to reality, I have decided a few months back that I will start small in my F&B endeavours.

    I'd open a take-away F&B counter somewhere in this small island. My concept is ready and as in my menu... many things require fine tuning.. but they are more or less in place..

    But but but... I can't find a shop space.

    They are either too big.. or too expensive.. or too quiet.. or just simply not suitable.

    But mostly, I just get the same response - "No space available.. til at least Q3 of next year.."

    I will not.. and must not let this brick wall stop me.

    For as Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch said in his final lecture:
    "Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things."

    "The brick walls are there to stop people who don't want it badly enough. They're there to stop the other people."

    I have to get over this brick wall to get a step closer to this particular dream of mine. There will be so many more ahead of me in future.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Back from winter

    2 flights, 4 inflight movies and a sore-throat-cum-cough later, I'm back home from a short trip.

    It is so good to be back to a tropical climate, from cold and dry Beijing.

    It was nice to be away but so much nicer to be back home..

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Practice makes perfect

    They say practice makes perfect.. and I'm beginning to realise how true that is, especially for baking.

    The Husband has been baking bread every Saturday for a number of weeks now..

    And every week, I've just been saying.. "This is the best bread you have baked so far.."

    Today's bakes... Very yummy..

    One of his first breads... They were good.. but not as fluffy..

    First birthday cake

    Today was the first time I made a birthday cake.

    Not for myself, of course. For a friend's birthday.. or rather, 2 friends' birthday. The birthday girl had asked for a chocolate cake with strawberries. So, I made a chocolate cake, added sweetened strawberries in the centre, and covered the cake with a french cream recipe.

    It's the first time I made a birthday cake - with icing and candles and all.. And of course, today's baking adventure went with some hiccups here and there.

    Firstly, I didn't have a suitable cake board. I only have one at home.. and it was just right for a 7 inch round cake. But the cake I made was a 9 inch cake.. so my cake board didn't come in helpful. In the end I made a board myself. With some cardboard and aluminium foil.

    Secondly, I started out quite late.. and didn't have time on my side. I cut the cake whilst it was still a little warm.. decorated it with cream whilst it was still a teeny weeny bit warm as well. Which made the cutting and decorating job a little tricky.

    Thirdly, I didn't whisk enough cream. I followed the quantites stated in the recipe.. which would have been sufficient for an 8 inch cake... but my cake was 9 inch! So I kind of ran out of cream.

    And lastly, I forgot the candles... so I called another friend to go get some for me...

    But nonetheless, it was a very interesting baking experience.. and I had very appreciative friends so it all turned out quite well in the end.

    Chocolate cake with French Cream and Strawberries

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Sushi Birthday Cake

    This is such a unique cake, right?

    It is a sushi birthday cake.

    It was a dear friend's birthday yesterday and R found this little Japanese restaurant tucked away at Tanjong Katong road. They apparently would make this for you if you tell them that someone in the group is celebrating his/ her birthday at the restaurant.

    There was a short debate about what this cake was supposed to be shaped after - strawberry... apple... carrot... I just agreed with everyone last night.. It seemed to look like any of those though I couldn't explain what the 2 smaller rice balls were.

    But when I took a look at the photo today again.. I know.

    It's a pumpkin carriage! The 2 smaller rice balls are the wheels!

    Hm... Just the right cake for Princess G.

    The food at this place was rather ok for a sit-down-order-away type of buffet place. I was most impressed by their miso soup with clams (very good... taste like one my Japanese friend's mother made for me years ago), hamachi sashimi and chawan-mushi.

    They were really quite understaffed when we went, so I felt a bit bad to be harrassing the waiter/ waitresses all the time.. but it was kind of hard to get their attention as they were zooming here and there. We were really tickled when the waiter came over to ask us when we wanted our sushi cake served and spoilt the surprise for G. And he did that twice!

    The first time he did that, R said yes, then pretended to not know what it was and turned around to G and asked, "What sushi cake?".

    Then he came around again and asked "So you want your sushi cake to be served now, right?"

    By then G was smiling away.. and all of us just roared with laughter!

    Minoriya Japanese Restaurant (Tanjong Katong)
    309-311 Tanjong Katong Road
    Singapore 437094
    Tel: +65-6346-6686

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    How to make your own vanilla extract

    Some time ago, I read these 2 blog entries (Evan's Kitchen Ramblings and The Traveler's Lunchbox) and was really keen to try to make my own vanilla extract.

    But then after a while, I forgot about all about it as I am often incline to do so..

    It was until recently, when we were trying to look for a bottle of vanilla extract (not essence) in Singapore... that I remembered these 2 posts. (Thanks to Evan for reminding me..)

    So, since I have all the neccessary ingredients - vanilla pods, alcohol and vanilla extract.. I thought, why not just try make a small batch.

    I followed the instructions from The Traveler's Lunchbox. Alcohol (I use vodka) + used vanilla pods (I added both used and new) + some vanilla extract to kick start the process. (Frugal me added only very little vanilla extract... They are so expensive!)

    All of that into 2 small recycled glass bottles.

    And... that was it. Seriously...? I read the blog again to make sure I wasn't missing out any vital step - like boiling and measuring temperature and all.. but that was really all that I was supposed to do.

    And what I need to do now is wait 6 to 8 weeks... (Or maybe 6 to 8 months..) and give the bottle a shake every once a week (I'd likely do that a lot more.. out of sheer curiousity and itchy fingers).

    This is actually quite fun.

    Especially if the extract turns out good.

    Homemade vanilla extract - How it looks like on Day 1, Hour 1.
    I'd take more pictures along the way..

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    A vase and a bowl

    Finally, these have been glazed and fired up.

    These are made using the coiling method, which is essentially rolling out coils of clay by hand, then using a mechanical wheel, some simple tools and water to mould and shape the clay into the desired shapes.

    This vase took me all in all.. about 7 hours to finish (I am very slow).. I am so glad the glaze work turned out the way I wanted it to..

    I like how the streaks of bluish-green glaze turned out

    The bowl I kind of rushed to finish.. so it has a "rushed" look as well... but it is the first piece I tried doing artwork on.. I thought the brown glaze didn't turn out as striking as I thought it would be.

    Wished the glaze was a lot darker...

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    No coincidences

    My flowers never seem to flower at the same time... no such luck for coincidences so far..

    But one day, when they do, I'd have yellow... light pink... bright pink... and blue flowers.. and also an unknown colour when my mysterious hibiscus flowers...

    Here is how they'd look like.. :)

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Macadamia Nut Biscotti

    The Husband made a batch of these on Sunday and what they didn't have in looks (as biscotti are often wont to).. they more than make up for in taste.

    They were super crunchy and crackly... and has that nice "biscotti" taste to it. It's the baking soda in the dough that gives the wonderful texture and flavour to these. When they came out of the oven the first time around, we both thought this was a failed project.

    But the second baking changed all that. A wonderful smell crept out of the oven and when he took it out, I knew this would be an instant hit with all of us.

    This is the second recipe that The Husband has tried from the book Baking with Julia. And both recipes had turned out really great. (The first were the Buttermilk Scones.)

    The original recipe in this book was Hazelnut Biscotti.. but because we had so many macadamia nuts at home, The Husband made these instead.

    Yummy yummy.

    Super crackly biscotti - did you know that biscotti roughly
    translates to cooked twice? (Bis - twice and cotti - cooked)

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    The Simplest Home-made Ricotta

    I saw the program Bills Food on TV yesterday and decided that his recipe for Ricotta and Herbs Roasted Chicken looks pretty innovative and good.

    I usually put butter under the skin of my roast chicken so that it will crisp and brown beautifully.

    But Bill Granger said on the program that he felt using butter made the roast chicken a little heavy and that he found ricotta does the job much better. I didn't think butter made my roast chicken very heavy but using ricotta sounded really quite interesting.. and healthy.

    And then I remembered reading about people making their own ricotta cheese at home from various blogs (Here, here, here and here) so I thought perhaps I can do it too..

    The recipes for homemade ricotta cheese were really quite varied.

    Some blogs say use whole milk and lemon. Others milk, heavy cream and vinegar... or lemon.. or buttermilk. Some's instructions were to boil the milk with the acid.. others to boil the milk first then pour in the acid.. Some advised allowing the milk and acid to curdle for 15 minutes.. others for up to 2 hours.

    Reading all these different recipes made me a little confused.. but it also gave me the impression that homemade ricotta is something that is hard to go too wrong. So I decied to go ahead and try making it at home today.

    Of course, in the end, I decided to choose the easiest recipe of all. Milk + lemon + curdling for just 15 minutes. (The detailed steps can be found here so I won't bother to go into details.)

    Here is my home-made ricotta cheese.

    Yummy home-made ricotta cheese.
    I'm going to try making my own mascarpone cheese next!

    According to various websites, it stays fresh for 2 to 5 days..  But I'm using mine tomorrow for the Ricotta and Herbs Roasted Chicken. :)

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Doggie Cookies with Surprise

    I wanted to bake these cookies ever since I saw them on this other blog. But there was no recipe specified on the blog. A simple search solved that problem. I found the recipe and instructions on this other blog and it looked pretty simple to make.

    I halved the recipe because I didn't think we could finish that many cookies. I also amended it a little (added milk instead of milk powder) so that the cookies will be more melt-in-your-mouth.

    For about 25 - 28 cookies, depending on the size of the cookies
    90g butter
    40g Horlicks
    100g plain flour
    10g milk
    12g cornflour
    12g icing sugar
    Enough Regular-sized Chocolate chips to wrap inside the cookies
    Enough Mini Chocolate chips as the nose of each doggie
    Enough Chocolate Rice as the eyes of each doggie
    Enough Koko Krunch as the ears - I halved each Koko Crunch so that the ears won't be so big

    What I did
    1. Cream the butter, Holicks and milk by hand in a medium bowl
    2. Sift the flour, cornflour and icing sugar into the bowl
    3. Mix the flour in to form a dough. Place the dough into the fridge for about 15-20 minutes
    4. Divide dough into 8-10g each.
    5. Embed 2 regular-sized chocolate chips into each piece of dough and roll into a ball
    6. Insert 2 half-pieces of Koko Krunch to form the ears, 1 chocolate chip as the nose and 2 chocolate rice as the eyes
    7. Bake at 140 - 150 degC for about 25 - 35 minutes.

    These cookies are very pleasant to make. And not difficult at all. The dough can be mixed by hand - which also means minimal washing (I only used 1 metal bowl and a large spoon). And honestly, the trickiest part was just putting the eyes on properly..

    I like the cute look of the doggies and the "surprise" in the centre of these cookies - the chocolate chips... so I guess this will be a cookie I'd definitely make again.

    Maybe for my niece or nephew's birthday.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Flowering Blue Pea

    There are about 10 flowers on my Blue Pea today..

    That's the most I've seen before. This Blue Pea flowers quite frequently but usually, there are only 3 or 4 flowers each time. The flowers bloom for only 1 day so it's nice to see 10 in a single day..

    I like the colour of the flowers very much - it is a very nice, royal-looking blue.

    This plant is sturdy and tough.. I know for a fact that it can weather the hot scorching sun, strong winds and stormy rains pretty well.. because my plant has been through all that..

    Red spider mites seem to love it and they launch an attack sometimes when I'm not careful.. but other than them, my blue pea plant has been pretty resistant to other pests.

    The bright blue colour of the flowers can be used as a natural food dye, and sometimes I pluck them out on the day they flower to this lady at the gym, who uses them to dye her Nonya kuehs blue. The pods (the pea-like thing) are supposedly poisonous so I usually pluck off the flowers after 1 day so that I don't get them.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Effortless Fish Soup

    When I don't know what to cook... I often end up cooking Oden or Fish Soup.

    This Fish Soup is really simple.. Besides the few main ingredients, I can add in what I want.. and usually, I add in what I need to clear in the fridge.

    The key ingredients for this soup is:
    - Fish (Bones and fish slices. You can get the people in the market to cut it for you.. )
    - Ginger
    - Tomatoes

    The various other ingredients I sometimes add are:
    - Mushrooms
    - Toufu
    - Black fungus
    - Assorted vegetables
    - Other Seafood (When I add other seafood, this soup becames a Seafood Soup, like it is today...)

    I always consider a fish-based soup good if the soup turns out milkish. And no, I don't add milk to it. That would be so wrong! What I do is heat some oil in a pot, add a thick slice of ginger and fish bones (meatier and larger fish bones.. you don't want to have to pick out some pieces of bones in your soup!) to fry them til nice and slightly brown.

    Then while the pot is still very hot, pour in boiling water. And then boil at high heat for about 30 minutes or longer. The soup will look milky white after 30 minutes.
    It's the combination of the fried fish + very hot pot + boiling water + boiling at high heat that will turn the soup white.

    Then I'd just arrange all the different ingredients into the pot and boil them until they are all cooked. And then season with salt and pepper to taste.

    I usually add in the fish slices and seafood last, just before serving because the seafood takes just a little while to cook.

    And then there you have it.. an effortless fish soup.. Besides some chopping required for the tomatoes and vegetables, this is a basically wash and throw-in-pot type of soup.

    Again, not the best picture.. but this is a yummy, easy soup

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Riders Cafe

    We almost missed this little sign because the board above the main door said Saddle Club

    I liked the name of this cafe even before I went there. Riders cafe - where you can see horses and riders.. Sounds so cool!

    And you know, I did see a couple of horses when I went... and a couple of riders.. or at least, they were wearing riding gear...

    I really like eating brunch and I invariably have eggs for brunch, since eggs are my favourite food.

    And that was what I ordered at Riders cafe - Eggs Benedict.

    Eggs Benedict - 2 eggs with ham and muffins, potatoes and a small fruits salad

    The egg yolks weren't as runny as I would have liked them.. (Eggs benedict should look like this. A friend of mine made this.. quite amazing.. right?).. and the food strangely didn't come piping hot.. but otherwise, it was a very pleasant meal. The coffee was good. The atmosphere and the company was excellent.

    The restaurant has an almost colonial feel to it - black and white with no air-conditioning and the slight smell of horses. I almost forgot that I was in Singapore after a while.. and didn't really miss the air-conditioner. I just really wished the resident cat didn't stroll in to take a nap halfway through our brunch because I kept glancing over after that to make sure it didn't drop by our table. (I'm terrified of C-A-Ts.. it's an irrational but very real fear.)

    The egg yolks weren't quite runny.. and The Cat came in for a nap.

    Riders Cafe
    51 Fairways Drive Singapore 286965
    Telephone : (65) 64669819

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Good Kimchi Jigae (Kimchi Soup)

    Kimchi Jigae is soup made with kimchi and a variety of ingredients like pork, seafood, toufu and so on.

    Good Kimchi Jigae, according to the Korean lady at the supermarket where I bought some Korean groceries from, should be made using "older" kimchi.

    "After 2 weeks, kimchi turns sour. Then good for making soup."

    And the kind lady taught me how to make this soup - Fry some pork slices with sesame oil, then add toufu and seafood. Add chicken or vegetable soup and vegetables. Add some Korean chilli paste and Korean chilli powder and continue boiling for 20 to 30 minutes.

    "Only with sour kimchi. Very good taste." She reminded me.

    Thanks to this lady, we had a good kimchi jigae for dinner tonight. And I think the kimchi I bought from her must have been really fresh.. because I waited 2 weeks but I felt that the kimchi is actually still very edible, ie. not sour enough for kimchi soup. But the soup was still very good. I still have some of that kimchi.. and will wait til next week to make this soup again.

    Today's dinner was Kimchi Jigae and Korean Seafood Pancake (yes, again..).

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Buttermilk Scones & Pancakes

    The Husband made some Buttermilk scones this weekend.

    The scones were some of the best I had so far.. Very crumply, melt-in-your-mouth buttery and very fragrant. They tasted good on their own.. and even better with butter/ cream and jam.

    Compare them with how the scones looked like with my old recipe.

    Buttermilk scones - very yummy

    Buttermilk is something we never had in our fridge before. I've never used it in my cooking or baking.. so I was pretty surprised at how it really made a difference to the scones..

    So, since we had some leftover buttermilk in the fridge, I decided to make some Buttermilk pancakes today..

    It is a simple recipe - 3/4 cup self-raising flour + 165ml buttermilk +1/2 lightly beaten egg + 1/2 tablespoon sugar + orange zest or blueberries (optional)

    Just mix everything together and cook them in the pan with some butter. Yummy!

    And if you don't have buttermilk, you can also use 1/4 cup milk plus 3/4 cup yogurt OR 1 cup milk plus 1 tablesoon lemon juice.

    Buttermilk pancakes - quite fluffy and nice