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..