Sunday, April 25, 2010

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I've tried baking carrot cake only once before.. and it was a healthy carrot cake that I baked. Although I thought it tasted pretty alright, The Husband wasn't too keen on it.

Today's carrot cake is the opposite of healthy.. and comes complete with cream cheese frosting. But I did try to cut back on the sugar and the oil a little.

The top of the cake is nice and crisp.. but the inside is very moist. So this recipe really worked quite well for me. The original recipe is from joyofbaking - same recipe as the last time round.. except I didn't change it that much.

Carrot cake - with cream cheese frosting and without

340 grams raw carrots, peeled and finely grated
260 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
270g granulated white sugar
220ml canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
100g walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

What I did
1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon. Set aside in a separate bowl.
2. Beat the eggs until frothy, Gradually add the sugar and beat until the batter is thick and light colored.
3. Add the oil in a steady stream and then beat in the vanilla extract.
4. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated.
5. Fold in the grated carrots and toasted chopped nuts, if desired.
6. Pour mixture into souffle cups and bake in preheated oven at approx 190 degC for about 30 minutes

For the cream cheese frosting, I just added some cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract and a tiny bit of milk. It would have been nice to add some lemon zest, I think.

My Favourite Fish Soup

Warning - dangerous recipe ahead. Experiment at your own risk. Symptoms include third helpings and severe cravings. Proceed with caution.

A bowl of my favourite fish soup - Serving #1

This recipe for fish soup came from a recipe book we bought in Hong Kong, by a famous lady connoisseur. The Husband and I like her series of recipe books called Shueng Yu's Recipes.

A fish soup recipe in one of the books really appealed to us.. and when we were in Beijing, The Husband decided to try it out one day.

It immediately became my favourite soup. This soup is very flavourful and sweet because of the fish and vegetables. The tomatoes give it a really nice golden colour.. and the addition of potatoes give it a slightly thicker texture. It's yummy!.

The Husband has not made this soup ever since we came back to Singapore.. because we couldn't find the type of fish that is used for this soup..

We decided to buy a couple of small grouper we saw at the market yesterday to try to see if it works alright for this recipe.. and to our pleasant surprise, it did.

And so I guess from now onwards, we'd be able to have this for dinner more often.

Ingredients (for 2-3 persons)
2 small grouper
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into thick pieces
3 large ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 medium size onions (yellow ones work better), cut into thick slices

1. Fry the fish on both sides in a hot wok with a little oil
2. When the fish is cooked and the wok still very hot, add boiling water to the water and allow the 2 to boil together for a while
3. Transfer the fish and water into a soup pot. At this point, you can put the fish into a soup bag so that it will be easy to remove the fish and bones from the soup later on
4. Add the potatoes and boil for 1 hour at high fire. By the end of the hour, the soup should be a milky colour.
5. Add in the tomatoes, onions and whole black peppers (optional) and boil for another hour at medium fire.
6. Season to taste and serve. When serving this soup, you can serve it with the vegetables or seive the soup before serving for a bowl of golden coloured fish soup

These photos do not really do the soup justice.. 
But I guess most soups are just not photogenic!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Green Tea Kit Kat

In my world, all tidbits should be either savoury or else sweet. Anything in between - like chocolate potato chips, doesn't quite work out for me..

I tend to like savoury tidbits more than sweet ones.. except when the sweet ones are chocolate, Pocky or Kit Kat.. or something similar to chocolate, Pocky and Kit Kat...

Recently, I've found out that Kit Kat now comes in a lot more flavour than the regular milk chocolate and dark chocolate they had when I was younger.. There is strawberry Kit Kat, banana Kit Kat, blueberry Kit Kata and so on available in the States.

During my trip to Japan, I managed to find more Asian flavoured ones.. I picked up some Matcha Kit Kat and Sakura Matcha Kit Kat.

I've heard that there are red bean Kit Kats and chestnut Kit Kats for sale too.. so I'd be watching out for more exotic flavours in future when I travel or visit Japanese supermarkets..

Matcha Kit Kat

Sakura Matcha Kit Kat

A Handy Device - Anylock

I came across this product on another blog (although I really can't remember which blog it was) and decided that I would hunt these down in Japan.

Anylock is actually a device that helps seal up bags of food. Now, of course ziplock bag does the trick perfectly as well.. but when it comes to flour for baking, this device is very useful for sealing unused flour. Especially since I have so many different types of flour at home - plain flour, cake flour, bread flour, wholemeal flour, rye flour, corn meal... etc etc.

Left: Anylock - they come in delicious looking colours..
Top right: Just fold the bag and slide in the Anylock
Bottom right: Sealed and airtight

Now these are really pretty useful. I used to use those clips you find in Ikea or at supermarkets.. but with the clips you have to be careful about the way you cut open bags of flour.. and sometimes it is not so easy to secure the bags well.. and you end up with messy, rolled-up, rubber-band tied bags of flour.. With the Anylock, everything is neat, air-tight and pretty flat.. and I can line up my bags of flour neatly in my cupboard. It's really a cool product. And very easy to use too... just fold the bag and slide the Anylock stick through..

I bought mine from Tokyo Hands in Japan.. only to find them on sale at Takashimaya in Singapore. But it seemed to me that they were on sale in Takashimaya only as part of a promotion.. not sure if they are regular products. Which reminds me... I think I should go down to Takashimaya and buy a few more.

Oh, by the way.. this is not an advertisement. Just wanted to share a neat find.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Anniversary

To The Husband who checks and reads my blog daily:

Happy Anniversary. It's a blessing to be able to share one's life journey with one's soul-mate.

To everyone else - Pls kindly ignore this post. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Japanese Vending Machines

I am always impressed by the vending machines in Japan.

The drinks vending machines come in many different shapes and designs - some look like a Pepsi can, some have traditional Japanese "roofs", others look like a bottle of drink.. etc..

Some interesting vending machines

And the things they sell! 

I've seen vending machines for ice-cream, for fried and baked food like fries and tako-yaki, for soup, for beer and cocktails and even for piping hot noodles!

Fries, Hot Dog Buns and Tako-yaki

Even the regular drink vending machines can be very cool.. They sell interesting drinks like limited edition flavours, tie-ups with cartoon or movie characters etc.

I couldn't help taking photos of some of the more interesting ones I came across..

Anyone remember Ultraman?

Limited edition drinks - Sakura Milk Tea and Fauchon Apple Tea

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pickled Sakura

A box of pickled sakura

I came across these pickled sakura blossoms at Tokyo's tsukiji market and I just had to buy them. Pickled sakura is actually sakura blossoms pickled with salt.

Pickled sakura and sakurayu

They can be used for making sakurayu, which is pickled sakura with hot water. These are typically drunk at festive events and hanami. To be honest, I think this drink taste a little bit odd.. It is a little like drinking hot brine... but the drink looks so pretty, with the flowers unfolding and "dancing" around in the hot water.


Pickled sakura is also used to make sakura mochi, a pink Japanese glutinous rice dumpling containing sweet red bean paste wrapped cherry-tree leaf. The pink colour and taste of the glutinous rice comes from the pickled sakura.

Picture source: See here

I have also seen pickled sakura used as garnish for Japanese bentos and desserts.

Actually, I bought these pickled sakura more because I wanted to use them as a garnish for cupcakes and desserts.

Pickled sakura being used as a garnish

The Elusive Mount Fuji

I've reserved perhaps the last post of my recent Japan trip for the elusive Mount Fuji.

I almost thought I would not be able to see Mount Fuji this trip.. It was a gloomy and rainy day when we went to Lake Kawaguchi, of Fujigoko.

Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes) is located at the foot of Mount Fuji at an altitude of roughly 1000 meters above sea level in mountainous Yamanashi Prefecture. It is one of the best places to view Mount Fuji from a close distance and a convenient base for climbing the mountain. Lake Kawaguchi is the largest and most easily accessible of the five lakes.

Lake Kawaguchi is a touristy hot spring resort town.. with a lake and a great view. A retro bus brings you around most of the cute little tourist attractions in the area - herb gardens, music forest, jewellery museum etc. The southeastern shores of Lake Kawaguchi are littered with big and small ryokans.

At Lake Kawaguchi, we stayed at a very good but somewhat overpriced ryokan, Shuhoukaku Kogetsu. It was supposed to have a fantastic view of the lake and Mount Fuji. When we got there, we couldn't see either. And I was bitterly disappointed. But the food and the onsen was pretty good.. and the room we had was fantastic - it had a private foot soak in the balcony. But still... after all that journey and no Mount Fuji?

The weather cleared up the next morning.. but still no Mount Fuji. We planned to leave the region at around 10am. But the sky started clearing up.. and we changed our plans.. and after noon... Mount Fuji was there.. smiling at us.

That's the good thing about vacations where everything is at your own time and schedule.

It was a rainy and cloudy day at Lake Kawaguchi

Ukai Music Forest - a pretty little place with some very interesting music boxes

Shuhoukaku Kogetsu, the ryokan hotel we stayed at

Our ryokan room

The balcony with the foot soak

The onsen

Dinner - part 1

Dinner - Part 2

Breakfast - my favourite part actually

Mount Fuji... just before we left Lake Kawaguchi

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tsukiji Market

The Tsukiji Market (築地市場, Tsukiji shijo) is a must visit for any tourist to Tokyo. It is the largest wholesale fish market in Japan and possibly, the world.

Many go in the wee hours of morning to watch the bidding for the seafood in the "inner market". I've heard that it is pretty interesting.. although the regular tourist will probably not understand a thing. But I really don't know.. because I have never seen it.. nor do I want to really wake up that early in the morning on a vacation..

The "outer market" consist of a mixture of wholesale and retail shops. You can find many shops that sell seafood, vegetables and groceries, Japanese kitchen tools, restaurant supplies and so on. There are also many shops selling semi-processed and cooked food for Japanese housewives to bring home for dinner. I particularly liked these shops.. because you can also buy some of them as snacks to eat as you shop. There are shops that specialises in tamagoyaki (grilled egg rolls) shops, fish cakes, tempura, Japanese pickles, tea leaves etc.. Everything is very interesting.. and delicious looking.

Then of course, there are the restaurants. Tsukiji is particularly famous for fresh sushi and sashimi (of course)... and very surprisingly, ramen. There are always long queues for almost every restaurant at the market that sells these.

My Japanese friend who went to the market with us said that the old coffee shops at Tsukiji market are also pretty popular with the locals..

Hm.. I guess that is the appeal of Tsukiji market. In spite of its fame as a major tourist attraction, locals (whether housewives or restaurant owners) frequent the place too.. and so Tsukiji has its own very unique kind of shopping atmosphere.. a part of it is "showy" and touristy.. and a part of it is just regular life.

 The "outer market" - long queues at sushi restaurant, retail stores, 
coffee houses and oh.. the first Yoshinoya in Japan is also located at Tsukiji

Chirashi-don for breakfast

A tamagoyaki shop that has free lessons 
you can sign up for 

Our snack along the way - a very interesting tai-yaki.. 
only that the shape of the fish is not tai (sea bream) but maguro (tuna)

A cup of good Japanese coffee 
after all that shopping..

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

I thought that I would not be making chocolate cupcakes for quite some time after my 100 cupcakes challenge..

But these ones from Evan's blog looked so good I just had to make them... especially when I had all the ingredients required at home... down to the Valrhona chocolate.

The recipe is in her blog.. (It is a recipe from Donna Hay's...) but I did some very minor adjustments to it..

125g unsalted butter, softened
A pinch of salt
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1.5 tsp double-acting baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g dark chocolate, melted

(The original recipe called for salted butter instead of unsalted butter and salt. I never buy salted butter... It also called for 1 cup plain flour.. but I had some cake flour I wanted to finish up.. But my adjustments turned out alright..)

What I did
1. in a bowl, sift together plain flour, cocoa powder & baking powder.
2. In another bowl, whisk together butter, sugar & vanilla extract for about 10-12 mins until pale and creamy. add in eggs one at a time and beat until well combined.
3. add in milk and flour mixture alternately in 3 additions, mixing well in between each addition.
4. fold in melted chocolate thoroughly.
5. fill cake mixture in souffle cups until about 2/3 full. bake in a preheated oven of 160C for 20 mins or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

They were really good and chocolatey... I guess Valrhona chocolate really does make a difference to chocolate cakes.

If you are serving them piping hot, you can consider taking them out of the oven after just about 15 minutes. I did that today for one of the cakes because it was time for tea.. and I got a really soft chocolate cake with a gooey centre.... it was good.

Fish Paste Seaweed Roll

I was a bit out of ideas for what to cook for dinner today..

In the market this morning, I had bought a fish for fish soup and also some vegetables for a simple stir-fry dish..

What else can I cook...? Hm... I paced through the market a couple of times and then came up with this..
 Fish Paste Seaweed Roll

It is a really simple dish.

All I did was spread some fish paste (which I bought from the fishball stall at the market) on a large piece of nori seaweed (the kind you use for maki-sushi), added some carrots in the middle (I shredded the carrots and blanched them in hot water) and a thin slice of omelet.

I then rolled everything up like maki-sushi.

I couldn't decide if I should steam or pan-fry the seaweed roll.. But in the end, I opted for pan-fry because it was easier.

This dish is pretty interesting... and I was rather delighted when my mum inquired about how I made it in detail... I guess she must like it too!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dim Sum at Neil Road

I have been on a quest for the best dim sum in Singapore.

Actually, that above statement is not completely accurate... I have been on a quest for good dim sum in Singapore.. and so far, many of the restaurants have been disappointing.

I have almost given up on this quest and have resigned myself to the fact that I will only have excellent dim sum a few times a year, when we go to Hong Kong.

But The Brother suggested I try out this place at Neil Road called Dim Joy. "We watched this TV program and it looks really good".

And so we went to this restaurant today.

Because there were just 2 of us, we only managed to order about 5 items on the menu:
  1. Ha-gao (Shrimp Dumplings) - The ultimate "test item" for any dim sum restaurant..
  2. Custard Buns - Steamed buns with custard
  3. Prosperity Pouch - Vegetables wrapped in a crepe skin and steamed
  4. Radish Cake with Conpoy - Steamed radish cake
  5. Crisp Skin Double Boiled Milk - Milk pudding with a layer of pastry on top
The Prosperity Pouch came first and it was good. The vegetables were really flavourful and the skin was super-thin but intact. I was really excited because I thought I've finally found IT.

The Prosperity Pouches

But the Ha-gao was ordinary.. the skin was thin enough but it was a little tough. The prawns were fresh enough though.. but I couldn't taste any bamboo shoots. Still, I hoped.

Ha-gao - the item I'd always order at any new dim sum restaurant. 
Any dim sum restaurant that does this really well will not fare too 
badly for other items as well.. usually..

The Radish Cake didn't disappoint.. although it was more like steamed radish rather than radish cake - there weren't enough flour for the whole thing to stick together.. But it tasted good so I couldn't really complain.

Steamed radish cake.. more like steamed radish.. but still yummy

But the the meal went downwards when the Custard Buns arrived. The bun was a little tough and the custard was... a bit gross.. It was way too sweet.. the sugar didn't really melt completely such that it was still crunchy.. and I couldn't taste anything beyond the sugary sweet taste.

Our final item was dessert - Crisp Skin Double Boiled Milk. It looked really good, I have to say.. but taste-wise, it was very average.. The pastry skin was very thin but it seemed to be a completely separate item from the pudding. They just didn't go well together. I would have preferred just eating the pudding on its own.

The Custard Buns and Crisp Skin Double Boiled Milk 
- items I will not order again..

Overall though, this is probably a restaurant I would come back again if I really want to have dim sum... but for now, I'm moving on to search for The One...

Dim Joy
Address: 80 Neil Road, Singapore 088842
Telephone: +65-62206986

3 places to see sakura in Tokyo

I like the 3 places we went to see sakura this time in Tokyo. Each park has a rather different atmosphere.. and somehow even though the flowers are almost the same.. the experience is different.

The first place (I've mentioned this place before in my previous post) is Ueno Park, near Ueno (上野) station. Ueno is a good place to see sakura and hanami (as well as yozakura). There is this stretch in the park where there are relatively low sakura trees along the entire stretch. There will be lots of people under the trees enjoying hanami.. but the pavement is still wide enough to stroll along.

The bustling and crowded Ueno Park

The second place is this park near the Kichijioji (吉祥寺) station. Kichijioji is a more residential area so you'd see a lot of people walking their dogs, exercising or taking a stroll in the park. There is a rather large pool of water (but not really big enough to be called a lake...?) in the park and you will see families or couples boating there.

The sakura trees in this park are all rather tall.. and those by the lake have their branches spread all the water out to the water.. so it is really a lovely place to go and have a nice long walk.. There is a somewhat melancholy feel about the lake and the park in the morning.. (when it is not as crowded)..

The more "residential-feel" park at Kichijioji

I like the sakura trees by the lake..

Somehow, these trees make the lake look and feel more melancholy...

The third place to see sakura is Shinjuku park. It used to the the royal family's private garden.. but it is now a park open to the public (for a minimal fee of 200yen).

Shinjuku park is more like a large botanical garden.. there are plenty of sakura trees all around.. and a lot of other plants and flowers as well. There is a beautiful and well-kept Japanese garden within the park.

Perhaps it is due to the entrance fee.. but I find that the crowd at Shinjuku park is a lot more focused on flower viewing and photo taking.. you'd find a lot less people gathered there for partying.

The beautiful and elegant Shinjuku Park

The well-kept Japanese garden..

The blooming tree at the Japanese garden..

A view of the city from the park..

There are lots of other plants and flowers besides sakura.. 
there is also a rose garden within the park which was unfortunately,
closed when we were there.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hanami, or Flower Viewing

Hanami, or 花見 literally means "Flower Viewing" (Hana, 花 means flowers and Mi, 見 means look) and it is a traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. The "flowers", although initially meant any flowers blooming in spring, has come to almost always mean sakura (cherry blossoms) nowadays .

The practice of hanami is supposedly ancient and has been referred to in history books as well as Japanese literature.

Nowadays, hanami means a time to party and many will flock to the parks during the sakura season to eat, drink and be merry under the sakura trees.

Here are a few interesting things about hanami:

1. Hanami is actually a very apt name for cherry blossoms viewing, even if the original meaning of hanami does not just refer to sakuras but flowers in general. This is because when the sakura blooms, almost every single flower is bloom towards the ground, ie looking downwards.

So this means that for the people sitting under the trees during hanami, all they have to do is look up and see hundreds or even thousands of sakura flowers blooming above them in their direction. It is in the truest sense of the word 花見.

2. Hanami at night is called yozakura, which means "Night Sakura". Since it is still spring time when the sakura blossoms, it can get quite cold at night.. but the cool air and the bright lanterns in the park (usually hung especially just for yozakura) complements the sake and food for hanami and makes yozakura a lot more fun.

3. A very popular Japanese anime, which has since been since adapted into Japanese and Taiwanese drama series, called Hana Yori Dango (花より男子 - or Boys over Flowers) is actually a pun on the saying Hana Yori Dango 花より団子 (Rice dumplings over Flowers). Hana Yori Dango 花より団子 is a Japanese saying that hints at the real priorities of the hanami - food.. (and drinks, of course).

And it is, as most sayings are, very true.. But the party atmospheres in parks during sakura season is so festive-like that, coupled with the cool weather and beautiful flowers, make visiting the parks a very pleasant experience.. Even if they are packed full with people.

Ueno Park in Tokyo is a very good place to see sakura and people enjoying hanami and yozakura.. Here are some pictures I took when I was there..

The place is really crowded..

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves..

There are little stalls like this and snack stalls all around..

An oden stall by the lake.. it was still cool enough 
to have oden outdoors.. 

The festive mood is catchy..

Even the old folks enjoy hanami.. see their tables 
and how well prepared they are?

I was very impressed with how organised everything was - even the 
garbage boxes have sakura printed all over..

Here are some pictures of the different varieties of sakuras we saw in bloom..

The white sakuras look the purest... so lovely..

But then the pink ones are really sweet..

The pale, almost whitish pink ones are my favourite..

This is an interesting tree we saw at Shinjuku Park
- the tree has sakuras of 2 different colours