Monday, 31 December 2012

TREATS FROM CATHERINE: TAIWAN GOODIES




All I did was suggested a few things she could do when Catherine visited Taipei last week.  I've only been to the city twice myself and wasn't even sure if my recommendations were any good.  So when Cat dropped by this afternoon bearing gifts, she took me by surprise.  

I've always loved Taiwanese pineapple cakes. Sweet and sour pineapple filling encased in a shortbread crust. Now there's even mango cakes made from Taiwan's famous Aiwen Mango (爱文芒果).

Thin sheets of crispy pork with slivers of almond. I can't wait to try it! Thanks, Cat! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

CHRISTMAS BAKING: CRANBERRY-ORANGE WALNUT BREAD

  

I recently rediscovered the recipe for this Cranberry-Orange Walnut Tea Bread. I had it scribbled in an old diary. I don't remember where the recipe came from. I do remember, however, the person who gave me the diary. I also remember that I bought the Christmas linen (featured in the photo above) during a day trip to the Blue Mountains, NSW in 1999. Three days ago, I retrieved it from my drawer and put it up on a hanger to air it. Yesterday, it wasn't on the hanger anymore. I searched high and low only to find that I had already returned it to the drawer myself. 

They say that people with dementia can remember things from long ago, but not things from a few minutes ago. So if you ask me what I had for lunch today, my answer is "I can't recall it now but check back with me again in ten years and I'll tell you."

Cranberry-Orange Walnut Tea Bread
Makes one 7" x 7" cake

75 grams butter, softened
150 grams sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
110 grams fresh orange juice
110 grams buttermilk
260 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
65 grams dried fruit (I used a mixture of chopped dried cranberries, glazed cherries, orange peel and raisins)
65 grams chopped walnuts


Preheat your oven at 180 degrees C.  Line a 7" x 7" pan with parchment paper. (In the original recipe, the bread is baked in a 9" x 5" pan.)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy and smooth then add sugar, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Continue to beat until the mixture is very light in colour and texture.

Add the egg very slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until mixture is fluffy and pale ivory in colour. Stir in the vanilla extract, orange juice, then buttermilk.  Add flour mixture in 3 - 4 additions until incorporated.  Fold in the dried fruits and walnuts.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, and spread evenly with a rubber spatula.

Bake the cake until the top springs back when pressed lightly and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out free of batter, 50 - 55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before turning the cake out of the pan.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

CHRISTMAS BAKING: ROCK BUNS


 

One Christmas Eve many moons ago, my friend Hans and I were treated to a ballet performance of The Nutcracker. The evening began joyously enough. The sweeping Tchaikovsky score, the visually entrancing set, the glittering costumes – what a cosy winter dream! Yet somewhere between the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, my eyes slowly glazed over ... When I recovered I stole a glance at Hans who was seated next to me. His eyes watery from yawning. (He later claimed it was because he was very much moved by the bravery of the Mouse King. The liar!) 

Every Christmas Day, I play my Nutcracker Suite CD, just to get into the spirit of things because even though watching ballerinas flirt, prance and dancing en pointe just isn't my cup of tea, I do enjoy listening to classical music. 

Mom has been bugging me for weeks to make Rock Buns for Auntie Har (阿霞). I might have told you about Auntie Har before. She’s the neighbour who occasionally looks in on my parents while I’m at work. When we run out of eggs, Auntie Har helps us buy and deliver them right up to our doorstep! She shares with us her homemade laksa, yam rice and chilli paste. And as if babysitting the neighbourhood kids doesn’t keep her busy enough, she still finds the time to ask my mother out to Rochor to buy dried seafood, and then have coffee with her afterwards. Needless to say, our family love Auntie Har to bits. Since I'm spending eleven slothful days at home during Christmas, Mom expects me to bake something nice for one of the most helpful neighbours we've ever had. 

"快烘点饼阿霞啦!" 
"烘什么饼好呢?" 
"就烘 '骆笨' 吧!" 

Mom labels everything ranging from Digestives to cream crackers, chocolate chip cookies to Tau Sar Piah, as 饼 (biscuits). Needless to say Rock Buns (or '骆笨' as my mother calls them) also falls under the same category. So if you're in our kitchen and Mom offers, "要不要吃饼?" ("Would you like a biscuit?") you should confirm with her which kind because you never know what you might get! 

Rock Buns 
By Jane Brocket

Makes 55

340 grams all-purpose flour 
8 grams baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
Finely grated zest of one lemon 
175 grams butter 
100 grams brown sugar 
75 grams caster sugar 2
55 grams mixed dried fruits (I used a mixture of chopped dried cranberries, glazed cherries, orange peel and raisins) 
1 large egg 
1 to 2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk 
Egg wash 

Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes and place them in the freezer until you're ready to use them. 

Preheat your oven at 180 degrees C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Place the flour, baking powder and butter in a mixing bowl and roughly chop the butter with a round-bladed knife. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the lemon zest, sugars and dried fruits. Add the egg and, using the knife, bring the ingredients together to form a stiff dough. If the mixture is too dry, add a tablespoon of milk. 

With the aid of two teaspoons, dollop heaps of the mixture on to lined baking sheets, spacing them well apart. Lightly brush the tops of each cookie with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. 

Cool on a rack.

Enjoy!

Monday, 24 December 2012

TREATS FROM FRANCE: FAUCHON GOODIES

Santa Claus has come to town!

A box of Christmas treats from my French boss, all the way from Paris. 

I ADORE ze Fauchon pink!



It is no secret that I'm crazy about cookies, and chocolates, and candies, and all things French.

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, 8 December 2012

BAKED MUSHROOM



I've been going to an acupuncturist for my wrist inflammation for some time now.  Dr. Liu is a devoted Buddhist, and vegetarian.  Last weekend she raved about the goodness of mushrooms and how easy they were to bake.  I decided to give it a try. 

Dr. Liu tops her mushrooms with shredded cheese and mayonnaise.  I didn't have mayonnaise at home and thought topping with only cheese might be a tad plain.   I contemplated buying some bacon but we haven't had bacon in the house for ages and I wanted to leave it at that.  Then I spied a few slices of luncheon meat in the fridge - something leftover from yesterday's lunch, I suspect. 

I even made a crumb topping.  I got the idea from watching MASA make his Seafood Baked Rice. I love Masa.   He makes cooking look like child's play.


Baked Mini Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 3 - 4 as a side dish

200 grams portobello mushrooms stalks removed, caps cleaned and aired dry
50 grams shredded Mozzarella
40 grams ham or luncheon meat, cubed

Crumb Topping
2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 slices of cream cracker, crushed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, if desired

Preheat your oven at 200 degrees C.  In a small bowl, mix together the crumb topping ingredients and set aside.

Place portobello mushrooms, cap side down, on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or aluminium foil.

Divide and top mushrooms with the Mozzarella, followed by the cubed luncheon meat.  Spoon crumb mixture over the tops.  I didn't add any seasoning since luncheon meat is already high on sodium.  Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the topping start to brown.

Dr. Liu is right.  Baked mushrooms are super easy to make, and very yummy too!  I did well to add the crumb topping. It gives the mushroms a little crunch.

Friday, 30 November 2012

FOR MAKI: SPEEDY RECOVERY!



I just noticed that it has been one month since my last post! 

Maki - the friend who gave me rice flour and all kinds of goodies - and her mother were recently involved in an accident involving five cars.  It must have been SO scary for them both. The impact caused injuries to their necks, backs and, for Maki, her left leg too.  When she mentioned to me about it over IM, my heart went up to my mouth!   In fact, I was so stunned that I was lost for words (and that doesn't happen often).  My fingers were in shock too because all they could managed was to type repeated,"I'm so sorry you had to go through this Maki!"  There isn't much I can do to help Maki feel better since she resides in Tokyo.  So I baked.   


These cookies are incredibly tasty.  How can the combination of brown sugar, mango, macadamia nuts and dried cranberries be anything else but tasty?  Not many people like cakey cookies but my dad loves these bite-size morsels.  He feels cookies for the elderly should all be like that - not too sweet and not too chewy.  With that in mind, I made a batch to include in a care package for Maki and her mom.


I know that Maki would enjoy the dried mango bits embedded in each cookie.

Maki, I hope you and your mom will recover in time to fully enjoy the Christmas holidays!


Monday, 29 October 2012

WRIST INFLAMMATION

I’m suffering from an inflammation of the left wrist. The pain deters me from doing much baking. Even the simple action of scooping cookie dough onto the baking sheet hurt too much. I faithfully visit an acupuncturist every Sunday morning. According to 刘医师, my left hand and arm is misaligned. I don’t know how it happened – it could be due to a fall that happened years ago, or trying to carry more than I could cope during grocery shopping.  In her opinion, my blood is too fatty and I need to go on a strict diet.

I also seek second opinion from a Western doctor who decided that it simply boils down to wear and tear due to old age. He advised that it’ll be a slow recovery and aided by plenty of rest, which means less heavy usage of the affected left hand over the next few months.

Confound it! Is it human nature to want to do just the things we’re forbidden? As a child, I remember standing on tip toes to touch a freshly painted window grille just because my aunt specifically told me, “Don’t touch the wet paint!” Recently, all I can think about now is going to Taipei in March 2013 to eat all the good food, and then head to the Taipei International Baking Show - to buy specialty flours, and baking books. Hmmm … perhaps my poor wrist will recover in time! :)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

RIP 舅父

My mother’s younger brother passed away this morning.    It was all very sudden.  Just yesterday, he slipped and fell while he was taking a stroll, picked himself up and went home to tell his wife, “Luckily, I didn’t hit my head.  Otherwise it would have been goodbye!”  This morning, he got out of bed feeling dizzy, dropped onto the floor and fell into a comma.  He passed away quietly in a hospital a few hours afterwards. 

What can I tell you about my 舅父?  My uncle was a cheerful individual who lived a carefree existence.  He maintained a blue-collared job so that his family never went hungry and both my cousins went to school.  For many of us, we often stress about our jobs, mortgages or life in general – just because we aren’t satisfied with what we already have.  My uncle wasn’t a go-getter who expected more out of life, which was precisely why he was always light-hearted in the first place.  Nothing got him down, ever.

Modern parents would’ve been shocked by my uncle’s parenting skills (or the lack of it) because he brought his boys up in a seemingly careless fashion.  My older cousin was caught smoking in his teens, the rest of the family gasped and chided but my uncle waved everyone off with, “He's going through a phase!  Every boy his age goes through the phase.  He's only experimenting and he’ll stop before you know it.” 

When the same boy decided to drop out of school at 15, his father said, “That’s fine by me.  You don’t need to do well in school in order to do well in life.”   That school dropout is now a devoted family man, owns a recycling and printing business, recently set up a new factory in Shenzhen, has a club membership and about to move into a condominium.  His younger brother is a pharmacist.  Both are gentle, soft spoken and I've never once heard them raise their voices at their parents or each other.

Sure, my uncle didn't receive proper education or spoke six languages or possess a special skill of any kind. He didn’t own a large house or drove fast cars.  You might even say he had no aspiration.  Yet he brought up his next generation to be loyal, socially responsible and respectful.   So if life was a test, surely my uncle should be awarded an A+.   Kudos to you, 舅父!  I don't think you realized just how special you were.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

NEW FLOUR: RICE FLOUR FROM JAPAN

It was Maki who introduced me to baking with rice flour. To encourage me to conduct my own baking experiment, she sent me a packet of rice flour all the way from Tokyo. I used some of it in an almond shortbread. 

Today I made 墨西哥包 (Mexican Bun). The Mexican is widely popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia. In some ways, the Mexican Bun resembles the Melon Pan and 菠萝包 but at the same time it’s different. The topping of the Mexican Bun is piped in a swirl starting from the centre of the bun, whereas the topping of the 菠萝包 is a flat cookie dough that is placed on top of the bread. 


The recipe called for 200 grams of bread flour. I used 150 grams of Lys Dor + 50 grams of Japanese rice flour. According to Maki, using rice flour to bake isn’t something new in Japan, and breads and cakes made with rice flour turn out softer and keep moist for longer. I believe the bread texture really looks finer, don't you?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

LAZY WEEKEND



Heads of offices from around the region are in town.  A crazy work week - reserve hotel rooms, book a restaurant, organize taxis, print maps, race between the office and the downstairs conference room, play fetch. Prep meeting room with bottled water and Coke. Deliver several rounds of coffee, then someone bleats, "Can I have Chinese tea?" The only beverage our in-house café doesn't serve is Chinese tea! Run upstairs to the office pantry to stick a Jasmine teabag into a cup, add boiling water, and dash back downstairs.

It's lunch time and raining cats and dogs outside.  We're ordering food from our in-house café. But then someone wants to stand out from her peers, "But I don't want café food," she wails.  "Can't you get me mee siam from the cafe next door!" (But it is raining cats and dogs, you fool!)

So many people think that everyone can be an executive assistant. I'm telling you now, not anyone can do the job. We're Girl Friday, manager, mother, disciplinarian, diplomat, babysitter. We’re a rare breed.


The best way to recuperate is to spend a lazy weekend, stretched out on the sofa with a good book (or, in my case, usually several books) - and a nice cup of tea!



I blame Holly Finn.  She started it.  All because I fell in love with something she wrote:

For those weary of coffee and couture and in real need of something soothing, the Salon de Thé recently opened at the legendary Fauchon food emporium in Paris, is worth a winter visit. There, on Place de la Madeleine, the emphasis is not on fast-forwarding, either one’s heart rate or one’s fashion status. It’s about stopping – taking a deep breath and a long sip. No matter how rudely random Parisians have treated you that morning you’ll soon feel better about the whole Franco-thing. A slice of Tarte au thé Darjeeling (a specialty of the house) restores confidence not just in your ability to translate, but in the civility of left-seat drivers, all sorts of things … A reminder of the bond between tea and sympathy.

And so I went out and bought some rather expensive Fauchon Darjeeling teabags.  For isn't Fauchon the company that "sold tea to royalty, pastry to politicians, and caviar to movie stars"?

Monday, 20 August 2012

MULTI-TASKING



It has been hard to juggle between work and elderly parents, and still find time for photo trips and baking. But all is not lost, I just need to put in more effort in time management. Plus, who doesn't multi-task these days?  I accomplished a lot over the 3-day weekend, if I do say so myself. 

On Saturday I paid a visit to Little India and came home with some great shots.

My parents wanted to have fish porridge in Chinatown yesterday.  On the way we stopped by to shop at two Chinese medical halls which my mother frequents but they were both closed!  I know it's Hari Raya but I had expected the Chinese shops to stay open.  Hmm ... I guess everyone needs a holiday.

At the Zhen Zhen (真真) Porridge stall in Maxwell Road Food Market, I was in the queue for 32 minutes!!! Arghh!  If it wasn't because Dad likes the fish porridge, I swear wouldn't stay in line for more than 10.


The good thing about this Swedish Visiting Cake by Dorie Greenspan is how little effort it takes to put together. The recipe is too simple for words!   It doesn't involve creaming the butter or whisking egg yolks until thick.  Dorie says to bake it in a oven-proof skillet or 9-inch cake tin.  I used a 8-inch square tin.  As you can see, the cake isn't very tall so it didn't take long to bake.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

DAY OUT: LITTLE INDIA

I really want to go on a vacation but several things are keeping me grounded until end of September. No matter, I can still take short excursions around our tiny island. 

Today I spent a few hours in Little India and returned home smelling like jasmines. Somehow, despite having lived in Singapore all my life, I've only been to Little India three or four times. It's a shame really, I should visit more often - and not just for fishhead curry or prata.

I took about 60 photos but I've chosen the most colourful ones to share with you.


Indians are huge on worship.  Flowers and garlands are offered to the deities.

Kaffir limes to ward off evil spirits.

Before the coconut is offered to the deity, the fibre is stripped to symbolise the removal of the heart's desires. The coconut is then broken in half and the water inside purifies the soul. 

Kumkum powder, used by Hindu women to make the small distinctive red mark (or bindi) between their eyebrows.

The application of henna as a temporary form of skin decoration and applied during special occasions like weddings and festivals.

These aren't mini ice-cream cones.  They're henna dyes.


Splashes of colours

Little jewel boxes

Decor

"Gee, that's a lot of onions if I do say so myself!"

Making a garland

I like the striking colourful little packets of spices against the green background

Beautiful Indian lady in beautiful sari

News vendor

Sweets

Indian Rojak

Newstand

Spices

Rice and more


Fresh produce


Fabrics


Jewellery fit for a queen

Aside from bus fare, I didn't spend a single cent on the trip.  The best holidays can be free, and needn't involve a flight overseas.


Thursday, 9 August 2012

FAMILY AFFAIR



As my mother gets on in age, she can no longer manage to cook wonton noodles (云吞面) at home without turning it into a family affair.  Especially today, when she was eager to get through dinner and washing up early enough to enjoy the National Day Parade on TV.

And no wonder she's busy! A lot of prep work goes into this simple dish.  Nothing short of the best ingredients would do.  It begins with my parents going hand in hand to the wet market for a good slab of 五花肉(which is the shoulder cut of the pig, otherwise known as picnic shoulder), shrimps, water chestnuts, Chinese dried mushrooms and some 左口鱼 (a kind of dried fish that really adds flavour to the filling).  The noodle soup is superb because Mom uses dried fish, dried scallops and 金华火腿 (Chinese air-dried ham) as base.

Mom doesn't believe in buying ready-ground meat, preferring to chop it up in her own kitchen.  The shrimps deveined and split length wise, the water chestnuts and dried mushrooms chopped, the dried fish fried and ground finely. 


I was assigned to form the wontons, a task which I enjoy immensely.





Mom removed 13 shrimps from the freezer this morning, cleaned and split lengthwise each into two, and I got exactly 26 wontons from my 100 grams of wrappers! Talk about coincidence.


These a SO good!  Dad proposed that we set up shop.  "But," he jested, "we simply cannot sell them as large as these or it'd take ages for us to breakeven."

Happy National Day, Singapore!

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