November 25, 2009

A Happy Thanksgiving & Cranberry Yogurt Chiffon 感恩節與蔓越莓優格戚風蛋糕

I normally don't have time to write something here on weekdays. I almost gave up on this post as I'll have another commitment to be taken care of this weekend. But, I've found a good excuse for me to do so this time. "It's gonna be Thanksgiving in less than two days," I told myself, "Heck! Just do something about it!" Well, is it that hard? NO.

You may wonder because I'm Malaysian and not American (duh!), why on earth am I talking about all these. Yes, it's true that I shouldn't have anything to do with it theoretically speaking. But, Thanksgiving was a part of me for almost three years when I was still an undergraduate in the U.S. And, I've got to say I enjoyed every part of this all-American experience ... ah hem, the Minnesotan way mostly. =_="

Besides the Fourth of July, Christmas and Halloween, Thanksgiving is also an important celebration among the Americans. Falls on the fourth Thursday of every November in the U.S., Thanksgiving was originally a fall harvest festival. It is now the time for people to show their gratitude, love and care to their loved ones, e.g. family, friends and neighbors. (If unmistaken, former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the one who made the date change to Thanksgiving during the World War II period, making them different from Canadian Thanksgiving hahaha ...!) This may sound ridiculous to you, but I've got to admit when it comes to Thanksgiving, most people in America will think of either "EAT" or "FEAST." The majority will always end up OVERFED and with TONS OF LEFTOVERS! It's true and I'd experienced that myself LOL!

For the Americans in general, roasted turkeys, cranberry sauce, dressings, stuffings, mashed potatoes and gravy as well as salads are a must for main course. The Thanksgiving Feast will always end with fall desserts. In other words, fall harvests such as pumpkins, squash, apples and cranberries will always find their way into people's tummies as desserts. Good, good classics would be spiced pumpkin pies and bars as well as apple pie. (Yummy!)

Because the U.S. is such a vast country, each region celebrates this special occasion in a slightly different way. Take for instance Minnesota, the state where I called home in the past 2.8 years. As I've mentioned, I saw America mostly from the eye of a Minnesotan. I can assure you that you can find hotdishes (or casseroles) on the table of most Minnesotan families on Thanksgiving and other occasions. Perhaps, its neighboring states Wisconsin and the Dakotas are big on hotdishes, too! Hotdishes are such a common dish served in that part of the Midwest.

From this year onward, I won't be physically celebrating Thanksgiving like how I did while I was in the U.S. Nonetheless, it doesn't mean I can't share that joy deep in my thoughts. I'd like to thus take the opportunity to thank my own family, including my mom and dad as well as my two baby brothers. My relatives and friends, who have been nice and taking care of me since my younger days, are on the list as well!

AND, how can I forget about the great, kind-hearted people I met in the States! I couldn't imagine the struggling and pain of going through all the difficulties alone as a student abroad for almost three years if it weren't for the help that these people bestowed upon me! Furthermore, I never got to fly home for a visit during those years! Can you picture the severe homesickness I was suffering from for that long? (LOL!) Yes, my own family did help in many ways ... But, they weren't there physically. Without these amazing people, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today.

Here's a shout-out to my Beloved in the U.S. (hahaha ...!) They are:

The Williams & the Cobbs: Steve & Bonnie, I miss you two dearly! =)

 Keren "Baker" Williams (Where are your chocolate chip cookies? =P)
 

Luke Williams

Abbi Cobb & her family =)

Martha Johnson & her family

Anna Edward & her family, with Henry the Dog (LOL!)
 
My American Grandma Ula Hoffer (L), Mathew (C) & his wife Emily (R)


The Lockes, especially Mike & Mary

Becky Boe & her family! Miss you guys! =)

And of course, Lucas Kennedy! How can I forget this cute little boy! If it not were for Keren babysitting him, I don't think I would've met this charming boy. His mom is a great nature photographer. =)

How can we end the Thanksgiving dinner without food! Here it is, my share for the Thanksgiving this year! Because cranberries are associated with fall and Thanksgiving meals, I'd like to dedicate this cranberry yogurt chiffon to all my loved ones, friends and all you out there who actually read my journal. The recipe is taken from Chiffon Cake Book by Junko Fukuda. I fell in love with the book at first sight. Fortunately, I got the last copy from the bookstore Kinokuniya! My goodness!


This cranberry yogurt chiffon is slightly sweet and comes with the tang given out by the bits of cranberries and yogurt added! Soft, light and moist, too! A really good cake dessert to make and share with your loved ones at Thanksgiving dinner!

However, do note that it's best to bake your cake according to the cooking time suggested by the recipe fully. In other words, neither less nor more than the suggested time; otherwise, it may end up either too wet due to underbaking or too dry due to overbaking.

Normally, the chiffon recipes I've tried call for some sort of leaveners e.g. baking powder and baking soda. But, this particular one only relies on the air beaten into the meringue to help leaven the cake. So, the texture of the cake is slightly different than leavener(s)-leavened chiffons as it's moister, softer and more tender ... almost melts in your mouth. With that said, you'll also need to be extra careful when folding the meringue into the cake batter. Once the air is all forced out, your cake is definitely going to be over!

Here's another reminder once again that this year's Thanksgiving falls on Nov 26. I'd like to wish a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all you out there who celebrate this special occasion! =)


Cranberry Yogurt Chiffon 蔓越莓優格戚風蛋糕 (Adapted from Chiffon Cake Book by Junko Fukuda 《好吃戚風蛋糕輕松上手》。福田 涥子)
For one 20cm chiffon cake tin

(A)
5 egg yolks, at room temperature
43g castor sugar
65ml neutral-flavored oil

(B)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
130g plain yogurt

130g cake flour, sifted twice

7 egg whites, at room temperature
87g castor sugar

95g dried cranberries
enough cake flour (I used plain flour for this)
  1. Whisk (A) together till smooth and the sugar is completely dissolved--mixture should look somewhat pale yellow in color and sticky
  2. Add in (B) to the yolk mixture to combine well, then sift in the 130g cake flour and fold to fully combine it into the mixture. Set aside
  3. Evenly coat the dried cranberries with enough cake flour till they are well-coated with flour, then sift away excess flour. Set aside for use later
  4. For the meringue, whip the egg whites on low speed till it's foamy; gradually mix in the 87g sugar as you whip the egg whites on low speed. Continue whipping the egg whites till it's reached stiff-peak stage--this is the meringue
  5. Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the yolk mixture to "lighten up" the yolk mixture as the density of both the mixtures differ greatly. Then, GENTLY fold the remaining meringue in 2~3 portions into the yolk mixture till they are just incorporated--DON'T overfold as you may risk deflating the air out of the meringue!
  6. Add the flour-coated dried cranberries into the batter and using a wide rubber spatula, gently fold till the berries are just evenly scattered throughout the batter--STOP there.
  7. Pour the batter into a clean, grease- & dirt-free 20cm chiffon cake tin all in one shot. Then, make sure the surface of the batter is leveled--level it out with the spatula if not
    Briefly knock the cake tin over the counter to get rid of large air pockets
  8. Bake at 180C for 40 minutes till the chiffon is cooked through, i.e. toothpick should be clean when removed after being inserted into the center of the cake and the surface of cake shouldn't be springy and not sticky to touch
  9. Quickly remove the chiffon tin from the oven, then immediately invert the tin to let the cake cool inside the tin completely.
  10. Carefully unmold the chiffon once it is completely cooled. Slice to serve or store airtight. Best consumed within 2~3 days

November 21, 2009

Family, Some Lifelong Learning & Sushi Rolls with Unagi & Cucumber

Pardon me for this ultra-long post. This week has been very interesting to me, in both good and bad ways. I always pick up good things when the bad ones come along LOL! For instance, I've been a really careless gal lately. (Or, have I always been that way? Hmm ... I have to re-evaluate myself thoroughly ...) Not too long ago, I almost dropped my ATM card into a huge drain ... A few days later, I left my cell phone in the public restroom at work. Just then two days ago, I left my purse at the same spot again! To make it even worse, I made myself an embarrassment in front of my colleagues! (I'll skip that part because it's going to make me sound long-winded.) At that very moment, all I wanted was to hide myself away from everyone else. ='( ... (Of course, I couldn't because the lunch break was just over.) I just couldn't focus on what I was doing thereafter at work ... was too disturbed by that embarrassment.

My brain has been malfunctioning. =( Of course, I can't simply look for scapegoats to be blamed at; I control my own destiny, I should thus blame myself for being super, super careless.When I got home that day from work, I let out all my negative thoughts and feelings to my mom. Eventually, I couldn't help but burst into tears. My mom simply responded with these: "It's better to be safe than sorry. For me, the word 'sorry' doesn't exist. So, try not to make any mistake because most of them are irreversible."

They may sound like cliché. But, they have helped awaken me from my supposedly "misconception" that evening. All these episodes made me understand myself better now. I'm fortunate enough that I didn't lose both my phone and purse, and that some kind-hearted, honest people found and returned them back to me. (Thank you!) I realized I'm that kind of person who will only realize how painful a pain is once I've had that torturing experience myself. Mom, thank you for waking me up! I love you!

I've also come to TRULY realize how precious family is. No one will love and sacrifice for you like they do. When I think about my dad now, tears come rolling down my cheeks. Honestly speaking, he's been the one fetching us four in and out of this busy, ever-congested big city. He barely has time to relax everyday after work. What makes me feel ever worse is that he is getting older. At 60, he still has to rush back and forth just like how he's been since I was a little baby-- and he hasn't stopped since then.

I can see though he's extremely exhausted, my dad still willingly puts himself in the position of coming to fetch me home from the light rapid transit (LRT) station, which is going to take me 20 to 25 minutes of walking to get home. Whenever we think about the possible tragedies that may happen to me as I walk home alone, e.g. robbing, kidnapping and raping, we couldn't help but shiver. With the high crime rates here, my dad has no choice but to come and drive me home himself. Dad, I'm really sorry for the trouble I've brought you since young. Thanks for the sacrifice you've made to me. I really cherish you!

Whenever I feel down and stressed after coming back from work, my family has been the ones cheering me up and giving me the encouragement and emotional support that I need to get myself going. I've come to put all my trust and faith in my loved ones because they've shown the patience, unconditional love and sacrifices to me all these years as I grew up from a naïve child and a rebellious teenager to who I'm today. No one can and will ever do these to me other than those who really love and care about me. I've learned better on who to and not to trust. I'm blessed and lucky to have such loving, supporting parents and siblings who patiently teach and guide me through all of life's difficulties. Thanks to all of you mom, dad and two little brothers!

Here's a post dedicated to my sushi-loving brothers and of course, all you out there who go mad about sushi (壽司). I'm fairly new to sushi making, still learning along the way every time I make them. However, I'd say, unlike many other baking and cooking projects, there is no fast and fixed rule in sushi making. All it takes is practice and time.

I'd really been wanting to make sushi for my brothers because they normally would have them for late-night supper on weekends. Out of my own will and determination, I carried a backpack and went all the way to Isetan, a Japanese department store at KLCC--without any personal transportation--and brought home more than 2kg worth of goods all in my backpack! (Of course, I was broke by then as you can imagine how expensive imported Japanese goods are! LOL!) This was almost a month back then I suppose ...


Sushi making is pretty much an art by itself once you've grasped the concept. You can experiment by rolling different ingredients into the rice rolls. In fact, the only Japanese cookbook I have (for now) is "Quick & Easy Sushi & Sashimi" from the Periplus Mini Cookbook series. (I have only six of the handy cookbooks now.) You can imagine all the details that have to be crammed in with this little space! Though it may not be as comprehensive as a huge, thick Japanese cookbook is, it's good enough for me. I heart every bit of it!

 

The short-grain rice used in sushi making is in fact non-glutinous even though it may seem to stick to you when cooked. Japanese call it uruchi mai. Its glutinous variety, used in making mochi, is aptly named mochi gome in Japanese. The truth is it is very expensive in Malaysia; I paid over RM70 (close to US$30) for 2kg of the rice! Basically, all imported Japanese goods are expensive ... Just think about the costs of living in Japan! So to make your investment worthwhile, store the rice like how you'd do to any other type of rice. Keep it in an airtight container at room temperature. And, that should last you for a while.

Speaking of unagi (ウナギ), or fresh-water eel in English, we three siblings will go nuts about it! I was unable to find anago (穴子), or salt-water eel. So for my maiden sushi attempt, I decided to use unagi and cucumber, with modifications to the original recipe from the mini cookbook. Unfortunately, the avocado I bought earlier rot even though I kept it refrigerated! So, I substituted it with cucumber, a less expensive alternative.


We all agree that the texture and flavor of the prepared sushi rice is VERY, VERY important as 70 percent of the result is judged based on just that. To my delight as a novice, my brothers and their friend raved about my "project" that afternoon, "對一個初學者來說,那個壽司飯還不錯喔!" ("For a beginner, the rice for sushi tastes pretty good!") Haha ..., I'm filled with joy now! =D [Ah hem ... By the way, pardon us for our Malaysian-style Chinese. It's different from the standard Mandarin in China, so to speak. In Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding area, we speak Cantonese mainly ... and getting more popular now, Mandarin and a mix of both Chinese dialects among Malaysian-Chinese. Yes, Malaysians are melting pots of cultures and I take pride in my cultural heritage.]

Without further ado, here's what I'd like to share with you today: my first sushi along with some really helpful tips I learned as a beginner. I adapted all the following recipes from Quick & Easy Sushi and Sashimi, by Susie Donald. Enjoy!

Basic Sushi Rice

250g uncooked short-grain Japanese rice
Enough cold water, for washing rice

8cm square piece of konbu 昆布 (dried kelp)
*I omit this as I can't find any at the moment.

(A)
300ml water
1 Tbsp sake


(B)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar 米醋
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
  1. Place the rice in a big bowl with enough cold water to cover, then stir the rice with your finger for one minute till the water has turned somewhat "cloudy." Drain in a colander. Repeat the process above three to four times until the water comes out almost clear. Drain in a colander and set the rice aside for at least one hour.
  2. For those who can find and want to use konbu for their sushi, wipe the kelp with a damp cloth to remove any grit--BUT, don't wipe off the white powder! Then, cut konbu into four pieces using scissors.
    *I skip this step totally.
  3. Place (A) and the rice together in a heavy-bottom saucepan or rice cooker. Lay the konbu pieces on top of the water-submerged rice. (I skipped the last step. I also opt for saucepan to cook rice every time as I've never used a rice cooker to cook rice. Surprised, eh?) Cook over medium heat, remove the konbu pieces just right before the water boils--you may risk getting slimy rice if you forget about this particular step! (Again, I left out the konbu part throughout the whole process.)
    Reduce to low heat when the water has reached a rolling boil, then cover the saucepan and let simmer for 15 minutes or till all the liquid is absorbed--try not to lift the lid of the saucepan too many times to check the rice
  4. Immediately remove the rice from heat and let it sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes. Then, gently fluff up the rice with plastic or wooden rice paddle as the rice tends to stick really badly to metal ones. Place a kitchen towel over the saucepan and cover with the lid, leave aside to absorb excess moisture for 10 minutes. (I didn't use kitchen towel at all; I simply covered the saucepan of cooked rice with the lid. But, I suppose there may be a huge difference if you stick to the rule.)
    Meanwhile, dissolve (B) together in a non-metal bowl. After 10 minutes, spread the rice out in a large, non-metal container; sprinkle the vinegar mixture all over it
  5. Gently fold the vinegared rice with one hand using a plastic or wooden rice paddle next to a running electric fan. (You can try the primitive method of fanning the hot rice, too.) Continue with the folding as you let the hot rice cool to room temperature, which may take around five minutes. This quick cooling process is essential in achieving the desired texture, consistency and flavor of good sushi rice!
  6. Cover the container with a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying out. (I simply cover the whole deal up with the lid again.) The rice is now ready for use and can be stored at room temperature for up to four hours. DON'T refrigerate the prepared rice as it will harden and dry up in the fridge!
Tezu (Vinegared Water)

(C)
125ml water (1/2 cup) water
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  1. Combine (C) together for tezu. Use as directed by the recipe(s)
    *This is a bulk recipe. Prepare just enough of it by eyeballing the quantity based on the recipe you're using. It's such a headache when you have too much leftover. =.="
     Unagi (Smoked Eel) and Cucumber Sushi Rolls

    One medium-sized cucumber, peeled and cored
    *I'm not referring to Japanese cucumber; I used a regular one.
    *There may be extra left--eat it raw then because it's SO good and refreshing!

    Enough toasted nori sheets 海苔
    Small bowl of tezu
    450g of prepared sushi rice

    1/2 cup furikake 振り掛け (topping for rice)

    250g unagi (smoked fresh-water eel,) skinned and deboned
    *I got mine fully prepared from the supermarket, i.e. smoked and thoroughly cooked as well as deboned--not skinned though. Reasons being my kitchen's not fully equipped for smoking meats and I don't have the knowledge and skills for doing that =p
    1. Slice the cucumber lengthwise into thin strips, then set aside for use later
    2. Slice the unagi into strips, set aside for use later





    3. Place the bamboo mat in front of you, strips horizontal; lay one sheet of toasted nori on the mat--shiny side-down and with the edge of the nori 2cm away from the edge of the mat closer to you
    4. To assemble the sushi rolls, moisten your hands with some tezu to prevent rice from sticking to you. Then, spread about one cup of the prepared rice onto the nori evenly with your fingers--leaving a 2cm space at the top of the nori. Next, sprinkle some furikake over the rice evenly
      *I may skip furikake for my brothers' portions in the future as they aren't too fond of the savory taste that it imparts. BUT, I love them on my bowl of sushi rice especially! Simple and yet flavorful! Good for a quick and lazy lunch ... =)





    5. Lay the unagi and cucumber down--one strip for each--in the middle of the rice.
    6. Start rolling by holding the edge of the mat closest to you with one hand. Press fingers of the other hand over the cucumber and unagi to hold them in place, roll the mat over the rice, away from you. Lift up the top of the mat and turn the roll over a little so that the unfilled blank part of the nori seals the sushi roll.
    7. Unroll the mat and remove the sushi roll, touch up a bit by roughly shaping the roll into square or rough if presentation matters to you, too. LOL! Then, cut the roll into eight uniform slices using a moist and very sharp knife.
    8. Repeat the same with the remaining unagi, cucumber, prepared rice and etc. until everything is used up
    9. Enjoy them right away. Or, like how we do, send the sushi rolls to chill in the refrigerator for a bit before wiping them out! =) We like ours cold, hehehe ...
      

    November 14, 2009

    Steamed Banana Cakes (Appam Pisang) II

    Well, well ... This is a long overdue post. And, I'd never expect myself to write this late--at 1 a.m. LOL! This is what happens whenever I work overtime. Yes, I only reached home from work at 10 p.m. All I can say is that this week has been a black (i.e. unfortunate) week for me, and I am ABSOLUTELY tired with all those ridiculous things I was thrown at by some people! But, it's weekend now! So, forget about the unhappy stuff! I'm going to indulge myself in my love for cooking, baking, photography and food styling these coming few days! =)

    As promised, this is the second and last installment on steamed banana cakes, a.k.a. appam pisang in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The first appam recipe uses the sponge cake method. And, this very one I'm going to talk about here comes with a totally different story.

    Actually, my mom has been using this steamed banana cake recipe for quite a while--well before I got home from the States. I remember she never failed to talk about how good these banana cakes were each time she had made them whenever we got to have some good, long-winded mother-daughter chat over the Internet. Because this recipe never disappoints her and my banana-loving dad, she refuses to try other similar recipes out LOL! (Well, I'm the opposite. I think life is too short, and in the meantime, there are so many things for us to try while we're still alive. So, I tend to try new recipes rather than making the same things again and again. But, that doesn't mean that I won't revisit keeper recipes--I'll visit with them again when my craving for these goodies strikes me again hahaha ...!



    Even now that I'm back home in Malaysia from the U.S., my mom still talks and raves about her steamed banana cakes to me LOL! Oh well, all these got me REALLY curious and suspicious about the cakes! I finally jumped on the opportunity when my mom asked me to make some for her and dad because she didn't have time to solve the overripe banana issue at home. (My family never runs out of banana with a banana fanatic at home hahaha!) Anyway, I got to try the recipe out myself that very day. =D

    This recipe is vegetarian-friendly with no eggs and no butter involved. The cakes were very, very moist! However, there are only two things I'd do differently the next time I make them again. If you follow the original recipe to a "T," the cakes are going to be a little too sweet. On top of that, I'll only apply one drop to the batter or even--totally skip the artificial banana oil. How naïve I was: I followed the recipe word-by-word using one teaspoon of fake banana flavoring! The result? Fake banana smell and taste that were too strong! My goodness!

    Still, I'd say this is a great, great recipe and I highly recommend it to anyone since vegetarians aren't forbidden from enjoying them. I seriously love both this and the previous recipe I got from Amanda. But when it comes to moistness, this one is no doubt a winner! With the modifications made as suggested above, you will get scrumptious, healthy banana cakes that both the young and old in your family can treat themselves to.

    These appam pisang, or steamed banana cakes in Malay, bring amazing results and yet, are SO easy to make! Do try them out yea?



    Steamed Banana Cakes 蒸香蕉蛋糕 [Appam Pisang]
    (Adapted from the recipe of Susan Cahyu and Pelly Lim, in Y3K Recipes 美廚食譜, Issue 38)

    (A)
    500g overripe bananas, mashed
    2 tsp baking soda

    250g sugar
    *I'd reduce to 210~220g the next round. But, please take into consideration the sweetness of the bananas you're using and adjust the quantity of sugar accordingly.

    (B)
    250g cake flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp cinnamon powder

    1 tsp banana essence
    *PLEASE reduce it to a drop or even none ... especially when you detest artificial banana taste, smell and etc.!!)

    150ml neutral-flavored oil
    1. Combine (A) together and set the mixture aside for one hour to "proof" it; in the meantime, combine (B) together and sift once, set aside for use later
    2. Add in the sugar to the banana mixture and stir them up a little. Then, sift the dry ingredients onto the wet mixture, apply a little bit of the banana essence along the way, and lightly stir to incorporate them thoroughly by hand with help from a wooden spoon/fork/whisk/a pair of chopsticks.
      Keep the mixture aside for another one hour to "proof" it
    3. Lastly, fold in the oil to the batter till just well-blended; set it aside to rest for 10 minutes
    4. Divide the batter evenly among muffin or cupcake tins that have been lined with paper cups--each should be filled with batter till around 80 percent full
    5. In the meantime, prepare the steamer by bringing the water within it to a full rolling boil over high heat.
    6. Steam the cakes over high heat for 15 minutes or till they're test done--the surface of each cake should look somewhat like the Chinese fatt gou (發糕), or Chinese steamed rice cakes, with the "smile" cracked wide open on top of each cake
      *But really, the duration for cooking time varies depending upon the size of the cakes. So, please adjust it accordingly yea?
    7. Remove the cakes from the steamer; turn off the heat. Let them cool slightly to serve them warm, or you can also let them cool to room temperature before serving
      These appam are best served within two days after you made them.

    November 6, 2009

    Steamed Banana Cakes (Appam Pisang,) An Award & A Bad Day

    I've been asking myself for quite a while, "Should I generously share what I've made with my own hard work and efforts with others?" I feel so ridiculously stupid and naïve when I gave out the rest of my food for free to someone else today ... while I myself only had one portion and am on a tight budget.

    During my 2.8 years in the U.S., I'd met people who willingly helped me and other international students without asking for any form of reciprocity in return. These great people stood by us all the time ... sort of like our guardians! Kudos to them! I really admire their kind-heartedness. I'm questioning myself whether I've been influenced by this virtue of sharing ... And, whether all us private bakers and cooks are that willing to share our fruits of labor with others, including those who don't bother about learning but are more than happy to eat our hard work!? I still can't convince myself that I actually handed out the rest of my stuff to someone else without even giving it a second thought! Gosh, am I going crazy?

    And for reasons, I've been feeling down and stressed the whole day. First, I can blame my lack of sleep for the crabbiness I've been having lately. Second, it's due to some "accidents" at work. Third, as a freshie who just started off her career, financial insecurity has started to creep into my life. This is by no means saying I don't want to share my fruits of labor with others outside of my family. Just like you, I need to work to earn a living to help support myself and my loved ones.

    Sorry ... But, I've settled on this with a policy: I'm going to start reducing free material and labor services. If you'd like to have a taste of my hard work, please give me what I deserve in return at least, be it financially or materially. I feel I've been taken advantage and stripped of my own dignity. Friendly treat once in a while is OK. But, please don't take others' kind offers for granted; I'll cherish you just as much as you'd cherish me.

    To me, blogging is definitely a way to share what I've learned with people alike who share the same passion and interests. I seriously don't mind this kind of act as I personally see food blogging as a huge reciprocal cycle. With that said, I'll keep blogging as long as I can despite the concern I've voiced out above. Here's to thank, once again, fellow food and photography bloggers for generously sharing what they know and believe that are good with others out there. I'm totally inspired by you guys! Thanks for leading me to the realization of my true passions, resulting in the birth of my blog and Flickr photostream. Kudos to y'all, too! =)

    Earlier this year, I stumbled upon another great blog Bitter Sweet Flavours by fellow Malaysian tracieMoo. She's been kind enough in sharing her kitchen experiments and interesting episodes in traveling with us. Here's to thank Tracie for passing me the awards below. I truly appreciate the encouragement, gal! Keep up with the good work yea?



    Though I don't do a lot of tagging, I'd still like to take this opportunity to pass on the awards to other fellow bloggers who, I think, really deserve recognition. Because there's a restriction, I can only share them with 15 out of the tons of great, great bloggers out there. =( So, here they are:
    Anyhow, here's the first of the two steamed banana cake recipes I'd like to share with you today. Steamed cakes are known more commonly as appam in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia though there may be regional variations in spelling. So, steamed banana cake will be appam pisang in Malay. And to clarify you further on this, its texture resembles more of a muffin than a cake ... If you get what I mean. So, the steamed cake should be moist, somewhat light and fluffy while still warm. But as soon as it's gotten cooled, it becomes slightly dense with a bit fluffiness and still moist at the same time. The point is appam tends to stay moist longer than its usual baked counterparts! And, it doesn't have that "crust" you'd find in a baked muffin.


    I actually attempted these when I was still in the U.S. In fact, I still remember that I made them on a Monday morning for breakfast before heading off to watch a baseball game with my family friends LOL! The recipe for these banana cupcakes was a rage in the Asian food blogosphere sometime in 2007 or 2008. Amanda from Held by Love, Baked from Scratch was very kind enough to share the recipe handed down by her friend's mom. Though she's not been updating her blog lately, I'd still like to thank her for sharing this with us.

    I'd say this recipe somewhat incorporates the sponge cake, or genoise, method ... except there is no use of cooled melted butter. As mentioned earlier, they're best served warm if you want them to be at their lightest and fluffiest. But for me, I simply threw them into my mouth even when at room temperature because they were just as good when cooled. Most importantly, I could actually taste the bananas! Strong enough for you to feel their presence and yet, not overpowering. What was best was that they tasted oh-so-natural! You definitely can't compare these side-by-side with those made with artificial banana flavoring. Geez, I hate fake banana flavor! (More story on artificial banana oil soon.)

    Why wait? Give this banana appam a shot because they're ridiculously easy and quick to be prepared--and yet, the result is unbelievably good! In the meantime, stay tuned for the next recipe that's made with a totally different method and with a totally different result! 

    Steamed Banana Cakes (Adapted from Amanda's from Held by Love, Baked from Scratch)
    Makes about 6 large muffins or 8 regular-sized muffins

    (A)
    150g self-rising flour
    1/8 tsp baking soda

    (B)
    2 eggs
    100g sugar

    200g (approximately 2 medium-large) overripe mashed bananas

    75g oil
    1. Combine (A) together and sift once, set aside for use later
    2. Beat (B) together till you've had it reached ribbon stage, i.e. the mixture should look pale, thick and sticky--and by lifting up the whisk/beaters from the mixture, you should be able to "write" the number "8" ... the "8" should stay there for about 30 seconds before it disappears before you
    3. Gently stir in the mashed bananas to the egg-sugar mixture till just incorporated; then, gently and alternately fold in the flour mixture and oil to the banana mixture till just combined--careful not to deflate the air in the batter as sponge cakes, or genoise, are made this way
    4. Divide the batter among the lined muffin tins, then steam over high heat for 15 minutes or till test done, i.e. toothpick comes out clean when taken out after being inserted into the center of the cake
    5. Remove the cakes from the steamer. Wait for a bit to serve them either warm or cooled
    How much do you know about bananas? You can know more about and make full use of this rich tropical fruit here:
    Bananas on Foodista

    November 3, 2009

    Lemony Gateau for Birthdays!!!

    Exactly just a month away from mine, it's my elder baby brother's turn to celebrate his 20th birthday on Nov 03. Since young, both of us have been taking pride in the number "3." Well, it isn't for no reason. We found that almost anywhere and anything that we happen to bump into, there's got to be "3." But, this isn't the point here LOL! Let's leave it aside; otherwise, it's going to be another long-winded grandma's story again hahaha ...!

    In the meantime, my father actually just had his birthday 10 days before my brother's. Like what I said before, my family doesn't really celebrate birthday. A birthday is just like any other day--we're good and satisfied as long as we're still one family together. On top of that, we value practicality haha ...! Birthday cakes aren't going to last us through the week and leave us filled ... sort of unhealthy. In other words, I didn't make any "grand" cake again for both the occasions ... just like what I did to mine a month ago. =)

    Nonetheless, my dad didn't mind at all. He just ate whatever I came up with in the kitchen last weekend. (They were this, this, this and this. Have yet to blog about them though ...) My dear brother even told me that he's fine and happy with the vanilla bean cookies and some plain, simple banana chiffon I made this past weekend. (He doesn't like bread LOL!! Strange huh?) Well, dad and bro ... When you're happy, I'm just as happy as you guys are! Love you!


    BUT, but ... I've decided to mark these two important days in my life with the lemony layered birthday cake I made four days before waving goodbye to the States for good. It was actually meant for the birthday of my family friend's the then-7-year-old son. Together with his family, we celebrated Jonathan's eighth year on Earth in late August with this simple and yet delicious gateau! So Jonathan, would you mind sharing your cake with us here in Malaysia LOL!!?? (I do miss you guys!! Stay warm yea in the harsh winter of northern Minnesota!

    LOL! Jonathan was so nice that he let me cut his cake first
    for photo shooting even before he blew his candles! =P

    My original idea for the birthday gateau that time was a Swiss roll of lemon cake base with lemon curd as filling, and coated with sweetened whipped cream and desiccated coconut. A chiffon (cake) base is no doubt a great choice with its signature light, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Too bad, my underestimation of the recipe wrecked the plan!

    I baked the lemon chiffon cake batter in a huge baking tray ... But with the extra batter that I stubbornly risked pouring onto the tray, the chiffon rose WAY too high ... more than I'd desire for the rolling and assembling of a Swiss roll =_="". Because the situation couldn't be reverted, I decided to make a rectangular layered cake instead hahahaha ...! Oh, well ... Learning along the way ...

    But boy, this lemon chiffon recipe was sure good! One of my good baking friends Happy Homebaker, from Singapore, was kind enough to share her recipe here. It was REALLY soft, fluffy with melt-your-mouth texture! You won't even realize how many slices you've been stuffing yourself with ... EXACTLY what you'd want in a good chiffon! Its lemony smell and flavor was strong enough for you to sniff and taste, ... but not too powering at the same time.

    Lemon curd in the making

    And the day before, I had prepared lemon curd using the recipe from none other than Joy of Baking. For the sake of convenience, work with cold lemons for grating and lemons that are at room temperature for juicing. Because I worried about it being too sweet, I reduced the sugar again by about 40 grams. Oh, dear ... It was really creamy and rich, sweet and yet tangy! Thinking about it makes me want to whip up another batch this weekend for my bread toasts next week hahaha! This recipe is definitely a keeper, too. (Of course, feel free to use the quantity of sugar indicated in the recipe if you have sweeter tooth.)

    Next, it was time to assemble the gateau! I laid the sheet cake horizontally and sliced evenly in thirds. Then, I smothered generous amount of the lemon curd in between these layers except for the surface of the top most layer. Speaking of a "good and simple" whipped cream-only cake decorator, I'm the best candidate around LOL! (Because I have zero idea on fondant decorating!!?? Youfei, you've got to teach me someday man!)

    For a good and simple approach, I made some sweetened whipped cream and AGAIN--smothered the entire surface of the layered cake with it. Figuring that coconut and lemon make a heavenly pair, I decided to cover the cake--from top to bottom--with desiccated coconut. But, that wasn't it! As I was pretty desperate in getting rid of the remaining lemon curd, I "dumped" and spread it over the top of the cake. ... Ha ... Nice and simple way to go about, and yet an absolutely sinful way to indulge yourself in some cake! *giggling*

    For some reasons, the cake slants once I've sliced it

    What more can I say!? This gateau au citron was truly refreshing! Light and so moist, sweet and yet tangy! The whipped cream and coconut made it an even more sinful indulgence!!!

    Lemony Layered Birthday Cake/Gateau d'Anniversaire au Citron

    Element #1:
    Lemon Curd (Adapted from Stephanie Jaworski's, of Joy of Baking) 
    Makes about 360ml

    (A)
    3 large eggs, at room temperature
    80ml lemon juice
    110g sugar (was 150g)

    56g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
    1 Tbsp (approximately 4g) finely grated lemon zest
    1. In a double boiler that's placed over simmering water, whisk (A) together till blended--stirring constantly as you cook to prevent scrambling the eggs! Cook till it's thickened up with the consistency of hollandaise sauce, i.e. creamy and thick with a still-pourable consistency--may take about 10 minutes
    2. Remove the mixture immediately from heat and pour through a fine strainer to remove lumps. Then, whisk in the cubed butter to the lemon curd till melted and just combined; mix in the zest. Set aside to let cool completely--it will further thicken up as it cools.
    3. Once cooled thoroughly, store the curd in an airtight container and keep refrigerated. It keeps in the fridge for up to a week.
    Element #2:
    Lemon Chiffon (Adapted Happy Homebaker's) 
    For one 10.5(W) x 15.5(L) x 1(H)-inch / 27(W) x 39(L) x 2.5(H)cm sheet pan

    (B)
    270g cake flour
    4 tsp baking powder
    1-1/2 tsp salt

    (C) 
    8 egg yolks, at room temperature 
    108g sugar  

    (D)
    135ml neutral-tasting oil (e.g. canola, corn, vegetable or rice bran oil)
    135ml water
    25ml fresh lemon juice

    finely grated zest of about 3 lemons

    8 egg whites, at room temperature
    108g sugar
    1. Grease and then line the sheet pan with parchment paper; combine (B) together and sift once, set aside for use later
    2. Whisk (C) together till pale and sticky, then mix in (D) to blend well along with the lemon zest
    3. Fold in the sifted flour mixture till incorporated by hand using a rubber spatula or balloon whisk; set aside
    4. Whip the egg whites together till foamy in a clean, grease-free bowl, then gradually mix in the 108g sugar as you continue whipping the egg whites till you reach the stiff-peak stage.
    5. Fold in 1/3 of the meringue to the egg yolk mixture till combined to "lighten up" the batter, then VERY GENTLY fold in the remaining batter in two portions until just combined--DON'T OVERMIX; or else, you'll risk deflating the air in the meringue ... ended up with hard, dry and crumbly cake!
    6. Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan, then smooth out the surface of the batter evenly and make sure that each corner of the pan is filled with the batter. Gently and briefly tap the bottom of the pan on the counter to get rid of large air pockets
    7. Bake it at 170C/340F for 20-25 minutes or until the surface looks golden brown and toothpick comes out clean after being inserted into the center of the sheet cake
    8. Immediately remove the chiffon from the hot sheet pan by lifting the parchment paper along the sides gently. Peel off the parchment paper and let the cake cool over a wire rack completely before assembling
    Element #3:
    Sweetened Whipped Cream 

    (E)
    250ml cold heavy whipping cream
    1 Tbsp powdered sugar
    1. Whip (E) together till almost stiff-peak stage, then keep it refrigerated till use later
      **Please don't prepare it way too early only until you're ready to assemble the cake.
    Element #4 
    Enough desiccated coconut, for coating
     

    To assemble the gateau:
    1. Lay the sheet cake horizontally across you and slice to divide it equally in thirds
    2. Lay one of the thirds onto a cake tray/stand or something similar and flat to accommodate its size, then take some lemon curd and spread it evenly all over the top of this particular cake layer--of course, be wise with the amount of curd as you apply onto the cake as you may risk having it oozing out in between the cake layers later on
      Top it with another third of the cake and repeat the same as the process mentioned above. Once you're done there, top it with the last third of the cake.
    3. "Frost" the cake with the chilled whipped cream evenly all over its surfaces--from left to right and top to bottom, make sure the surface is fairly smooth though if you're concerned about presentation. =P
    4. Coat the whipped cream-frosted cake with enough desiccated coconut till the cake's fully and evenly coated.
    5. For the final touch, pour and spread the remaining lemon curd onto the top most surface of the assembled cake--do it however you like to give some aesthetic value to the gateau LOL!
    6. Chill it for about 6 hours before cutting to serve. Bon appetit!

    November 1, 2009

    The Sweet & Tangy: Lemon Bars

    Oh, my gosh! When I looked at my last entry here, I could hardly believe that it's been more than two weeks since I last wrote about something edible here. Well, what happened? All I can say is I'm on the verge of getting burned out! In the past couple of weeks, I've been extremely occupied. I'm working on something very important that has made me sit for exams back-to-back on the past two Saturdays. (Unrelated to anything culinary, pastries, photography and artistic.)

    As I'm commuting from work to home, my brain keeps getting tangled up with all the other responsibilities in life. By the time I'm home, have had my shower and dinner, it usually winds up just a few minutes before 10 p.m.! In the meantime, I'm very happy with and grateful for the response and encouragement from my readers in various parts of the world. (My fellow Flickr'ites, I've not forgotten about you, too!) When I started this blog, I wasn't expecting this much of a response. All I want is to share my edible, visual experience with you. ... Hmm ..., a humble little journal by a 22-year-old cooking/baking/food photography and styling fanatic.

    As I've said, I've been struggling to a strike a balance among the many things in life, including taking THE exams and courses, working, involving in my family's and friends' lives, indulging myself once in a while in the sea of cookbooks and recipes on the Internet, working on something edible in the kitchen as well as behind the lens and computer screen. It often ends up that my blogging mode has been long gone by the time I settle down before the computer screen each night. Furthermore, thinking about the exams and lessons really turns me off. Thus, all these explain my two-week absence from the food blogosphere. But, boy! I really appreciate the feedback and encouragement I've been getting from readers like you coming from different parts of the world! Thanks once again! I feel recharged now!!! =)

    Anyhow, this past weekend was no exception as well. I went out early last morning to sit for the exam. Leaving the test center with a really discouraging result two hours later, I still set off with my original schedule--i.e. to replenish my baking supply at a large-scale baking supply store on the opposite side of the city. Yes, I carried more than 3kg worth of stuff home without personal transportation! I did it by relying on the public transportation, my own feet, a backpack--and my own money! Whoa! It feels damn good to be an independent woman LOL!

    As for today, I slept for a little over five hours and kicked myself out of the bed with excitement. Though I had to say goodbye to Plan A, I still managed to accomplish what I'd laid out for Plan B. On this very Sunday, I made a loaf of wholemeal cinnamon swirl bread, nine wholemeal cinnamon rolls, one banana chiffon cake and about 30 vanilla bean cookies again with my own recipe after an unsatisfactory attempt last weekend. All these will last me through till end of this week (hopefully.) Too bad, Mother Nature hasn't been friendly lately. We've been getting torrential rain every evening since the monsoon season hit us; therefore, my food photography session was called off in the last minute due to poor lighting. I'll need to get up early tomorrow morning to snap some pictures of these babies before going to work. Though sounds weird, I love it even when I feel worn out!

    Anyhow, speaking of lemon bars, they're one of my favorites--if only they aren't too sweet! It's one of those desserts I learned during my 2.8-year stay in the U.S. I don't know if I'm the only one wondering about this, but to call lemon bars American may sound a bit illogical!? Based on my observation, most Americans are unaware of the existence of lemon curd. In fact, lemon curd is 100% English. Nonetheless, lemon bars themselves consist of a shortbread base and lemon-curd topping. And to make things even more confusing, they're a classic in American pastries!

    Lemon bars aren't the only weird case I've noticed so far. Chiffon cakes are another one! Well, let's hope that I can share my chiffon-making experience with you in the future with all my backlogs =.="". (You'll get dizzy by dates and times once you start to track down my backlogs ... I'm a ridiculously slow blogger!) I can tell you for sure though most East Asians don't have too sweet of a tooth when compared to Americans. Some don't even eat anything sweet!! My gosh! Thinking about chewy, fudgy American brownies, rice krispies bars and chocolate chip cookies, my brain can already feel a sudden sugar rush ... absolutely not diabetic-friendly! =S ... But, I'd been dying to introduce this classic American dessert to my folks back in Malaysia and don't want it to be cloyingly sweet at the same time. So, the only natural thing to do was reducing sugar.

    It's hard to track down a "local recipe" for lemon bars here. With that intention, I turned to one of my favorite pastry sites Joy of Baking for help. I followed the recipe exactly except that I reduced the quantity of sugar by 1/4. I've tried Betty Crocker's lemon bar recipe when I was still in the States, but I've come to prefer this one. Instead of getting a crumbly dough that could be pressed onto the bottom of the baking pan, I got a stickier dough that had to be spread with help from a rubber spatula. I doubt that it was because I didn't use U.S. but metric system of measurement while making the bars. Metric system counts by weight rather than volume anyway. i.e. more accuracy. =) I guess this is simply the way the recipe works, which makes it different from others!


    A final note on this treat, don't overbake the lemon curd layer! I've noticed that Americans have a tendency to slightly overbake it, and thus, yielding a chewier and firmer consistency. A good English lemon curd is cooked just till the right consistency. Mine turned out to have a lemon curd layer that was not too sweet, tangier, creamy and slightly gooey ... Very, very lemony, too! Forget about those juice concentrates. PLEASE use fresh, real lemon zest and juice because they do make a huge difference!

    Lemon curd served with a slice of toast is already yummy. Pairing it with shortbread definitely makes these bars lemony, tempting, refreshing and richer! What a simple treat to make for perfect teatime snack!

    Lemon Bars (Adapted from Stephanie Jaworski's, of Joy of Baking)
    For a 20x20cm (an 8x8-inch) square baking tray
    *I used a 7x7-inch square baking tray

    (A)
    113g unsalted butter, at room temperature
    25g powdered sugar

    (B)
    140g plain flour
    1/8 tsp salt

    (C)
    150g sugar (was 200g originally)
    1 Tbsp finely grated fresh lemon zest

    2 large eggs
    80ml fresh lemon juice
    25g plain flour

    Some powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
    1. Grease the baking tray and set aside for use later; combine (B) together and sift once, set aside as well
    2. For the shortbread base: cream (A) till light and fluffy, fold in the flour mixture by hand with help from a rubber spatula till just incorporated--don't overmix it! You may otherwise end up with a hard-rock crust due to the formation of gluten network in the flour!
      Spread the slightly sticky dough onto the bottom of the greased baking tray--making sure it's evenly spread and reaches every corner of the tray.
      Bake at 170C for 20 minutes or till lightly browned
    3. For the lemon curd layer: In the meantime, as you bake the shortbread in the oven, prepare the lemon curd topping by rubbing together (C) to release the lemony oil and scent, then mix in the eggs until the mixture looks pale and creamy and the sugar dissolves. Mix until combined as you gradually sift in the 25 grams of flour. Stir in the lemon juice next.
      Once the shortbread is done with baking, remove the tray from the oven and pour the lemon curd mixture onto the hot shortbread
      Bake at 170C for 20 minutes, or till the filling is set--don't overcook it!
    4. Remove the tray from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack
    5. To serve, cut it into squares or triangles of equal size; dust with powdered sugar just before serving if desired. Dish out and enjoy!!
      *These bars were good enough for us without powdered sugar. And, we love ours chilled.* 
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