Saturday, 14 December 2013

New York Bagels

It seems rather fitting to make a post about NY bagels on board an American cruise ship. It is currently day four of our twelve day tour with Celebrity Solstice. We sailed from Auckland, stopped by Bay of Islands and Tauranga before arriving at Wellington this morning.  The weather's been mighty fine so far and the ocean vast and blue. This is our first cruise and everyone's been so nice. I suppose being on a holiday puts everyone in a good mood. Aside from the occasional rockiness and motion sickness, this trip has been relaxing. With an abundance of food on board that is available almost twenty four seven, it feels like all we've been doing all day is eat, sleep, walk. I haven't been as eager to take that many photos, just a few here and there of what I thought captured the essence of each location. I'll be sharing more about the trip once I get home and have a chance to edit the photos! So stay tuned for that!

Now about these bagels.  I got pretty obsessed with making them. They're much easier to make than I anticipated. You'll need some elbow grease for the kneading, but working for your food makes it more delicious doesn't it? It also makes the bagel chewy and bouncy! The recipe I pinched from The Sophisticated Gourmet, altering only the types of flour and the amount of salt. The bagels are so tasty. The wholewheat flour that I added gives a subtle sweetness to the bread that makes the bagels perfect treats even just by themselves.  Of course, they're great bases to the usual PB and J, but if you're feeling more up to it, you could whip up a warm salad and fry or poach an egg and there we go, a satisfying and nutritious lunch you'll have.  I made a warm, herby eggplant, tomato and fungi salad, of which I'll share with you soon!

Unlike Auckland which currently only have one store that specializes in bagels (Best Ugly Bagels), the ship has an abundance of it. I haven't gotten around to it yet though. Just been devouring their deliciously fluffy rye bread. But I don't feel too deprived. These bagels were just that amazing.

New York bagels 

Makes 8

2 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp raw sugar
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups high grade unbleached plain flour
1 cup wholewheat flour
2 tsp salt

Pour dried yeast and sugar in the 1/2 cup of water and let it sit for 5 minutes without stirring. After 5 minutes, stir until sugar and yeast diasolves.
Combine flour and salt and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and begin stirring together. Gradually add in the 3/4 cup of water and continue to stir in. You may or may not need all the water. The dough should be moist and firm. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes on a floured surface with floured hands. The dough should end up firm and elastic and don't feel sticky. When you press down on the dough with your finger it should gently bounce back.
Place the dough in a large oiled bowl and leave to rest in a warm place, covered with a wet tea towel, for an hour until double in size. Knock down and let rise for another 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 8 and shape each one into round doughs. To shape, place the dough on the counter top and cup your hand over it. Move your arm in circular motions, pressing the dough down with slight pressure. Once all doughs are done, coat a finger in flour and press into the middle of the dough to make a hole, like a doughnut. The hole should be 1/3 the size of the dough.  Repeat with the rest. Leave in a warm place covered for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, boil a pot of water and preheat oven to 220C.
Once the water is boiled, reduce heat to a simmer. Drop the bagel doughs into the pot and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Don't over-crowd the pot. The doughs will float and expand. Drain on wire rack then bake in the oven on a tray lined with lightly oiled baking sheet for about 20 minutes until golden.
Serve with your favorite topping! 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Coconut berry cake

It was one of those days where none of the photos turned out how I wanted them to. I must've taken about 50 shots and still, the lighting wasn't right, it was too yellow or too cold, the background looked too plain or too busy, the cake just looked like a round lump. It was rather frustrating indeed.

This flopped photography episode was in fact preceded by further frustrations. In my absent state of mind, I had accidentally set the oven to 'grill'. The top of the cake, or rather the nutty layer was charcoaled. After the cake cooled, I patiently picked and scraped off the black bits. I was also afraid that my temperament oven had overcooked the cake and that it would turn out dry. 

Then I spent ages scratching the back of my head, wondering how I would ice the cake. I didn't have the regular ingredients that I would use to make icing - eg. cream cheese. I was reluctant to make butter icings or icing packed with sugar. Being frugal and busy, I did not want to make a trip to the supermarket. So I racked my brains and finally I racked my books. Correction. I racked one book. Jude Blereau's book (yes, again!), where I got the recipe for the cake. And so matching the recipes with the ingredients I have at hand, I made a berry coulis. One that contains chunks of strawberries and blueberries. And I experimented. Coconut cream plus cornstarch, as the gelling agent. Vanilla and golden syrup to elevate the sensory properties. Apply heat. Stir. Stir. Stir. And what have we got? A split mixture. Brilliant. 

But actually, it was brilliant. It was delicious. The icing. Smooth, velvety, sweet, deep flavours that penetrate that gentle spot of your heart. That creaminess. Unbeatable. The texture of it, despite being split was incredibly smooth. I knew the reason why it split. The heat was too high and the coconut oil melted. Refrigeration should amend things. And so off I went again, tinkering. 

Filling the cake had an advantage. It was an excuse to cut open the cake and have a taste of it. Thank goodness the inside of the cake stayed surprisingly moist! I suppose this was what you get when you use golden syrup instead of regular sugar. And almond meal and coconut milk and olive oil. These wonderful goodies worked their wonder. So coconut filling slathered on and berry coulis layered on. Second half of cake capped on and more berry coulis poured on. To contrast the moist texture and to complement the filling of the cake, I toasted some desiccated coconut and sprinkled them liberally on the cake. Compared to what the cake started out looking like, it was quite a transformation. 

So, despite the stormy encounters, my mother loved the cake. She's been raving about it and asking me to make it again since. I too love it. In fact, it is now one of my, if not my favourite cakes. The flavours of the ingredients really packed a punch. The wholesomeness of the cake - the wholewheat flour and almond flour, the lack of refined sugar, the beautiful oil, really do make the cake shine in such a humble way. Oh what more, this cake really is a guilt-free pleasure. It's nourishing. It kisses your soul as well as your body. I'd happily make this cake again, though with minor adjustments!


Coconut berry cake

Recipe adapted from Wholesome Baking | Jude Blereau 
Serves 8-10

195g unbleached wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
50g almond meal
1/2 tsp salt
150g Golden syrup
80ml olive oil or macadamia or almond oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
50g pecans/almonds/walnut (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C. Line an 8 inch cake tin. Sift together the dry ingredients and stir to mix well. In a separate bowl, stir together the wet ingredients until well incorporated. Fold the dry and wet ingredients together until just combined. Transfer into cake tin. If you want the extra crunch, you top the cake batter with nuts. Make sure that your oven IS NOT set to grill. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and skewer inserted to the middle comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and let it cool completely on wire rack before undressing it from the tin. Set aside.

Coconut filling
120ml coconut cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp Golden syrup
1 tbsp blended raw sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

Whip the coconut cream using an electric mixer until nice and creamy. Add in the vanilla, golden syrup and raw sugar and continue mixing until well combined. Transfer the mixture into a saucepan and add in the cornstarch. Turn on the element to medium heat and stir continuously until the cornstarch is cooked. The mixture will turn slightly transparent. It will also boil, observed as pockets of mixture lifting gently off the pan. DO NOT over cook, as the mixture will split when the coconut oil melts. The whole process should only take about 1 minute. However, panic not if your mixture does split. It is still usable. Simply cool the cake in the refrigerator after spreading the filling on.

Berry coulis
1 handful of frozen berries
1 tbsp blended raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Generous splash of champagne/juice

On medium heat stir together the ingredients. You can determine the consistency you want of the mixture. Once the berries have disintegrated and the mixture has thickened and concentrated, turn off the heat and leave to cool. 

Desiccated coconut, slightly toasted

Patiently slice the cake in half. To ensure an even slicing, get down to the cake's level so your line of vision is horizontal to the cake. I find it easier to turn the cake as I slice.
Spread the coconut filling on the bottom half of the cake. Top the coconut filling with half of the berry mixture. Cap on the top half of the cake. Spread on remaining berry coulis. Top with toasted coconut.
Store the cake in the refrigerator. Remove it from the fridge half an hour before serving. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Vanilla Hub Photography

Hey everyone! I decided to start a new blog with a sole focus on my non-food photography. You can access it through the 'Photography' tab on top. The blog will feature landscape photography, people and portrait photography and projects that i'm starting up. Click on over and enjoy!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cinnamon and raisin bread

Today I will just flood your feed with loads of pictures. Pictures of nice fluffy, cinnamony bread. It's comforting to make. It's soft as a baby's bottom. It brings alive your kitchen. It's nourishing to the soul especially when you spread on some floral honey. Honey, cinnamon and raisin, such a delicious combination. 

Recipe is taken from The Pastry Affair, with minor adjustments. I substituted half a cup of wholewheat flour into the bread flour and added some walnuts into the dough to give some contrast in texture. For the 'cinnamon swirl' I added nutmeg and roughly chopped walnuts. It's delish. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Kale, mushroom and tomato salad

Summer came along so abruptly. One week I'm all layered up drinking tea and stuck behind my desk till the quiet hours of night. The next week I'm out in shorts and tees, slathering sunscreen on my gradually tanning skin while tramping with friends. What contrast. It certainly is a much welcomed change (apart from the mossies that come with it). After so many weeks of sitting (I kid you not. Uni does that to you), it feels so good to be out running around in the sun. In the past week I had mild insomnia, my mind wouldn't stop racing about what to do about my future and my body clock would wake me up at 8.30 in the morning no matter how late I sleep. But today, after a full day's worth of walking and climbing, at just 9pm I'm feeling exhausted. Of course I can't wait for a satisfying night's sleep but I shall share with you this deliciously simple salad! It's perfect for the weather Auckland is currently experiencing. But for those on the other half of the hemisphere, it'll go fantastically with a warm creamy bowl of soup.

True to my style of cooking, it really is use-whatever-you-have-in-your-fridge. For this salad, I combined the brilliantly green kale with earthy mushrooms, silverbeet, raw and cooked tomatoes and croutons. It's sort of inspired by Jamie Oliver's tomato salad that he made on 30 Minute Meal. Unfortunately in Auckland you can't get all those fancy tomatoes! Nonetheless, it still tastes delicious with that drizzle of olive oil, lemon and parmessan. Use this 'recipe' as a 'template' and turn those leftover veg in your vege drawer into a healthy lunch!

Kale, Mushroom and Tomato Salad

Serves 3 

4 thick slices of bread, broken into bite size pieces
3 leaves of kale, washed and chopped into 2cm strips
1 leaf of silverbeet, washed and chopped into 2cm strips
3 tomatoes, washed and chopped into 1-2cm cubes
6 medium sized button mushrooms, cut into quarters or sixes
Handful of oregano, chopped
Handful of grated parmessan
Olive oil
Zest of half a lemon
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Coat the bread in olive oil and toast in oven until crunchy, about 10 minutes on 180C. You may add some garlic to perfume your croutons. 
2. Toss mushrooms in olive oil and fry until golden and shrunken. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside in a large bowl.
3. Wilt kale and silverbeet in the same pan used to fry mushroom. Place into the bowl containing mushrooms. 
4. Take half of the chopped up tomatoes and soften in pan with olive oil and oregano. The tomatoes will turn into mush and the flavours will intensify. This will act like a sauce for the salad. Add to the large bowl.
5. Add in the lemon zest and croutons and drizzle in some olive oil. Season and toss to mix well. 
6. Serve as is or with a warm bowl of soup. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Apple cinnamon cake

At the very end of each semester, marked by the stern voice of the examiner announcing the rounding up of the 3 hours and the ordering of 'pens down, that's it', I always feel a sense of loss. This time around, there was no stern voice declaring that it is over. Rather, I left the exam early, something that I have not done in years (though I was still the last one of my class that left). Without that statement that that was it, it's taking a while for my 'freedom' to sink in. 

I'm not sure if it is to do with age. But this morning in the shower, I was thinking, how odd it would be for exams to be over. After a full on marathon and parade of a semester, the constant striving to do better, to absorb information, the thousands and thousands of words being typed for essays after essays, I actually feel like I'm going to miss studying. It is true. What 'they' say. Studying and getting degrees is addictive. Although I do have some far-fetched dreams of being a free-lance photographer or a food magazine contributor or even opening and running my on food establishment, there are no concrete plans for my future. After what... 5 years in primary, 2 years in intermediate, another 5 in college and 5 more in university, totalling to a whopping SEVENTEEN years in education, I still don't feel like I'm properly armed with the skills and knowledge required to enter the work force. Of course, I have had odd jobs working at cafes and what not, everyone does. But to march into a proper career? Nope. Not ready. Perhaps that is why I feel like I have to continue this journey of education, to further acquire skills and knowledge. But is that out of not wanting to feel idle, to feel like, right, this is it, time for me to take my own future into my own hands and make something out of myself? Is it out of the sense of insecurity that I'd rather succumb to another two years of studying, just because that system's been all set out and that I'll know what is expected of me? I'm not sure. 

Perhaps after a good night's sleep this feeling of yay! Exam is over! will start to present itself. Meanwhile, let's just talk a bit about this cake shall we. I am pretty proud of myself actually! Normally during study period, I'd scrounge around for things to do just so I don't have to study. But this time, wow, a full three weeks without the urge to come here and blabber, that is some achievement (Though apologies for you readers for that lack of post. I will make up for it!). This cake was made for my mum's friend's birthday a few weeks ago. It's the second recipe that I tried from Jude Blereau's amazing book, Wholesome Baking. I only altered minor components to the recipe. Really guys, if you want to invest in any book, this is the one. I had serious doubts regarding the texture of the cake - is it going to be too dry, too 'healthy' tasting (you know, those healthy cakes that have really rough textures), but after making this cake, those doubts are completely wiped clean. I would even go as far to say that the texture of the cake, seriously, is much better than ones made from plain white flour. It's moist, it's spongy, it's a perfectly ratio-ed emulsion that gives that perfect cake crumbly texture. The flavour is ah-mazing. Nuttiness from the flour, sweet spice of cinnamon and the apple really makes it. There was none of the soggy mess that I (shamefully) expected from the apple. And it is SO SIMPLE to make. No need to lug out that stand mixer. 


Recipe adapted from Jude Blereau's Wholesome Baking 
As mentioned by Jude, the cake does stay moist even after a few days.
You can also make this into 12 muffins. 


Dry ingredients
 2 cups wholemeal flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup blended raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Nuts and fruits
1 cup lightly roasted pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
3/4 cup raisins
Zest of 1 lemon 
3 apples, cored, cut into 1cm pieces

Wet ingredients
185ml of olive oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
70g yoghurt

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 9 inch springform cake tin. 
2. Sift together the dry ingredients. 
3. Add nuts and fruits and mix well. 
4. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.
5. Stir into the dry mix until just combined. Transfer into tin.
6. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until nice and golden, and the skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack completely before icing. 


250g cream cheese, softened
40mL cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)

1. Whip together all ingredients until smooth and lump-free.
2. Cut the cooled cake in half. 
3. Spread about half the cream cheese on the cake. 
4. Place the second half of the cake back on.
5. Using a piping bag, pipe little swirls on the cake. 
6. Chill in fridge for a couple of hours to set the cream cheese icing. 
7. Serve!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Visual Diary: Jewels of this season

This year the winter months were short and quickly replaced by spring. But to make up for it, spring has turned out to be rather wet this year. As much as I love the rain and how it feeds the soil and cleanses the earth, sunshine just brings with it endless rays of happiness and joy. Summer is just around the corner and I cannot wait to tread the earth in jandal-bearing feet and feel the warmth on my naked arms. While I'm dreaming about spending time on the cruise sailing around New Zealand waters or sitting in the scorching humid heat in a cafe in Malaysia, I am glad that spring gave us a taste of this summer - dressed in the beautiful light of the sun but adorned with blooms and blossoms that only spring up in this beautiful season.