Thursday, 23 October 2014

Kimcheese Roll

Kimchi. Cheese. Kimchiiii. Cheeeeese. Kimchiii cheeese. Kimcheeeese. Kimcheese rolls. Kimcheese bread rolls. Rolling kimchi and cheese up in fluffy bread rolls. Kimcheese bread rolls. 

Today's recipe is a savoury one. It is comforting, warm, salty, spicy, cheesy all rolled up in chewy bread. You can eat it as a complete meal. It's got all you need - carbs from the bread, fibre, vitamins and nutrients from the veg, minerals from the seaweed, good source of fat from the sesame seeds and protein from the cheese. You can eat it as an accompaniment to other dishes. You can eat it as a snack for tea time! 

The idea of this dish was born from the craving of salty food. Having tried making bread rolls with kale and cheese, I thought I'd delve deeper and explore other territories of incorporating vegetables in bread. I decided to play on the fusion concept.  In Korean cuisine, cheese is sometimes used. Spicy kimchi noodle soup with cheese on top? Cheese tteokbokki? It's non-traditional, but the spicy, savoury, refreshing taste of kimchi goes really well with the hearty flavours of cheese. Both have satisfying umami flavours, imparted by the glutamate molecules which humans have a huge attraction to. So, why not bring them together in a fluffy bread roll? 

While I am neither skilled nor in possession of time (presently) for making the traditional nappa cabbage kimchi, I decided to adapt kimchi flavours in making this quick, non-fermented 'kimchi'. Asian cooking is all about the balance in flavours - layers of spiciness from the Korean chilli flakes, fresh chilli, ginger and onion, saltiness from salt, soy sauce and nori, sweetness from tomato and a sprinkle of sugar, tanginess from tomato, all of these lifted by the nuttiness of sesame oil. The vegetables are all sliced finely into roughly the same sizes, bathed in hot brine to extract moisture and develop crunch, then tossed in the spicy sauce. Let me tell you, it was so mouthwatering and I had to refrain myself from eating straight from the pot. Had to remind myself to save some for the bread!

The 'kimchi' itself was so yummy. Just imagine it laced with melted cheese. Then all this caressed by that warm, chewy, fluffy bread. Irresistible!

Kimcheese Rolls

Makes 12 rolls 

For the bread: 
3 cups of strong flour
2 cups whole grain/mixed grain flour 
1 tbsp salt 
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup corn grits
2 cups water (luke warm)
1 tbsp yeast 
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp maple syrup 

For the kimchi:
1 leaf of cabbage
1 leaf of kale
1/4 carrot
1 apple
1 sheet of nori
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

For the spicy sauce:
1 small chilli
4 tbsp Korean chilli flakes
1/4 shallot 
1/2 tomato 
1cm ginger 
1 tbsp raw sugar
salt and soy sauce to taste 
1 tbsp sesame oil 

100g Colby (or similar) cheese

  1. For the bread, mix all the dry ingredients together until well incorporated. Stir together water, yeast, olive oil and maple syrup and add to the dry ingredients. Start off by mixing with a butter knife until the dough starts coming together. Then tip the contents onto a clean bench and knead until dough is elastic and smooth (about 10-15 minutes). Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it proof for about 1-2 hours until double in size. 
  2. In the meantime, prepare the spicy sauce. Finely chop all the raw ingredients for the spicy sauce. With a mortar and pestle or a blender, pound or blend all the ingredients the chilli, chili flakes, shallot, tomato and ginger until a paste forms. Transfer to a small saucepan, add in the sugar, salt and soy sauce and cook until fragrant (a few minutes). Turn the heat off. 
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, finely chop your vegetables for the kimchi. Once the water has boiled, turn the heat off and add a tablespoon of salt. Stir until salt has dissolved. Place the vegetables in the brine and leave for about 10-15 minutes. Drain. 
  4. Dress the vegetables with the sauce. Add in the finely chopped apple, torn up sheet of nori and sesame seeds. Stir until combined. 
  5. Knock down the bread, then briefly knead the dough, folding it in on itself so the smooth side is exposed. Roll the dough out into a rectangle, about less than 1cm thick. Pile on and evenly spread the kimchi (you won't use all of it). Then grate the 3/4 of the cheese onto the dough. Tightly roll up the dough, making sure the filling is all sealed in. Divide into 12 pieces and place on a line baking tray. Let the dough proof a second time until double in size (about 45 minutes). 
  6. Half an hour into the second proofing, preheat the oven to 180C. Once the dough is ready, top with the remaining 1/4 of cheese and bake for about 20 minutes or until nice and golden. 
  7. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack before serving with some of the kimchi. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Non-bake Granola Bars

I have reached a milestone! I feel like I am on holiday now. I FINALLY finished the lab component of my thesis!!!! No more late nights and weekends in the poorly ventilated lab. No more standing for hours and hours on end, endlessly pounding apples and getting frostbites and weird brain freezes from liquid nitrogen. No more sniffing acetone and methanol. No more skipping meals because experiments take so long. No more!!!

Though oddly enough, as much as I disliked doing lab work, I feel like I will definitely miss walking around in my lab coat and safety glasses between levels 5, 1 and 7 of the Chemistry building. As much as I hated handling chemicals, I felt that through the past few months, I have actually come to terms with it, and I admit, towards the end, I actually quite enjoyed it. This could possibly be because the last experiments I was doing produced really awesome samples (Check out my Instagram). My pigments extractions actually looked really pretty! The vibrant green chlorophylls from Granny Smith peel, pastel yellow from Envy flesh and bright pink anthocyanins from Royal Gala are definitely eye-catching.

I feel like I've learned a lot from doing experiments. Not only the laboratory skills, I've also learned how to work with others. When I first started doing lab work, I think I was pretty selfish and self-centred. All I really cared about was that I had so much to do and I wanted to get everything done as soon as possible. But in real life, it doesn't really work that way. The lab isn't just for me. I had to work with lab technicians and peers, make compromises in terms of when to use the machines, sharing equipments and things like that. Certain times when I had to work at other people's lab, it was all on their schedule. Time management and planning became a huge part, especially when I had to plan my way around the few limited days that I could do the analyses and before my analyses I had to do so many lots of eight-hour-long extractions. And sometimes when you've spent days extracting your samples and they don't turn out good, that really tested your patience and persistence.

But I have to say, that few months, though exhausted as heck (and naturally, grumpy as ****), looking back now I wouldn't have done it any other way. There were times when I felt extremely lonely and questioning, when I was by myself desperately doing my work in the late hours on a Sunday night. Or that poignant moment when I bought dinner in between experiments and considered sitting down in the restaurant as a table for one. What was the point in working so hard? Why do I come in weekend after weekend, rejecting invites for late night BBQs or Mario Kart parties? But then I reminded myself, it will all be worth it when I FINALLY FINISH. When I finally start writing and start seeing my thesis slowly come together piece by piece. But gosh, seeing how hard everybody works, I can't complain at all. And friendships really are forged, when you drag your sleep deprived bodies into lab together, or when you share stories of how you accidentally pissed off the lab technician again, or when you just randomly rant about boys or admire girls with good genes that have time to go to gym and have super toned sexy legs. No, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Though all these weeks I worked tirelessly, pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion, literally sometimes feeling like I could just keel over in between grinding apples, possibly knocking over that flask of liquid nitrogen, spilling it on my already dead hands, there was something else that I learned. That was to trust my intuitions. When that voice in your head says 'go home, don't start that experiment', you go home. Because chances are, you will screw up 50% of the things, you will make the stupidest mistakes and end up having to repeat again. Your instincts know best.

While doing my lab work, I more often than not ended up bingeing on sugary stuff which I convinced myself was good for the soul, despite my body sending out all these clear signals to STOP. Now that lab is over, I feel like a detox is definitely called for. I made these nut and oats bar as an inspiration from the lab I was tutoring and also to help me transition into a no-sugar lifestyle. And oh my gosh, these are SO GOOD!!! I should, but I actually can't stop eating them. They are so addictive. You won't believe that there's no refined sugar or anything added. The nuts provide the delicious crunch. All the natural ingredients - coconut, honey, olive oil, peanut butter, cocoa nib, they really do instill soo much flavour into the bar. And they are so so easy to throw together too! You don't even have to turn your oven on. They make a really nutritious snack and if you're like me, eat it for breakfast too. Definitely give it a go!

Non-Bake Granola Bars

Recipe inspired by Eat Well NZ

Makes 18 bars

Dried ingredients: *
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup red rice flour (or regular white rice flour)
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup desiccated coconut
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup raisins 
1/4 cup walnuts, broken into smaller pieces
2 tbsp cocoa nibs
1 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 tsp Himalayan or sea salt 

 Wet ingredients:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp maple syrup 

1. Stir together all the dried ingredients. 
2. In a non-stick pan, dry toast the dried ingredients on medium heat until fragrant. Make sure to stir constantly. This is to lightly toast the nuts and to cook the rolled oats and rice flour. Also, the cocoa nibs, coconut and seeds will release their oils that will be instilled into the whole bar. Set aside. 
3. In a saucepan, stir together all the wet ingredients on low heat until melted and well incorporated. This will only take about a minute or two. 
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well. 
5. Line a 9x9cm square tin with baking paper. Press your nut and oat mixture into the tin firmly, using your hands to make it level. 
6. Refrigerate your bars overnight or for 4 hours. 
7. Cut into 18 bars (3 x 6). 
8. Serve. 

*You can choose to use other nuts and seeds, anything that you happen to have on hand!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Red Bean Pumpkin Rolls

On my birthday, one of my best friends wrote me a card and in it there were two quotes. The first quote was a Dr. Seuss one, which can be applied to any kinds of situation. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened". The second however, spoke to me on a deeper level. It was originally Japanese, translated to Chinese - '今后我想在自己选择的道路上一步一步的寻找光明。直到我能这样微笑着说话为止,在哪之前我至少要流下一公升的眼泪', from the Japanese Drama One Litre of Tears, which was based on a real life story of a young girl named Aya who kept a journal while her body wore away from spinocerebellar degeneration.
"From today onwards I wish to march on the path that I myself chose, step by step in search of light. Until I can genuinely smile while I speak, I must shed at least 1 litre of tears".
We must constantly strive for happiness, for equilibrium and balance, in this ever changing world. And that is what I will leave you with today, alongside these photos and recipe.

I tried several variations of the pumpkin bread, making both savoury and sweet versions. In the end I think I prefer the red bean version the best! I also tried several versions of dough, the original recipe called for milk added to the mixture. It made the dough really soft and harder to handle (dough in the round bowl), so I omitted it and added more pumpkin instead (dough in the square-ish bowl).

In terms of flavour, you can't really taste much of the pumpkin. It just lends a subtle sweetness and gives the bread a stunning bright colour!

Red Bean Pumpkin Rolls

Makes 12 
Recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction 

For the dough:
160g pumpkin, chopped into cubes (leaving the skin on is fine)
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt 
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp five spice 
1 egg, beaten 
2 tsp dried yeast
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 

For the filling:
Red bean paste 

1. Place the pumpkin into a pot of boiling water and let it simmer until softened (about 15 minutes). Test with a fork. 
2. Drain the pumpkin, then mash with a fork. 
3. Add the oil, salt, sugar and spices and mix until well combined. 
4. Add in the egg and mix well.  
5. Add the yeast and flour and stir until combined. Tip mixture onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands. You will need to knead until the dough becomes smooth, feels elastic, doesn't stick to your hands and springs back when pressed with a finger. Treat the dough gently, but firmly. 
Alternatively, knead with a mixer with the dough hook attachment, but this takes the fun of making bread away!
6. Oil a big bowl and the surface of the dough, then place the dough in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap or damp cloth. Let the dough proof for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until it has doubled in size. 
7. Knock down by punching the dough to deflate it. Knead the dough, folding the rough side in so the smooth surface is on the outside. Shape and roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangular shape. 
8. Spread your desired amount of red bean paste onto the dough, then roll up like a swiss roll. Divide this log into 12. 
9. Place each dough into a muffin hole, cover with damp cloth and let it proof a second time for about 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size again. At the 45 minute mark, turn on the oven to 180C to preheat. 
10. Glaze the rolls with a light layer of egg white then bake for about 20 minutes or until golden. You'll know the bread is done when you tap the bottom of the roll and it sounds hollow. 
11. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Looking back and looking forward

I can't remember the last time I had some quiet time to myself. The only time when I was able to drown out the voices in my head was under the shower, with the cap on, listening to the sounds of streaming giant water droplets thundering down on me, willing the hot water to wake me up. This weekend was fairly quiet. On Saturday I kicked back, erased all strands of thoughts related to uni, grabbed myself a couple of books and a cup of tea and immersed myself in that. It was magical. I fell asleep part way through the second book, woke up three hours later by my parents and had dinner, then continued reading. On Sunday, the nagging started again. Come on, don't be lazy, get some work done. Keep pushing, you're so close, work hard now, relax later. I knocked those voices out by making bread. Bread making has got to be one of my favourite things to do. I love every bit of mixing, kneading, feeling the sticky dough on the pad of my palm and on my fingers transforming under the careful push and shove into a smooth and bouncy work of art. Then the patient waiting while the yeasts labour on and puffs the dough up into this delicately light thing that feels so alive. Next you can really get creative and think of the possibilities of fillings and ways of shaping your dough, And after a second proof, bake them off into golden goodies that fills the whole house with the most incredible, yeasty, homely smell. You can see why that was able to keep my other nagging priorities at bay.

It's Lantern/Mooncake Festival today, so happy mooncake festival to all! I have been home the entire day, still in my weekend lazy mood. I turned a blind eye to social media and my phone. Partly because my mind is still in is slumber and I am simply too lazy to text or message anyone (Sorry friends!). Partly because I really do think I need to pause and I'm not too sure... quietly regain some perspectives on my life? I used to have this habit of eating a bowl of fruits and yoghurt in the afternoon. How much I'd look forward to the delicious, refreshing bowl of fruits - apples or banana mostly or whatever fruit is in season, with dollops of yoghurt (or soy milk) and a generous sprinkling of crunchy nuts and cereal. It's just so healthy but so yummy. Today, after months of neglecting this practice, since I was never home this early, I went downstairs to the kitchen, got the kitchen knife and cutting board out and made myself a fruit salad. Then it occurred to me, how much time has really passed. The last time I made that fruit salad was earlier this year when the strawberries were still in season. It really hit me. How much time has passed, how much has changed, how much I have changed in just a few months.

It is now about six months since I started my masters. And if I am really disciplined, i can finish in three months. I laugh to myself at this silly plan thinking about the mountainous work load still waiting for me. But nearing the end of my lab work, I do feel a sense of relief. Gosh it was almost two months straight of madness - morning till night, sometimes twelve hour shifts, no weekends. Everyday was literally, wake up with partially shut eyes, shower, eat, off to uni, do experiments for hours on end, sometimes skipping lunch, toast or instant soup for dinner, then carry on until ten or eleven pm, home, sleep, repeat. No wonder my skin is in such horrible conditions. My eating habits have changed so drastically from last year. The picky girl that only eats mixed grain rice with loads of fresh veg now scoffs down bread, cakes and cookies - in excessive amounts, way too much sweet food, or whatever's available just to fuel her body. Again I say, no wonder my skin is suffering so much. Thank god this is only Masters and not PhD and it'll all be over in a few (long) months! Then it'll be detox time!

While I welcome the day that I submit my thesis, the prospect of what's going to happen after is quite daunting. Hopefully I would have my masters degree, but job hunting! What a scary thing! I don't know what I want to do. What if i don't find a job? What if I get a job that I dislike or that the people there are nasty? What if I chose the wrong path?  When is the best time to apply for jobs? I'm already running through websites after websites of job listings but I have this debate going on in my head about whether or not I should start applying, seeing that I am still quite a long way off from finishing my masters. But... what if the jobs that I am interested in now are gone by the time I have finished? Would it be too late? On one hand I would quite like a month or two without any work, just focusing on regaining my health and balance. But on the other hand, the thought of sitting idle for months, feeling insecure and unsure... hmmm I'm not sure if that's what I want.

Anyway, I think I've poured enough of my silly thoughts onto this page. I'm working on a lovely pumpkin bread recipe so hopefully that will be up soon! 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Update on life. Point.

My life has been completely - completely - taken over by lab. I am not joking when I say I live in lab. I see the faces of my peers and seniors more than I see the faces of my siblings. The lab technician is like my mother in uni and she tells me off more often than my real mother does (because, you know, that's what mothers like doing, telling their kids off). I see all corners of the lab more than I see the corners of my home. Uni is my home. I do everything there except for sleep. If they provide comfy warm beds I'd probably sleep there too. Actually, no, I wouldn't. I wouldn't wouldn't wouldn't. I still want to reserve that tiny slice of sanity. That piece of life that reminds me that I am no robot and that there are still other facets of the world other than that work bench with the flasks sitting on the left side of the table and those bottles of Milli-Q water in front of me and that balance behind me and that stool that I hardly sit on next to me because standing is so much more efficient and that elevator that has become my friend because I gave up my fitness plan of climbing up ten flights of stairs up five floors to get to that lab (Even though it was mean once and decided to scare me by refusing to open its doors, trapping me in there for several minutes).

My lab coat needs washing. But time cannot be wasted on such triviality! March forward I must. Every day. But it's ok. I think I've gotten used to this lifestyle. It's quite pleasurable in lab sometimes. All of us maniacs who go in as soon as (or even before) the sun has risen and stay there long after the sun has set and the moons and stars have come alight. And by nightfall, we're all so wasted from the fumes of ethanol or starch and the sounds of the oven humming and vortex churning that we emerge from our solitary focused work state and joke with each other about mundaneness, repetition and point - mostly pointlessness.

What's the biggest excitement in lab? New faces. New faces to join the clan. First they come in all fresh and ready to rumble. But soon, oh you'll notice, soon, dark circles begin to appear beneath their eyes. Once glowing faces begin to fade. Who cares about make up and pretty clothes anymore? Track pants are the way to go and unless there are break outs caused by the who-knows-what's-floating-around-in-it air, make up... pointless. Ahh what's the point of me rambling on about this? I've lost my original point. But I suppose the whole point in the first place of writing is to remember. I want to remember how I felt at this point in time while I feel so exhausted and drained every single day from the physical and mental labour and demands of experiments. Because two months ago, I really disliked what I was doing. I didn't see the point in it. But today, I see that there is no use complaining and moaning about things that I have to do. I placed myself in that position to begin with. I might as well enjoy it! And at this stage, I am just passed halfway in terms of lab work. What were once difficult tasks that take days to finish, I could accomplish in hours. Yay! Pat on the back for small achievements. And I admit, I am mostly happy that I'm gradually ticking off my to do list, but a part of me will miss this mundaneness and repetitiveness. Ahh the sizzling sound of liquid nitrogen as it freezes my 1g of apple that I so carefully carved out (Ok ok, THAT wasn't mundane at all. Dangerous and fascinatingly exciting stuff!). Oh boy, will my arms miss that free work out from grinding and pounding those apples into powdery particles. And man, seeing the methanol flow through that 0.45 filter and C18 cartridge bringing with it the pigments that stained the cartridge. That transient ombre on the cartridge turning to clean whiteness. That's poetry too isn't it?

Lab has taught me a lot. Dedication and perseverance. Overcoming glitches and bumps because trust me, they will (and have) pop(ped) up whenever and wherever they feel like, especially when you feel like you're in the deepest shiet already and they'll just stick their heads up and be like hey! Guess what! You think THAT's deep, have fun tripping over THIS next one and climbing out of this next hole you'll fall into ;D. But I suppose, the key thing to remember is there aren't that many problems in this world that cannot be overcome as long as we put our hearts to it and believe. In the end, that's the only difference between failure and success, isn't it? When you think you've reached your limits, just keep pushing anyway and you'll discover a whole lot of you that you never knew existed before.

*PS. I know... It's been so long since I posted. I haven't been emotionally well but now colours are starting to appear in my life again and today I'm in a super duper writing mood! But now that I do write... no recipe?! How could I? I have been baking a lot. It's kinda like, the more time I spend in lab, the more I crave baking as a way of compensating for the irony of the lack of edible food in a food science lab - as you know, most of the time food scientists play with substances that make up food rather than food itself. But but but, every time I bake it's all rushed and at weird hours so the lighting is bad and lugging out that 2kg camera is such a chore. And also the goods don't last that long folks because I bring them to lab and feed the other food deprived people. HOPEFULLY my next hiatus isn't this long [SORRRYYYY]. Meanwhile, ponder this - S'mores cake. Idea derived from the oh so beautiful Cupcake Jemma (GAH, she's amazing!!!)

Monday, 9 June 2014

Triple chocolate cookies [Warning: Dangerously addictive!]

Lots of chocolate and lots of exercise makes one happy. Yesterday, I broke my own self restrictions and ate chocolate brownie cake (AMAZING, recipe will be up... eventually!) for breakfast, and lunch, and dessert. I was eating chocolate cake THE WHOLE DAY. Yum!! Then I felt guilty (but not really, since it made me happy) so I went to do some intense exercise and BAM, half an hour later, I felt so happy. Like so exhilarated about life. Like nothing will ever deter me. That's what a balanced life is about isn't it? Eating so much chocolate cake that I feel the need to exercise, then doing some intense work out so I could eat more chocolate cake!! Then repeat the next day.

Pretty much all the food I've been making these days involve chocolate. Just been craving this god-send gift everyday. What would the world be like without cacao beans? It would be a sad sad world indeed I tell ya. What would we turn to when we feel that there's an emptiness inside us that needs to be filled, a hole specifically dedicated to chocolate? Wow just thinking about that makes me wanna reach for more chocolate.

So these cookies. ARE AMAZING. Like addictively so. Like so addictive that you have to give them away to your friends to stop yourself from over-indulging in them. But then you only ended up giving away half because you wanted to keep the rest for yourself. *Sorry friends who missed out.* They're that kind of chocolate cookies that really really hit that spot, fill up that empty hole in you but then more holes just keep materialising inside you just so they could be filled with more of these cookies. These cookies are seriously that dangerous. Get in the kitchen now and start making them! Until then, you're seriously deprived.

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 25 cookies 

100g butter, room temperature
3/4 cup raw sugar, blended
1 egg
1tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

Chocolate truffle mixture 
225g dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup cream 
1tsp vanilla essence

1. For the chocolate truffle mixture: Bring the cream to boil, then pour over chocolate. Add vanilla and stir until smooth. Let sit in room temperature until cool. Place in refrigerator until use. 
2. Cream butter and sugar together until light, pale and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla essence and beat until well incorporated. 
3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add to the butter mixture and mix on the lowest speed until just combined. 
4. Add in the chopped dark chocolate and stir until just combined. 
5. Place mixture in refrigerator for 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 170C. 
6. Take both the chocolate truffle and cookie dough out from the refrigerator. Take tablespoonfuls of cookie dough, flatten slightly, then take 1/2 teaspoonfuls of chocolate truffle mix and place in centre of cookie dough. Roll into spheres, place on tray and flatten slightly. Repeat until all cookie dough is used up. 
7. Bake in oven for about 12 minutes. 
8. Remove from oven, cool on rack and refrain from eating until cookie has cooled!
9. Enjoy. Refrain from eating all cookies in one go. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Chocolate Cupcake - with a secret ingredient!

It has been a while. I have been putting off writing this post. So much is happening in my life right now but I don't know how to share, where to begin. These past few months have definitely surpassed my expectations. In terms of emotions, my silly little heart has been tossed and yanked here and there. It's been crushed, and more tears than I know existed squeezed out. But it's also being patched and filled. I never expected so much love to flow inwards from all these directions. So many warm hands extended forth. They have touched me, truly. 

Life really is an adventure when you finally decided to fearlessly live it. I don't believe in regrets. Rather, I believe that every single thing that has happened, by choice or not, are like little knots making up this glorious knit of our lives. Each encounter in our lives make us who we are. It's rather coincidental in a wonderful way that several people that I talked to mentioned how incredible life is, how if it wasn't for one small incident, or one person, we would never have met. If we stop and think about the string of people in this network of our lives, and recall how we met each other, we would get so very amazed. If it wasn't because of that day when we spontaneously said yes to a spontaneous dinner invite, we would never have met. What if he'd never craved ramen? If it wasn't because that we decided to attend that club orientation, we would never have met. If we have never met, we would never have experienced so much richness in our lives, we would never have met so many other significant people in our lives. What would've happened if at that moment in time, he happened to be on the other side of the park, talking to some other people instead of us? What if it wasn't raining on that day and we never got to share that umbrella and started that conversation? What if we didn't end up sitting next to each other in that lecture? What if I was too chicken and didn't go for that audition?

Life is a series of choices. There is no right or wrong. It is ok to not know. It is ok to wait. Sometimes we really must take that leap of faith and jump even if we are scared. If we don't, we'll be stuck in the same spot forever. But we must also use sensical judgement and trust in our gut instincts. Right now, I don't know where I am going or what I am doing. I am merely following my gut, doing what feels right even though it seems like the wrong thing to do. It's healthy once in a while to just ignore our logic and listen to that voice in our hearts. And friends really are the chocolate chips in the cookie of life. From these past few months I have discovered who the people that truly care are. Without them, I'd feel lost and empty. Thus, I am eternally grateful. Grateful for those accidental and improvised encounters. Grateful for all these seemingly insignificant choices that we make every day. Grateful for a hello. Grateful for tearful laughter and ugly tears. Grateful for sleepless nights and exhausted days. Grateful for warm hugs and soulful stares. Grateful for fate and trust.

So, to celebrate these little wonders in life, let's have cake. Better still, let's have chocolate cake that errs on the guilt-free side!

Indulgent Chocolate Beetroot Cupcakes

Recipe adapted from

Serves 12

250g dark chocolate, broken up
3 large free range eggs
150g raw sugar, blended
100ml vegetable oil
1tsp vanilla essence
100g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
250g raw beetroot, finely grated 
Cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with cases. 
2. In a bain-marie, melt chocolate gently, then allow to cool. 
3. Whisk together eggs, sugar and oil using an electric mixer until thick and creamy. Stir in the vanilla essence. 
4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gently fold into the egg mixture. 
5. Fold the beetroot into the cooled chocolate and fold this mixture into the egg mixture. Stir until combined. 
6. Transfer into pan and bake for approximately 20 minutes. 
7. Cool on wire rack then dust with cocoa powder.
8. Serve!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Upside-down Peach Heart Cakelettes

This morning while I was taking a shower, my earring fell out of my ear and before I could pick it up, it rolled into the hole leaving me gaping. My immediate reaction (after I've realised what had happened) was that I felt like crying. It was just so hopeless. I have just witnessed my favourite earring, a golden star earring which I got when I got my ears pierced 15 years ago, roll... into a hole and get lost forever. Who knows where the pipe leads to? Sewage. Along with ALL the other junk that goes down that way. It's lost. LOST. 

After getting dressed and saving the other half of the earring, I just kept saying to myself. Look, this is a lesson for you to learn to let go. Yeah it has sentimental significance, but come on, it's only an earring. My only gold earring you mean. It's not life and death. You've still got the other half of the pair. What use is one earring, like I'm going to wear just one side of it. This is a chance for you to learn to let.... go.... Let go of attachments to material, let go of attachments to the value, your perceived value of it. Things come and go, it's life, get over it. 

Eventually after having breakfast and complaining to mum about me losing my earring (and of course me getting told off for not being careful, and why was I wearring earrings while I'm showering anyway?), I thought I started to accept the fact that that's what's happened, and this was karma's way of punishing me for whatever bad things I have done. Of course I felt a tiny bit better after breakfast, come one, sustainance fuels. But later on I decided, who was I fooling, I was sad that I lost my earring. So I complained to my brother. 

Or course, big brother being the ever caring and ever busy-body person he is, at first yelled (well, exclaimed) that why was I wearing my earrings while I'm showering?! Then he physically got up from his breakfast and ran to peer down the hole which the pipe from the bathtub leads to. Yeah, water, grass, black bits. But he suggested that I went to flush down some water down the hole incase it's still stuck somewhere in the pipe, and he held a net under the other end of the pipe and try catching the earring if it was still there. Without holding much hope, I did as I was told. And yeah, told you, no earring, it's probably lost to the abyss. So, giving up, I went back to my computer, deciding to crack on with my studies.

But big brother didn't want to give up. He scrounged for his torch, then went to shine it down the hole in the bathtub. Lo and behold, there! I can see it! Golden and it's tangled within hair. Ugh, gross, but WHAT?! It's still there?! So there a sparkle of hope was ignited, we began our mission of extracting my little wee golden earring out from the pipe. Thank god for once that there's hair down the pipe... After ages of manipulation, borrowing of neighbour's suck pump thing (don't know what you call it, but it's the thing that de-clogs pipes through suction), yelling from one end 'has it come out yet?', 'nope, all there is is water, and some scungy stuff', loads of effort of flushing water down the hole with force, periods of 'maybe we should just leave the net here and wait for it to eventually come out some day... ... it finally, finally, came! Oh wow, gold has fallen into the net! Stopppp flushing water down!! I see it I see it! 

I was actually super surprised that I retrieved my earring. What an evolution of emotions throughout that hour. And I thought, this incident taught me something really important. It's really simple. NEVER give up. If it's something worth fighting for, something worth the effort for, something that means so much, keep trying. Try and try and try until you have exhausted all means, and only then if it doesn't work, accept the fact that you have to let go. It applies to all sorts of things really. Relationships, work, a small task, a massive project. If you try hard enough, you'll begin to see that sparkle of light, of hope, which will really guide you through. If you don't try at all, hope is forever diminished. 

Now this recipe. Sometimes we just need to go out and buy a silicon heart-shaped mould. It makes our food look so much more exciting. Baking is so much about giving and sharing. I'm sure most bakers would agree that baking is a way to show that you love and care for somebody. Now with a heart-shaped mould, it really more strongly emphasises this love we're giving. It makes the food look pretty (and yay more exciting food photography too!). And if you're giving it to someone special, a little more effort goes a long way. Get your hands on some pretty boxes and vibrant craft paper and dress up the little gifts! Whoever you're giving it too will be impressed.

The cake itself is an olive oil sponge, incredibly moist, soft and flavourful.

Upside-down Peach Heart Cakelettes

Makes about 18 individual cakelettes, depending on the size of your tins

1 Peach
30g butter, melted
Raw sugar

Olive oil Sponge cake

150g wholewheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
5 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup blended raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup dessert wine or fruit juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Slice the peach up into segments. Into the mould, spoon about 1/2 tbsp butter and sprinkle in about 1/4 tsp sugar. Lay three segments of peaches on the bottom of the mould. Set aside for later use.
2. To prepare the cake, preheat your oven to 180C. 
3. Sift together flour and salt, then set aside.
4. Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add in the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add half the sugar and beat until stiff. Set aside.
5. Beat the egg yolks, remaining half of the sugar and vanilla until pale and thick. Beat in the wine/juice and oil, pouring in a steady stream until they are well incorporated.
6. Gently fold in the flour mixture. Then fold in the egg whites in thirds. 
7. Pour the cake mixture in the moulds and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 160C and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden. Turn off the oven and cover the cakes with an oiled baking paper and leave the cakes in the oven to cool slowly for 15 minutes. This gradual cooling prevents the cakes from collapsing. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in their moulds for 10 minutes before turning them out, running your knife around the edges of the mould to free them first. 
8. Cool slightly and serve, or cool completely and package nicely to be given away. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Tiramisu-esque cake

8am wake up, go to the bathroom, drink some warm water, do my 20 minute stretches, read the newspaper, shower, eat breakfast, get ready for uni. That's my morning routine. It's the fourth week into my academic year and I feel like I've been here for months. My days are long, I'm stuck in front of my computer all day, reading articles after scientific articles, searching for that light, that spark that goes 'Yup! This is it woman! You found me!' I'm so close. So close to defining my Masters project. And i tell ya, resilience pays off. When I first started searching for a topic, the only way to start was the obvious 'where on earth do I start?' I felt that it was such an impossible task to find a topic that's novel, and on top of that, my ambitious self demands me to find a topic that is significant, that contributes to society AND that I'm passionate enough about that I can spend one year dwelling on it. But the best advice anyone could give was read, just read, doesn't matter what, just read. And read I did. But something else I should add too. Don't read blindly. Pause and reflect. Pause and re-surface to re-connect with the world around. What is the world up to these days? What are people into? What would our ancestors say about the world today?

I'm passionate about dietary practices and folk remedies - those practices that have passed down generation after generation for hundreds and even thousands of years - especially Chinese dietary advices and Chinese medicine. There is such a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in these practices. They've had people experimenting and testing them out for centuries and they've survived the test of time to be passed down to us. Yet most people these days do not believe in them, preferring to trust in science. I am studying science. I can tell you, yes there are so many amazing things science has done. Science has come such a long way over these past few centuries. But compared to ancient practices, science is but an infant. There is this thing about scientist, the urge of every scientist to discover something new, be it a novel gene, or a magic bullet for curing cancer. It is nobel to have these ambitions. But personally, I think we shouldn't rush to discover something new before we've learnt from existing knowledge. And this wealthy mine of knowledge and wisdom has large been left neglected as scientists dig elsewhere.

Take the concept of nutrition. Most advice these days focus on telling you what fibre or vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids you should be eating, what saturated fats, refined carbohydrates you shouldn't be eating. The world of nutrition has become so focused on the nutrients that they've forgotten about food itself. This sort of thinking is downward. Because we don't just eat singular nutrients. We eat food containing many many types of nutrients. We eat many types of food. Nutrition is so focused on discovering good nutrients and their benefits (which is not a problem. But) it's forgotten that each individual is different. We all have different lifestyles and habits. We all have different needs at different times. Yes, say... an orange is good because it contains lots of vitamin C. Yes, we all need vitamin C, but if we're not deficient in vitamin C, it's not particularly 'good' for us. But for someone with scurvy, orange is very good for them, because they need it. And also, if you just take vitamin C tablets, the effect might be lost. Why? Because an orange isn't just made of vitamin C. There are hundreds of other compounds in there. Ones that probably haven't even been discovered. Maybe the effect of vitamin C is dependent on those other compounds. Otherwise why would nature make an orange? Why doesn't nature just make vitamin C tablets?

Oh by the way, I'm hoping that my Masters project will be on grapefruit (or maybe orange) and how the bitter compounds are affected by processing. Why? Because bitter compounds (flavonoids and limonoids) have been shown to have anticancer and cardio-protective effects.  I know... it's a bit contradictory that I'm singling out bitter compounds to study. Like, how did epidemiologists know that it is those bitter compounds that lead to decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases? Yes, bitter compounds have shown to elicit antioxidant, radical scavenging properties, but this happens only in the petri dish and what happens in the human body, when there are millliioooooons of other compounds around? But hey, I actually have back-up. Traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back THOUSANDS of years mentioned that bitter foods are good for heart. I guess I'm just making the most of what I have? I'm trying to make my little contribution and nudge science that bit further in its long long long long long (x10000000000) way to go? And anyway, my thinking is that those bitter compounds play a part in the larger picture of food that gives its beneficial effects. Gosh... trying to justify myself... On a side note, I'm actually rather enjoying this whole research thing. Never ever thought i would, but as long as I don't lose track of what my values and beliefs are, and try to integrate them into my research, it's not too bad. At times I'm even like... PhD doesn't sound too bad either. Dr... Lol no I won't go there just yet.

SORRY I've blabbed on so much about science. I can't help it. It's what I've been and will be breathing and living all day, all night, all week, all YEAR. I'm so sad that it's taken my baking and blogging time away from me! I've only baked TWICE in this past month. TWICE. What is this atrocity? All I've cooked is fried egg and (made) sandwiches... which incidentally involved slicing two slices of bread, slapping on some jam and peanut butter. BAm. Guys. I wouldn't be alive without my mum. Like, seriously. Without her cooking all those delicious and healthy meals, I'd just be eating plain bread and store bought muesli bars. Sad sad situation. OR, I'd be mean to my equally sad looking bank account and buying $9 paninis everyday (yum, but so not worth the money). And soon, I'll be sculling coffee by the gallons.

Anyway, this cake was one I whipped up for my friend who requested it for his birthday! I didn't actually plan out what i was gonna make. I pretty much just went with the flow. Scrounged around the kitchen for ingredients and bashed them all together to create this beauty. Obviously it took longer that it should because I silly-ly (hehe) chose not to follow a recipe for the cream cheese-cream bit. I was going to buy savoiardi biscuits to layer them in because my friend requested tiramisu. BUT oh my god, I can't believe it, they stopped selling them at both my local supermarkets! (More atrocity). But I just made a sponge to substitute the 'cakey' bit, because it'd take less time than to make lady fingers. For the coffee drizzling, I omitted the alcohol because they wanted it to be an alcohol-free party, but if you sloshed in some Kahlua of Baileys, it'd kick the awesome level for this cake up. And one more thing, since I couldn't make it to his birthday party (sadface), I didn't get to try the cake NOR take photos of the insides of the cake. I'm sorry, you'll just have to make do with the exterior. I was told that everybody loved the cake though (yay!)!

Tiramisu-esque Cake

Serves 10

Sponge cake

Recipe from Wholefood Baking by Jude Blereau
4 eggs
1/2 cup blended raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup minus 1 tbsp (120g) wholemeal flour
40g butter, melted and cooled, placed in a bowl

Cream cheese filling

250g cream cheese, softened
200ml cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp really strong coffee
1 tbsp Kahlua or Baileys or Tia Maria (optional)
1/4 cup blended raw sugar
150g dark chocolate, melted

Coffee drizzle

1/3 cup strong coffee
1 tsp raw sugar

Chocolate decoration

About 50g dark chocolate, melted
Extra chocolate for shaving

For the cake
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line base of 8 inch round cake tin. 
2. Whisk together eggs and sugar using a stand mixer until very thick, pale, creamy and tripled in volume. As Jude says, the mixture is thick enough 'when you can lift the beaters and the mixture falls back into the bowl in a ribbon that rests on the surface for about 10 seconds'. Add in the vanilla and whisk until just incorporated.
3. Sift 1/3 of the flour onto the egg mixture and fold in very gently until just incorporated. Add in the remaining flour in two additions, folding really gently. 
4. Add about 1 cup of batter to the melted butter and mix until incorporated. Gently fold this back into the egg mixture. Transfer to tin and bake for 20 minutes until folden and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave the cake in the oven and the oven door ajar so the cake can cool slowly. This prevents the cake from collapsing. 

For the cream cheese filling
5. Beat the cream cheese and cream together until well mixed. Continue beating so the mixture becomes more light and fluffy. Add in the rest of the ingredients and beat until mixture is smooth. Reserve about 1/2 cup. Beat the cooled melted chocolate into the rest of the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate before use.

Assembling the cake
6. Once the cake is cooled, cut the cake into three layers. Using a brush, spread the coffee drizzle onto every surface of the cake. 
7. To assemble, spread on about 1/3 of the chocolate cream cheese lavishly. Layer on the sponge and repeat. Cap on the final sponge layer. Spread the remaining 1/3 chocolate cream cheese on to cover the cake. The reserved cream cheese mixture should more or less be of a pouring consistency. Carefully pour it over the cake. This will give a smooth finish. Refrigerate until the icing has set.
8. Using a spoon, or a piping bag, drizzle on the melted chocolate in your desired fashion. The chocolate will solidify quickly once it hits the cold cake. Shave some extra chocolate on top. Refrigerate the cake.
9. Serve the cake chilled.  

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Banana Berry Cakes (Gluten Free)

Life has been a complete whirlpool these past 6 weeks. The trip to Asia: Malaysia/Hong Kong/China has been eventful to say the least and since touching ground on NZ soil two thursdays ago I've been swept into a nice little storm called Masters. Wow. So, I do apologise for my lengthy absence from the blog, rest assured that I have not forgotten or abandoned it and you dear readers! I've just been trying to sort life out, catch up with friends, organize (still) a schedule for my studies, and *I know this is probably not the best time for it, but I'm super excited, and don't judge!* learn how to knit. 

So, first thing first, trip to Asia. Was a collection of family, food, stories, drama, hellos, goodbyes, laughter, tears, exhaustion, transport, toilets, beds, flights, reminders, hugs, history, future, shopping, learning, life. If I could stuff all my experiences into a ball, it'd be a very colourful and dense ball containing the whole spectrum of colour intermingling with one another. Oh it was rich, yeah. But it was to be expected, our trip back home in 3 years and considering that our last trip was so rushed we didn't have time to meet all the people we wanted to. 

Malaysian heat has been turned up several notches since the last time we were there, causing draught and water rationing! I've always been able to withstand it, but this time, ah it was hot, so very hot. I told everyone that the moment you sit down, your bum starts to sweat. And you constantly feel like showering. AC was your best friend. 

Traffic was as horrendous as ever. People run reds as they please and especially during the Chinese New Year period, a trip down to visit grandma which would normally take 2 hours took us 5. But despite all the difficulties and hardship, seeing the people, my relatives made it all worthwhile. Of course, not being the one driving makes a big difference. My dad was such a champ driving us everywhere. All that patience while driving, he deserves medals. And hugs. 

It's always such an experience when you reunite with someone you haven't seen in years. Especially for us who live so far away, we really do savour every precious little second of it. It really is a cocktail of emotion for us, seeing cousins that we used to play with when we were little and how much they've grown and progressed in life; and also seeing cousins that were babies or weren't even born when we left, all grown up now. I do feel a sense of regret that those cousins we don't have that tight bond with due to our lack of time spent together. But such is our fate in life and we can only do the best we can to build relationships across oceans and nations. 

The trip to China/Hong Kong was definitely a huge eye-opener. China was spacious, vast, neat, clean and orderly, a big contrast to the crowded, fast-paced and very colourful Hong Kong. Like our other visits in Malaysia, we're yet again embraced by the generosity of family and friends who offered their rooms/houses for us during our stay. Things in China weren't cheap, unless you know where to go. I loved their MRT, it was so convenient! Overhead, a female voice reminds people to look after children and respect elderlies, and I was pretty surprised that people actually give up their seats whenever they see someone old board the train. Everything was oversized there, the roads, the buildings, the parks, the malls. I don't think there's anything I can complain about. Except their toilets. Long drops just aren't my thing. And I probably spent record time in this rural toilet, where the walls were only about 1m high and there are no doors. AND... you pee into a drain and 'flush' with a pail of water that sits by the toilet. People HAVE CONVERSATIONS in there. Definitely a one of a kind experience. 

Hong Kong was very fast paced. The escalators go at running speed and even the traffic lights feature running man instead of stationary or walking man. I found that neighbours and people you encounter 'at home' were extremely friendly and hospitable. However if you wanna ask for direction or help on the street to some stranger or bus driver, mean mode is switched on to the max. But it was still such a great experience. I LOVED THEIR EGGTARTS. So damn good. The ones we had were freshly made at this little kitchen by the stall in the wet market and were so cheap! 2.50HK dollar which means about 40 NZ cents each! I wish we'd stayed there longer, just for the egg tarts. The nightlife in HK was amazing. Neon lights flashing, heavy traffic, row after row of shops and stalls selling food, bags, socks, phone accessories, everything! Though since I wasn't used to the crowd, it got a bit tiring at the end of the night trying to meander through the stream after stream of people. 

Now these muffins. I have to admit, I haven't touched the oven in over six weeks until tonight, when I made some fig muffins with my mum with the over-abundance of figs we were given! As I've mentioned, I've sort of hit the ground running ever since we got back, sorting out my postgraduate studies. So this recipe is from the archives, and it was one that I planned to share for a rather special red and green occasion. But, yet again, I was away and busy that period! *No excuse really... I know...* But here it is, special occasion or not, these muffins are rather good. They are super healthy for you, with all the goodness from the almond, bananas, berries, spices and eggs. Really, you are getting your fibre, your vitamins, minerals and your protein from this! And those of you who are gluten intolerant, here's a treat! They are super moist because of the bananas, but drizzling on some honey just makes it go that one step further. Oh and ignore the plums by the way... I was trying to add some colour into the picture... little polka dots of plums, so cute! So try it out, have it with a cuppa. Your morning tea is sorted :)


Banana Berry Cake (Gluten Free)

Recipe adapted from At the table with Fee
Makes 12 little cakes

3 cups almond meal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp five spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
1 tbsp blended raw sugar
2-3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup natural yoghurt or soy milk
3 tbsp honey 
3 free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cups.
Sift together all the dry ingredients until well incorporated. Stir in the blueberries. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until smooth. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Divide the batter into the 12 holes. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and leave in muffin tray to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan and cooling on a wire rack.