Thursday, 23 January 2014

Plum tarts

So yeah... I kinda went a bit crazy on the photographing front. Took about 50 photos of these tarts and had a hard time narrowing it down to ten to post here. But I'm sure you guys don't mind the photo spam. I mean, half the people come here probably just to get their dose of food porn right? So feast your eyes away! These tarts definitely are pretty to look at and I really do insist that you try making them so you can feast on them too. The plums loosen up in the heat and release their juices, which entangle with the sugar and butter to yield this rich, tarty, sweet filling. The tanginess of the plums work so well with the pastry. It definitely gives it that extra edge than say if it were a one note sweet fruit... boring... yeah. Although the pastry did turn out really delicate and crumbles in your hands, I think it really is a good pairing - the sharpness of the fruit with the gentle caressing crumbly case. Complimentary right? You can eat it with a spoon.

So yes, give it a go! The original recipe was for one 11-inch tart. But hmmm multiple little ones versus one large one? More is more? Yup, totally in this case. With the little ones, you get a higher pastry to fruit ratio in each bite than with one big one, which is win in my books! So go! Start baking. You have no excuses. You don't need any fancy equipment. Your hands are your mixer. If you don't have a weighing machine, rejoice! Because you don't need one. If you don't have tart cases, worry not, just use a cake tin. Or make little galettes. Or a big one, like this. If you don't have a rolling pin, worry not! Use your hands. You don't even need to use a wine bottle as substitute (which by the way did its job like a boss when my sister and I were baking with my cousin!). You don't even need a bowl to mix the ingredients in. The author of the recipe mixed her pastry straight in the tray. Ok, I think you get the point now, so here's the recipe!

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Plum tarts

Recipe adapted from Amanda Hesser
Serves 8


3/4 cups wholewheat flour
3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp blended vanilla raw sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola or rice bran oil
2 tbsp whole milk or soy milk
Coconut essence


About 4 plums, pitted and thickly sliced
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 blended vanilla raw sugar
2 tbsp butter, cold

Preheat your oven to 200C. Grease your tart cases.
To prepare the pastry, sift together the flours, salt and sugar. Sift it three times to ensure uniform distribution of salt. Alternatively, stir it with a whisk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oils, milk and coconut essence, then pour into flour mixture and stir together with a fork until just combined. Take care not to over work. Next, transfer the pastry into the tart cases or tart pan and press onto the base and the sides with your fingers. The pastry should be about half a cm thick. 
For the filling, mix together the flour and sugar then using the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. 
Line the plums on the pastry in whatever pattern you wish. Sprinkle over the butter crumb mixture. It will seem like an excessive amount of butter crumb mixture but it's ok. If you're making little tarts, I suggest putting all the tarts in a tray, then putting the tray in the oven, for easier handling. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden. If you're making a large tart, bake for about 35-40 minutes. Take care when you're removing the tarts from the oven as they are hot and bubbly. Rest and cool before serving. 
Serving suggestion: with a dollop of natural yoghurt. Yum!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Pasta with a twist! - Spicy strawberry, tomato and oregano

I've had a massive craving for pasta just before we went on the cruise and it lasted for about two months. Reason? I've been watching too many of the videos by The Chiappa Sisters (GO WATCH THEM IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY). They make pasta look so easy to make. 100g of flour and 1 egg with a pinch of salt. Stir in the egg in the flour volcano, knead, rest, roll. Ah... then the door of pasta is opened to you. Anything from luscious ribbons of fresh pasta paired with a drizzle of olive oil with a generous grating of parmessan to delicate little farfalle bows covered with creamy cheese and spinach are now within your reach... The thought of it just makes you salivate.

And now, after a month of food fest, you'd think that pasta craving would go away. NEVAAAHHH. Since my house does not hold any double zero flour, unfortunately I have not been able to make any fresh pasta...*cue sadface*. But luckily we do have the next best thing, dried packet pasta! And since I always like to spice things up a bit, and possibly go overboard with the ingredients list, I didn't just settle for a simple say olive oil + cheese + thyme pasta, although that would be lovely. 

As much as I'd like to claim this idea for myself, I do need to give credit to none other than Mr. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (what a last name) from River Cottage! In that episode of River Cottage To the Core, Hugh made a savoury strawberry salsa. With the abundance of strawberries that this season offers us, I thought, why not give it a try? Now, savoury strawberries... Why does it work? Well if you think about it, tomato is technically a fruit and it works like magic in savoury dishes. Strawberries, like tomatoes, have a lot in common. Firstly, they're both red, and guys don't underestimate this factor. Secondly, they're both sweet. Thirdly, when cooked, they release a wonderful tanginess (which sometimes may or may not work in other dishes *cough* like this strawberry mochi). 

So, addressing my cravings for pasta and my curiosity about savoury strawberries, the spicy savoury strawberry pasta was thus born. The sauce was basically inspired by ingredients I had in my fridge - giant tomatoes, quarter of a capsicum (alliteration yay!), crunchy snow peas, baby carrots, strawberries! And since the oregano bush kinda took over a huge patch in my garden, what other herbs to use than it! And of course, red wine, olive oil, chilli, garlic, cheese, salt and loads of pepper for added flavour. And believe it or not, this was only the second time I cooked with red wine. Last week I made a similar pasta dish with my friend Sam, and she glugged in red wine to the bubbling tomato sauce. It was yummy. So this pasta sauce met the same fate. And just a side note, like baking with chocolate, you wanna cook with red wine that you'd drink, not some cheap stuff coz the end result would also be cheap tasting. Makes sense right? Good + good =  amazing. Bad + good = mediocre. And you definitely want amazing pasta!

So, end result! It's a pretty summery red dish which screams, 'STOP! ...And eat me!' It's got loads of texture from the crunchy snow peas and baby carrots. It's got a kick from the chilli, which you can definitely tone down if you can't take spice, but spiciness is part of the fun in eating. It's got deep umami flavours from the cheese and red wine. The oregano sings and freshens up the dish. And the star, the strawberry definitely shines, especially with that extra cracking of pepper. Give it a try! If you do, Instagram or Facebook it with #thevanillahub and I'll check it out! 

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Spicy strawberry, tomato and oregano pasta

Serves 2

2 handfuls of pasta (I used elbow pasta)*
1/2 pot of boiling water in a fairly big pot

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, with 4/5 diced up, save 1/5 finely sliced for decoration
1 baby carrot, diced really finely
1/4 capsicum, diced
4 medium sized strawberries, finely diced
 4 large snow peas, diced 
1 strawberry, sliced for decoration
Chilli flakes
Handful of fresh oregano leaves (basil would work too) + extra for garnish
Red wine, about half a cup
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Boil a pot of water. Once the water has boiled, drop in a generous pinch of salt and your pasta.** 
Meanwhile, prepare your sauce. Drizzle oil in a pan and once the pan is hot, drop in the garlic. Stir until it starts to turn golden then put in the 4/5 of tomato, carrot, capsicum and 4 strawberries. Let it bubble away until the tomatoes and strawberries start to break down. Add in the snow peas, chilli flakes, oregano and red wine. Stir it a bit and let it sit on medium heat until the sauce thickens. The sauce should have a dropping consistency, not too runny, but not completely thick. If you do overcook it, just slush in some more red wine and let it reduce. Season your sauce with salt and pepper. Trust me, LOADS of pepper makes this dish, since strawberry and pepper love each other. 
Transfer your al dente (still retains a bite) pasta into the saucepan. Stir so each pasta is covered with sauce. Grate in the parmessan and stir to mix. 
Now plate up! Decorate with tomato and strawberry slices. Garnish with oregano, grate more parmessan and crack more pepper on top. Serve. 

*I'm a fairly small eater, so this much is enough. But if you love your pasta like my friend Sam feel free to double the portions! You can always save the leftovers for the next day!
**To make sure you don't over-cook the pasta, you can choose to start cooking it half-way through the sauce-cooking process. Pasta should take about 12 minutes to cook, but taste-testing it helps. Remember, DO NOT put oil in the pot that you're cooking your pasta!! The oil layer will prevent the water from boiling and hence the pasta from cooking properly.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Strawberry Mochi and Twenty-fourteen New Year's Resolutions!

I feel like the obligatory new year's post is called for. 2014. A new year. A new start. Goodness people, I'm turning twenty-four this year. TWENTY FOUR. That's nearly half-way through my twenties. Yet I feel like besides snapping a few photos and baking a few cakes, I haven't really accomplished much in life. I went out for dinner with a few friends two nights ago, and a friend of a friend has apparently just bought a house. WHAT? Who does that at twenty-three/four? I feel so damn good sitting there haha, barely employed, barely knowing what I'm doing the next day, yet alone what I'm doing for my career!

Anyways, I'm trying not to let that get to me. Everyone has their own lives and their own achievements, albeit how insignificant. Some people take longer to figure out what they want right? It doesn't matter how much money one earns or what job they do. What matters most is that one is content with what they have. Set goals and sure, aim for the stars, but don't forget the little things in life that are important.


So, new year's resolution. I usually have an over-crowded list, but this year I think I should keep it simple and achievable.

1. Relationships. Put more effort into nurturing relationships - family, friends, boyfriend, new friends. I'm not naturally good at making friends or just talking to people in general, so I tend to shy away and keep to my comfort zone. I'm also the most lazy person in terms of staying in touch with friends - bad bad very very bad. So, this year it has to change!

2. Health. Diet and exercise! And sleep! I've always had a fairly healthy diet, so the main thing this year is exercise. No more excuses, it's time to get the ball rolling. Sleep better! Though in this day and age sleeping early would counter my first resolution since most people live a night life.... I'll try my best!

3. Career and education. Work my butt off and get a frikin tip top A in my masters! Also, while doing that, maybe get a part time job related to what I'm studying? Food scientist might not be my first choice as a career, but it's related to it, so it's a good place to start!

4. Creativity. Brush up on my photography and baking skills. Keep up with my blogging. I think at least once a week is fair.

5. Spiritual. "Live like you're dying, because you are". In Buddhism, it is said that the most important moment in one's life is death. Death can come anytime and most people are ignorant of that. Every moment of life is lived to prepare for our death and our after life. Live to our fullest, use our time wisely.


Now that that's done and dusted, let me tell and show you about the BEST thing about summer, the thing that I look forward to in earnest year after year - BERRY PICKING!! Every year without fail, my family would go berry picking. Well, in particular strawberry or blueberry, we haven't ventured on to other berries yet. Every trip we'd get over-excited and plop too many of those little jewels into our mouths (k, like having too many is possible?) and over-load the trunk of our car with too many container full of them that our ever full fridge is bursting at the seams even more. So, no room for other berries - sad face. But I don't complain! I love staining my fingers blue with the blueberries and red with the strawberries. I love frolicking in the berry bushes, scouting out what I think would be the sweetest and most flavourful bites.

Anywho, this year I went strawberry picking with friends. We got there with the sun shining directly down at us. We didn't have to venture too far into the fields to be stopped by these crimson morsels. The sight of them draws you in and once you're in there's no turning back! Picking and eating and picking and eating, what more can you ask for. I had to exercise self restrain when it came to bringing the berries home though. Only about 1.5kg this year on mum's strict order of no picking too much! Otherwise who knows? I might bring the whole field home.

So, after enjoying loads of fresh, deliciously sweet strawberries, I decided I'd make something of them. I wanted to make something unusual and after flicking through some books I settled on strawberry mochi! Actually.. first I decided to make a normal mochi with strawberry and coconut filling. I chopped the red babies into little pieces, dropped them in a pot with a sprinkle of sugar and cooked until it turned into a sweet bubbly mess. Then I stirred in coconut cream and vanilla essence. The flavours really do pack a punch! I contemplated stopping there and just freezing it to make ice cream. But no, ambitious me took over. I changed my mind and decided to make it a strawberry flavoured mochi skin. So in went the glutinous rice flour, and in went the mixture into a steamer! Now all seems fine until I tasted the mixture. It was too sour. The cooked strawberries with coconut intensified in sourness once it was cooked for some reason. And guys, believe it or not, I spent hours tinkering with that mixture, trying to fix it. First idea (pshhtt more like the gazillionth idea) was to coat the mochi in toasted coconut, since coconut and coconut, it goes? Didn't really work. In the end I had to drive to the nearest Asian mart to buy some peanuts. The nuts got a nice toast, grind and made friends with sesame, sugar and salt. Finally, after filling the strawberry mochi with heap spoonfuls of that, the edge of the sourness was camo-ed, and it actually tasted good! What a way to kickstart the new year baking huh?

Well, some time during that experience it occurred to me that this might be how my 2014 will be spent. Doing masters and a science project will probably require loads of trial and error, repetitions of experiments, tweaking and tinkering. At the end of the day (literally), resilience will pay off!

PS. As I was making up the recipe as I went, the measurements aren't accurate but are more of a guideline.


Strawberry mochi with peanut filling (GF)

Makes about 50 mochi


Two handfuls of fresh strawberries, diced
100ml coconut cream
Splash of vanilla essence
1 cup raw sugar, ground
200g glutinous rice flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
Extra glutinous rice flour, lightly toasted


300g peanuts, toasted and ground
2 handfuls of sesame seeds, toasted
100g raw sugar, roughly ground (to taste)
1 tsp salt

For the mochi skin, place the strawberries and a handful of sugar into a pot and cook until berries are mushed up (no more lumps of berries). Add in the coconut cream and vanilla. Place mixture in a blender and blend until smooth. 
Prepare your steamer and coat a cake tin (or something that fits in your steamer) with oil. While the water is boiling, finish off the skin by adding sugar, rice flour and salt into the liquid mixture. Mix and knead until well incorporated. Add in the water until you get your desired consistency. The mixture should still have a doughy, moist consistency. Drier and harder mixtures will yield harder mochi, while wetter and more runny mixtures will yield softer mochi. It's personal preference what you like, just add water. 
Once the steamer is ready, transfer the mixture into the oiled tin and steam for about 45 minutes. 

To prepare the filling, just mix everything together until well incorporated.

Once the mochi skin is steamed, let it cool before proceeding. 

Place the extra glutinous rice flour in a wide bowl. Drop about 3/4 tablespoonfuls of mochi skin into the rice flour and roll them around to coat. Coat your hands with rice flour and roll the mochi skin into balls, then flatten them. Place teaspoonfuls of peanut filling in the middle of the skins, then wrap them up in whichever shape you wish. Then coat the wrapped mochi with glutinous rice flour. Repeat until all mochi skin is used up.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Bagel with warm herbed salad and egg

Oh my gosh! I've been gone for so long. Hope everyone's had a fantastic festive christmas and a wonderful new year! I definitely had plans to fill this site with amazing food for those two occasions but these plans were dissolved into thin air by a big ship and a plane to Melbourne. I do apologise for my long absence but this trip has been amazing, despite having a cold/flu/hayfever for the most part of it. 

I've never been on a cruise ship before, so I didn't know what to expect. The first few days were really relaxed as we settled in to the rocky rhythm. As aforementioned, food was of abundance. However due to my sickness and being bed-ridden, I actually lost weight on board! The journey took a positive turn on about day six when we met several other people around our age. Each night was filled with loads of card games and we got everyone hooked onto Mafia. Who knew playing Mafia with kids would be so fun haha. I only wished my cold didn't hit me then, I could've spent more time doing more productive things than watching movies in bed. 

All journeys come to an end. Of course, it was right when friendships were forged we had to say goodbye. Though it was awesome that our new friends in Sydney took us to karaoke and on a semi tour of Sydney city on our one night stay there. My trip to Melbourne was significant too. We visited our auntie, uncle and cousins whom we haven't seen in more than 10 years! Sydney has a big city edge to it while Melbourne is more mellow and suburban. I really love Melbourne's vibe, the colourful Chinatown, picturesque Yarra River, hipster cafes, the malls!, the countless restaurants and eateries and not to mention the presence of extended family. It's a vibrant city and I have many many many photos to showcase it! Please be patient though... I haven't had a chance to edit any yet *gasp!* as my brother's been occupying the computer with Lightroom ever since we got back. 

This trip to Melbourne has opened up my heart and I can feel the city's magnetic pull. It's definitely a city I would strongly consider to live in. Though I did feel strange being in such a flat city. The view of Melbourne from the plane was just like a vast stretch of quilt, so different from the hilliness of Auckland. After spending new year's eve with cousins counting down at Federation Square and watching the spectacular fireworks that went on for about 20 minutes, the family and I flew back to our big little city called home. Yet again it felt strange that we didn't have to travel hours to get to places. The single lane roads, the miniature city skyline, the empty streets welcomed us home in its gentle embrace. 

Anywho, as promised, here's the second post on bagels! It's perfect for brunch. It's healthy. It's filling. It's delicious. It's colourful. Enjoy it while I let my thoughts float between the to do lists of reality and dreaminess of the trip. 


Bagel with warm herbed aubergine, fungus and tomato salad, topped with fried egg

Serves 4

Handful of wood-ear fungus
Handful of oyster mushrooms
Half a medium aubergine, diced
1 tomato, diced
zest of 1 lemon
About 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds, toasted
About 1/2 tsp ginger, finely chopped
Oregano leaves, about half a handful, finely chopped
Olive oil
Soy sauce
Salt and pepper

4 eggs
4 halves of bagels

In a pot, bring about half a cup of water to a boil. Drop in the wood-ear and oyster mushrooms. Pour about 1 tbsp of soy sauce in. Turn down to medium heat and let it cook until all water is evaporated and the fungus has softened. Set aside.
In a hot saucepan, pour in some olive oil and throw in the ginger. On medium heat, stir until it begins to brown. Drop in the aubergine and cook until softened (still has a slight bite to it), tossing occasionally. Add some more olive oil if aubergine sticks to the pan. Stir in the tomato, fungus, cumin seeds and oregano leaves. Cook until the tomato has softened. Season with soy sauce, salt and pepper. You'll need quite a bit of soy sauce. Add in the lemon zest and stir. Cook for about 1 minute. 
Plate up and serve with bagels. 
For each serving, fry (or poach) an egg and place atop the bagels. Season with soy sauce and pepper.