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.