Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Bento Days (7) & (8)

It is the end of April 2009 and the days are going by so fast! President Obama might have his 100 days in review while I am still shifting back and forth on finishing up my spring cleaning and balancing time between family and my well intended resolutions that I sworn to at the beginning of the year!

One thing about men is that they never admit they are getting old or weaker. Curry has this tendency to push the limits on the threadmill even though he knew his sore throat and bone chills were signs of something to come. True enough, after continuous late nights on the couch and over-exertion of his stamina, he was in the early stages of influenza and lying in bed today. I abhor these moments as the kids cling on to him all the time and if he gets sick, they too get it from him eventually. I myself go through seasonal allergies every time around this period of the year and while I know how to avoid the outdoors at certain times, I just wish Curry can heed to my nagging and save us all from further trouble of being sick. Even my kids are more co-operative than him when they agreeably gulped down glasses of Chinese herbs to prevent the onset of heatiness in their little bodies that trigger most of flu symptoms.

Curry's Bento was made yesterday while the kids' ones were made this morning. Strange to say but I find myself with less sick days after I had the kids and the very opposite of Curry! Perhaps I have trained myself up to take the beatings of everyday chaos with the kids and housework that I don't even have time to get sick! As for the kids, they are pretty healthy too with Missy E never missing a single day of school because of sickness while Prince D cries mostly because of bruises and bumps rather than being sick.
No offence to anyone or insensitivity to the current Swine flu epidemic, I made a pig Bento today! As we were bound at home and not going out unnecessarily, I got more time to explore with the Bento and made a different one for Missy E, themed 'the Cat & Mice'. Well, she perceived it to be a tiger though and I suspect it is the using of the carrot pieces for the eyes and ears. There is a new Bento cutter in the market which is specifically made to cut parts for the quail eggs. With ideas everywhere on the Japanese blogs, I couldn't resist trying out those shapes on the mice ears but without the cutter and just cutting them with my bare hands & a knife! It is very dangerous to be surrounded with multitude of Bento gears in the market as any Bento making mom or dad will tell you that the temptation of getting every thing is very great and sometimes, some tools are just plain waste of money. But of course, if I have that much money to spend, I will buy everything!

Contents of Missy E's Bento Box:

Pan fried salmon pieces; sushi rice; quail eggs; strawberry; broccoli; carrot; baby tomato; turkey Ham Pieces; Cheese pieces

Contents of Prince D's Bento Box:

Sushi rice; Baby Tomato; Quail Eggs; Broccoli; carrot; Strawberry; Turkey Ham pieces; Cheese pieces.

I have finally figured out on how to make a more 3D character. I added more water to make the sushi rice till the texture is truly sticky and almost mushed to the texture of rice gruel. I find that moulding the rice balls with my hands is better than using any moulds and I really liked the way these rice balls turned out as there was not a single grain of rice out of place! As for the mice, I used a leaf cutter of which I didn't know I had for more than 5 years and which I bought for my previous Wilton Fondant & gum paste decorating classes. The ear part was made of turkey ham and the face feature were accented with poppy seeds and nori pieces. I find that the mice are the most difficult to make as they are so small and handling a poppy seed with the tweezer is no easy task for my chubby hands! I love how the pigs turned out and infact it is the easiest character to make compared to all the previous kids Bentos that I have attempted.

Contents of Curry's Bento Box :
Rice Sushi with omelette & smoked salmon;
Ham & Peas Pasta with clear soup in flask;
Baby Carrots; Strawberry; Grapes.

This was a last minute Bento as I thought Curry was calling the day sick when he got up late for work but he went in anyway! Notice that the sushi was without the nori wrapper. I totally forgotten about it and went on rolling the rice and only realized I was missing something when it was already rolled up and ready for cutting! Seriously, I cook and bake to de-stress and if I am rushed to do it or put in a situation resembling the Iron Chef show, my mind will go blank and my hands might not even work! I made the Pasta as extra on the side, in case he has to stay back late and I can't believe how he can be so clueless at times! He finished all the soup in the thermos flask and told me that he couldn't proceed with the pasta part. Huh???? Haven't we all grew up with the ham and peas pasta IN soup when we were in Asia and my made in Hong Kong husband ate the soup only! Funny bloke.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Japanese Wagashi is something I wanted to learn to make for a long time. Mochi, Daifuku and Anpan are the usual ones that we normally see in Asian markets but the types that are made in Japan are ridiculously beautiful and a feast to the eyes. There are rigid rules in the making process and etiquettes in eating every piece. I am very drawn to Japanese ways of things as they really make an effort to maintain their standards and artisanal quality in everything they do, which such total observance of rules and practice is rarely seen these days, especially when all things are mass produced.

I attempted something similar to this last year using all the ingredients I had in hand then and this time, I went all out to get the right ingredients from the Japanese store. I used the recommended Japanese sweet rice flour, made my own red bean paste, used store bought crushed peanut coating and added genuine green tea powder.
The end result was very good, so much better than the green tea glutinous balls I made last time. Perhaps it is the flour quality that makes all the difference. The flour was first mixed with some sugar and green tea powder. Lukewarm water was added to create a soft dough. The dough was then torn into smaller pieces and steamed on high heat for 15 mins and the red bean paste was divided into portions of 30gm each and rolled into balls. I find that working with refrigerated and overnight red bean paste is easier than working with freshly cooked one as it doesn't disintegrate easily and made it so much easier when rolling it into the cooked glutinous rice dough.

After the steaming, the dough was given a thorough stir and this was the hard part as the dough was now sticky and lumpy. Vegetable shortening was added to give a gloss to the cooked dough and made it easier to handle with hands. The dough is best divided and rolled into individual balls when it is still hot as it becomes less malleable as it cools. Each dough was then flattened and stretched to contain one red bean paste ball. I coated the outside with peanut coating instead of additional glutinous flour for extra taste. After a few hours sitting at room temperature, the Daifuku still tasted good and the gooey part of the dough did not hardened nor softened. The filling remained moist but not runny nor wet.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Carrot & Almond Cream Cheese Cake

Spring and summer time always makes me want to bake and decorate cakes. Ironically, it is not the best time as the warm air around is not good for handling any type of icing and for an amateur like myself, decorating is always a very challenging task to undertake.

I never give carrot cake a miss at the cafe. Despite its humble ingredient compared to the more luxurious cheese and chocolate, carrot cake gives me a sense of homey and comforting taste which is slightly sweet and earthy and pairs so well with the cream cheese frosting. Although it is dense compared to any sponge or mousse cakes, there is just something very satisfying from eating a slice of this cake.

Initially I was planning to whip up a recipe with the combination of cheese and carrot mousse, moulded on a plain genoise cake and glazed with carrot sugar glaze. During the course, I changed my mind and ended up with the old fashioned carrot cake but more lighter in texture and content together with a whipped cream cheese filling and frosting that is light on the palate on this very hot weekend day. However said, with cream cheese presence, this is definitely not a skinny cake to indulge in and to make me feel less guilty, I made it smaller in size, measuring 4 inches in diameter, with 3 layers of cake and 2 layers of filling.

To reduce the density of the original carrot cake, I used a genoise base that required only a little amount of butter and I added almond flakes instead of the rich walnut. Genoise cakes are mostly dry and the addition of carrot made it more moist. Although the process of making genoise involved more steps than the usual cakes as the eggs are required to be beaten first in the bain marie style and continued to be beaten with the mixer to triple its volume, to be followed by folding of the flour and other ingredients in batches, the end result is usually very good with a steady structure cake that yields little crumbs and pairs with any filling and can absorb any soaking syrup well.

I first whipped the cream cheese with lemon juice and sugar to get it soft and creamy. Whipped cream was then added into the cream cheese mixture, which instantly lightened the mixture and I added some gelatin to the mixture so that the filling and frosting will hold up better on the cake. The cream cheese mixture was then chilled for 2 hours to firm up while I made the garnishing carrots from marzipan or almond paste that I got from my local grocery. I seldom see cake shops using this confectionery on cakes here, as the smell of almond is very pungent and it can be too sweet but it is very popular in England. The original form of almond paste has a softer texture than the commercial fondant and cold hands powdered with confectioner sugar will ensure that the paste doesn't get sticky and mushy when being moulded into the required shapes. I used flat leaf parsley for the leaves as it doesn't have a strong herb smell.

Although my piping and frosting skills still have a long way to perfection, the texture and appearance of carrot cake which is rustic and coarse did complemented my homemade look piping skills. The frosting texture was very smooth and I find it easier to work with than my previous buttercream attempts. As you may have noticed, I tried to frost as thin as possible so as not to overload on the fatty calories and bust my diet for the week! The presence of the almond slices gave an additional taste and crunch texture to the cake, which goes hand in hand with the carrot and not overpowering each other.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April Bento Days (5) & (6)

Earth Day 2009! As the years go by, there are more and more signs of the Earth changing its course from good to bad. When I was a kid, I didn't see much news about ice melting from the coldest part of the world, orang utans of Borneo heading for extinction because of the wilful falling of rainforests by developers all in the name of money making, coral reefs dying because of pollution of the sea, clean water resources declining and everything else that are listed in today's news. In a period of a little more than 3 decades later, and although I am not tuned in as much as the environmentalists would want me to, Missy E comes home learning everything from recycling to planting trees and Prince D is exposed to children's programs with themes of saving the Earth. It just boils down to one conclusion, our Earth is in deep need to be saved from all the man-made faults, whether intentionally caused or not. I am just glad that there are so much awareness these days for my kids and after all, we just want the earth to be a better place for them to live in and as a Bento packer with reusable container, I think I am doing my part to reduce waste on plastics and brown bags. On other things, I will work harder... especially that long shower after a very long day!

Today's Bento boxes were very easy to put together as not much cooking was done. Infact I managed to finish everything before 1 hour and that is a record time! When I am making Bento, the combination of colors come first before taste as second importance. Recently I find that arranging all the ingredients in one rows and alternating different ones between them makes it easier to fill up the whole box and looks more neat. When I looked back to my old Bento from last year, I was in disarray, trying to do too much I guess and got overwhelmed and all the colors mixed up!

Contents of Missy E's Bento Box:

Hard boiled egg, dyed in blue coloring, garnished with pieces of nori; beef patty; broccoli,strawberry; carrot;
green apple pieces; sushi rice with
turkey ham cut out animal shapes.
Again, Anna the Red gave me this idea on making the earth. Small cookie cutters are very useful when making Bento and I managed to get these animals one from the Wilton line at the local craft store.

Contents of Curry's Bento Box :

Omelette rolled sushi with smoked salmon slices;Blanched broccoli and tomato wedges; Beef Patties

The trick is to make the omelette very thin and with the help of mayonaise to paste everything together so that the rolls don't open up during the slicing of the sushi. This Bento box content is very light and reminds me of summer colors!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Red Bean Pastry

Using beans to make desserts and pastries is very common in Asia. The Japanese is more into adzuki or red beans while in Hong Kong and the rest of South East Asia, green, black, soy, split peas and root vegetables like yam and sweet potato are turned into sweet fillings for steamed desserts and baked pastries.
This red bean pastry is one of the most common pastry that you can find in any Malaysian coffeeshop. I never liked it when I was a kid, partly because I had another more tempting choice of the rich cookies made of lard which is conspicuously displayed in a huge see through jar that stands tempting on the cashier counter. But now, with me all grown up and living in a Western country with plenty choices of cookies, nostalgia kicks in and I tend to prefer these types of Asian pastries which is less sweet nor rich.

I did saw tubs of lard in my local grocery store, which is mainly used in the making of these pastries back in Hong Kong for a flakier crust and although I believe the phrase that some of us 'Live to Eat' but I believe also that we can 'Eat to death' if we go overboard and ignoring the health warnings of some ingredients. Hence, I opted for vegetable shortening instead, not that I agree it is totally healthy with the concerns of trans-fat and hydrogenated oil content but it is definitely not as harmful as the saturated fat content in pork fat.

I made the red bean filling earlier by soaking the red beans overnight to soften them a bit and cooked them for 1 hour with water before going on to process and blend it and re-cooked it with sugar and vegetable oil for another 25 mins, till the liquid is almost evaporated. My advice is that if there is no food processor or blender, making this filling smooth is a very difficult task. Now that I have tried making it, I think I will never go back to buying canned prepared red bean filling as it definitely taste fresher and you can control the amount of sugar added to it. The only thing in making this filling is that, during the second time cooking, a watchful eye is needed for the 25 mins and constant stirring is required to avoid burning. It was then let cool to room temperature and covering the bowl with cling film avoids the drying and forming of a crust on top of the filling.

I used the same recipe as the Sweet Meat Pastry, with a little variation by omitting the addition of egg into the water pastry and using cold water instead. Perhaps the egg really does better in the end result as I find that this pastry did not turned out as flaky as the Sweet Meat pastry one and neither did it have as much layers because I was a bit lazy on the folding and rolling part. However said, the taste is similar and crispy on the outside and soft crumbly in the inside. The best time to serve these pastries is when they are just out of the oven when the outer layer crust gives a crisp bite and the inside filling is slightly moist and warm.

Ingredients :

1 cup dried adzuki red beans
3 cup water
4 tbsp vegetable cooking oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (personal choice)

Water dough
1-1/2 cup flour
5 tbsp vegetable shortening (80gm)
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water

Oil Dough
1-3/4 cup flour
5 tbsp vegetable shortening (80gm)

Filling :
1)Soak the red bean overnight.
2)Rinse the red bean and boil with the 3 cups water. Turn down heat and simmer for 1 hour. Stir and check water content so that it doesn't dry up. Turn off heat.
3)Pour all the bean content into the blender and puree for continuous 1 min till smooth paste. Empty back into the pot and turn on low heat.
4)Stir in the vegetable oil till combined. Add in the sugar and stir to mix. Cook for 25 mins till the liquid starts to evaporate and the filling starts to lump. Continue to stir every 5 mins to avoid burning. Remove from heat and let cool in a bowl, covered with cling film.

Water Dough:
1)Beat the shortening with the sugar till combined. Add in the water and continue to mix.
2)Fold in the flour and the dough will form. Knead with hands till combined evenly.
3)Form into 50gm ball each. (Makes 8)

Oil Dough :
1)Rub the shortening into the flour, as in making pastry tarts.
2)The dough will be crumbly and sticky. Dust hands with extra flour when dividing and forming into balls.Form into 50gm ball each (Makes 8)

To make the pastries:
1)Roll out each ball of water dough to a square. Put a ball of oil dough on top of it and gently squish with your fingers so the oil dough sticks to the water dough. Gently roll out to the same size as the water dough.
2)Fold the dough 2 times and turn it vertical and fold twice again. Roll out to a square again.
3)Repeat the folding part and turn it vertical again and fold twice again. Roll out to square again.
4)Scoop 2 teaspoons of the red bean paste to fill the middle part of the dough and gather up the rim to join up. Pinch to enclose any openings. Turn the filled dough downside up and put in your palm, cupping it to form a round patty. Put it down on a floured surface and with a rolling pin, gently apply pressure from the middle towards out to flatten the patty a little.
5)Place the patties on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
6)Repeat with all the remaining balls of water and oil dough.
7)Preheat oven to 400F.
8)Beat one egg and brush on top of each pastry. Poke the patties with fork.
9)Bake for 25 mins. After the first 10 mins, turn down the heat to 375F and apply more egg wash and rotate the pan when baking. Check at the last 5 mins if the pastry has brown perfectly, if not, apply more egg wash.
10)Remove from heat and cool on racks. Serve warm.

Makes : 8 (measuring 2.5 to 3 inches)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April Bento Days (3) & (4)

I managed to re-organize my Bento stuffs and packed them all in a multi tier container box, resembling those that the cake decorating ladies bring around with them. Now all of them are in one place, I will have no more excuses to be lazy!

My Bento theme today is Bears. Missy E only talks about Earth day and recycling this month and I thought it would also be a good idea to teach her on what are the endangered animals on Earth. I made Panda and Polar with the same bear mould. It was only the features on each faces that required more planning. I only wished I could have moulded better free-hand for the body part which ought to be rounder and bigger than the face part.

For the flower bloom, the egg really brightened up the boxes contents. I think I am getting better with the omelette as I seldom get any burn or overcooked spot these days. The petal effect was done by first dividing the omelette into half and folding each half into half again and snipped from the joined edge center part towards the non-joining edges. It was then rolled up together with the beef franks, which was first cut criss cross on its round surface before being cooked in boiling water.

Curry's Bento box was simple to make this morning. Stir fried a pack of Udon noodles with grated garlic and dark soy sauce. With the warm weather, Curry tends to have less appetite for rice and meat, hence salmon pan fried with sesame seeds and eel sauce was a lighter option. The omelette was filled with turkey ham that was rolled up flatly and cut to slot into the Bento box. I hate to see gaps in my Bento and completed the box with baby carrots and stir fried shredded cabbage. It might look alot of food in one lunch box, the fact that all are mostly light and non-fatty tells me that Curry can definitely finish this and doesn't come home rushing for dinner!

Contents of Kids' bento Boxes :

Sushi rice; cut apple; omelette;
beef frank sausages; broccoli & lettuce

I think this is the only Bento that Prince D actually finishes up everything. Although he is a bit picky compared to Missy E, he likes broccoli very much and perhaps Curry let them eat McIntosh apples all the time, the kids were crazy about the crunchy Red Delicious apple and asked for more. This time I got the right tasting beef sausages, which was not salty at all and it was generic brand from my local grocery store. I am a big generic brand supporter, mostly because the goods are cheaper but most of the time, they taste exactly the same as those household brands and some even came from the same supplier and manufacturer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cheese & Oregano Biscuit

Such a lovely prelude to summer weather today. My kids cheeks were as red as the summer cherries and seeing them able to run around with one layer of clothing while puffing away trying to catch their breath and sweat droplets on their little noses made it a very good and active day.

I used to hate the heat in Malaysia but after almost 8 years in the USA, I find myself complaining less and less of the scorching sun when summer comes and for my hometown visits of one or two months every 2 years in Malaysia, I gladly accept the heat there. Despite being hot, we are free to roam around in light clothing with the occasional enjoyment of the nearby beaches and plenty of shopping areas with air conditioning. Even the toxin contents in my body is lesser due to the sweat!

I made these biscuits early this morning for the monthly dinner potluck cum meeting at Missy E's school. Nothing difficult about it and the ingredients are very simple. When I first came to USA, I always got mixed up with the difference of names and spellings for words used in the American vocabulary as compared to the English system, of which most Malaysians are brought up learning. Till today, I still occasionally fumble on what is chips and biscuits. Chips and biscuits in England are called fries and cookies in USA. I think this type of biscuit is similar to the English scones.

I only know the pairing of biscuits with fried chicken in the melting pot character of the American cooking. And so I assume that most of the time, they are made plain or savory in taste. I added dried oregano and grated Monterey Jack cheese with a little sugar added to the dough itself, giving it a slight sweetness to the overall aromatic and crispy crust with dry and light texture in the inside. Any types of dried herbs or spices can be substituted and the sugar may be omitted wholly. I left it out for the whole day and they still tasted crispy and of course, more nicer to eat if it is warm. I made them particularly smaller than the usual biscuit sizes as I wasn't sure how much this recipe yields in the first attempt. The golden brown on the top crust was egg wash only, of which I applied twice, before and during the baking and if a lighter version is preferred, add some milk to the egg wash. A fluted round cutter makes a nicer shape and make sure that the dough is at least 1/2 inch thick before the cutting so that the biscuits puff up nicely in the oven.

Ingredients :

2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold but malleable
2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp milk
3/4 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 cup grated cheese
1 egg

Method :

1)Preheat oven to 400F. Line large cookie pan with parchment paper.

2)Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Whisk in the sugar. Sprinkle the oregano into the flour mixture.

3)Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter them onto the flour mixture. Using your fingers as in making short crust pastry, coat the butter into the flour till resembles soft crumbs. Work fast and the crumbs must always be cold and not mushy.

4)Pour the milk into the flour and butter mixture. Sprinkle the grated cheese all over. Using a spatula, gather the flour and mix roughly with the milk to make a rough dough.

5)Take the dough out onto a floured surface and push it down with your knuckles into a disk, around 1/2 inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter with size of your choice and I used a 2 inch size. Use up all the dough and place the cut out biscuit dough onto the pan, 1 inch apart.

6)Brush with egg wash and bake for 15 to 20 mins, when the top starts to brown. Remove and cool on rack.

Makes : 14 to 16 (2inch sizes)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beet & Apple Salad

I seldom use Beet for anything else except in making a chinese style soup with slices of pork meat, which is said to be good for cleansing the flow of blood for better skin complexion. My mum made this soup for me when I was once suffering from peelings on my hands due to sensitivity to commercial washing liquids and it kind of helped healed my hands which are currently unblemished except for too much of washing everyday.

Beet is high in Vitamins and naturally sweet. The down side of it is the preparation gets you and your chopping board stained with bloody red that must be washed instantly or else it looks like you have just butchered an animal! I cannot see the beet being used as a secondary to another primary ingredient as its red juice simply seeps and stain on everything and its natural sweetness overtakes the taste in every dish.

Having said so, I like the redness it yields and using its juice as natural coloring for anything that I want to look red or even hot pink is always a better choice than food coloring. Beet has an earthy taste that does not necessarily sits in with everyone's palate but I have always like root vegetables like taro and sweet yam, so beet is just the cream of the crop with its additional sweetness and pretty color. Apparently the leaves and stalk are edible too but I have never attempted cooking with them. Like the leaves of rhubarb that isn't edible due to the presence of toxic content, I am very skeptical about trying out the beet leaves.

I made this salad for the Easter potluck party and it went down quite well with the lamb pie. With the presence of the tart green apples, soaked in fresh lemon juice and salad leaves seasoned with pepper and dressed with Balsamic Vinegar, the sweetness of the Beet balances the taste overall. This salad can be served cold or at room temperature.

Ingredients :

2 small beets, skin peeled & boiled for 35 mins till slightly tender

1 green apple. skin peeled & diced to small cubes

1 pack mixture of Green salad leaves

2 to 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

Black pepper


1)Half the boiled beets and slice to thin slices.

2)Mix the apple chunks with the lemon juice.

3)Using a big stainless steel bowl, put all the apples into it and layer with some salad leaves and layer with beets slices. Spoon in 1 tbsp of the balsamic vinegar and pepper and mix with tongs.

4)Repeat with the remaining salad leaves, beets and balsamic vinegar and toss evenly.

5)Plate into serving dish, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use.

Serves : 4 persons

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lamb Pie

Savory pies with meat and vegetables contents are good to serve at any meal of the day. Encassed inside a flaky pie crust or pate brisee, the meat may be of chicken, beef or lamb and the varieties of vegetables like peas, carrot, potato and celery complements the meat with additional texture and flavor.

The emphasis is more on the pie crust that should smell freshly baked and flaky with a nice brown appearance, preluding as an expectation of moist and plump filling. After all the bad news about trans-fat and its effect on the health, I seldom use vegetable shortening in any of my bakings. I find that the shortening tends to give a flakier crust but butter has more flavor and smells good. As with all things butter and flour, the pie dough must be rested well in the fridge to let the flour develop gluten and until today, I still prefer to blend my pie crust with fingers rather than the food processor. The point is to coat the flour with the butter completely with air incorporated and the cold water is just a binding factor that brings the ingredients together but not too much as to make the dough too wet and soggy.

It took me sometime to make and complete this pie. Firstly, I made the pie dough, using double crust recipe and let it rest in the fridge while I continued to cook the lamb with potatoes and carrots by simmering them in beef broth for more than 1 hour to get the meat tender before piling it into the pie dough. The bottom part of the pie crust was baked first so that it is firm enough to contain the moisture of the meat and vegetables filling. The filling was left to cool to room temperature and spooned into the baked pie shell and encassed with the remaining pie dough. I left the half baked pie in the fridge overnight so that the top part dough can rest and firm up. One thing I learned from my numerous tries on pie making is that the prepared pie should be taken out from the fridge straight into the hot oven for baking and this will definitely yield a successful flaky and perfect crust. Egg wash was applied both before and during the baking to get the beautiful color.

This pie was made for our Easter celebration and I made some cut outs from left over dough with my mini cookie cutters which represents spring time and April showers that is forecasted on this year's Easter day. As there was extra dough and filling, I made a small individual sized pie for tasting prior to the party. I used the simmering broth to make some gravy for the pie and by itself, the filling retained its moisture during the baking.
Ingredients :

1.5 lbs lamb meat, cut into small chunks
2 red potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 carrots, cut into small chunks
1/2 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 2 lemon
1 tbsp minced rosemary
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
14 oz (1 can) beef broth

Pie crust :
2 sticks butter (8 oz) , softened
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp cold water
1 egg white, beaten
1 egg yolk


Filling :
1)Marinate the lamb meat with salt, pepper, half of the minced rosemary, cumin, lemon juice and 3 tbsp cooking oil for at least 3 hours.
2)Heat 2 tbsp cooking oil in pot and add in the onion and garlic. Saute for 2mins, adding a little water. Add in the remaining minced rosemary and stir to mix.
3)Add in the lamb meat and stir to coat with the onion, rosemary and garlic. Close lid and let cook for 5 mins.
4)Pour in the beef broth and bring to a boil. Cover lid and lower the heat to medium and simmer for 35 mins.
5)Stir in the potatoes and carrots. Let simmer futher for 15 mins till both vegetable is slightly soft but not too cooked.
6)Mix 1 tbsp corn flour with 3 tbsp water and stir into the lamb mixture. When the sauce starts to thicken, turn off heat and let filling cool to room temperature. Spoon out the meat and vegetable filling from the sauce and save the sauce to make gravy.
7)To make gravy, drain the sauce from all fillings and add additional cornstarch and cook over heat to thicken the consistency.

Pie Crust :

1)Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.

2)Cut the soft butter into small chunks and using hands, rub it into the flour. Raise both hands up high during the working of the butter and flour to incorporate more air. Be sure to retain cold hands and don't over combine. Aim for Crumb texture.

3)Starting from 1 tbsp each time, add cold water to combine and gather the ingredients to a ball. The dough cannot be too dry nor too wet. Divide the dough into 2 equal size pieces and Place inside a plastic baggie and rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

4)Preheat oven to 375F. Take 1 piece of the dough and Let it rest at room temperature till it is malleable and roll into a round shape to fit an 8 inch pie dish. Pierce the dough and use pie weights to bake for 10 mins. Remove pie weights and continue to bake for 15 mins. Turn off heat and let it stay in the oven for a further 5 mins. Remove and let cool on rack.

5)Spoon the cooled meat and vegetable filling into the baked pie shell. Spread out evenly.

6)Take out the remaining pie dough and let sit at room temperature till malleable. Roll out to a circle, larger than the 1st one. Brush the egg white around the rim of the bottom baked pie shell and place the new pie dough on top of the filling. Tuck in the rims to join the top and bottom of the pie shell.

7)Take the remaining egg white and mix into the egg yolk. Put aside. Let the pie rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour to firm up the upper dough.

8)Preheat oven to 425F. Brush the pie with the egg wash and bake for 25 mins. Take out and brush again with egg wash and return to oven to finish off baking for 15 mins. Turn off heat and let sit in the oven for a further 5 mins. Serve warm with gravy and salad.

Serves : 6 to 8 persons

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cheese Loaf Tuna Corn Sandwich

Everytime I go to Panera Bread or those high street bakery cum cafes, my eyes are always fixed on the fresh bread loaves and sandwiches that are piled high and displayed behind the counters. Sometimes I day dream on owning a small bakery with a few tables for people to enjoy their bite of sandwiches or cakes with coffee or tea. But it is always easier said than done and running a place and making bread on a daily basis, even how small scale the business is requires too much time and effort, both of which I currently have little of.

Sandwiches are a delight to eat, especially on a warm spring day. I am still used to the usual 2 square slices put together with savory fillings and cut diagonally into triangles types of sandwiches that I lived on during my student years in England. American sandwiches are usually served on a sub-shaped roll or artisan breads, which are usually crusty and chewy in texture and served in bigger cuts. Unless I have been starved for a whole day, I always manage to bring home left over half of any sandwich that I ordered at the cafe here.

This cheese loaf is very easy to make and with no eggs and sugar added, the texture is more dense and leaves little room for failure! As Easter potluck lunch was on my mind throughout the week, I just grabbed the few simple ingredients and baked this bread today and made up some sandwiches from it for the kids lunch. Missy E was so happy to hear that I was serving sandwiches instead of her usual soup noodle and fried rice and I was amazed by her appetite when I saw her munching such a big size of sandwich! Truly American in nature I would say!

I added grated Monterey Jack cheese into the bread dough and roughly folded and twisted the dough to fit it into the bread pan for the final resting and rising prior to the baking. I sprinkled some sesame seeds onto the bread dough and baked it for 45 mins. The texture of this bread is like ciabatta and as it might be a little too chewy for the kids, I served it with cream of mushroom soup so they can dip the bread to soften it before eating.

Ingredients :
Cheese Loaf (makes 1 bread loaf)
3 cups flour
1 tsp yeast
1 cup warm milk
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

Tuna Corn Filling (yields 2 serving, can be increased) :
1 can tuna
2 tbsp sweet corn kernel
1-1/2 tbsp mayo
pinch of salt & black pepper
salad leaves

Method :
Cheese Loaf:
1)Sift the flour and salt.
2)Sprinkle and stir the yeast into the warm milk and let stand for 10 mins.
3)Add the melted butter into the milk mixture and stir to blend.
4)Pour the milk mixture into the flour and using the mixer to blend. The dough will be heavy and slightly wet in the hands. Add water by 1 tbsp at a time if the dough is dry.
5)Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5 mins. Let rest in the bowl for 2 hours till it doubles its volume.
6)Punch down the dough and take out and roll out roughly into a into a rectangle shape.
7)Sprinkle the cheese all over. From the edges nearest to you, fold into 3 parts, enclosing the cheese. Place into a greased bread pan and let rest till it rises to the rim of the pan.
8)Sprinkle with sesame seeds and preheat oven to 400F. Bake for 15 mins and lower the heat to 375F and continue to bake for another 20 mins till the top is slightly brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from pan and cool on rack.
9)Slice to desired size. May be served toasted.

Yields : 1 loaf

Filling :

1)Drain the water from the tuna. Mash with fork. Season with salt & pepper.
2)Mix in the mayo.
3)Mix in the sweet corn kernels. Layer between the bread with salad leaves.

Serves : 2 persons

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Truffle Eggs

Happy Easter. Same as last year, my friends and I will get together to celebrate Easter and let the kids run wild at the egg hunt. My initial plan was to make chocolate eggs but it was so much more work and more difficult than I first thought. Melting and moulding chocolate on a warm day was not a good idea and after a first unsuccessful test of making them, I simply gave up.

I adapted this recipe from Good Food Magazine Issue April 2007 and hopefully it will be good. We are very used to truffle chocolates which has a middle creamy filling with a hardened outer layer of chocolate encassing the truffle cream itself. These truffle eggs consists only the soft part, rolled in icing sugar and cocoa powder to hold its shape. It is like eating a lump of hardened cream that melts in the mouth and goes down very well with black coffee.

The process starts with both white and semi sweet dark chocolate broken into pieces in separate bowls while the heavy cream is brought to a boiling point. Butter was added to the chocolate pieces to give it a smoother taste and shine and hot cream melted the chocolate. White chocolate is more difficult to work with and no matter how long I put it in the fridge, it doesn't firm up as good as the dark chocolate.

These truffles have extra ingredients added to give them an unusual texture. The white truffles contained shortbread cookies crumb which was first crushed and then added to the melted white chocolate. The taste reminded me of Hershey's cookies and cream and perhaps Oreo cookies may be substituted instead which will create speckled white eggs. As for the brown truffles, I added dried raisins to the melted chocolate. As the chocolate is not as sweet as the white version, the addition of raisins adds sweetness to it.

Overall I would say that the rolling and shaping part of each egg was the most tedious step. To create the slightly oval and pointed top, I rolled one heap teaspoonsful of the firmed up truffle cream and made a 'C' with both my thumb and pointer finger and gently put the truffle in between to shape and squeeze out the egg shape. I was so glad that the recipe yielded exactly 20 pieces of these truffles of which 18 filled snuggly into the cute ceramic egg trays and 2 left over for tasting.

I just keep them in an airtight container, layered with wax paper and will serve them at room temperature at the actual day. Although not perfectly shaped, they do perk up the spirit of Easter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rice Sushi Inside Out

Ingredients :

1-1/2 cup sushi rice

2 sheets of nori wrappers

3 eggs (make 2 thin omelettes)

10 green beans (cooked in water & drained)

2 tbsp Korean kimchi

2 tsp toasted white sesame seeds


1)Lay out bamboo mat. Put a sheet of nori.

2)Pile up and spread out the rice, evenly to all 4 corners of the nori.

3)Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds all over.

4)Roll out a piece of cling film, the same size as the bamboo mat. Lay on top of the rice. Press gently to adhere.

5)With a flat plate, top the cling film and turn the bamboo mat downside up. Now you will have the nori facing upwards and the rice downwards.

6)Spread some mayo if desired. Place one omelette, and arrange the beans across the width part. Use chopsticks or fork to spread out the Korean kimchi alongside the green beans.

7)Pick up the cling film and start rolling like sushi, tightly. Shape the roll with the bamboo mat while the cling film is still intact. Let stand for at least 5 mins.

8)Cut with sharp knife, each roll yields about 5 pieces.

Yields : 2 rolls (serves 2)

April Bento Days (1) & (2)

Buzz!!!!! buzz!!!!! That alarm clock sure knows when to scream when I was dreaming sweetly about a cheesecake and a fork! I think I am obsessed with food and the fact that cream cheese were on cheap sale at my local grocery this week made me yearn for cheesecake, in reality or in dreams!

Despite the unwillingness to drag out of bed early in the dawn, making Bento boxes for both Curry and Missy E is actually a very healthy early call for me. Perhaps I am too energized at times, I feel that I will lost out alot if I wake up late in the morning and go to bed early at night. Sometimes, 24 hours is just not enough and yet sometimes, I wish it will go faster, especially comes dinner time!
Still with the spring theme, I couldn't resist the baby chick figure made from quail egg and this time, I made a full grown hen too, complete with beak & crown. I got the idea from Anna the Red, whom I believe is currently the most popular Bento blogger with all her wonderful tutorials and creations of characters Bento. I like the fact that the baby chick and hen are more 3D and I will be attempting on more 3Ds characters, rather than cut outs that stay flat inside the box. The bunny face was made of ham, cut out with rice mold that also shaped the underlying and supporting rice. Kids have different views than us and Missy E said it was a kitten !

As for Curry's Bento box, I attempted the inside out sushi with the rice as the rolling ingredient, enclosing the Nori sheet with omelette, string beans and Korean kimchi. This version of sushi was first created and served in USA rather than Japan. I find it easier than the original sushi rice, probably because the soft rice is easier to roll than the sometimes dry and brittle nori sheets. The chicken slices was first marinated in a mixture of rice vinegar, Mirin (japanese sweet cooking wine), sugar, salt & pepper and pan fried till the liquid is all evaporated. In taste, this chicken side dish is sweet and juicy when bite into. The vegetable part consisted of soy sauce stir fried julienned carrot, scallion and Japanese yam cake (konyakku). The toasted sesame seeds on the sushi was sprinkled onto the rice prior to rolling.

Contents of Missy E's Bento Box :

Quail Eggs, garnished with poppy seeds and carrot;

Ham on Rice, garnished with nori, tomato & mayo;

Tomato, Broccoli, Strawberry and blanched green beans. Garnished with konyakku on carrot flowers cut out and dragonfly and frog nori punched outs;
Chicken pieces.

Missy E will graduate from pre-school in 2 months time and I hope these Bento boxes have brought her joy and fun during her lunch time in her after school programs. Without her, I will not have tried out these cute lunch boxes and although it takes a lot of time to plan and prepare one, it is worth my every effort, knowing that Missy E truly enjoys everything and always come home with an empty box.

Contents of Curry's Bento Box :
Chicken pieces marinated in Mirin, Rice Vinegar and sugar, pan fried till dry;
Soy Sauce stir fried carrot, scallion with Japanese yam cake & tomato;
Inside out sushi with sesame seed rice and nori, omelette, string beans and kimchi as fillings.
Due to the economic downturn, Curry has lost many of his lunch buddies and that means I have to pack more lunch boxes for him to savor alone in his office cubicle. Packing Bento is indeed a money saving step and a more healthier and leaner choice, which is a priority when summer is approaching, knowing that we have to dive the pool and live on sleeveless and shorts for the next few months! As they say, 'Spring has sprung', and so had my Bento making days.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Braised Beef Tripe (Cantonese)

Once in a blue moon, I have the weird and bizarre tastebuds of Andrew Zimmern, the guy who simply chomps down anything squemish and strange for the TV. Besides my recipes of Piggies Ears and Tamarind Fish Head, I have been wanting to make this beef tripe dish for some time now. I admit that I don't like the wet markets in Asia and if I had to, I will still shop at the supermarkets. And I was so happy to have found beef tripe in Walmart instead of having to go directly to a butcher house!

Most American households eat normal and I have seen squemish expressions when hearing about animal parts not usually consumed or eaten and I was pretty surprised to find packs of scalded and cleaned beef tripes, alongside beef tongue in Walmart. Frankly speaking, the beef tripe didn't looked as bloody as a piece of steak and its cleaned and milky white with wooly texture appearance didn't appear disgusting at all. The marketing did a good job on the packaging.

Beef tripe is the stomach part of a cow and in its most original form, it smells horrible and looks terrible. Well, aren't we all saved from all the bloody and gross spectacle of the meat that we consume daily simply by getting our choices of cuts and pieces from the nice packaging of our grocery stores and I shall leave the gross part alone, never explained here. In Southeast Asia, beef tripe is consumed mostly as a delicacy dish as it requires a longer period of cooking and usually involves a lot of spices. Even the ubiquitous Vietnamese Beef Noodles, which contain all parts of the cow requires hours for the soup base to cook and derives its flavor from the meat, including the beef tripe and spices.

I scrubbed the beef tripe with salt prior to washing it under running water. Next, I boiled it in a pot of water for 30 mins to get rid of any impurities and the scrubbing salt that may have lodged in the combs. It was then rinsed again under cold running water and drained in a colander. I cut the whole piece into smaller pieces to fit the cooking pot and also to ensure even cooking. The spices were pan fried first and the beef tripe added second before adding the soy sauces last. I find that these steps are better to bring out the flavor of the spices rather than simply boiling them in the sauces. During the cooking, the tripe was turned and blended with the sauce using a spatula every 25 mins.

The origin of this dish is Cantonese as it uses a great amount of the soy sauce and you can easily order this dish in any Hong Kong eateries, which is usually cooked together with the beef tendon. After 2 hours of cooking, the texture will soften but retaining the chewiness of the tripe and the dried orange peel is very important as it rid the lingering smell of the tripe. I made a vinegared chilli dip to go along with the dish, which complements it very well and if hot fiery chillis is not your choice, try grated ginger with vinegar. I heat up the vinegar in the microwave before pouring it over the chilli as it brings out the spiciness of the chilli.

Ingredients :

3 lbs beef tripe, cleaned with salt and boiled for 30 mins

5 cloves of garlic pulp, leave unsliced

2 large knob ginger, sliced (about 1/2 cup)

5 Star Anise

3/4 cup dried Tangerine peel

2 tsp Chinese 5 Spice powder

2/3 cup soy sauce

2/3 cup dark soy sauce

3 cups water

2 tbsp sugar


1)Heat 1 tbsp of cooking oil in a cooking pot. Pan fry the garlic and ginger for 1 min.

2)Add in the tangerine peel, star anise and 5 spice powder. Stir to mix and let sit for 2 mins.

3)Add in the beef tripe pieces and coat with the spices. Close the lid and let sit for 5 mins.

4)Pour in both types of soy sauce and add water. Turn up the heat to boiling.

5)Add in the sugar and stir to combine. Turn down the heat to medium and let simmer for 2 hours. Check every 25 mins and turn the tripe upside down every time to get an even cooking and coating of the soy sauce.

6)After 2 hours, remove and cut with kitchen sears and taste. If it is chewy but easy to bite into, it is ready. If not, continue to simmer for another 20 mins. Cut into small strips with the kitchen shears.

7)For the vinegared chilli dipping sauce : take 2 or 3 red small chilli pepper and slice into small chunks. Heat 3 tbsp of vinegar and pour over the chillis. Serve with the beef tripe.

Serves: 5 persons