stewed daikon

January 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

Like any other folks out there who have been in this industry for donkey years, we all meet people from various backgrounds. And by various, I mean a heterogeneous collection of eccentric or nonconformist individuals from all across the globe. They cross paths with you not simply because they wanted to be exactly where you met them, but due to grand leap of faith they took, to be where they were/are.

Nevertheless, there are far and few who know very precisely what they are doing and where the path they walk leads to.

If you happen to follow them, the road less taken is certainly more exciting than promising & rewarding than reassuring. These individuals, have ideologies and philosophical values that translate into food. Food that speaks their language despite if those were their first few words they spoke growing up. Cooking that gave them life because they experienced the emotions that went through making a meal/dish. Meals that gave them intimacy yet acceptance with everyone around them because where everyone comes from does not really matter as long as you enjoy the conversations at the dinner table during a staff meal and pull through service together.

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The last three days in a new kitchen was interesting. New faces, different menu, fun techniques, and quirky conversations. Yet it felt like home. The daily run to the wet market but at a fair distance away from the restaurant. New fresh seafood and greener produce to play around with. Larger. Dynamic. Yet, also familiar.

As Chef M said:” if there is one thing you need to learn in Hong Kong market is that they will always say that everything is good for soup. This, soup. That, soup!”

The Cantonese love their soups until their hearts bend. So that’s what we have had for every staff meals, soup. Cabbage pork soup. Spicy chicken soup. Fish tofu soup. Curry soup.

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It certainly brought me back to a spring Tokyo. When the air is still crisp and cool, perfect for a warm broth under the sunny daylight. But when night falls, and with the full moon up, we often found ourselves sniggering into eateries with scent of dashi stock perfuming from the entrance. A force of attraction with a deep iron or aluminum pot that comes up to my waist, seems to stew up the best umami slurping soup. It is filled with hours of patience and wisdom. Subtle to the taste but unforgettably heartwarming.

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My last trip to Hong Kong was short and very sweet. Not only did it allowed me to reconnect the dots with the previous Japan trip, but also open a whole new opportunity to learning a different cuisine and (crazy) crew. Coming back to Singapore, I could not stop thinking about the fresh ingredients at the wet markets. Despite falling ill upon arrival, I insisted on grocery shopping and picked out a large white radish (daikon) to continue my little culinary experiment in the kitchen.

This perhaps isn’t the most authentic way to do so but if you are trying out for the very first time, I assure you that it will promise a decent side dish to your soba or udon bowl.

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Stewed daikon

1 large daikon, skinned, sliced 8-10 cm long
a handful of white rice
bowl full of ice cold water

5 cm kombu (kelp)
3 cups of water

marinating sauce
3 tbsp of usukuchi (light soy sauce)
1 tbsp of sesame oil
pinch of shichimi or a light crack of black pepper

1. Blanched the daikon in pot of boiling hot water with white rice. After 4-5 minutes, dip into ice cold water.

2. In a deeper pot, place kombu and water, add in the daikon. Let it come to a roaring boil, then simmer it for at least 1 1/2 hours or until a pairing knife tips goes through the daikon effortlessly.

3. Let it cool completely in the stock. This might take the whole day or best let it sit overnight at the cool place on the kitchen top.

4. Once the daikon ready, transfer them on a kitchen towel or cheese cloth. Pat them dry.

5. In a medium small mixing bowl, whisk usukuchi, sesame oil and shichimi. Gently place daikon, spoon the sauce over them evenly and over it with a cling wrap for at least 30 minutes.

5. Serve it is or add a little bit more usukuchi, or chili oil/sesame seeds/grated horseradish to your pleasure.

when silence is gold

February 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Last lunar new year, I found a note between John Kerouac’s On The Road book. My late cousin had collected a series of his books and a few more of his favourite authors. Every year, we return back to my aunt’s house for a reunion meal. Every year, I stand in front of the shelves, picking up random books and flipping pages until it is time to go home.

It is not every year I get to spend time with my other cousins. E’s brother, Chong, who just returned from Thailand spent some nights with the family. The note, was for him and was “edited” by E. We thought the note was for Chong. But according to him, it wasn’t.

The past few weeks have been a little tougher than usual, I have been questioning life and the path I am on. What it entails and what it offers. The book, the cafe, the family and being in this country.

Two days ago, I visited the crematorium after a restless morning. I have had thoughts before but never got the courage to do so.Torn and heavy hearted I found the disturbed thoughts silencing themselves between the walls. It’s ironic how peaceful it can be around the eternal rest.

I walked out feeling a little more grounded and lifted inside. Another paradox in life, I cannot explain but only feel compelled to share.

This morning, Chong had surprised me with a message. He mentioned that the note was written when both of them had experienced love. That being in love “makes us see how wonderful life is”. Reminding me not to think so much but to enjoy it. Thus, was placed in On The Road. The note was meant for me. To show me that love and youth make life wonderful.

Chong calls this synchronicity, I believe it is too.

There are signs we can choose to ignore and paths we choose to take. But we can only follow the flow and find a rhythm that sings to our heart. Find that rhythm and make it your anthem.

Life must be rich and full of loving–it’s no good otherwise, no good at all, for anyone.”
― Jack Kerouac

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We are still working on the cookbook. It is taking more time than we thought but we are working hard for it to be out by Christmas. This is a purple sweet potato cake with rosemary lemon syrup. Purple sweet potato has a dense floury texture and a rich tannin sweetness. It was really lovely with the fragrant rosemary and citrusy punch syrup. More recipe testing soon.

a beetroot in a chocolate cake

August 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

is as soulful as having a garden in the kitchen. Any root vegetables would give the same humble earthiness, but this passionate red plant gives plenty of warmth and moisture. I had the kids fooled. They ate the entire cake before even realizing there was some added zinc goodness.  There is no “once bitten twice shy” value in this, just go for it!

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Prior to this, I had made some chocolate beetroot muffin. This cake is a little more decadent and luxurious. I am testing out a vegan version so more soon!

Adapted from Nigel Slater, with some adjustments.

225g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
180ml sunflower oil
225g light muscovado sugar,
3 eggs
150g raw beetroot
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup of chopped dark chocolates

Set the oven at 170C. Lightly butter a 9″ rectangular loaf.

Grate the beetroot coarsely, set aside.

Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Beat the oil and half of the sugar in a food mixer until well creamed then introduce the beaten egg yolks one by one, reserving the whites for later.

Fold yolks and flour together, then gently fold in the beets.

Beat the egg whites till light and almost stiff. Fold gently everything together but thoroughly into the mixture (He suggested using a large metal spoon, a wooden one will knock the air out). Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 40-50 minutes. Once it is done, allow it to cool for 20 minutes before indulging.

It’s been a trying week. The exhaustion from many personal events collided into one and I find myself detaching again. I’m catching up with the workload at the cafe as well as rest. It’s already August. Last year this time, I found Henry. Sure is a ride, but I shall save that post for another time.

there is no real secret to an amazing meal, just simple & fresh ingredients.
there is no real secret to an amazing life, just simple things & good company.

why all the fancy schmancy?

the gooey cake

May 29, 2013 § 4 Comments

An accidental bake. I had wanted to make something else but had forgotten to write the ingredients in the grocery list. Having Deb Perelman‘s book in my hands, I stumbled upon the simplest ingredients and without a second thought, turned the oven knob on and rummaged into the refrigerator.

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With the new space coming up, we have been testing a few recipes and getting the place together. I am enjoying the silent kitchen with construction noise behind thick walls. The cleanliness of our bare feet against spotless beige tiles. Unused porcelain still wrapped in newspaper tucked near the dishwasher, which is still adjusting to its awkward piping system.

For the cafe family, we are thrilled for the opening day. But the delay had costs much frustrations yet allows us to ease into the comforts of our new home. Already, we have a creative corner, the manager’s favourite chair, an habitual angle to lean on the wall and usual parking space. While there will be many more avenues for each of us to fall calmly into, it is already a great start.

Much like this cake, which was shared and enjoyed immensely, the day turned out unexpectedly lovely. Perhaps, perfecting our crafts, slowly taking our time to focus on shaping and molding, brings unadorned pleasant surprises. In turn, reflects individual personalities, understanding characters and working better as a family. Learning to be patient with time, with ourselves and one another.

recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Cookie Base

1 1/2 cups (190g) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum-free)
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60ml) whole milk

Soft Gooey Layer

1/4 cup (60ml) light corn syrup or golden syrup
1/4 cup (60ml) whole milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 (155g) cups flour

Cinnamon Topping

2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Line a 9- by 13-inch cake pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all four sides. (I overturn the pan, shape the foil over the bottom, remove it, then flip the pan over and ease the foil into the pan.) Spray the foil in the pan with nonstick spray or brush with melted butter.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

2. To make the cookie base, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups (190g) flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Beat the 8 tablespoons (115g) of butter and the 3/4 cup (150g) of sugar in the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand, until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Add the egg and the milk and mix in, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the dry ingredients, until fully incorporated. Put the mixture in the cake pan in dollops (it’s too thick to spread if you add it all in the same place), and spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula.

(You don’t need to clean the bowl; you can reuse it for the next step.)

4. To make the soft gooey layer, in a small bowl, whisk together the corn syrup or golden syrup with the milk or cream, and vanilla.

5. Beat the 12 tablespoons (170g) of butter with the 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225g) of sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

5. Add one-third of the 1 1/4 cup (155g) flour, then half of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Add another one-third of the flour, then the rest of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Then stir in the remaining flour. Dollop the batter over the unbaked cookie layer and spread evenly.

6. Mix together the 2 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle it evenly over the cake.

7. Bake the cake for 25 minutes, or until the cake feels slightly damp, but gently set in the center. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. When cool, lift out the cake using the overhang of the foil, and cut the cake into 1-inch (3cm) squares.

Note: Sharp-eyed folks might notice that my cake squares didn’t get as dark has hers, as shown in the book, which I attribute to a new oven which I’m still learning how to use. The cinnamon I ground was also not as fine as the finely ground cinnamon that you buy, so the pieces are more distinct, which also led to the tops of mine looking a bit different from hers. Regardless of any differences in appearance, it’s quite an amazing cake and I urge you to try it.

*coffee is from Nylon*

happy birthday to the lady

May 22, 2013 § 6 Comments

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She loves antiques. She loves junk. She loves anything she does not need but gets them nevertheless. She loves the idea of a hand me down, a good thrift store, a good bargain, a good steal and even more so, a fantastic car boot sale.

We would be forced to wake up at dawn, whist the moon barely set and dreams are just beginning to climax. Lifted from an innate zeal, she will get dressed eagerly and be at the door without haste. Layered in three/four winter clothing, she manages to look divine under the dim bedroom light. As we drive down the country side with beaming car lights shining along the hedges leading the way, I wonder if my stomach had completely digested the buttery apple pie from last night.

The cars lined up in a row and their things are laid unkempt with much order. It’s as disheveled as a lovely afternoon tea with the Royalties. You can get anything least likely to imagine. A box of jewelry from a recently deceased old lady, century old stamps, to a barely used camera. It’s a shopaholic haven. For mum, it is her nirvana.

I have fears of her stepping onto the wet field. Her heavy purse will be emptied and her grocery bags filled with unnecessaries.

For her birthday this year, I got her three brass bowls from an antique store. For what need, I do not know. The stubborn elderly man who runs the shop, could not have a better pair of eyes for collectable items. If anything, it would be his cranky personality that helps his memory. I ponder for a moment whether my mum should open her own antique store. The house is one itself.

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Her all time favourite dessert is a simple apple pie. This year, I had decided to make a gluten free version as she has gotten slightly unfriendly with wheat.

Thank you for being the best mother and friend. Happy birthday mum!

recipe
pie dough
300g Bob’s Mill all purpose gluten free flour
1/2 tsp salt
130g vegetable oil
20g non-dairy milk
1/2 cup ice water, perhaps less depending on the weather

apple pie filling
3 green apples, sliced thinly
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

crumble
130g Bob’s Mill all purpose gluten free flour
30g sorghum flour
30g walnuts, chopped
15g brown sugar
30g vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 200C, coat 8 inch pie tin with a light layer of oil.

2. Slice apples and combine brown sugar until well mixed, set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, mix pie dough ingredients except for ice water. With your hands kneed the dough until it comes together, add the ice water slowly until it forms a ball. If the weather is humid, add a little more ice in the water. Set the dough aside.

4. For the crumble, add all the ingredients together with a fork or get messy with your fingers. I like the later better.

5. Place the pie dough on the pie tin and spread it with your fingers, make sure to get an even layer on the sides. Lay apples evenly and sprinkle the crumble on the top.

6. Bake for 20 minutes at 200C and then, 25-30 minutes at 180C.

brownie

May 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Finally a recipe post! This should be a regular go-to recipe as it is so simple to make. I have been approached by a few vegan/gluten-free home bakers on what to use for substitutions. While I have no fix gluten-free flour mix nor foolproof methods, I had managed to bring this lovely chocolate delight to the table just in time for tea.

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Baking with gluten free flour is not as challenging as you think it is. I have failed and succeed; threw and sold many gluten free vegan cupcakes/brownies/cookies/shortbread. One thing, I have learnt is to never stop baking/cooking until you find the right fit. It is a journey for you to discover your own tastebuds and explore the wonders of different ingredients.

recipe
1 cup 70-80% dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup fruit puree (apple, papaya, pear or any fruit you enjoy)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
50g rice flour
50g sorghum flour
30g tapioca flour
30g brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp guar gum/xanthan gum
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1/4 vanilla pod

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and lined an 8-inch baking pan with a layer of oil.

2. Melt dark chocolate over the bain-marie or one minute medium heat in the microwave. Do not worry if the chocolate bits are not completely melted. Some bites are always welcomed. Puree fruit in the processor and set aside.

3. Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Once chocolate is melted, add in fruit puree, oil, milk and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients and mix until very well incorporated.

4. Pour it into the pan and even the top with a spatula. Bake it for 25-30 minutes. It will come out soft and very moist. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes before indulging.

And more to say, this is not available at the bakery/cafe I work in, but I am more than happy to share it with anyone.

*After leaving it for a day or two, it tends to get very dense. So best consume within the day of.

beets

November 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Did November just pass without a trace? It’s hard to miss with all the beards and mustaches around. Along with Movember, I try my best to take it all in at once since the cafe has been very busy. Sporadical quiet moments, were either to catch a deep breath outside or read a short article.

At home, I have been rather blasé with stepping into the kitchen. At the very least, I will make pancakes on my days off. But, yesterday, for the very first time in 6 months, I turned the oven on.

My heart grows with excitement as the oven heat rises. Slicing two crimson beetroots into quarters, lightly rubbing some sea salt with my pink hands, laying them out on a cast iron pan, drizzling olive oil and cracking black pepper. The whole gesture made me fell in love with baking again.

I forgot how salt can be magically transform bitterness to sweetness. I forgot the sound of the ticking oven timer. I forgot how hot the kitchen can get. I forgot the loveliness of seeing the sides of a vegetable go from glaring smooth to golden brown crisp.

All of these were irreplaceable, despite baking everyday at work. I held on to the time as it stood still, with me staring into the oven glass watching them baked and day dreaming of light-hearted banters with customers. When it was time to indulge, I joyfully put some garnish on and tossed a few more fresh greens with roasted beets. Relishing the moments of getting my fingers dirty, appreciating wholesome vegetable and sharing it with the family.

recipe
beets, halved or quartered
salt, a pinch or two
black pepper, cracked
a whole garlic, broken into pieces

Preheat oven at 220C. Season the beets. Pop into the oven for 20 minutes, take them out, shake it, pop it back in for another 10-15. Yes it is that simple.

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