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September Daring Baker’s challenge - Vols-au-Vent (with caramelised onion filling)

>> Saturday, September 26, 2009

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge has been chosen by Steph of a whisk and a spoon. Steph chose Vols-au-Vent, which we are pretty sure in French means, “After one bite we could die and go to heaven!”

Home-made Vols-au-Vent (with caramelised onion filling)

Isn’t it annoying that after the dust storm has passed, everyone seems to be in good health and I am the only one who suffers from a massive hay fever? My nose has been acting up since Thursday. A lot of sneezing and a really stupid runny nose. I am not in the happiest taste. No!

I only managed to finish the Daring Baker’s challenge a few hours ago. Tell you the truth, I nearly gave up on this month challenge because of limited time and the hay fever. But I am glad I didn’t give up. Home-made puff pastry is excellent. It’s so crispy and full of flavours; the store-bought one becomes so dull! (Why did I wait for so long before attempting to make puff pastry? Why?)

This is my first time making puff pastry from scratch and it is not scary as I thought. I got a lot of practice when making this chocolate layered bread. There is a lot of information on the web about making puff pastry as well. I did read through several baking books.

Anyway, the theme of this month is Vols-au-vent. I love it! The only compulsory component is the pastry shell. We can go wild with the filling. After eating a lot of sweets last week, I opt for a savoury filling which I learn from The Bathers’ Pavilion cookbook. The slow-cooked caramelized onion is matched with smoked cheddar cheese. Even though the ingredients are simple, the flavours nicely come together. I love the sweetness of slow-cooked onions. It truly brings out the buttery goodness of home-made puff pastry.

The tale of two (pastry) fish

Traditionally, Vols-au-Vent has a round shape. I get a bit imaginative and make a few fish-shaped instead. I cannot recall where I get the idea from. Food mags? Blogs? Never mind. The shape is really cute and such a show catcher.

The recipe for caramelized onion filling is included here. When Steph posted the puff pastry one, I will edit the link to her blog.

I still have half of the pastry in the fridge for which I need some inspiration from fellow daring bakers! ;)

Home-made Vols-au-Vent (with caramelised onion filling)

Onion Vols-au-vent with smoky cheddar cheese

If you follow the recipe, you will get around 15 x 5cm-diameter vols-au-vent. My fish shaped pastry is done by hand, which is of medium size. I got about 5.

Pastry: 4 sheets of good quality puff pastry (mine is home-made) + 1 beaten egg for egg wash

2 tbp olive oil
3 brown onion, peeled and sliced thinly
2 tbp castor sugar
100g smoked cheddar cheese, to serve

{} Preheat oven to 180C. Prepare the Vols-au-vent (I will link to Steph's instruction later)

{} For the filling, simply combine everything together. Cook the onion over very low heat until caramelised. About 1 hour.

{} Spoon the fillinf in the pre-pared Vols-au-vent. Top with small piece of cheese. Warm up in the oven for a few mins before serving.


Dust storm & a favourite mid-week meal – roast hoisin chicken

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Speedy meal!

Coming back to Sydney after an unexpected long weekend in Melbourne, I woke up to a thick dust storm this morning. At first I thought it was just foggy but the red haze said something differently. As I am writing this post, the dust layer is getting thinner but still, everyone can feel the thick dust in the air as we breath in…

I may be a bit quiet these days. Several posts are lined up, but I have not been able to get around them yet. I am travelling quite a bit this month, so the normal routine is kinda interrupted. During the last few days, I did fall off the wagon with sensible eating. And trust me, sensible is not in the dictionary if you have a chance to celebrate Eid in a more traditional way. I was stuffed with so much sweets, my whole heart danced on sugar high. I would not complain though. How could I if I was able to taste some amazing home-made Turkish baklavas? Imagine layers of crispy filo pastry with pistachio and velvety sweet syrup. There were also an airy light cake, also soaked with syrup, and the Turkish version of marshmallows. All home-made and totally delicious! And not to mention some really delicious Bangladesh-style chicken biryani and haleem as well.

Coming back home, to my horror, I found an almost empty fridge. Literally, there was almost nothing left. This was when whatever in the freezer came to rescue and I managed to get some roast hoisin chicken out for dinner. Don’t you just love the freezer and feel proud of yourself for preparing things ahead?

Anyway, I really love this recipe. The flavours are pretty much inspired from char siu (Chinese-style roast pork), something I no longer eat. I have adapted the method of cooking char siu here but without the red food coloring. Also, char siu tends to be overly sweet for my taste (my family used to call them ‘candied pork’), so I aim for a more savoury-sweet balance in my recipe.

It is worth making this recipe in large batch and storing in the freezer. I intended to use the leftover hoisin chicken for steamed buns but we always finished it before the dough was even made. There is next time though, right?

Hoisin chicken is best served with some hot steamed rice, steamed seasonal vegetables and light Asian-style vegetable soup (like miso). I have also tossed the chicken pieces through some salad and it is really good.

Hoisin chicken rice

Roast Hoisin Chicken

Loosely based on Andrea Nguyen's char siu recipe

1kg chicken thigh fillet

3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbp brown sugar
1 tsp Chinese-style five-spice powder (available at Asian shops)
5 tbp hoisin sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee brand)
1 tbp honey
3 tbp light soy sauce
2 tbp dark soy sauce
1 tbp sesame oil

{} Make the marinade by whisking all the marinade ingredients together. Set aside about 1/3 of the marinade. Pour the rest over chicken and marinade overnight.
{} Preheat oven to the highest temperature setting. Position the baking rack in the middle of the oven. Bring the chicken and the reserved marinade to room temperature.
{} Put a baking rack over the baking tray. Place the chicken on the rack. Avoid overcrowding.
{} Roast the chicken for around 30 minutes. Turning the chicken occasionally and basting it with the reserved marinade. The chicken is cooked when clear juice comes out when piercing into the middle of the piece.
{} Remove from the oven. Let the meat rest for 5 mins before slicing and serve. The left over can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Note: To heat up the thawed roast chicken, I like to lightly pan-fry them with minimum oil, little water and extra hoisin sauce to keep the flavours going.


LiveStrong - The battle is not lost

>> Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I am terribly late for A Taste for Yellow this year. Thanks to Barbara’s kindness, I have some time to get my act together and write this post.

Baby it's raining outside...

I thought this post would be easy to write. Yet, as I started it, emotions took over and I felt totally wordless. During the last few weeks, my grandmother was in hospital to undergo an operation to remove her tumour. It is a such blessing that she has recovered well so far, but we have been so stressed and worried. With my grandpa going through similar experience, cancer is no longer a stranger for us.

Still, my heart breaks whenever I know or hear of someone suffering this disease. My highschool friend H., as young as she is in her mid 20s, is at the final stage of cancer. We have not met for nearly 10 years, but my memory of her is so vivid. A young girl full of energy, with a big smile and kind heart.

Recently I got to meet up with someone who happened to be a doctor. We talked about H, whom we both know. To my surprise, this friend said something along the line of cancer has been such a normal thing for her to see so she has been numb to it. There is nothing to feel bad about. She just looks at the case and says there’s X or Y chance of survival. I am sorry, but I beg to differ. I am neither a doctor nor specialist. But I just know that you just cannot assign a number to someone’s life. Tell me that I am naïve, but all of us, having cancer or not, have the chance to live until the very end. All the cancer patients that I know have taught me tremendous lessons of hope, strength and courage… So don’t, my heart begs, don’t let your heart turn numb over things that matter.


You know, when it is said to me someone has lost the battle to cancer, I don’t necessarily agree. How can you say the battle is lost if through that we find wisdom, meaning of life, courage, strength, love, kinship and pain?..

Back to my friend’s story. Turning 20, she discovered cancer. In the past five years, it has not stopped her to realise her dream of going to a famous medical school. It has not stopped her to find love. It has not stopped her to smile and be the vivid H. we always know. The battle is not lost, you see?


We are supposed to cook something with yellow to celebrate this event. I come up with a simple snack - fried wonton. The filling is vegetarian and really simple: napa cabbage, fresh yellow sweet corn and toasted nori. The gentle sweetness of the filling makes the dish really refreshing although being deep-fried.

Fried vegetarian wonton in paper boat

Fried wonton with napa cabbage, corn and toasted nori

Ingredients: enough for 2-3 to share as snack.

Small wonton wrappers (the egg type): around 10-15 sheets

100g napa (Chinese) cabbage, thinly shredded

Corn kernel from one small corn cob

1 sheet of toasted nori, cut into small pieces with a kitchen scissor

Sesame oil and soya sauce to taste

Oil to deep-fry

How to

{} Mix the filling together. Adjust the seasoning with soy sauce. Add in a dash of roasted sesame oil. Mix well.

{} Put ½ tsp of filling at the centre of the wonton wrapper. Don’t over fill.

{} Moisten the edge of the wrapper with some water. Gather all the edge and twist to seal. Set aside and repeat with the rest.

{} Deep-fry the wonton in hot oil until golden brown.

{} {} Styling Idea: I use color paper to make a paper boat. Cut off the tall center and you will have a perfect ‘plate’. Choose deep color to contrast with the golden color of the fried wonton. Have fun!


A moment in life #30

>> Tuesday, September 15, 2009

For whom the roses smile?

 For Whom the Rose Smiles?

For all of us, of course ;)


September Daring Cook’s Challenge – Indian Dosa!

>> Monday, September 14, 2009

It’s time of the month again when all the Daring Cooks reveal their challenge. This month, we take on Indian cuisine with a fabulous Indian dosai with creamy chickpea filling and coconut sauce. All thanks to the fabulous Debyi from Healthy Vegan Kitchen.

Glunten-free Indian Dosas with curry chickpea filling and coconut sauce

Debyi got the inspiration from Fresh Restaurant in Canada. After trying this recipe, I really want to go there and try it for myself. That is to say I absolutely love this month challenge! I cooked the meal for a group of friends, who all love meat, and they enjoyed the dish immensely.

The star of the show is definitely the chickpea filling. I left half the chickpea whole to improve the texture and it was spot on. The filling was aromatic with the heavenly scent of cumin, which I absolutely adored. I also loved the coconut sauce. It was creamy, yet, refreshing with sweetness and gentle sourness of tomatoes.

As for the dosa, I originally used whole-wheat spelt flour to keep the recipe gluten-free. It was quite hard to deal with since it tends to stick to the pan. However, switching to buckwheat flour, the process seemed to be much easier. I added a handful of finely ground dry coconut to the batter to enhance the coconuty flavour.

To go an extra mile, at the dinner party, I made this ghee rice to go with the chickpea and coconut sauce. A big hit again! I cannot recommend all the recipes well enough.

Hope all of you enjoyed this month challenge as well!

Glunten-free Indian Dosas with curry chickpea filling and coconut sauce

Indian Dosas

This recipe comes in 3 parts, the dosas, the filling and the sauce. It does take awhile to make, but the filling and sauce can be made ahead and frozen if need be. You can serve them as a main course with rice and veggies, or as an appetizer. I recommend serving them with this fabulous ghee rice from Malabar Spice.

Serves 4

Equipment needed:
large bowl
griddle or skillet
ladle (or large spoon)
vegetable peeler &/or knife
large saucepan
food processor or bean masher

Dosa Pancakes
1 cup (120gm/8oz) buckwheat flour
A handful of finely ground coconut flake
½ tsp (2½ gm) salt
½ tsp (2½ gm) baking powder
½ tsp (2½ gm) curry powder
½ cup (125ml/4oz) milk
¾ cup (175ml/6oz) water
cooking spray, if needed

Dosa Filling
1 batch Curried Garbanzo Filling (see below), heated

Dosa Toppings
1 batch Coconut Curry Sauce (see below), heated

Dosa Pancakes

1.Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the milk and water, whisking until smooth. The mixture should be just coat the mixing spoon so adjust your liquid accordingly.
2.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.
3.Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter. Makes 8-10 pancakes.

Curried Garbanzo Filling
This filling works great as a rice bowl topping or as a wrap too, so don't be afraid to make a full batch.

5 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)
2 medium hot banana chilies, minced
2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground
1 TBSP (8gm) oregano
1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)
1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric
4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)
½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste

1.Heat a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.
2.Mash half of the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.

Coconut Curry Sauce
This makes a great sauce to just pour over rice as well.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ (2½ gm) tsp cumin, ground
¾ (3¾ gm) tsp sea salt (coarse)
3 TBSP (30gm) curry powder
3 TBSP (30gm) spelt flour (or all-purpose GF flour)
3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth
2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, diced

1.Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.
2.Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
3.Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally.
4.Let it simmer for half an hour.


Photography note: The background is a pretty linen piece I bought from Fresh Fabric on etsy. The owner of the shop is so fabulous!!! Plus, she locates in Australia! :)


Things have been busy around here...

>> Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fruit skewers with warm chocolate sauce

Things have beeb so busy around here. There's personal and family matter to attend to, decisions to be made...

My flat is in a mess, and I struggle to find the time to balance between work, study, and other things in life. Sometimes I wonder if it's time I made a decision to focus on what I want to do rather than running around meeting others' expectation.

Hopefully things will light up real soon.

I leave you with a simple dessert that I styled and shot recently: Fruit skewers with dark chocolate sauce, warmed up with some cinnamon and nutmeg. It was so good, really.

Fruit skewer - top view


How to make Japanese multi-layer marble bread

>> Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Japanese Multi-layers marble chocolate bread

Step-step instruction to really tasty and good looking bread!

When I saw this layer bread a while back, I was hooked. But it did take me a long time to research the bread thoroughly and start making my own version.

The concept of this bread is quite fascinating. You will need to make the chocolate sheet first, which consists of chocolate, condensed milk and flour. The mixture is ‘cooked’ in the microwave to become pliable. To achieve the multi layers and marbling effects, think puff pastry! The technique is exactly the same. This came to me while I was reading a book on how to make puff pastry. Whoever thought of this must be a genius, really.

I got the recipe for the chocolate sheet from a Japanese blogger. Thanks to a friend of mine, the recipe was translated with ease. For the dough recipe, I modified the lovely Hokkaido milk loaf, which has been a hit among Asian home bakers.

The final result is lovely. The marbling effect is quite good for a novice like me, yes? The bread itself has the hint of chocolate throughout. And if you like soft, Asian-style bread, this is definitely for you.

Japanese Multi-layers marble chocolate bread

I have included a step-step instruction. I was alone when making the bread, so the pics were a bit blurry (it’s hard to handle a DSLR with hands full of flour!). Hopefully it helps you to get the idea.

Japanese Multi-layers marble chocolate bread

I have not baking new bread for a while, so this is a perfect occasion to join the weekly Yeast spotting!

Japanese-style chocolate multi-layer marble bread

Quantity below is enough for one loaf.

For the chocolate sheet

30g dark chocolate
55g milk
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
15g plain flour
1.5 tbp corn starch
15g sugar
2 tbps condensed milk

For the bread dough (adapted from this recipe)
220g bread flour
30g cake flour
1tsp salt
1 tsp dry yeast
70g sugar
1 egg
100ml milk
45ml whipping cream
15g melted butter


Prepare the bread dough first!
1. Put all ingredients into the bread machine as per instructions for your machine in the dough cycle. (If you do not have a bread machine, simply knead the dough
with an electric stand-mixer. Remember separate the yeast from salt and sugar to avoid the dehydration. Knead until gluten is fully developed and the dough is elastic, smooth, non-sticky and leave from sides of mixing bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow the dough to ferment until double in size, about 60 minutes).
2. When the dough cycle is completed, punch down the bread dough to release the air and let it rest for 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.

Prepare the chocolate sheet
Put the chocolate in a bowl, and microwave on High for 40s. Take out, stir. If the chocolate is not melted, continue to microwave at 5-10 seconds increment. When the chocolate is melted, mix in the other ingredients. Mix well to combine and avoid any lump.

Put the bowl onto the microwave again. This time for 50 seconds. Take out, give it a good stir. It should be sticky and forming a dough by now. Keep stirring until everything combined.

Spread the chocolate sheet onto the cling wrap. Roll out thinly, store in the fridge while waiting for the bread dough to be ready.

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Forming the bread layer
After the dough has rested, roll the dough onto a floured surface to a rectangular around 30x40cm. Place the chocolate sheet on top. The chocolate sheet should be well inside the bread dough. Wrap the bread dough onto the chocolate sheet. Use your hand to pat down and flatten the dough.

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Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a thin rectangular shape, 20x40cm. Fold the dough in three lengthwise.

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Turn 90 degree. Repeat the above step. Roll the dough thinly, then fold in three lengthwise. The more ‘turn’ you make, the more marbling effects you will have. I turn the dough around 4 times.

Finally, roll the dough into 20x40cm rectangular. Cut the dough into three long strips. Braid them together, put into a greased loaf pan. Cover with cling wrap, and let them ferment in a warm place until doubled (around 40-60 mins depending on your room temperature).

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Preheat the oven to 170C. Sprinkle the bread with some extra sugar if desired. Bake for 35-40 mins or until the bread is done. (The bottom of the bread sounds hollow when knocked). Cool on a rack. Enjoy!


A moment in life #29

>> Saturday, September 05, 2009

The age of innocence

The age of innocence
don't know her name or parents. Just an 'out of nowhere' shot while I was travelling through Wollongong.

Just love the innocence look and the pretty dress that she got on.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend :)!


Spring has come! Recipe: work-in-progress cream cheese castella

>> Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cream cheese castella

So spring has finally here in the land of down under. It is still a bit cold in the morning and late at night, but warm sunshine is abundant during the day. I certainly enjoy these beautiful sights around me. My camera has been very busy. I spent the last weekend in Melbourne, shooting a beautiful and warm gathering. In the next few days, some other (work, food and/or photography related) projects will also flow on. So busy and exciting yet so little time.

You may notice I have been and will be quieter in the blog world for a while. Life inspirations and other duties mean less time for blogging. I will still be browsing my favourite blogs and discovering new ones. But catching up with comments might be a bit slower.

Cream cheese castella

In my kitchen, I have some projects need to be accomplished. Today cream cheese castella is one of them. What is castella, some of you may ask? Essentially, it’s a popular sponge cake in Japan. The cake is a perfect example of how western cuisine has integrated into local food scene. Castella cake was brought to Japan all the way from Portugal but the Japanese have adapted the cake to their very own taste. I have made several versions of this cake in the past. Hopefully one day I can share it with you about the best version yet.

Today version of the cake is not so traditional. Learning from my friend, Sunny, I bake cream cheese castella. Because of the cream cheese, the cake is not as light and airy as the original castella. I am thinking to modify the recipe a bit more by including some corn flour to lighten the texture. Also, I may keep the cream cheese mixture warm so that it will not weight my batter down as much when folded. Any suggestions, my dear friend?

Flavour-wise, the cake is really beautiful though. It’s not overly sweet but rich enough. A fine balance between sweetness and richness, something I miss from Asian desserts. We finish the cake in just a day. A proof of quality I suppose?

Cream cheese castella

So here’s my work-in-progress cream cheese castella. I have included some step-step photos for reference. Hope they are helpful for you.

Work-in-progress cream cheese castella

Recipe adapted from different sources. The quantity here is good for the traditional wooden castella pan which I do not have. I use a 20x20cm square pan and it works fine although the cake is not as tall.


100g cream cheese
50g milk
30g butter
5 egg whites
120g sugar
½ tsp salt
8 egg yolk

1 tbp maple syrup (or honey)
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
135g Flour


Preparation: Sift flour 2-3 times. Butter your baking pan and line it with baking paper. Preheat oven to 170C.

Cream cheese castella - the making

Using a double boiler, put milk, butter, cream cheese in a bowl over simmering water. Whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Put egg yolk, sugar, vanilla and maple syrup in a separate mixing bowl over simmering water. Warm the yolk just until lukewarm. Take out and beat until thick and pale.

Cream cheese castella - the making

Whisk egg whites until soft peak forms.

Gently fold cream cheese into the yolk mixture. Sift flour over the yolk, fold gently to combine.

Gently fold the egg whites into the cream cheese and egg yolk mixture. Pour into the prepared pan. Hit the side of the pan to release some air bubbles.

Bake in the oven at 170C for 10 minutes, then lower the oven to 150C and bake for 30-25 mins.

If desired, when the cake is hot, brush some sugar syrup onto the cake. Invert the cake pan up-side-down to release the cake. Cool and serve.

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