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Vietnamese Vegan caramelised coconut banana bread pudding (bánh chuối nướng)

>> Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vietnamese caramelised coconut banana bread pudding

So, we are in the last few days of 2011. How fast has the year progressed? I still have a few resolutions that have not been ticked off. Never mind, that’s what the New Year is for!

 This is perhaps my last post of 2011, which is also my entry for the last edition of Delicious Vietnam. It is sad to let this event go, but I hope there is more deliciousness to come no matter what…

And we have a cake of some sort this time! Vietnamese cuisine is not so famous for baked goodies, I know. But this banana bread pudding certainly won’t disappoint. Although the Viet called it “baked banana cake” (bánh chuối nướng), it is more like a really delicious bread pudding.

This banana bread pudding is completely vegan and a breeze to make. No batter to be whipped up, we use up stale sandwich bread sitting on the counter. The bread is soaked in a mixture of coconut cream and brown palm sugar (or dark brown sugar). Then, alternate layers of bread and banana slices are assembled and baked. The result is a caramelised banana pudding that is soft, sweet with a really beautiful aroma of baked banana and coconut.

There are few more days to enter Delicious Vietnam – the final edition. We have some really good prizes to offer for participants. Do read the announcement here, and join us if you can!

Vietnamese caramelised coconut banana bread pudding

 Vietnamese caramelised coconut banana bread pudding (bánh chuối nướng) 

Based on a recipe from Trieu Thi Choi. There's another variation of this cake which uses condensed milk as well. I like the coconut version much better :)

Printable recipe

About 4-5 large ripe bananas
20g castor sugar
80g dark brown sugar
200ml coconut cream
8-10 slices of white or wholemeal sandwich bread (if using whole meal, chose a lighter texture bread)
2-3 tablespoons of melted coconut oil (or butter)


Peel the banana, and slice them lengthwise as thinly as you can. Sprinkle them with the castor sugar. Set aside.

In a small pot, heat up the brown sugar and the coconut cream. Stir frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and cool the coconut mixture down a bit.

With the bread, remove the crust.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a spring form baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the side of the pan.

Arrange some banana slice at the bottom of the pan. Dip the bread slices into the coconut mixture, soak them briefly, and arrange them onto the banana slice. Repeat this process until you have used all the bread. Top the pudding with a layer of banana. Sprinkle some sugar (extra) if preferred.

Drizzle the pudding with the melted coconut oil or butter. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour. If the top is brown too quickly, cover with a layer of aluminium foil. Bake until the pudding is set.

Take the pudding out, and cool down completely before unmould and slice.


Food Photography in artificial light *a LONG post*

>> Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friends around me know I have a special interest in food photography. It has been 5 years since this blog was open, and I have learned a lot from experience and others. I am not a professional photographer. All my works are experimental, and perhaps are often on impulse. So in this post, I have only documented my experience. Straight and forward.  I hope it helps some of you! :)

Winter strawberries

 {Example} strawberry still life. The white umbrella was at 4pm, higher up.

1 – Light and food photography 

Most of us have heard it before – natural light is the best for food photography! I tend to disagree. While natural light does work wonder in this line of work, it is not the only way. There is a larger degree of control when using strobe lighting. But of course, mastering strobe lighting is a very complicated process. And it is fairly costly compared with natural light. It also requires more disciplined approach to photography, and therefore it is perhaps more suited for more "advanced users". Having said that, there is a number of options out to start the learning process, too.

2 – My first basic set up 

This is my first artificial light set up. I bought a cheap lighting kit from eBay – two stands, two white umbrellas, two lights.

And it works fairly well. After much experiment, I have come to use 30W 5400 bulbs. You can buy these lights pretty much everywhere. The light from these bulbs are soft after being diffused.

This is a good starting point for those who advance from natural light. The source of lighting is continuous, and it is easier to adjust the camera (more on this later). The kit is fairly neat to set up, unlike a lot of other "home-made" soft boxes I have seen around. More importantly, the two umbrellas are mobile enough for us to try different settings and positions. I don't really like the Light Tent, because the light is generally strong and eliminates most of shadow, making it a bit "fake". It is great for product photography. Not so much for food.

With the two umbrella set-up above, the coverage area is enough for small-medium still-life objects. I say "small-medium" because you need to understand the size ratio of light source vs. the objects. The larger the light source, you will get a better coverage and less strong shadow.

Green tea + white chocolate cookies
{Example} Matcha cookies – umbrella is at 9pm, almost same level with the cookies. 

3 - The Elinchrom Set Up 

I acquired two Elinchrom soft boxes recently. It is a flash system, so there are a lot more controls for me to experiment. I am getting used to light meter, flash meter and everything else (my head hurts sometimes!) I am nowhere close, but the Elinchrom has allowed me to explore some ambiance shots.

Finnish Cinnamon Walnut Cookies

{Example} Cinnamon cookies – soft box is at 11pm,high up and point to side wall. 

The major drawback, technicalities aside, is that more professional flash/flash kits are more expensive. I was very reluctant to purchase this kit, until I attended a food pixel's class and was shown briefly how they should work.

Jam thumb print cookies

{Example} - Jam thumb print cookies.  Soft box @ 11pm, slightly behind. 

4 – So, A few advices on artificial lighting and food photos

 Start with something simple – the two umbrella kit I mention above or a light tent. Better still, you can try to diffuse a few table lamps with white cloth and take some experimental shots. (I tried that before. It was ok, but too messy to organise).

Understand your camera mode – When using artificial light, I always use manual mode, because it allows me to control the camera settings. I have heard that the camera built-in light meter is not so good in limited light conditions. So Av Mode (Aperture mode) often leads to "camera shake".

Matcha bubble tea

                                                                                                    {Example} - Back lighting with white umbrella. Heavily diffused!

Using a fast lens – which is good in low light conditions. I used the canon 50mm 1.4 (or its cheaper 50mm1.8 cousin) almost exclusively on the Canon 30D. Now I use 24-70mm and 100mm on the Canon 5D mark 2. I am sure you can find the equivalent Nikon lenses.

 Make sure to use only the main light sources – If you set up something, and leave the normal ceiling light on, obviously it will affect the photos! The same goes to natural lighting actually.

 Reflector – You will need this to control and fill shadow. Since artificial light sources tend to be smaller than say, a window, you will notice the effects of lights on the subjects a lot more.

Tripod – to prevent camera shake! (I have steady hands, but using tripods in these situations do HELP)

Check your white balance Not all lights are equal. You will notice their properties in practice. (eg Flash light is warmer than natural light or the kit light). There are a lot of posts on this already. Google them :).

Sweet corn pudding with coconut milk sauce (chè ngô)
{Example} Sweet corn pudding - white umbrella on the right 

Your choice background colours and materials – it is just my observation, but the darker and non-reflective materials are easier to control in artificial light. It might due to the fact that the objects are closer to the light sources. I've learned that further diffusing of light helps. I put extra layer of white linen on my soft boxes, just like I do with my window in natural light.

 Be aware of shadows and highlights – sometimes, the light falls onto the cutlery and cause unwanted highlight. You may need to change the set up a bit, or experiment with moving the light to different positions.

 All in all, it is all about lighting and how it affects your photography. Hope this little "guide" is of help for those who face the challenge of having limited natural light like me! It is a fun journey of learning ;) And occasionally, you will snap funny photo. Like this pic of my cat, Den. Priceless! =)


My family's cheeseburger recipe.

>> Monday, December 12, 2011

*Announcement* We have some really fantastic prizes for participants of Delicious Vietnam (December, 2011). Read more here and join us!!!

My family's cheeseburger

I didn't appreciate a good burger until our trip in New York. It was midnight and we were jet lag, cold and hungry. We queued up in Shake Shack, waiting patiently. The food arrived fast, and was so satisfying. It was meaty, packed with flavours and substantial. That was the kind of fast food I could enjoy, occasionally!

More locally, I used to love Plan B's wagyu burger so much, I asked Gourmet Traveller to help me with recipe! It was published ages ago, and I still haven't found the time, efforts or money to gather the ingredients to make it.

Instead, I am stick to my go-to burger recipe. I learned it from my friend Kelly a while back and have then adapted to suit my taste. A "normal" recipe, with regular ingredients that can be quickly purchased in any supermarket. Burgers, IMO, should be fast, simple, tasty and substantial. I still love gourmet burgers on occasion, of course.

This recipe is my family favourite. We love our beet roots in burgers, because it is Australian to do so! (joking!). Seriously, beet roots are so good here. You should try, once! Also, we adore our sriracha sauce so much, ketchup has been replaced by it. Can I call this fusion food? ;)


 My family's cheeseburger
Ingredients (make 11-12 burgers)

1kg regular beef mince
3 slices white or wholemeal sandwich bread, crust removed
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons smoked BBQ sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Half a bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste

100g-150g mozzarella cheese, grated coarsely

2 onions, peeled and sliced
Oil to fry

Condiments: lettuce, sliced tomatoes, canned beetroot (drained), sriracha sauce
12 wholemeal buns


Prepare the burger first. Put the meat in a bowl, together with the torn bread, worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, smoked paprika, milk, salt and pepper. Mix well. Form 11-12 patties from the mixture. Put on a plate, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the onion with 2 tablespoons of oil until soft and start to golden. Set aside.

Now, bring the burgers out of the fridge. Pan-fry one side until golden. Flip to the other side, sprinkle with cheese on top and fry over medium-low heat until the burgers are cooked through and the cheese is melted. Set aside and keep warm.

Split the buns in haves and warm them up in the oven. Arrange lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot and one burger in each bun. Top with fried onions. Serve immediately with your favourite sauces.

Cheeseburger, a closer look


Strawberry mocktail

>> Wednesday, December 07, 2011

{Think colors!}

Two of my photos are selected to the final of Eat Drink Blog Photography Competition. I would appreciate it if you can come here and "LIKE" my Hanoi Cafe  & Tea Break Photos! Thank you! xoxo - Anh

Strawberry mocktail

Although we have less of an ideal start to summer, I am still eager that it will come eventually. Actually, I don't love the intense heat that much. Can we get a mild, sunny weather with all the bounties still?

As we move deeper in December, I cannot wait until the year is over. To start something new, something fresh. It is all in the mind, but I need that trigger. This year has been physically and emotionally draining. It will better if certain things become "history" for real.

"Think positive", I remind myself.

Strawberry syrup in the making

So let's do something bright with red, juicy and perfectly ripe strawberries. I have made jam and a lot of smoothie with them. But today, I have settled on a lovely drink which can quench the summer thirst.

The color of the drink is so bright and cheerful, it makes me happy. Perfect for the festive season (I made this for Eid, too).

Poppies. Dancing in the sunlight...

Strawberry Mocktail

The strawberry syrup is really versatile. They can be reduced further to be more syrupy and used as topping for pancakes or ice-cream. I topped the syrup with soda water to make non-alcoholic beverage, but it also can serve as the base for cocktail.

500g strawberries (fresh or frozen)
250ml water
120-150g raw sugar
Juice from one lemon

To serve: lemonade or soda water (chilled), mint for garnish

Wash the strawberries and chopped into pieces. 

Place the fruit, together with the sugar in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a gentle boil until the fruit is soft. Add in lemon juice and water. Gently simmer.

Adjust sugar to your liking now, then turn off the fire. Leave to cool and put the syrup in the fridge to chill.

When ready to serve, put enough syrup for half of a cup(glass). Top with chilled lemonade or soda water. Garnish with mint and enjoy! Cheers!

Strawberry mocktail


Panna Cotta with mango gelee

>> Thursday, December 01, 2011

{Celebrating summer}

Panna Cotta with mango gelee

It is mango time, again.

I cannot get enough of them! The mango season this year has been great, and they are so reasonably priced at the moment. Summer is finally here, you know?

In Vietnamese belief, mangoes are considered to have properties of heat. "Enjoy them in small amount", I could almost hear my mom's advice now. But I can hardly ever resist the fruits, with their distinct tropical sweetness and flavours. To the very least, I am trying to be more moderate by not picking boxes after boxes of mangoes...

Today marks the first day of summer in down under. I wonder where the sunshine is. Never mind, I have these pots of sunshine with me - panna cotta with mango gelee. The panna cotta is perfectly creamy and smooth. It pairs nicely with the tropical flavours of mangoes.

Panna Cotta #2

The colors are so beautiful! I like to present panna cotta in a glass or small milk bottles like this rather than inverting them onto a plate. Much easier this way!

PS: I got these bottles off eBay a while back. I haven't seen them around here...

Panna Cotta #3

Panna Cotta with mango gelee

The panna cotta recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Printable recipe

Ingredients (for 6 small bottles size 125ml)
200ml milk
300ml cream
80g castor sugar
2.5 teaspoons gelatine powder
For the mango gelee 
2 medium mangoes
4-5 tablespoons sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruits)
1.5 tsp gelatine powder

Method {I created the effects with mango gelee at the bottom of the jar}

Prepare the gelee first: 
Peel the mangoes and cut away the flesh from the seed. Puree them finely.

Add sugar to the mixture. Adjust the level of sugar depending on the sweetness of your fruits.

In the meantime, heat up a few tablespoons of water, wait for them to go back to warm. Sprinkle gelatine powder (2.5 teaspoon), and then whisk to thoroughly dissolve. Pass this mixture into the mango, stir to combine.

Divide the mango mixture into 6 bottles. Leave to set in the fridge before proceed to the panna cotta. (If you want the "angle" effect, put the bottles into an egg tray, tilt them a little).

Prepare the panna cotta
Heat the cream, milk with the sugar over low heat. Stir regularly until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Warm 3-4 tablespoons of water. Sprinkle gelatine powder (1.5 teaspoon), and then whisk to thoroughly dissolve. Pass this mixture into the cream mixture, stir to combine.

Carefully ladle the cream mixture into the pot. Set in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Serve chilled.

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