Strawberry & pear agar-agar

This was part of my menu for a tea party. I had to choose some foods to suit the extremely hot weather at the moment, as well as things that would go well with Chinese tea. I flipped through my summer wagashi recipe books and decided that a co0l, non-melting kanten/agar agar dish would go down well.

strawberry & pear agar-agar

strawberry & pear agar-agar

Started out planning green tea and red bean agar, but found my matcha had expired and turned a dusky brown colour *yuck*. Looking around in the kitchen for tasty alternatives, I found  some strawberries in the fridge — small Korean strawberries which, if you’re lucky, can be very sweet. This batch wasn’t, so I didn’t mind using them to make agar-agar instead of enjoying fresh with crème frâiche (Carrefour’s La Reflets de France premium house brand, great with scones too).

I put the strawberries into the microwave for a short while, then mashed them with a potato masher (a fork will also do). As there were only  a few strawberries, I chucked in some canned pears leftover from the improvised gluten-free pear muffins, and mashed up the whole lot.

Measured the fruit puree then added water to make up 1 litre. Put in quite a lot of sugar, which I normally wouldn’t do but since these were for a party, the tastebuds of the guests took priority over my own food preferences.

Heated the mixture and added the agar-agar powder according to the packet instructions, then chilled it in moulds. Super easy and they were a big hit!

The full tea party menu:
Strawberry & pear agar-agar
Pumpkin walnut sponge cake [adapted from this]
Earl Grey creme caramel [using this basic recipe]
Chinese “gong fu” tea: oolong and pu-er

Improvised gluten-free muffins (basic recipe)

improvised gluten-free pear muffins

improvised gluten-free pear muffins

I remember the time when I was really scared to start gluten-free baking because it seemed so complicated, so many types of flour, so easy for things to go wrong, for the baking to fail. A couple of weeks ago, I baked some muffins (if you can call them that) without following any gluten-free recipe book and amazingly, the product was edible!

All I did was to try a direct substition of wheat flour with a gluten-free flour blend in my original basic muffin recipe. Yes, the very first basic muffin recipe, which I subsequently stopped using when I found basic recipe no. 2 gave better results. Basic muffin recipe no. 1 is so easy that you can easily by heart:

2 cups flour
1 cup milk/liquid
1/4 cup oil/butter
1 egg (2 , if you prefer)
1 tsp baking powder
other ingredients of choice – e.g. 1 chopped apple, handful of nuts/dried fruit etc.

I used exactly those quantities together with a few large chunks of tinned pears, and made up the 1 cup liquid with half milk and half pear juice from the tin. Apart from the pears and pear juice, no added sugar. (If you are avoiding salicylates, remember to choose pears in syrup as commercial pear juice contains the peel which has salicylates. Of course if you are on an anti-candida diet, the syrup is probably worse!)

The gluten-free flour blend is the one I described earlier:

8oz/225g brown rice flour
8oz/225g tapioca starch
8oz/225g soy flour

No xanthan gum, no gelatine.

The batter was extremely wet, but I decided to go ahead without adding extra flour. The consistency (and eventual effect) reminded on a crazy improvisation attempt when I dumped a load of mashed pumpkin into a gluten-free sponge cake recipe, thereby completely altering the ratio of liquid to other ingredients — a crazy attempt which I did not blog about because I can’t even remember exactly what I did (brain must have gone on strike, hence giving rise to the mad improvisation to begin with); started out being utterly disappointed with the result and subsequently very pleased when put aside my preconceptions and realised the texture was quite appealing and the taste pretty good.

The result:

It looked beautiful at the end of baking, but collapsed as it cooled after coming out of the oven, just as this gluten-free bean bread did. I’ve discovered the quick bread gluten-free recipe that doesn’t sink is this one that uses gelatine as well.

Taste-wise, I was very pleased although visitors to my home who tasted a bite responded only with a grimace masquerading as a polite smile :). Texture-wise, I’ll repeat what I’ve said in my other gluten-free baking entries; it reminds me of Southeast Asian kueh or steamed cakes, soft and very close-textured, no ‘crumb’, kind of squishy.

The overall effect of the non-wheat taste and texture is certainly very reminiscent of local desserts, so perhaps if I dropped names like ‘muffin’ or ‘cake’ and called it kueh, people would have different expectations and not react so negatively towards my gluten-free baking!

Just like instant packet ramen

Ramen

Ramen

After watching too many Korean TV shows with people slurping enticing-looking noodles, the ramen craving became quite unbearable! Of course commercial packet instant noodles are quite out of the question for me. Not only do the noodles themselves contain plenty of additives, the flavouring is usually more MSG (or other similarly glutamate-heavy MSG-substitute in ‘No MSG’ varieties) than anything else. The last time I gave into a packet noodle craving some years ago, I suffered indigestion, fuzzy-headedness and terrible itching — not worth it at all!

So this time, I whipped up a midnight ramen snack using what was on-hand in my kitchen cupboard. At least with control over individual ingredients, I would stand a much better chance of surviving — and enjoying! — my noodles.

Ingredients for ramen

Ingredients for ramen

INGREDIENTS
Multigrain ramen — packet is divided into single serve sections
Organic wheat-free tamari
Sesame oil
Furikake , Muso brand (white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, salted shiso leaves, ao nori)
Shredded nori seaweed (make sure it’s plain without any seasoning)

To prepare the ramen, cook the noodles in boiling water. This multigrain variety takes at least 4 minutes but it’s much more substantial and more chewy than regular noodles, which I like because it gives a good ‘bite’ and is more filling. Drain noodles and simply toss with other ingredients to taste!

It’s worth mentioning that my ‘safe’ version is only relatively safe. The tamari and seaweed are rich in glutamates and the ramen, although a multigrain variety from the health food shop, is certainly not gluten-free. Watch out also for high salicylate level in the sesame oil. Personally, I would only resort to this once in a way.

Akan Datang (Coming Soon)…

To make up for my slowness in posting, here are some photos to whet your appetite for updates coming soon ^_^!

Ramen

Ramen

Cornbread Muffin (gluten-free)

Cornbread Muffin (gluten-free)

Gluten-free muffins with bean, rice & tapioca flours

Gluten-free muffins with bean, rice & tapioca flours

Chye tau kueh (fried savoury radish cake)

Recently, some friends gobbled down two plates of chye tau kueh from the hawker centre in front of me whilst I munched on my gluten-free carob muffin. They felt a bit guilty comparing their fried dish with my healthy snack but actually I really wished I could eat chye tau kueh too!

I came home and flipped through my mountain of cookbooks and finally found a somewhat poorly-written recipe for ‘Singapore-Styled Stir-Fried Turnip Pudding 星洲炒蘿蔔糕’ in a Hong Kong produced cookbook called Asian Snacks Cooking Course 亞洲小食製作教程.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a more authentic recipe in any of my Malaysian cookbooks (an excuse to buy even more :) ?!?). Anyway, it worked really well so am sharing here with you. You may want to compare this recipe with the one from Lily’s Wai Sek Hong.

This is a great snack option that’s wheat- and gluten-free, also no sugar. As long as you don’t find fried foods too unhealthy :).

INGREDIENTS FOR STEAMED RADISH CAKE

960g white radish/daikon
320g rice flour

Wash, peel and chop the daikon.

Use a blender to puree it, then using a sieve, squeeze out as much juice as possible. You need 3 cups of daikon juice.

Mix rice flour with daikon juice in a pot over low heat. The original recipe only uses the juice, but I put in all the daikon pulp as well so as not to waste it.

Stir until it the mixture thickens. This part requires careful attention as it can take quite a while to thicken on low heat but if the stove is too hot, it will clump together very quickly.

Pour the thickened batter into a greased mould, such as an aluminium cake tin. A 9-inch round tin is actually better than the one I used in the photo because it won’t be so full, and because the cake won’t be in such a thick layer, it will take a shorter time to be fully cook. Dark-coloured heavy cake tins are not good for steaming, they don’t seem to conduct heat very well.

Steam for 1 hour. Test for doneness with a chopstick, which should come out clean.


FRIED RADISH CAKE

Cut the steamed and cooled cake into cubes.

Fry ingredients of your choice until fragrant, such as garlic, shallots, minced meat, red or green chilli, spring onions. Add seasonings of your choice.  Traditionally, this is cooked with thick dark soya sauce and preserved turnip and preserved Chinese sausages are a must, with a special chilli sauce for those who like it spicy.

Add the steamed radish cake cubes and fry until browned.

Push ingredients to one side of the wok (or remove from pan), add a beaten egg and when semi-cooked, toss well with all the other ingredients.

My version shown below is cooked with salt (or organic tamari), garlic, stir-fried shallots, green and red capsicums, and topped with raw spring onions and deep fried shallots.

Verdict: close enough to the real thing to keep me happy! Loved the distinct daikon taste in the cake. Now if I can just figure out how to make preserved turnip or chye poh at home, the other members of the family might actually enjoy this as much as me :).

Nearly 1kg of daikon makes a lot of chye tau kueh and I had this in my lunch bento for days!! Next time I’ll only make half the quantity!

Green tea silken tofu

Following my attempt at making firm tofu using nigari as a coagulant, I picked up some Glucono-Delta Lactone (GDL) coagulant at Phoon Huat and decided to give this dessert-style tofu pudding (a.k.a. 豆花 douhua/tau huay/ tau foo fah) a go. GDL is thought to be a more healthy coagulant compared to inorganic calcium compounds.

Unlike moulded tofu, silken tofu doesn’t require any special container and produces a greater volume of tofu in relation to the amount of soya milk used. Typically, it takes less than an hour to be ready for serving.

William Shurtleff’s Book of Tofu says that

[GDL is] an organic acid that solidifies soymilk in much the same was that lactic acid or a yoghurt starter is used to curdle dairy milk. A newly discovered solidifier made from natural gluconic acid, lactone makes it possible for the first time to solidify very thin soymilk, and even cold soymilk, by simply heating it to somewhat below the boiling point.

green-tea-silken-tofu-450.jpg

Following the recipe in Shurtleff’s Book of Tofu:
1 tsp lactone, dissolved in 2 Tbs water
3 1/4 cups soya bean milk
1 Tbs matcha green tea powder
3 Tbs sugar or honey

1) First, I began by making soya bean milk and measured out 3 1/4 cups whilst it was still hot.
2) Mixed in 1 Tbs green tea matcha powder and 3 Tbs sugar. As matcha often clumps up, it helps to sift it into the milk and use a whisk to make sure it is thoroughly incorporated.
3) Dissolved the 1 tsp lactone in 2 Tbs of water.
4) Poured the lactone solution into the soya bean milk, whilst gently stirring.
5) I made individual portions by dividing the still liquid soya bean milk into 6 custard cups. You can also leave the tofu to set inside a single pot. There is no separation of curds and whey, unlike the other method of making firm tofu.
6) The Book of Tofu says to let the soya milk stand uncovered for half an hour while it cools and sets, then cover with cling film and refrigerate. I made the mistake of covering the custard cups with cling film right away, and ended up with condensation on the inside.

Verdict: compared to commercially prepared tofu, mine definitely tasted like an amateur’s attempt. The texture, while very light and soft, could have been smoother. There was also a faint sour taste The green tea flavour was quite subtle, and the amount of sugar was just nice – I wonder what it would have tasted like without any sugar at all?

Anyhow, this is definitely worth another try. The Book of Tofu says that nigari makes the most delicate and delicious silken tofu, so I may use that alternative the next time.

My previous tofu-making postings:
Coagulants for homemade tofu
Making tofu at home
Making tofu at home P.S.
Another word on tofu coagulants

Chef Chan at the National Museum & cooking lectures/classes

I’ve been trying out dim sum recipes (steamed radish cake, water chestnut fritters and chewy pumpkin cake) from the cookbook by chef, Chan Chen Hei, without any idea who he is.

But I’ve just discovered that he’s opened a new restaurant at the National Museum of Singapore (the same place with this food history exhibit that features traditional coconut graters among other things). Not that I’ll be able to try it out… I’ve stayed far, far away from any kind of Chinese restaurant after single-mouthful tasters left me feeling unwell for an entire week, on more than one occasion.

Anyway, Chef Chan will be co-presenting a lecture at the museum on ‘Ancient Chinese Food’ with Huang Zhuolun 黃卓倫, the food writer from Lianhe Zaobao, on Sat, 20 Sep 08 from 4-5pm. Get the full details at the National Museum website‘s section on Lectures on Food & Culture. There are other sessions on tea (16 Aug) and chocolate (29 Aug) as well.

If you’re into learning about food and cooking but relate more to organic, healthy and holistic instead, the hands-on classes on tofu & okara, fermented foods, raw food, vegetarian cooking, baking bread (no oven necessary), traditional Chinese snacks and spreads made from nuts, seeds & fruits, then the sessions at Wholesome Living look quite exciting.

I’ve not been for any food classes before so if have any experiences to share, do leave a comment :).

Green tea smoothie with rice & soy milk

This is just too yummy not to write about. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo because I made it for a midnight snack so no natural light for getting good shots. [P.S. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to consume green tea at midnight! I was so hyper when I went to bed :P]

edensoy-rice-soy-beverage.jpg

Of all the commercial non-dairy milks, my favourite is the Rice & Soy Beverage from Eden Foods. It’s got a rich, creamy texture and it’s subtle tastes are probably due to the inclusion of amazake, which is made from organic short grain brown rice and the fermentation starter, koji (Aspergillus Oryzae) as well as kombu seaweed. As amazake is fermented, those on a strict anti-candida diet should probably avoid this milk alternative. Read more about amazake and a detailed description of the product here.

There are instructions on the side of the carton to make the green tea smoothie:
1 cup Rice & Soy Beverage
1 tsp matcha green tea powder [1 used 1 1/2 tsp]
Blend till green tea dissolves and enjoy!

I have some homemade red bean paste in the fridge, so perhaps tomorrow morning I’ll try a red bean version.

Another word on tofu coagulants

This homemade tofu thing is getting complicated.

Yesterday, I came across this information from Wholesome Living, an organic shop in Singapore that conducts all sorts of cooking workshops:

Commercial bean curds contain chemical substances such as bleaching agent, de-foaming agent, preservatives and coagulant (calcium sulfate a.k.a. gypsum). Commercial tofu manufacturers usually utilize calcium sulfate as a coagulant and marketing it as high calcium food to mislead consumers that it is a good source of calcium to prevent osteoporosis. In fact, this inorganic calcium will cause various health problems such as renal stone problems and so forth. Furthermore from the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective, consuming too much commercial tofu will make your body too ‘YING’.

[Wholesome Living conducts a Tofu, Soy Milk & Okara 2-session workshop that teaches tofu-making with non-mineral coagulants.]

Various websites, especially those promoting particular brands of calcium supplements based on water-soluble organic calcium (e.g. calcium aspartate etc.), support these points; see here, here and here.

On the TCM view of tofu, Paul Pitchford’s fantastic book, Healing with Wholefoods, elaborates:

For most people, its yin, cooling quality needs to be altered by thorough cooking; adding warming spices such as ginger is particularly helpful for cold persons. . . . Eating massive amounts of tofu regularly (as some Americans do) can contribute to kidney-adrenal weakness, loss and graying of hair, impotence, frigidity and decrease in sexual sensitivity.

At the same time, calcium sulphate is the oldest tofu coagulant used in China, with 2000 years of history (see here).

According to this Singapore-oriented discussion thread from 2005, Phoon Huat stopped selling gypsum (sometimes mistakenly equated with borax) as it was banned from sale, and therefore began stocking Glucono delta-lactone/GDL instead.

(GDL), which is naturally found in honey, fruit juices and wine, is the coagulant used for making silken tofu. As the Wholesome Living workshop teaches the making of silken tofu, I suspect GDL is the ‘non-mineral coagulant’ being used. The action of GDL is different from nigari & gypsum type coagulants as it works as an acid, not as a salt (see Asian Foods: Science and Technology by Catharina Yung-Kang, Wang Ang, KeShun Liu, Yao-Wen Huang).

Sounds like GDL is the way to go, especially for soft tofu for 豆花 douhua/tau foo fa/tau huay.

Read my previous posts on tofu-making:
Coagulants for homemade tofu
Making tofu at home
Making tofu at home P.S.

Making tofu at home P.S.

Sorry, in the last post, I missed out a whole bunch of great links with more photos, tips and information about making tofu at home.

The first is this super set of photos & instructions from Chow.com. The best thing about this is that it provides a cheap & easy solution to the problem of finding at tofu box & press! I’ve excerpted the instructions on how to make one from a used milk carton:

tofu-press-1.jpg

tofu-press-2.jpg

(See the original Chow.com page here.)
Personally, I would use a fruit juice carton instead as milk smells tend to linger and aren’t easily so washed off the carton.

Here are some others who’ve tried making tofu:
http://www.bryannaclarkgrogan.com/page/page/3009045.htm [excellent step-by-step instructions and tips with photos]
http://www.codecooker.com/veggiewrangler/tofu/step1.htm [great step-by-step pics and tips]
http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2006/09/tofu.html [has photo of a bottle of commercial Japanese nigari]
http://www.selfsufficientish.com/soyamilk.htm [no photos, very detailed write-up]
http://www.burntmouth.com/2007/10/home-made-seasoned-tofu.html [tofu & spicy-foods-fan, Zlamushka, makes flavoured tofu with spices, both savoury and sweet]
http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com/2007/06/gourmet-tofu-from-your-own-kitchen.html [sage, leek & dried wild mushroom tofu]
http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com/2007/07/update-on-mushroom-leek-gourmet-tofu.html [tomato, artichoke, garlic, basil tofu]

What interests me most are these recipes & tips for making the kind of tofu my whole family loves to eat, the Chinese tofu pudding dessert, 豆花 douhua/tau foo fa /tau huay:
http://www.soya.be/forum/viewtopic.php?p=4297
http://chowtimes.com/2006/03/21/sweet-soy-pudding-tou-foo-fa/ [includes photo of commercial packaged gypsum (calcium sulphate) powder from Hong Kong]
http://www.mycookinghut.com/2007/07/02/craving-for-douhuadau-fu-fa/ [a modified version, using gelatine instead of gypsum]

There seems to be less information on the internet about making your own douhua/tau foo fa. My guess is that it’s because it’s not a tofu dish common in the west and most people making their own tofu are those who have difficulty buying it where they live. On the other hand, douhua is easily available in Chinese communities everywhere, and instead of DIY instructions, you’ll find tons of web discussions on where to find the best fresh douhua stall! For the uninitiated, this article and its discussion board is a good primer and discusses douhua in different Asian cultures.

Speaking of douhua stalls, I’ve long wondered what goes into the syrup they serve; why is it always that orange colour? I tend to have as little of it as possible, sometimes none. Singapore douha hawkers don’t bat an eyelid when I ask for no syrup, but in Taiwan, one stallholder engaged me in a prolonged discussion and even customers sitting at the stall joined in to question my strange eating habits!

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