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!

Considering making pickled vegetables

As long-standing readers here may have noticed, I like the idea of making from scratch at home products which are often bought as ready-made commercial products. I’ve had a reasonable amount of success with soya bean milk, tofu and salted eggs, which are all very easy.

I’ve also considered making soya sauce at home. While it can be done, as I mentioned in my earlier posting, I’ve decided not to try (at least for now) after chatting to a food scientist who used to work at Kikkoman. During the commercial production process at Kikkoman factories, there is assiduous testing to make sure that the fermentation process does not attract toxic microbes instead of the ‘right’ kind of bacteria, which can easily happen. I’ve also heard how difficult it is to make tempeh at home, and I assume it’s partly for those same reasons.

Another type of food I thought of making at home is Chinese pickled vegetables: mui choy, chye poh, kiam chye — all the things that would give the right ‘kick’ to my somewhat bland dishes. Today’s Sunday Times food question column by Chris Tan addressed this precise issue. The bad news is:

They are not as easy to make as they might seem, requiring successive rounds of drying, seasoning, salting, brining or steaming. These methods may look simple or crude but they are very sensitive to the quality of the starting ingredients, the ambient humidity and temperature as well as the microbes naturally present in the immediate environment.Hence, an experienced eye is needed to tell if the fermentation or preservation is proceeding correctly. Doing this kind of multiple-stage preserving at home is very tricky, frequently entailing much trial and error. Therefore, nowadays most people are content to leave it to the specialists.

The good news is that “many Asian cuisines have easy recipes for mildly sour, briefly fermented pickled greens that are designed to be made and consumed within a few days.” Examples of pickled gai choy, which is a kind of mustard green, include Laotian som pak, Filipino burung mastasa and Vietnamese cai chua or dua chua.

The advice from Chris Tan concludes with this advice:

The Japanese pickling tradition also has many quick pickle recipes. For a good introduction to methods and ingredients, I recommend the book Tsukemono: Japanese Pickled Vegetables by Kay Shimizu.

I don’t have that particular title, but have already been pouring over TSUKEMONO―Japanese Pickling Recipes (Quick&Easy) which is part of my collection of food books. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with how the different types of Japanese pickles taste and I’m not a big enough fan of pickles in general to go all out on experimenting. I wonder if quick pickles will taste more like nonya acar, rather than anything like chye poh…?

for San Francisco readers: Asian Culinary Forum (10-12 Oct, 2008)

For those living in the San Francisco area, I just heard about this event, the Asian Culinary Forum.

Asian Food Beyond Borders
Friday – Sunday, October 10 – 12, 2008

To celebrate our 2008 theme, “Asian Food Beyond Borders,” ACF is presenting an entire weekend of exciting classes, tours, workshops and panel discussions for your enjoyment. Choose your heart’s desire from our extensive a la carte menu of educational events.

To attend any of the Friday and Saturday classes below, register online securely and conveniently. Learn more about our guest instructors, speakers, and presenters on their bio page.

Friday, October 10

The Six Asian Flavors
5:30 – 7:30 pm,  SF Ferry Building

Saturday, October 11

Morning

Chinatown Culinary Walk  *** SOLD OUT ***
9:30 am – 1:30 pm, Chinatown

Chutneys, Kimchi, and Sambal
10:30 am – 1:00 pm, Sur La Table, Maiden Lane

The Politics and Practicalities of Rice
10:00 am – 12:00 pm, SF Ferry Building

Afternoon

Master Wine and Food Pairing
1:30 – 3:30 pm, Le Colonial

Meals, Meaning, and Memory in Asian Diasporas
1:30 – 3:30 pm, SF Ferry Building

What is This? Experts Deciphering the Unfamiliar
1:30 – 3:30 pm, SF Ferry Building

Delights of South India
3:00 – 5:30 pm, Sur La Table, Maiden Lane

Sunday, October 12

ACF 2008 Symposium: Asian Food Beyond Borders
8:30 am – 5:30 pm, Ferry Building

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 :).

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!

Traditional coconut graters

Some time back I wrote about different types of graters, especially those used for grating coconut. [Also read here how we make coconut milk at home.]

One thing that fascinated me was the various styles of traditional coconut graters used in different cultures, and on a recent trip to the National Museum of Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised to find a display of traditional coconut graters.

Museum Graters_6048_450.jpg

You can see here a couple of stool-type graters in the foreground and at the back, handheld versions, one of which looks rather phallic! Partially obscured on the right-hand side towards the back is a suction-style grater similar to the one I described in my previous posting.

This display is found inside the Food gallery, which is one of the four “Living Galleries” and is free entry from 6-8pm daily :).

NM Food Gallery A-1.jpg
NM Food Gallery B-1.jpg
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