Anzacs cookies: cute version

IMG_2930_crop

I’ve been very happy with the Anzacs recipe I’ve been using, except for the fact that I find the cookies fall apart too easily.

This time I tried making them in tiny paper cups, and it worked really well. I also used baby oats instead of rolled oats for a finer texture.

You don’t lose any oat crumbs as you can simply pour them into your mouth! Plus they look pretty and cute (^.^)

Weight-volume ratios in gluten-free baking

In my last posting giving a rice, tapioca and soy gluten-free flour mix, I provided the quantities in weight measures:

8oz/225g white rice flour
8oz/225g tapioca starch
8oz/225g defatted soy flour

These are also provided in the original recipe book,  Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, in terms of volume measures:

1 1/2 cups white rice flour
1 3/4 cups  tapioca starch
2 1/4 cups defatted soy flour

However, it’s worth remembering that different flours have varying weight to volume ratios. Given that ‘alternative’ non-wheat flours can be prepared in many ways, one cannot be sure that the type used by the recipe book author is the same as the one you are using. For example, I’ve noticed that white rice flour produced for Chinese cooking seems to be finer and more white than white rice flour available in Indian grocery shops, and of course these are quite different from the brown rice flour from the organic shop.Even for regular, non-gluten-free baking, it’s always better to use weight measures for accuracy. (See also my page on Flours.)

In Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, the base measurement is in weight, as each flour blend recipe makes up 1.5lb, so it’s better to go with the weight measures rather than the volume measures.

In my case, I also substitute flours a lot. As I mentioned, I replaced the white rice flour with brown rice flour and defatted soy flour with regular organic soy flour (US product, purchased in Phoon Huat; possibly different from Asian soy flours and homemade soy flours). So if you are a reckless substituter like me — I must be congenitally predisposed to being unable to follow recipes exactly :) — always use weight measures.

After substitution, these are the approximate weight-volume ratios I ended up with — quite different from the ones in the recipe book:

8oz/225g brown rice flour = slightly less than 1 3/4 cups
8oz/225g tapioca starch = 1 3/4 cups + 1 Tbs
8oz/225g soy flour = slightly less than 2 cups

Gluten-free flour mix: rice, tapioca & soy flours

When it comes to learning about baking, I swear by the detailed explanations of baking theory as well as excellent recipes in Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, so I was thrilled to find a new book from the Culinary Institute of America on gluten-free baking, Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America by Richard J. Coppedge Jr.

The most important principle I’ve learnt from this book is considering the protein content of flour mixes, and then selecting flour of the appropriate protein-level for the recipe. This is similar to using standard wheat flour of differing protein levels in the form of cake flour, pastry flour, bread flour etc. In Chinese language, wheat flour is labelled as low, medium or high protein. Do take a look at the page I wrote earlier about flour, including points on protein levels.

In Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, Richard Coppedge gives five different flour blends listed in order of protein content. In the 150 recipes in the book, he uses each flour blend according to the texture required. Often he also uses a mixture of the different flour blends to refine the final product.

The only flours he uses are:

white rice flour
brown rice flour
potato starch
tapioca starch
soy flour, defatted (the natural oil content has been removed resulting in a higher percentage of protein content; defatted soy flour is noted to improve crumb body resilience, produce a more tender crumb, crumb colour and toasting properties, make smoother batter and give a more even distribution of air cells; see here and here)

as well as:

guar gum
albumen
whey powder
[BTW, can anyone tell me where to find albumen and whey powder in Singapore?]

Not being quite as fussy or precise about my baking results, I haven’t been following his recipes exactly, but simply putting together the flour blend that I find most convenient. Besides, not having albumen and whey powder, I’ve been unable to make up Flour Blend #3 (moderately strong; made with white rice flour, potato starch, guar gum and albumen) not Flour Blend #5 (the strongest; white rice flour, tapioca starch, defatted soy flour, whey powder).

Having already tried Flour Blend #2 (second weakest; white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch) several times, I got some soy flour (not defatted though) to try an adaptation of Flour Blend #4 (stronger; white rice flour, tapioca starch, defatted soy flour). The proportions are:

8oz/225g white rice flour [which I replaced with brown rice flour]
8oz/225g tapioca starch
8oz/225g defatted soy flour [I used regular soy flour; using brown rice flour instead of white rice flour helped to raise the overall protein conten]

As compared to the gluten-free recipes posted earlier which use bean flours liberally, this flour blend has less of a strong taste.

Report of muffin recipe using this rice, tapioca & soy flour mix coming soon.

Bento primer part 3: packing bento

Perhaps the first thing many people associate with bento culture are the elaborate kyaraben (character bento), but everyday bento don’t have to be that difficult. However, the fundamental ideas of packing bento can take your lunchbox from unappetising mess to something to look forward to. It feels really good when instead of being pitied for one’s food intolerances, people think your food looks better than theirs!

You don’t need to do cutesy or complicated, but it helps to have some aesthetic sense to guide you in composition, arrangement and the juxtaposition of colours and shapes. Frank Tastes provides some excellent examples of simple, almost Zen-like bento arrangments. As with developing any kind of artistic sensibility, exposure to as many examples as possible will build up your visual ‘vocabulary’ to facilitate creativity. Apart from the plethora of bento websites, if you have access to a Japanese bookstore, do browse through Japanese-language books on bento for  inspiration — the bento examples and the overall art direction are usually absolutely excellent.

It’s also important to choose a box of the correct shape and size. A shallow box is better as it allows you to lay out the foods horizontally, almost like a painting. Also, if the foods come up to the lid when the box is sealed, they won’t move around during transportation and your bento will still be intact when you come to eating it.

Just Bento oftens discusses the usefulness of bento in controlling portion sizes, and Japanese guidelines on the optimal size for men, women and children are very useful. However, I have also discovered that the volume I can finish in one meal differs according to the type of food. The type of rice makes a huge difference, not so much in terms of managing the caloric value, but in terms of how much is enough to make me feel full. With brown rice, I eat much less than the half-box portion of sticky, short-grain Japanese white rice recommended for standard Japanese bento, and it’s likely you’ll find that with long-grain white rice typical of Southeast Asia and in southern Chinese cuisines, you’ll need quite a bit more than that. Any kind of glutinous rice would be the most filling of all.

Noodle dishes are a different ball game because not only do I consume a larger volume than if I had a meal of brown rice and side dishes, you need some empty space in your bento box to allow you to loosen the noodles and pick up the strands, or to toss the noodles with the topping ingredients (in terms of presentation, noodles look much nicer with the toppings heaped on top than ready mixed).

More bento tips:
Bento primer part 1: foods for bento
Bento primer part 2: planning bento meals

Bento primer part 1: foods for bento

Although this is primarily a food intolerance blog, quite a lot of readers end up here whilst searching the term ‘bento’. It was because of increasingly complex food sensitivities that I was motivated to learn more about cooking and bento culture, so as to be able to adapt recipes and to make my packed meals from home more appetising. The principles of bento culture go a long way in making our food-intolerance-friendly lunchboxes more tasty and attractive. Learning to be creative in those two areas is particularly important when one is faced with the limitations of food restrictions.

So it’s about time I articulated my approach to making bento and this will be the first in a series of posts with my top tips.

Foods for bento

Food intolerances and special diets (including vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher etc.) vary greatly from individual to individual, so only you know best what you can or can’t eat. Even if you do not have food sensitivities, one of the great advantages of making your own bento meals is having the opportunity to provide yourself with healthy, nutritious, fresh food that is free of processed products, preservatives and artificial additives.

Bento don’t have to be filled with Japanese food, as Lunch In A Box demonstrates. My main suggestion to managing food intolerances would be to seek out ingredients and cooking methods from a broad range of food cultures. For example, many gluten-free flours are commonplace in Indian cooking, so I head to an Indian supermarket to stock up on flours for western-style gluten-free baking, and also have the option of making Indian snacks from these same ingredients. Trying new foods and new tastes may take some getting used to but the more cosmopolitan your palate is, the wider your options for finding foods within your restrictions.

When it comes to unfamiliar cuisines, it’s worthwhile doing some background reading on the properties of ingredients and how to handle them, the principles of cooking methods, as well as to understand how tastes & textures are combined. For example, you might want to find out which dishes taste good at room temperature if you don’t have the opportunity to heat up your bento. Also, don’t forget that some ingredients turn rancid quickly, especially in hot weather, including coconut milk.Once you understand the fundamental principles of cooking across different food cultures, it will open up many possibilities for almost limitless experimentation. I’m not a purist when it comes to cuisines and tastes — one can’t afford to be when faced with wide-ranging food sensitivities — I’m only interested in creating a dish that is palatable to myself.

The Muffin Method

Just came across a very detailed explanation of the muffin method with tips on how to do it properly. Much better than the sketchy descriptions I’ve written :).

Please have a look here at the ‘Pastry Methods & Techniques‘ blog.

Choosing insulated mugs

It being the Christmas season and with plenty of sales in the shops, you might be looking to buy an insulated mug. I just saw a newspaper ad for a Thermos warehouse sale this weekend — sorry, I can’t remember the details because I already have enough insulated mugs & flasks and don’t intend to buy anymore (^_^) !

Insulated mugs

Insulated mugs

These are three stainless steel insulated mugs that I have: 290ml Thermos food/soup jar, 300ml Tiger brand slim mug, 450ml Tiger mug with compartment on top of lid for storing tea leaves. Not in the photo is a large 1 litre Thermos food flask I have in which you can make congee (rice porridge).

I’ve learnt that one of the very important thing to look out for is whether the screwtop grooves are on the inside or outside.

Tiger mug - grooves inside

Tiger mug - grooves inside

Thermos jar - grooves outside

Thermos jar - grooves outside

Initially, I used my 290ml Thermos food jar for hot beverages such as tea and powdered grain drinks but soon found that the drink would seep down the grooves and drip down the outside of the mug, making for a very sticky experience. With solid foods, or if you only open the mug once or twice, this is not a problem, but with hot powdered grain drinks, I would replace the lid and shake the mug in between sips throughout the day and every time I opened the lid, I’d end up having to wipe my hands and the mug with a wet tissue (or oshibori, if lucky enough to have one on me ^.^).

To solve the problem, I got my second insulated mug, the burgundy-coloured 450ml Tiger brand one, where the grooves are on the inside. I discovered that of all the stainless steel insulated flasks on sale in Singapore, only Tiger brand has the grooves inside. The bad news is that the big sales – sometimes storewide at department stores or for individual stainless steel brands such as Thermos and La Gourmet – usually exclude Tiger brand. Tiger is also the most expensive of all the brands T_T.

This particular Tiger model has a ‘take-apart stopper’ where the rubber parts can be removed to make cleaning easier. Tea-drinkers can also use the screw compartment on top of the lid for storing tea leaves. However, I’ve never used it as I usually brew tea in a pot and pour the ready-made tea into the mug.

After using my 450ml Tiger flask mostly for carrying tea, I realised that almost half a litre of tea is simply too much caffeine for me, resulting in stomach discomfort (and insomnia if drunk in the evening). And with no/low caffeine or herbal teas, such as kukicha, mugicha, or oksusucha, a large amount of strong brew can produce a rather unfortunate laxative effect on me!

Which led to the purchase of the 300ml Tiger slim mug. This is about the volume of a normal coffee mug, with an elegant, lightweight design that makes it perfect for the lunchbag. I use this flask almost everyday now. It’s so well-used that the charcoal-coloured coating has been scratched in a few places already.

A final word on choosing stainless steel insulated brands, I totally wasted my money on a La Gourmet mug. It’s the type with plastic lid that has a small opening with a sliding cover for you to drink from. No matter how I screw the lid on, the liquid leaks out through the screwtop grooves when I try to drink. The leakage is so bad it’s completely impossible to drink with the lid on. In fact, my freebie giveaway stainless steel mug with where the plastic drinking lid is sealed with a rubber gasket, works way better. Will never be tempted by cheap La Gourmet prices again.

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…?

Gluten-free flours in Indian cooking

Food sensitivities come on many levels and the last few months I’ve tried to work on fine-tuning my diet to take into account foods that I can tolerate, but which aren’t actually great for my system. So I’ve had to face up to the fact that chocolate should only be an occasional indulgence (the same way alcohol is to others, perhaps – both impair brain function!), and now, finally coming out of denial about the effect of wheat and gluten on me. This has been hard because I love baking so much, and alternative flours will always be that much more difficult to work with, requiring plenty of patient experimentation.

Just got a new gluten-free recipe book today, The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread by the late Bette Hagman, and the best thing about it is the explanation of the results from different types of flours. Hagman has moved beyond the rice-based GF flour mix she used in her earlier recipe books — and many gluten-free recipes from other sources also use mainly rice flour as a replacement — as the results are noticeably different from using wheat flour, particularly in terms of texture. She has found that bean flours are much better, particularly for bread.

Hagman’s Four Flour Bean Mix recipe (available ready mixed from Authentic Foods) :
2/3 part: garfava bean flour (a garbanzo/chickpeas flour + fava flour mix, produced by Authentic Foods)
1/3 part: sorghum flour
1 part: cornstarch
1 part: tapioca flour

This sounds pretty exciting but first of all, I needed to stock up on bean and other alternative flours. I immediately thought of shopping at Mustafa, which turned out to have everything I was looking for and more! No need to turn to Bob’s Red Mill flours which costs S$5 upwards for about 500g :). A wide range of non-wheat flours are common to Indian cooking and thus easily available at affordable prices. Cornstarch and tapioca flour are common in Chinese cooking and easily available at regular supermarkets in Singapore (NTUC is the best for a wide range of Chinese & Southeast Asian flours).

Here’s what I bought in Mustafa:
* Jowar flour = sorghum
* Besan/ chana dhal flour = garbanzo beans/ chickpeas [can be easily made at home too]
* Green bean flour = mung bean — the Indian variety looks coarser and less refined than the Indonesian type (hoon kwee flour), possibly the the latter has had the skin removed
* Urid/urad dhal flour = black gram (similar to mung beans)
* Roasted ragi flour = finger millet
* White rice flour — similar to that used in Chinese cooking but the Indian version seems a bit coarser and less white, which could suggest less bleaching (have always wondered about this when it comes to Chinese rice flour)

Other non-wheat flours sold at Mustafa include:
* Bajra/ kambu flour = pearl millet
* Kotu/ kuttu flour = buckwheat
* Makka flour = cornmeal, comes in fine & coarse (different from cornstarch)

Of course, one route to gluten-free bread substitutes is simply to make the Indian dishes that use these non-wheat flours. Here’s a sampling:
* Jowar/ sorghum flour: jowar roti, jowar paratha
* Besan/ chana dhal/ gram flour: besan puda, besan and zucchini pancakes
* Mung/moong dhal/ green bean flour: moong dhal dosa
* Urad dhal/ black gram flour: urad dhal dosa
* Ragi/ finger millet flour: ragi neeru (a drink), ragi idli, ragi biscuits, ragi chakli (looks like murugu), ragi mudde (balls), ragi sandige (fritters)
* Bajra/ kambu/ pearl millet flour: bajra roti, another bajra roti, bajra paratha, sweet millet biscuits
* Kotu/ kuttu/ buckwheat flour: buckwheat pakora in yoghurt sauce, kotu poori, kuttu paratha
* Soy flour: ragi, oatmeal & soy dosa
* Rice flour: rice flour dosa, rice flour roti
* Makka flour/ cornmeal : cornmeal & potato kachauri, cornmeal roti,

Need help deciphering ingredient names in various Indian languages? See this glossary.

For more information on non-wheat flours:
Cook’s Thesaurus: Non-wheat flours
Recipe Tips : Non-Wheat Flours – Grains
Recipe Tips : Non-Wheat Flours – Seeds
Recipe Tips : Non-Wheat Flours – Legumes
Recipe Tips : Non-Wheat Flours – Tubers
and you might also want to refer to my page on using flours in general.

I’ll mix the chana dhal flour with a mix of the other bean flours to replace the ‘garfava flour’ in Hagman’s Four Flour Bean Mix. Will have to open the various packets to check if the other bean flours have a particularly strong taste that will affect the flour mix. Here’s hoping all goes well when I try out a gluten-free, yeast-free bread recipe soon!

Baked beans – homemade & failsafe!

For ages, I have been watching my family members eating tinned baked beans for breakfast, unable to join in because of the tomato sauce which is high in glutamates, amines and salicylates (not to mention plenty of salt & sugar)!! The other day, I finally got down to making Failsafe baked beans from the recipe in the Friendly Foods cookbook.

The result was wonderfully satisfying! Even my family members who are used to the over-flavoured commercial version pronounced this ‘surprisingly edible’.

RECIPE

300g (1 1/2 cups) dried beans – navy, cannellini or flageolet
1 leek, washed and sliced
2 sprigs parsley
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 x 5cm pieces celery
2 Tbs soft brown sugar
1/4 tsp citric acid
3/4 tsp saffron threads [which I omitted, hence the anemic colour of my baked beans]
sea salt

Wash beans and soak overnight with 1.5 litres water. Drain the next day.

Place beans & leek in saucepan. A heavy-bottomed pot for slow-cooking is good, such as a cast iron pot. You can also use a crockpot.Main-Main Masak-Masak › Edit Post — WordPress

Tie the parsley, garlic and celery into a bouquet garni with a piece of string and add this to the pot.

Pour in enough water to cover the beans. Simmer uncovered for about 1 hour or until tender. Remove the bouquet garni.

Add the sugar, citric acid, saffron and salt to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Here I used dried organic navy beans which I bought at Nature’s Glory.

If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, you can use canned beans. It can be hard to find navy/cannellini/flageolet beans, but I’ve seen them at Carrefour and Cold Storage, as well as at health food stores like Eat Organic and Nature’s Glory. Basically, check the stores which stock more western ingredients.

With navy and cannnellini beans being more unusual products in Singapore, even the non-organic canned ones only come in relatively expensive foreign brands. The good news is that tinned, organic navy and cannnellini beans are available at about the same price as non-organic ones :), S$2.30 per tin for Eden brand. Other organic brands cost about a dollar more.

***************

6/12/8 Update:

Tip 1: Make a large batch, divide into serving portions and freeze. Defrost as necessary.

Tip 2: Aside from eating baked beans with bread (gluten-free bean bread for me) and rice cakes, it’s also good with rice. Especially quick and easy if you have cooked rice on hand at all times in the fridge or freezer.

Recently, I enjoyed a midnight snack of Japanese rice and homemade baked beans, topped with strips of Japanese nori seaweed — delicious!
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