Getting a good cuppa out of a teabag

It’s frustrating that a good cup of English-style tea is so hard to come by, even in fancy cafés. I hate paying a lot of money only to end up thinking that the best tea in Singapore is to be found at my home!

Actually the root of the problem is very simple, and it doesn’t have to do with using expensive or loose leaf teas. It’s that the amount of tea leaves must be in the correct proportion to the amount of water. Anywhere that tries to get away with giving you one tiny teabag in a whole pot of water is cutting corners and giving you little better than dishwater :P.

Different brands produce teabags of different size too, so don’t be afraid to use two bags in a mug. For example, I used to think Lipton tea wasn’t very nice, until I realised that one Lipton bag is only good for a teacup of about 150ml, whereas most mugs are about 250ml.

Marks and Spencer teabags are fuller and good for a mug, whereas the fancy organic London Tea Company teabags are Lipton-sized (and don’t taste all that great either, will continue to stick to M&S when I want organic).

When brewing in a teapot for several people, use an appropriate amount of tea, even if that means one bag per person — don’t be a cheapskate!

Breakfast: baked beans, brown rice cake & Chinese tea

Now I can join the rest of my family when they eat baked beans & toast for breakfast with my own version :)!

* homemade baked beans

* organic, salt-free brown rice cake from Lundberg — a crumbly rice cake, not as smooth a texture as Kallo brand, but then again, this one is brown rice. Most rice cakes are soft and taste stale straight out of the packed, especially Lundberg, but nothing a couple of minutes in the oven toaster won’t fix. Be careful as rice cakes burn easily, so set the oven toaster timer for just 2 minutes but leave the rice cakes in for 5 minutes to crisp up slowly in low heat.

* Pearl of the Orient tea from Gryphon brand — Singapore brand of gourmet teas in elegant packing. The extra-large fine mesh bags seem excessive but actually tea leaves need space to expand and release their full flavour. Gryphon’s Earl Grey is lovely (the brand’s best-selling tea in Singapore) but Pearl of the Orient, a jasmine+rose Chinese tea is definitely over-fragranced. Cheapest place to buy Gryphon teas is NTUC Finest at S$10.50 a box of 20 tea bags, $2 cheaper than chi-chi gourmet delis like Culina.

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.

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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!

Best value organic tea

Readers here will know I love drinking tea and that English-style afternoon teas play an important role in my life. As I mentioned earlier, my secret to a successful English afternoon tea is Marks & Spencer’s tea.

M&S Singapore is currently selling organic tea at S$6.50, down from the regular price of S$9.90, for the pack of 80 tea bags. M&S red label tea is also reduced to S$4.90 for 80 tea bags. This compares extremely well with regular supermarket teas which are generally sold in boxes of 20 teabags. The M&S tea bags are packed in vacuum-sealed foil packs of 40 bags each.

Both the organic and red label teas are medium strength and a blend of East African and Indian teas. Expiry is end March 2009.

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.

Muffins: green tea, red beans and pine nuts

Inspired by the visual effect of this cake on Obachan’s Kitchen – the sliced black soya beans amidst the green cake, I decided that today’s rapid-baking session to fulfil urgent take-away snack needs would comprise my faithful muffin recipe, spiced up by matcha, azuki beans and pine nuts.

[N.B.: If you want to stick more strictly to anti-candida principles, then omit the pine nuts and replace dairy milk with alternatives, and perhaps avoid the green tea too. Guess that leaves you with a red bean muffin!]

muffin-green-tea-red-bean.jpg

Ingredients & baking notes:

1) 2 tsp matcha green tea powder for 2 cups of flour. This is the quantity I derived from making green tea glutinous rice balls. A very delicate matcha flavour and I think I could have used more in the muffins as wholemeal flour has a stronger taste compared to white flour so unless you are paying attention, the green tea flavours might just pass unnoticed. The brown colour of the muffin is from the wholemeal flour, no sign of green tea at all (no wonder so many commercial green tea products use colouring).

2) I cooked 1/2 cup dried red beans using this method. Cook till just soft and not disintegrated, and make sure they are dry enough to separate out into individual beans before mixing into the batter.

3) The pine nuts were roasted beforehand, by dry-frying in a skillet over very low heat.

4) Just over 1/4 cup of white sugar went in. I wasn’t sure what would be the appropriate amount to balance out the bitterness of the matcha and the bean taste. In the end, I think there wasn’t enough green tea taste and I could have used a little less sugar (or perhaps none at all, in which case everyone else in my family would be spitting this out at the first mouthful).

5) Decided to use butter instead of vegetable oil today.

Verdict: it was OK tastewise, but I think the main problem is that I don’t like the texture of this muffin recipe anymore. It seems too close-textured and sort of gummy. And they don’t rise enough to produce those enticing giant cracks on the top. [13/2/08 update: reheated the frozen muffin in microwave for a snack, and somehow they seem very nice today!?! The texture is crumbly and light - maybe they just needed a bit more cooking time? Useful to slightly underbake muffins that will all be frozen, so that the reheating won't dry them out too much. The pine nuts and red beans are great but not enough green tea taste.]

I got rather sick of these muffins after a period where I was making a big batch of them once every week or every fortnight (in the days when the only food intolerance friendly snacks I made were muffins and scones). Today was the first time in many months that I’d made them but no, I’m still sick of them.

Looks like it’s time to be more adventurous with my basic muffin recipe. I used to avoid ones that use buttermilk because it’s so expensive, but now that I know some substitutes for buttermilk, there’s no excuse not to try them .

12/6/08 update: made these muffins again as I needed a sugar-free snack (omitted sugar this time) for bento. Increased the amount of green tea powder to 2 1/2 Tbsp and it was great. Also, the texture is definitely slightly gummy. A check on various troubleshooting websites suggests that there’s too much liquid. I also wonder if I have been over-mixing the batter…

green-tea-red-bean-pine-nuts-muffin-0.jpg

Fermented bean paste & Japanese organic products

The miso fish & pumpkin recipe I recently wrote about is actually quite close to a fairly common Chinese fish dish, as you can see here and here. Instead of miso, Chinese fermented soy bean paste (豆酱 or tau cheo in Hokkien dialect) is used instead. A typical jar looks like this.

Concerned about additives and my food intolerances, I have avoided commercial supermarket-shelf Asian sauces for some years now. However, miso is a great substitute for tau cheo, which my family has successfully used even in traditional recipes like Mee Siam, and organic miso is also widely available, in many varieties. I’ve seen a huge range of miso at reasonable prices at Organic Paradise (including macrobiotic grade Mitoku and repackaged Muso brands), plenty of unusual varieties by South River brand at rather exorbitant prices at Brown Rice Paradise. Do choose miso made entirely from soya beans if you want a taste as close as possible to tau cheo.

One thing I’ve noticed is that organic products from Japan can also be found in regular supermarkets, hiding amongst the non-organic products. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found.

miso organic organic miso (in Isetan supermarket)

Udon organic organic udon (in Meidi-ya)

ocha organic organic ocha (in NTUC Fairprice Finest, Bt Timah Plaza)

Kikkoman organic shoyuKikkoman organic soya sauce (in NTUC Fairprice Finest, Bt Timah Plaza) [N.B.: I am unable to discern the production process of this product, but in my experience of trying different brands of organic shoyu, the twenty-four month fermented Johsen Shoyu from Mitoku really stands out with a rich, deep flavour I have never encountered with any other soya sauce.]

roasted-corn-tea.jpg Korean corn tea at Korean grocery store in Novena Square2.

Look out for the kanji or hangul words meaning organic:

udon youji miso youji ocha youji Korean yugioh

as well as organic certification

udon certification miso certification ocha certification organic certification OFDC

Glass tea cups & some teas

I’ve been searching for a nice gaibei/gaiwan (蓋杯/ 蓋碗) for some time now. My tea pots are all far too big for one person, especially for drinking fine teas which should only be consumed in miniscule amounts (partly because of their high caffeine content and very cooling properties, but also in order to savour their delicate tastes). I thought a gaiwanwould be ideal as it can be used for brewing tea as well as drinking milder teas, which can be consumed in larger quantities.

I’ve also always found glass tea utensils to be very pretty as you can see the leaves unfolding and admire the colour of the tea.

These Hario handmade glass items are now on sale in Takashimaya and Istean and I was attracted by their lovely, light, delicate feel. This 85ml fluted gaibei I chose is the cheaper of the two available – S$7.50 (Takashimaya)/S$9 (Isetan & Carrefour) as opposed to the plain glass one at S$23. Oddly enough, in the Hario 2004 catalogue, the fluted cup is 1800¥ and the plain one is 1600¥, so it’s a real steal! I think they are being sold off cheap because they are the last few pieces of a line that’s been discontinued as you can no longer find the fluted items in the 2006 catalogue.

Hario gaibei

The tea shown here is Mitoku brand Mu (無) tea, a blend of sixteen traditional Chinese medicine plants & herbs (in tea bag form), developed by macrobiotic guru, George Ohsawa. The distinctive aroma is pretty powerful, and quite likely to be palatable only to those who are used to drinking Chinese herbal soups and TCM medicinal potions. It’s a potent brew – a tiny shot of this really hits my system! With its pervasive herbal smell, Mu tea is best served in a glass cup like this which won’t absorb the smell. The easiest place to find this Mu (無) tea is at Meidi-ya supermarket at Liang Court, which sells Mitoku products noticeably cheaper than any of the health food shops I’ve been to.

Hario gaibei & cup

In addition to the gaibei, I also bought two tiny matching tea cups (70ml, S$1.90 [Takashimaya]/S$3 [Isetan & Carrefour] each). The 85ml gaibei can brew enough to fill each of the two cups just over half full. The decorative plastic tray is from Daiso (S$2). The fluted decorations give these cups a uniquely retro feel. When he first saw these, my father thought I had dug up some of grandma’s old glassware :).

As glass cups are thin and can be very hot to the touch, they are only suitable for teas which are not brewed with boiling water, i.e. green teas. High quality green teas, such as gyokuro, should be brewed at 50°C-60°C, and everyday green teas at 80°C. Chinese oolong tea, which is a semi-fermented tea, should be brewed at 80°C-90°C. See this temperature chart for Japanese teas.

The tea being served here is Fukujuen brand Japanese gyokuro karigane (to be brewed at 60°C-70°C). Karigane tea is a kind of kukicha as it is the stems and veins of the tea plant, produced as a by-product of either sencha, or in this case, gyokuro. The word ‘karigane’ means ‘wild geese’ because the floating twigs resemble wild geese who rest on the ocean surface with their wings open in the course of their migratory journeys (read more here).

The imagery is so evocative and poetic, and is a reflection of the spirit of tea culture. As my tea appreciation teacher would often say, drinking tea is a way to bring a little window of calmness into our hectic lives. The careful attention we pay to the brewing of the tea and elegant use of the brewing utensils strikes me as being very meditative. To smoothly pour the water from the kettle to the pot, and from the pot to the cups, our hearts must be still and we must focus our concentration on the task at hand.

All the more reason to brew karigane in a glass container to watch the floating wild geese (^_^) …

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