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 :).

Buying cocoa powder

Just a quick consumer watch note here.

Yesterday I made a horribly unhealthy and amine-overloaded chocolate fudge cake (sometimes this is the only way to get other people to eat one’s baking! but I still managed to cut down the sugar by two-thirds!).

I finished off the remaining cocoa powder from my tin of Van Houten’s, the tall, white, retro-styling tin that’s available in all the supermarkets, then I opened a bottle of cocoa-poweder I’d just purchased in Phoon Huat. Both types were manufactured in Malaysia, but the Phoon Huat one, despite being much fresher, had a distinctly less fragrant aroma than the supermarket Van Houten’s.

Also, having read recipes calling for ‘Dutch-processed cocoa powder’, I asked in Phoon Huat, but they only sell one kind – the disappointing one I bought.

Since Van Houten is originally a Dutch brand, does it mean that all their cocoa powder is ‘Dutch-processed’? After all, it was Coenraad Johannes van Houten himself who invented this process of akalinising cocoa powder to make it more easily soluble in water and produces a milder taste. The alkaline neutralises the acidic cocoa so that it doesn’t react with baking soda (read more here.)

Whisks I use

In the course of my cooking adventures, I’ve ended with a selection of different whisks, and I’ve been trying to understand the differences in how they each work.

First of all, I have a standard metal balloon whisk purchased from Daiso, which has served me very well. I use this for beating egg whites by hand. The balloon shape is good for frothing up the whites.

In addition, I also have a few other less common types of whisks.

From top to bottom:
a) small flat whisk with spiral coil around a single wire
b) small elongated balloon whisk
c) full-sized silicone flat whisk

Whisk (a) comes highly recommended by Delia Smith as good for all sorts of things; it’s referred to as the ‘Wonder Whisk’. Recently, I noticed them being sold in Daiso, so no need to source for some expensive UK brand :D. I usually use it for beating a single egg, or mixing a powdered beverage as the flat shape reaches into the corners of a mug/jug better than a balloon-shaped whisk. The extra coil of wire seems to produce a lot more froth.

Whisk (b) is excellent for beverages as the elongated shape can agitate the liquid throughout the depth of a mug. Easily obtained in Daiso, although I’ve seen them in Phoon Huat for even less than Daiso’s S$2 price (but with less prongs). They are handy stirrers when serving beverages as well, you can give each person one in place of providing a teaspoon.

Whisk (c) is useful for sauces and batters. The flat shape enables the whisk to reach into the corners of pots and mixing bowls, while the silicone coating makes it non-scratch for your pot surfaces as well as heat-resistant. The flat shape does not produce enough froth for beating egg whites. Mine is Cuisipro brand and although I purchased it overseas some years ago, I haven’t seen the exact same item in Singapore so far.

If you’re into different types of specialised whisks, including silicone ones, by Cuisipro, try visiting the Cuisipro agent in Singapore, Razorsharp (which I wrote about earlier).

The spread of bento culture

After being featured in a Newsweek article about packed lunches for preschoolers, Lunch in a Box wondered if bento are a growing trend in the U.S.

Here in Singapore, I’ve begun to notice an increasing number of recent bento cookbooks published in Malaysia. These are bilingual English-Chinese and feature a range of Chinese, Japanese, western and local Malaysia/Singapore foods. The most commonly-found title is this one:

However, I haven’t bought any of these myself because if you already know how to cook, bento isn’t really about the recipes, but about how to combine foods in an aesthetically-pleasing as well as nutritious way, and how to pack the foods. Learning the principles of traditional Japanese cuisine (based on traditional Chinese medicine), which extend to bento, has been the most interesting and enlightening aspect for me. I’m also searching for unfamiliar foods and new ways of cooking them to extend the variety in my food intolerance-restricted diet, and I love the simplicity and back-to-basics character of many Japanese dishes, which is why Japanese cookbooks fascinate me. The Malaysian bento cookbooks don’t include any of these ideas, being a straight collection of recipes with large colour photos of the food packed into cutesy boxes.

The gorgeous photos are another reason why I love well-produced bento instruction books from Japan, and unfortunately the standard of Malaysian cookbooks doesn’t quite match up.

Another aspect of the reproduction of bento culture is in terms of the plastic boxes. While you can find attractive and reasonable-quality lunch boxes at Japanese stores like Daiso, there also exists a selection of cheap, China-made ones. They are very much bento-style, with dual layers, snap clasps and cute pictures, as well as some insulated containers. I’ve seen them at Mustafa (when I went shopping for the coconut grater), but thought they were not worth mentioning as they are very poor quality and more expensive than Daiso’s $2 boxes.

Where to buy takoyaki pans in Singapore?

This question has come up a couple of times in the list of search engine terms that have led to my blog. I haven’t answered the question directly in any of my postings so far (except in the now-defunct ‘Q&A’ page), so I’ll put it up here now.

Firstly, try the Japanese department stores – Takashimaya has the best range of Japanese cookware, also try Isetan.

Daiso definitely stocks them too, and at only S$2 (no guarantees on quality though!).

Another possible place to look for them is in specialist professional cookware shops like Sia Huat in Temple Street.

All about scones

Scones are one of those inherently plain staples that you can add as much or as less little topping to, and which can be made sweet or savoury. That makes them ideal for those with food sensitivities as the whole family can enjoy the scones, customised to each individual. I’ve also turned to plain scones and muffins as bread alternatives when candidiasis has forced me to stay off yeasted breads.

I love scones when there’s nice thick cream available (Carrefour is a good source, in the form of the house brand crème frâiche), topped with a little bit of jam (my vote goes to Meridian brand organic fruit spreads, which have no added sugar and are particularly low in total sugars – as much as half of standard jams or even other organic brands) and enjoyed with a cup of strong English tea (my secret: Marks and Spencer tea bags, especially Red Label or Gold Label, and works out cheaper than standard supermarket brands). Recently, I tried out a few different scone recipes, including a new method I’ve never used before.

The first batch of scones I made were based on this recipe from my grandmother’s notebooks. omitting the sugar and salt. Comparing with Delia’s Smith’s recipe, the amount of butter looked too little to me, so I used a total of 50g butter. I’ve already written a fair bit about the method of making scones here, so please have a look.

N.B. I always make my scones with wholemeal flour. Sometimes I use all wholemeal, the scones here have been made with half wholemeal-half plain flour. The appropriate amount of baking powder to add is 4g (approx. 1tsp) per 100g of flour. Be careful: the same volume of wholemeal and plain flours weigh in differently.

You’ll notice in the photo that my scones were hexagonal in shape. That’s because I used a honeycomb scone cutter (which I’ve described here) that saves you having to roll out the leftover edges again and again. Each time you roll out the dough, it gets more tough too.

The scones came out OK. Even internal texture, dense in the way that scones should be but maybe a little too heavy. The bread-like consistency of this batch could also have been due to the fact that I used high-protein wholemeal bread flour because my packet was expiring and had to be used up quickly.

When I made scones again the following week, I decided to try out an interesting alternative method, which I saw on an America’s Test Kitchen free online video. In this method, the block of butter is frozen, then grated, and the grated bits then quickly mixed into the flour, without rubbing in. After adding the milk to make a dough and rolling it out, more grated butter is sprinkled evenly over the rolled out dough. Make sure that all your ingredients, not just the butter, are very cold.

Similar to making puff pastry, the dough is then folded in half and rolled out again, then put in the freezer to chill. After a short while, repeat the process by sprinkling more grated frozen butter, folding over and rolling out again, then put it back into the freezer.

Reading the buttermilk biscuits recipe in Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, I’ve just learnt more about this method:

This dough is rolled and folded repeatedly before it is cut into biscuits, a technique referred to as lamination. Laminating a dough in this manner creates layers that add extra flakiness and height to the finished biscuit. Try to make as few scraps as possible. After cutting, you can reroll the dough scraps and cut out more biscuits, but the biscuits made from the trimmings are usually a little less tender than the first ones.

As I didn’t have the exact quantities of butter from the video, I adapted this cheese & garlic scones recipe I have used with great success many times. Instead of the 1/2 cup grated cheese, I measured out the same amount of grated butter. The main problem is that in the hot Singapore weather, grated butter bits melt faster than you can say ‘frozen butter’, which a big problem as you need to prevent the butter from melting in order to get the desired flaky texture.

When you take the dough out from the freezer after it’s chilled, roll out and shape the dough into a rectangular piece about 1/2-inch thick, this time, you can add dried fruit (raisins, blueberries, cranberries etc), distributing them evenly over the dough surface.

Fold the rectangle into thirds, so that it resembles a sort of loaf shape. Slice the loaf into pieces to shape the scones. I much prefer this method of shaping scones to using a cutter. It’s messy to keep having to roll out the dough and be left with odd bits, not to mention the problem of overworking the dough through repeated rolling out. Another method of shaping I use is to pat the dough into a round and cut into wedges.

Bake as normal. Recommended hot oven of 220°C for about 10 minutes or until golden and fragrant.

As you can see from the photo, the results here were distinctive in the lighter, flaky texture produced by the butter and puff pastry method. I loved it! According to the video, the trick is in really, really cold butter and dough, and quick, light handling.

The original recipe included plenty of sugar as well so that this scone is more like eating a piece of cake, without any extra cream, butter, jam that needs to be added when serving.

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]


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.

Some bento photos

Random bento porn for your viewing pleasure.

Almost vegetarian if you skip the chicken (^.^) : Wild rice + brown rice mix; shiitake mushrooms & chicken stir-fry; chokos & pumpkin stir-fry.

A vegetarian lunch: wholewheat flat noodles stir-fried with shredded omelette, konnyaku strips, kouya tofu (freeze dried tofu), firm tofu/taukwa, strips of pumpkin, spring onions, chopped garlic and topped with fried shallots.

Another vegetarian bento: Couscous, cooked with garlic, onions, raisins, dried cranberries plus toasted pecans, raw tomato, cucumber and spring onions; Japanese sweet potato, with caramelised onions; stir-fried broccoli with chopped garlic.

Sausages without the nasties


I was browsing the specialist butchery, The Butcher, next door to Phoon Huat Holland Village (or rather, Chip Bee Gardens) and came across these sausages that are marked as gluten-free and preservative-free. They are made in-house using just minced meat (choice of chicken, beef or pork), rice flour, salt and pepper, then frozen.


They don’t seem to taste as salty as normal commercial sausages, but I’m not sure what meat cuts go into them, so they are probably still very high fat. If you have a food sensitivity to amines, all preserved meats have them, even sausages without nasties :).

With these, I finally tasted sausage again after years! It’s great to have them as an occasional junk food indulgence, though I certainly wouldn’t eat them often. At a price of S$28/kg, your wallet will also encourage you to ration them!

If you have more specific dietary or culinary needs, The Butcher’s website says:

The Butcher’s sausages are carefully handmade from Australian meat and all natural sheep/hog casings. The Butcher boasts the largest variety of sausages in Singapore and can tailor make sausages to our customer’s requirements.

You can view and buy the sausages online here.

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.