Monday, May 31, 2010

Eurovision and Ice without Cream

Last Saturday was the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest 2010. This was my first time watching it live in Belgium, and just before the program started, I was busy making strawberry ice-cream. I found a recipe on somebody else's blog and I followed it without first understanding the science of making ice-cream. Yah, ice-cream making is not rocket science but you do need to understand how it works. Otherwise you pay through your pocket for some fresh strawberries from Hoogstraten and they went down the drain to become ICE without CREAM.

This Eurovision Song Contest thingy is a scandal. The only thing it taught me was the geography of Europe. But not all countries which participated are European countries. You don't have to be a geography expert to know that Israel is not part of Europe but it is in the Eurovision Song Contest anyway. So are countries like Azerbaijian and Russia. This is because the eligibility to participate is not determined by geographic inclusion within the continent of Europe or the European Union. A country is eligible to participate as long as it falls within the boundaries of the European Broadcasting Area (EBC), or if it is a member of the Council of Europe. And the definition of the EBC is pretty broad, so broad that even Iraq can participate if it wants to. Really I am not kidding, go check out wikipedia.   

Anyway, back to why I said that Eurovision is scandalous. Neighbouring countries would vote for each other, this is especially the case in those ex-communist eastern-bloc countries. It is almost like a kid's game, I vote for you and you vote for me. Bosnia would vote for Serbia, and Serbia would vote for Bosnia. Almost all the ex-USSR countries would vote for their ex-fatherland, Russia. And countries with a huge turkish immigrant population such as Germany would always root for Turkey. Maybe that was why they landed the 2nd position, even though I couldn't even decipher what they were singing. Nevermind their manga-wannabe costumes, their group nick is "Manga" by the way. Ok, they weren't that bad but I am not a fan of Linkin Park. But I was most entertained by this ethnic song from Serbia, the haircut of the singer and the way he danced was so hilarious, and the song sounded like a bollywood song (no offence ;p) !  You should take a look at the serbian entry on youtube, it is really entertaining !

I was pretty impressed by the contestants from Moldova and Romania, but they didn't win. Instead Lena Meyer from Germany won, I am sorry but her nasal voice is not for me and I couldn't even decipher what she was singing in English. I was really surprised that she won. Maybe she looked cute. Tom Dice from Belgium put in good effort with "Me and my guitar". It was a good try really, albeit a bit boring but at least there were no tackish dancers dancing in the background, no spewing of fireworks and no gigantic butterfly wings flapping...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fennel and Onion Soup (Venkel en Ui Soep)

No prizes for guessing what is this plant which looks like a bagpipe.

I cooked this fennel and onion soup tonight and I asked my hubby what the soup contained. He gave a whole string of answers : cauliflower, potato, onion. Just because it looked white and creamy. Well, why didn't he guess it right since it was a taste that he is very familar with? The taste of licorice or anise. The taste of Pastis. (My hubby loves drinking Pastis but I absolutely hate the smell of Pastis.) They call this weird-looking plant fennel in English or venkel in Dutch.

Do you know that fennel is widely used in curry powders and chinese five spice powders? Do you also know that fennel can help in lactation, digestion and prevention of baby colic? Fennel is a common galactagogue. It tends to promote the milk ejection reflex (let-down), rather than actually increasing milk supply. Fennel contains essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and volatile oils. It has been used for gastrointestinal disorders and as an expectorant, and can be a diuretic.

However, one word of caution: Oil from the fennel plant should be avoided, especially for babies. This volatile oil is toxic and can cause seizures and respiratory problems even in small doses. And
just like many other galactagogues, fennel is not recommended for pregnant women!

Well, I had never let my baby drink fennel tea, although it was recommended by the nurse when my baby only did his "big business" once a week during the early months. In the pharmacies here, they do sell 2 different types of fennel tea, one for babies and one for breastfeeding mums. I suppose the fennel tea for babies would contain considerably smaller dosage of fennel seeds so as to avoid causing any undesirable side effects for babies. After giving birth, I would occasionally drink a cup of fennel tea to help with lactation and digestion and it really helped. So I think fennel is ok if you take it in moderation, just like coffee. 

Anyway, back to this fennel and onion soup. It has a rich flavour from the fennel and tastes sweet, largely due to the onions and white wine. You should try it if you managed to get hold of some fennel at your supermarket.

Recipe adapted from here

Fennel and Onion Soup (Venkel en Ui Soep)
INGREDIENTS (for 3-4 persons)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup fennel, chopped (I used 1 whole fennel bulb)
2 tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large non-stick pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

2. Brown onion and fennel over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Sprinkle flour over onion and fennel; stir until well mixed.

4. Slowly pour in chicken broth, dry white wine and bring to a boil, over high heat.

5. Lower heat to medium, cover the pot and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. If you wish, you can use a food blender to puree the soup just before serving.

Smakelijk eten!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Flemish Beef Stew with Beer (Vlaamse Stoverij)

Flemish beef stew, as the name suggests, is a traditional beef stew from Flanders, the northern Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. It is called Vlaamse Stoverij or Vlaamse Stoofkarbonaden in Dutch. This is as Flemish as you can get. Most good Flemish restaurants should have it on their menu. The ingredients are pretty simple too. I used a Belgian beer called Maredsous 10 Triple for this dish but if you don't have Belgian beer, you can always replace it with a good brown beer, or whatever beer you have, although it is highly recommended that you use a Belgian beer because Belgian beers are the best beers in the world, no kidding! Try to use a rich, dark and slightly bitter beer cos the success of this dish pretty much depends on the beer you use. As for red currant jelly (rode bessengelei), it is a jelly-like jam sold in Belgium which is made from red currant or red berries. I suppose you can replace it with a similar jam such as strawberry, blueberry or blackberry jam (though I have not tried them before, you be my guinea pig ok?). If you don't want to open a big bottle of jam and later leave it untouched, just use brown sugar instead, then I won't be blamed. :)

I cooked this stew over a low fire for 2 hours, and at the end of it, the 330ml of beer had simply evaporated or was fully absorbed by the stew meat. (So you don't have to worry about getting drunk! There was 10% alcohol in the maredsous beer and I was still sober after the meal ;p ) Then I added the red currant jelly and cider vinegar and let it cook for another 5 min. The end result was simply yummilicious...You don't have to book a flight to Belgium to enjoy this dish, you can simply try the recipe at home!

(Recipe adapted from "Everybody eats well in Belgium" by Ruth Van Waerebeek, I reduced the proportions by half to make a stew for 3 persons)

Flemish Beef Stew with Beer (Vlaamse Stoverij)

600g stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 bottle (330ml) Belgian beer
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp red currant jelly (or brown sugar)
0.5-1 tbsp cider or red wine vinegar

1. Season the beef cubes with the salt and pepper and coat them with flour. Shake off any excess.

2. Prepare 1 large non-stick skillet/wok and 1 Dutch oven. (I used a large non-stick cooking pot with a heavy bottom, in place of Dutch oven). The skillet/wok is for browning the beef cubes and onions, which will be transfered to the
Dutch oven/cooking pot for stewing.

3. Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in the skillet/wok over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the beef cubes and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Work in batches so as not to crowd the beef cubes. Transfer the beef cubes to the Dutch oven/cooking pot.

4. Add the remaining 1 tbsp butter to the
skillet/wok and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10-15 minutes. If necessary, raise the heat toward the end of the cooking time. It is important to brown the meat and the onions evenly to give the stew its deep brown color. The trick is to stir the onions just enough to avoid burning the but not so often as to interrupt the browning process. Combine the onions with the meat in the Dutch oven/cooking pot.

5. Deglaze the skillet/wok with the beer, scraping with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits. Pour the beer (from the skillet/wok) over the meat (in the Dutch oven/cooking pot) and bring to a boil. (Don't be alarmed when the it foams a lot.) Add the thyme and bay leaves.

6. Simmer, covered, over low heat until the meat is very tender, 1.5 to 2 hours. Before serving, stir in the red currant jelly (rode bessengelei) and vinegar; simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

Note :  
This dish is best made a day before as the flavour improves over time. You may serve it with bread, rice or frites (belgian fries).

(Last Updated on 8 Sep 2011: See also Vlaamse Stoverij met Westmalle Tripel.)

Smakelijk eten!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spicy Tom Yam Bee Hoon - My Own Style


This is not really a thai dish, it is something I invented myself. I thought I would do a fried bee hoon (rice vermicelli) with the MAGGI tom yam stock cube that I have brought over from Singapore, which is expiring soon. So I came up with this bee hoon laced with tom yam sauce. The result is quite good and pretty spicy, hence I am sharing the recipe here.

INGREDIENTS (for 3 persons)
300g bee hoon (rice vermicelli)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 small onion, sliced thinly
2 small chillis, cut finely
1 carrot, cut into strips
150g prawns
150g mixed seafood
3 eggs, beaten
1.5 cups tom yam stock 
(you can use my tom yam soup recipe or MAGGI tom yam stock cube)

1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp sesami oil
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the bee hoon in boiling water to let it soften, drain it and set aside.

2. Heat up a wok with 2 tbsp oil over high heat. Add garlic and stir-fry til fragrant. Then add onions, chilli and carrots and stir-fry for a while.

3. Push the ingredients to one side, add the beaten eggs and scramble it.

4. Add the prawns and mixed seafood and continue to stir-fry.

5. Add the seasonings and 1 cup of tom yam stock and let it come to a boil.

6. Finally add the bee hoon, stir-fry it until most of the stock is absorbed by the bee hoon. You can add the remaining 1/2 cup of tom yam stock little by little if the bee hoon is too dry. Serve the bee hoon while it is still warm.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Apples in the oven

This dish is called "appels in de oven" in Dutch and "pommes au four" in French. It is a traditional dessert served in belgian homes, especially during autumn when it is the apple season and apples are in abundance. This way of baking apples reminds me of how my mum used to prepare chinese pears filled with 川贝粉 (Bulbus Fritillariae Cirrhosae), we call it  "川贝雪梨". She always prepared that whenever I had a terrible cough as "川贝雪梨" is a very good traditional chinese remedy against cough and phlegm. She would dig a hole in the chinese pear, put some 川贝粉 and 冰糖 (rock sugar) inside, immerse the pear in a thin layer of water and let the pear steam in a slow cooker til soft. 

Now doesn't that sound similar to the way apples in the oven are prepared? Indeed! Just that there is no herbal component in the apples. Let's not compare apples with pears, ovens with slow cookers, cos it actually boils down to the same cooking fundamentals, be it western or asian. 

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. This is really a delicious dessert which is healthy, guilt-free, and very easy to prepare, and I recommend everybody to try it!

(Recipe adapted from "Everybody eats well in Belgium" by Ruth Van Waerebeek)

INGREDIENTS (for 3 apples)
3 firm apples (I used JonaGold apples)
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter
pinch of ground cinnamon or ginger (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Prepare a baking dish big enough to hold the apples and add
about 1 cm of water

2. Using a sharp knife or apple corer, slice off the top of each apple and remove the core without cutting all the way through the bottom. Do not peel the apple skin. Fill each apple with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon on top of the apple if you wish. 

3. Bake until the apples are soft but still hold their shape, about 30 to 35 min. Serve warm or lukewarm.

You can soak 2 tbsp raisins in 2 tbsp dark rum/cognac and spoon these into the apples along with the butter and sugar filling before baking. Or you can add a handful of chopped unsalted nuts and add to the butter and sugar filling.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tumeric Chicken

Last night I made this tumeric chicken, and this morning when I woke up, the smell of tumeric is still in the kitchen. Crazy, huh? But like it or not, tumeric is good for the body! Do you know that tumeric, in addition to being used in curries, can be used as an antiseptic for cuts and burns, and also as an antibacterial agent ? It is used as a food additive to protect food products from sunlight as well as a colouring agent to colour cheese, yoghurts, mustards and salad dressings etc.

This dish which I adapted from Mrs Leong Yee Soo's cookbook could well be Indian or Peranakan (Straits Chinese) in origin, I am not too sure. There are a lot of ingredients involved and the steps are quite complicated, but you should give it a try cos the taste is very rich and quite different from the normal curry which is cooked using ready-made curry powder.

Recipe adapted from Mrs Leong Yee Soo.

INGREDIENTS (for 3-4 persons)
600g chicken, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 0.5 tsp pepper 

120ml evaporated milk
120ml water
2 stalks coriander, with roots intact

Ingred A (Mix in a bowl)
1 tbsp coriander powder
2 tbsp cumin powder
1 tsp pepper powder
0.5 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tbsp tumeric powder
1 tbsp curry powder/curry paste

Ingred B (Ground to a paste)
2 small onions
2 cloves garlic
2 cm ginger

Ingred C (Seasonings)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
0.5 tsp salt

1. Marinate chicken pieces for 45 min, with 6 tbsp yoghurt, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 0.5 tsp pepper.

2. Mix evap milk with water, ingredients A (spices) and ingredients C (seasonings) in a large bowl. Add in the marinated chicken and mix well. Set aside.

3. Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan with 2-3 tbsp oil. Add in ingredients B and fry over medium heat until fragrant and oil oozes out. Add in chicken mixture from step (2), stir and bring to a boil. Then continue to cook over medium heat for 15 min. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Reduce heat to low, add coriander leaves and stalk. Cover pan to simmer for 15-20 min or til chicken is tender and gravy is thick.

4. (Optional). If you prefer a thinner gravy, add another 120ml water. Stir and cook for 2 more min. Remove from heat.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Beer Spotting 2 - Postel

Last weekend we had a party and we bought a few types of beer for our guests, namely Chimay, Maredsous, Duvel, Postel, Westmalle Tripel and Jupiler. All are strong beers except Jupiler which is a draft beer. I have definitely tried Westmalle and Duvel before, and maybe Jupiler too. But I have not tried this pretty beer called Postel until last night.

Yes, I called it a pretty beer because it has got a rather pretty label with a blue background and a picture of an abbey on it. It is a tripel and an abbey beer (but not a trappist) with 9% alcohol. On the bottle, you can see the words "Abdij Bier, Anno 1140", 1140 was probably the year that the abbey was founded, and not the year that the beer was founded. It also says in English (and in Dutch, French, German and Italian) that this is a golden belgian abbey ale, bottle conditioned and contains barley malt. Goldkleurig, Belgisch abdijbier hergist in de fles, bevat gerstemout. The bottle also mentions that "De Abdij van Postel, gelegen in de Noorder Kempen, te midden van groene omgeving, is een bezoek overwaard", which means that the abbey of Postel, lying in the Northen Kempen region, in the middle of a green environment, is well worth a visit. Apparently this Postel beer is now being brewed by the Affligem brewery and no longer by the monks at the Postel abbey. 

By the way, did I tell you that, monks in belgian monastries had been brewing beer since the middle ages? This was because at that time (between 500 and 1500AD), it was advisable to drink beer rather than water, since beer went through a distillation process and was hence safer than water which was often contaminated. Beer was also more nutritious since it contained grain and yeast and vitamin B. So the western monks had it good as compared to the asian monks in Shaolin Temple since the latter are not allowed to touch alcohol at all, hahaha.

Ok, back to this beer. If you were to ask me how it tastes like, honestly I can't differentiate one beer from another unless it is something like Rodenbach (my favourite). Unless you let me taste 2 types of beer side by side, then I can tell you if one beer is stronger/lighter, sweeter/bitter than the other. I am pretty clueless when it comes to beer. (I guess practice makes perfect, so I must keep trying, and at the end of beer-spotting number 100, I should be able to give you a good commentary ;p) But I think my hubby is also like me. He claims to be the belgian beer expert but whenever I ask him how a certain beer tastes like, he will say "just like any other light beer/dark beer/abbey beer (just fill in the blanks)...".  That is not very helpful when it comes to choosing a beer at a cafe, isn't it?

Ok, let's just say that it is less rich than Westmalle Tripel, if you know how Westmalle tastes like...hahaha.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cabbage Rice

Cabbage rice was an all time favourite often cooked by my mum when I was living in Singapore. It is the kind of dish that you will not find on the menus of restaurants, food courts or coffee shops as it is essentially not a glamour dish but a home-cooked dish. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think cabbage rice is native to the Hokkien Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia. 

My mum can cook cabbage rice and pumpkin rice very well but I did not jot down her recipe. So I had to do some research before I finally master my cabbage rice recipe. Since then it has become a dish that I cook very often in Belgium.

So here is my recipe, adapted from Delicious Asian Food
INGREDIENTS (for 3-4 persons)
2 cups of uncooked rice, rinsed and drained
Half a cabbage, thinly sliced
200g belly pork/streaky pork, thinly sliced
a handful of dried shrimps (soaked in water until soft, retain the water)
5 dried chinese mushrooms (thinly sliced, soaked until soft, retain the water)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
a pinch of salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat up a wok and stir-fry the belly pork til slightly browned. Set the belly pork aside, and retain the pork fat in the work.

2. Add the chopped garlic and stir-fry until fragrant. 

3. Add the dried shrimps and chinese mushrooms (drained from the water) and stir-fry for 1 min until fragrant. 

4. Add the shredded cabbage and pre-fried belly pork. Mix well. Let the cabbage simmer for 3 min or so until soft. Season with light soya sauce, dark soya sauce and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

5. Finally add in the rice, stir well and make sure the rice is well-mixed with the other ingredients and well coated with the seasoning. Stir fry for 1 min or so.

6. Transfer everything into the rice cooker. Add 1 cup of water (water used for soaking the mushrooms or dried shrimps) for 2 cups of rice. Press the COOK button on the rice cooker and wait for the rice to be cooked. Halfway through the cooking, open the rice cooker, and stir the rice for a while, to make sure the top and bottom parts are evenly cooked.

Note : Usually when cooking plain rice, I will add water until the rice is fully immersed and the water level is slightly above the rice. But for cooking cabbage rice, you need not add too much water, as the cabbage itself will release moisture during cooking. What happened during my first attempt of cooking cabbage rice was that, I added 2 cups of water for 2 cups of rice and the rice became mushy and porridge-like. So I fine-tuned it and finally came up with the proportion of 1 cup of water for every 2 cups of rice.The amount of water should be between 1 to 1.5 cups of water, depending on the amount of cabbage you use and the type of rice cooker.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sautéed Prawns with Orange Flavours

I ran out of ideas on what to cook today. Yes, I do have a whole stack of recipes lying under a layer of dust, waiting for me to try them out. But running through those recipes and deciding on which recipe I am going to do is quite a humongous task. I decided to cook whatever I have in my freezer. So I rummaged through my freezer and found some frozen prawns, and I remembered that I have jotted down a recipe regarding prawns with orange juice. It is called 橙味虾球 in chinese. So here is the recipe. 

(Recipe adapted from "色香味" magazine)

500g prawns, cleaned and shelled
1 egg white
200g corn flour
150g fresh orange juice (2 oranges)
4 tbsp mayonaise
4 tbsp sugar


1. Mix mayo with orange juice and sugar, mix well and set aside
2. Mix prawns and egg white, then dip in corn flour
3. Heat wok, fry the prawns til golden brown.
4. Coat prawns with mixed sauce from step (1). Serve hot, preferably with steamed white rice.

Sorry, but there are no pictures. The prawns went straight from the frying pan to the dining table, then to our stomachs...hahaha.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baking Frenzy - 15 min Chocolate Cake

I think this will probably be the last post of my baking frenzy. My cake-mixer badly needs a rest, at least for a week or so. So many cakes and rolls have been baked for His Majesty 's 1st birthday during the past few days. I have used up god knows how many packets of butter, sugar and flour. Not very good for my bourgeoning waistline. Although most of the cakes were not eaten by me, but I must say I always have a share in everything (good or bad) from my oven. 

I baked this 15 min chocolate cake yesterday afternoon, when H.M. was snoring in his sleep. Yesterday was his actual birthday. It took me 20 min, from the time I measured the ingredients and preheated the oven to the time I popped the cake in. I was pretty amazed by this recipe from Andrea of VietWorldKitchen. No cake mixer, just a spatula and 2 glass bowls, very little to clean up. No beating of egg whites til soft/stiff peaks or beating of egg yolks til creamy. Eggs were simply not required. I didn't even have to fold in the flour. Just stir everything together and pop into the oven. The batter was really thick, and I really had to stir hard to mix the ingredients well. Now I know why the author of the recipe said that no folding of the flour is required.

This is really a quick and easy recipe especially suitable for baking mums with cry-babies like mine! Also ideal for vegetarians who don't consume eggs and for folks who don't have cake mixers. At first I was quite skeptical about whether this recipe will work, but after seeing that a 3 year old can make this cake (see here), I was convinced my 1 year old son can make it too, with a little help from me. But alas, he was soundly asleep, so he wasn't able to join in the fun. :)

I must say that this cake tasted differently from my moist chocolate cake, it tasted more like a brownie. So I now have another chocolate brownie recipe in my collection. :)

Here is the recipe adapted from VietWorldKitchen

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake to serve 8

3/4 cup (90g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup (220g) plain flour
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Optional ingredients: (choose one or none)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used choc chips)

1/2 cup (115g) melted unsalted butter, cooled
1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice)

2 tsp vanilla (I used only 1 tsp)

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350F (175C). Oil a 9-inch, high-sided round cake pan and line it with parchment paper. Flour the pan, tap out the excess flour.

2.  Stir together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the cinnamon, ginger, or chocolate chips, if using.

3. Whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla. Stir into the dry ingredients until all is moistened and mixed well. (The batter is very thick, hence you really have to stir hard. Do not use a whisk otherwise the batter gets trapped in the whisk. Use a wooden spoon or spatula instead. I added in a few more drops of buttermilk when the batter was too dry and unwieldy.)

4. Pour into the prepared cake pan, spreading the thick batter out to the edge. Bang the pan on your counter to even things out. 

5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake has risen and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding. (My oven is a bit quirky when it comes to baking chocolate cakes. I always have to bake longer and at a higher temp. For this cake, I baked at 190C for at least 45 min, until the inside of the cake is no longer wet.)

Note: Although the recipe explicitly stated that a 9-inch cake pan is required, I would suggest a 8-inch or even a 7-inch cake pan so that the cake can rise higher. Otherwise it is a pretty flat cake for a 9-inch cake pan.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vietnamese Pho Soup with a twist

We went to the Chinese supermarket (Sun Wah) in Borsbeek on Sunday (they are one of the very few places in Antwerp province which are open from 10am to 5pm on Sundays). I bought some rice noodles, japanese sushi rice and pak choy (小白菜). My hubby paid for the groceries and on our way back to the car, I realised that there was a mysterious bag of beansprouts (豆芽) in the shopping basket. I didn't put the beansprouts in my shopping basket. I asked my hubby if the cashier had taken the beansprouts by mistake and charged to our grocery bill. He said he had already thrown away the receipt. (So fast??? Why are men always like that? Don't they ever learn?) So we did a mental calculation and figured that either the beansprouts were very cheap or it was given for free by the cashier.

So what do you do with such a big bag of beansprouts? I am the only one who eats beansprouts at home. The Vietnamese Pho Soup sprung to my mind. Good idea, I have everything I need : beansprouts, rice noodles, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, black peppercorns, onions, ginger, fish sauce and beef bouillon cubes. All except fresh sliced beef,spring onions and coriander leaves.  What the heck, I will do an improvised version of vietnamese pho soup with beef meatballs. Who cares, nobody will know the difference, except myself, hahaha.

INGREDIENTS (for 3 persons)
1.5 litres beef bouillon 
50g fresh ginger, sliced
2 medium onions, halved
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
3 cloves
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 tbsp thai fish sauce
500g rice noodles (soaked in boiling water and drained)
100g beansprouts
250g beef, sliced thinly
2 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

1. In a big pot, bring the beef bouillon, ginger, onions, spices and fish sauce to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 min.

2. Pour the bouillon through a sieve and discard whatever is trapped in the sieve. Put the bouillon back into the pot and bring it to a boil again.

3. Divide the rice noodles, beansprouts, and sliced beef into bowls and pour the boiling bouillon over each bowl.

4. Sprinkle some chopped spring onions and coriander leaves on top and serve immediately.

Note :
- I used frozen beef meatballs instead of fresh sliced beef, and I let it cook for a while in the bouillon.
- I used chinese rice vermicelli, instead of flat rice noodles, which I soaked in a bowl of boiling water to let it soften. I added it to the bouillon for a while to let it absorb the flavour of the soup. 
- I used beef bouillon cubes instead of fresh beef soup/stock to make 1.5 L of beef stock.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Courgette Quiche

Courgette or zucchini is only used in our kitchen for making 2 dishes - courgette quiche or lasagne. Honestly I have no idea what courgette is before living in Belgium. I guess that has to do with the fact that courgettes (more commonly known as zucchini) are not so commonly found in supermarkets in Asia.

A quiche, according to wikipedia, has its origins in French cuisine. It is a baked dish that is based on a custard made from eggs and milk or cream in a pastry crust. Usually the pastry shell is blind baked before the other ingredients such as chopped ham, vegetables or cheese are added to the egg mixture. Again, I have not heard of quiche before coming to Belgium. So I can only conclude that, I have opened my eyes to a wider variety of food and cooking methods now than before, which is a good thing. :)

Back to my courgette quiche. This is a recipe which I have cut from a supermarket magazine (you know those magazines that try to sell you some ingredients by dangling a recipe in front of you, saying "please try me"). I do collect this kind of recipes every now and then as I find them invaluable when you run out of ideas on how to cook a particular ingredient. I think this is a pretty healthy and nutritious dish, it includes eggs, ham, feta cheese, greek yoghurt and loads of vegetables (courgette, tomato, basilicum). Ideal for young children (and adults too) who don't like veges as the veges are nicely "camouflaged" in the quiche and the quiche itself looks very colourful and appealing. The 2 star ingredients of this dish are the feta cheese and basilicum, which go very well together and give the quiche a delightful flavour and a rich aroma. :)

INGREDIENTS (for 3 persons)
1 ready-made pastry dough
150-200g cooked ham, cut into small pieces
1 courgette, cut into small pieces
2 big tomatoes, sliced thinly
5 eggs

200g greek yoghurt
100g greek feta cheese, crumbled
4 stems of fresh basilicum, chopped finely
cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste

1. Lay the tart pan (28cm) with baking paper. Roll out the pastry, put it in carefully and prick all over with a fork.

2. Sprinkle the cut tomatoes, courgette and ham evenly across the pastry.

3. Crumble the feta cheese on top, followed by the chopped basilicum.

4. Beat the yoghurt thoroughly with the eggs in a big glass bowl and season with cayenne pepper, pepper and salt. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the quiche.

5. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 35-45 min, until the custard is nicely baked in the pastry crust. 

Note : If you think that 5 eggs is too much for your cholesterol, you can reduce to 4 eggs, but you have to increase the amount of yoghurt (or milk) accordingly. There should be sufficient custard (the egg-yoghurt mixture) to cover the ingredients of the quiche.

Baking Frenzy - Lemon Butter Cake

The last cake of my baking frenzy is a lemon butter cake. What can I say about this lemon butter cake, I didn't expect it to taste so good ! The tangy taste of lemon went well with the richness of the butter cake, and gave it a nice refreshing taste. It is indeed a match in heaven. For all those who love eating butter cakes, you must try this recipe, and enjoy the cake with a cup of earl grey tea. :)

(Source of recipe : Nasi Lemak Lover, reproduced here for easy ref)

INGREDIENTS (for 1 loaf tin)
125g butter 
100g sugar
1 lemon, finely grate the rind
2 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
4 tbsp milk

Lemon Glaze :
3 tbsp sugar
1 lemon, extract juice
1 lemon, finely grate the rind

1. Beat the butter with the sugar until fluffy.

2. Add in the eggs one by one, then add in lemon rind, and mix well.

3. Fold in the flour and milk, and mix well.

4. Pour the mixture into a loaf tin lined with greaseproof paper.

5. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 40mins.

6. Mix sugar and lemon juice and cook over low heat till sugar dissolves, then add in lemon rind and set aside.

7. When the cake is done, remove the cake from the oven and prick all over the cake with a skewer.

8. Drizzle the lemon glaze over the hot cake.

9. For better flavour, leave the cake to set overnight.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Baking Frenzy - Banana Walnut Cake

Nothing excites me more than when I am in a baking frenzy. Luckily that doesn't happen often. Although I do enjoy an adrenaline rush from baking and eating good cakes but my waistline cannot support this habit. So I tried to limit myself to baking 1 cake per week. This exception was broken for His Majesty's birthday. I baked 3 cakes (banana walnut cake, moist chocolate cake and lemon butter cake) and 2 rolls (cinnamon roll and cheesy orange marmalade roll) within 2 days. In the end, I think I really smelled like a cake. The smell of butter in my hair....hmmn, not so nice...if you know what I mean.

This cake is another well-duplicated cake, so many people have baked using this banana cake recipe from Aunty Yochana. I am just another "copy-cat". I have tried this many times but this time round I decided to add in some walnuts, in an attempt to emulate my favourite banana walnut cake from the famous Bengawan Solo bakery in Singapore.

(Recipe adapted from Aunty Yochana's Banana Cake recipe)

180g butter
180g fine sugar
2 extra large eggs - beaten lightly
250g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 bananas - mashed using a fork
50g whipped cream 60g milk
1/2 tsp banana essence
1/2 banana - sliced thinly for decoration
1/2 cup walnuts - grinded

1. Cream butter and sugar till light and creamy.

2. Pour in eggs gradually and beat till creamy.

3. Add in milk, mashed bananas and banana essence and mix well.

4. Fold in sifted ingredients (flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda) and walnuts.

5. Pour into an 8 inch cake pan, arrange sliced bananas on top by pressing them lightly into the cake batter.

6. Bake at 175C for about 50 to 60 mins. 

Note : The original recipe used 50g whipped cream, but I replaced it with low-fat milk, and instead of 50g, I added 10g more milk to make it 60g because I added in walnuts. If you are baking a plain banana cake without walnuts, just stick to 50g of whipped cream or milk.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Baking Frenzy - Moist Chocolate Cake

Whenever I have to bake seriously (all my other baking adventures are frivolous experiments by the way), that is whenever I have intended recipients in mind for my cakes, I always reach out for a few of my much-treasured, tried and tested recipes. One of them is a moist chocolate cake recipe which I have made at least 10 times, if not 20. The recipe was originally from Pusiva's Culinary Studio. I have tried so many of her cake recipes with success but this remains my all-time favourite. You don't need expensive cooking chocolate, just instant coffee powder and some good-quality cocoa powder (I go for Van Houten). The result will be a very delicious and moist chocolate cake. 

I was in a baking frenzy last night and I baked this cake (as well as 2 others) for His Majesty's 1st birthday. I passed the chocolate cake around and the plate came back empty within a minute. :)

Happy Birthday to His Majesty !

(Here is my recipe, adapted from Pusiva)

1 1/4 cup plain flour (150g)
1/4 cup cocoa powder (30g)
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp hot water
1 tsp instant coffee powder or granules

3/4 cup sugar (150g) 
2/3 cup butter (150g)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

3/4 cup water

1. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

2. Dissolve the coffee with hot water. Set aside.

3. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Beat well. Beat in the coffee and vanilla essence. 

4. Gently fold in the flour mixture alternating with water. Start and end with the flour mixture.

5. Pour the batter into a greased (7-inch) baking pan. Bake at 190° C for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. (The cake will always crack, but if the inside is still quite wet, put it back into the oven for another 5 min to make sure it is fully baked.)  

Note : I made a few adjustments to the original recipe. First, I cut down the sugar from 200g to 150g because 200g is far too sweet for me. Second, I always bake at 190C for 50 min instead of 175C in the original recipe, as the cake always take longer than 1 hour if I bake at 175C. I guess each and every oven is different, so you have to adapt the baking time or temperature to suit your own oven. The final result will be a cracked chocolate cake, but don't be fooled by the looks, the taste is really good.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cheesy Apricot Jam Roll

This recipe has been on my mind for a long time and last night I finally plucked up enough courage to give it a try. This is my 1st time trying out this recipe, but it turned out very well (so it must be very fool-proof cos I am a bread idiot.) I tweaked the recipe a little bit and used apricot jam instead of orange marmalade. The rolls are really soft and fragrant and the unique combination of cheese plus apricot jam gives the rolls a sweet, tangy and yet cheesy taste. It is a unique taste but definitely a good match. Kudos to Pusiva for coming up with such a recipe! (I have tried many of her cake recipes and they have always been very good.) Try it out and you will know. :)

(Recipe reproduced here for easy reference, pls refer to Pusiva Culinary Studio's Cheesy Orange Marmalade Rolls for the original recipe.)

INGREDIENTS (makes 12-14 rolls)
2 cups bread flour or high protein flour 
1/2 cup plain flour (65g)
1/2 cup warm water
1 egg
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter (28g)
2 tsp instant yeast (I used Bruggeman)
1 tsp salt

1 cup apricot jam
(original recipe used orange marmalade)
1 cup grated cheese


1. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the warm water.

2. Combine egg, butter, salt, sugar and the yeast mixture. Add flour alternately with the remaining 1/4 cup of warm water. Mix until well combined. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead. Cover and let it rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. (I put the dough in a glass bowl, covered it with a greased clingwrap, and put it in a closed unheated oven with a big bowl of boiling water beside it.)

3. Roll dough out into a rectangle. Cover generously with apricot jam. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Starting from the long side, begin rolling the dough down to the bottom edge, swiss roll style. Cut the rolled dough into 1 inch slices and place on a lightly greased pan 1 inch apart. (Line the baking pan with greased baking paper for easier removal of the rolls.)

4. Let the rolls rise again in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, approximately 45 minutes.

5. Bake in a preheated oven at 200° C for 12-15 minutes.


A more recent attempt on 29 Sep 2011: Orange Marmalade Roll revisited

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Belgian Rice Tart (Rijsttaart)

After my previous post on belgian rice pudding (rijstpap), I thought I should introduce its sibling....the belgian rice tart (or rijsttaart in dutch). I first came across the rice tart when we went to the bakery one morning and out of the many koffiekoeken on display, my eyes rested upon this yellowish little tart. I asked my hubby what that was, and he said matter-of-factly "haven't you eaten this before, it is made of rice".  I took a piece of it, it did taste of rice and milk, the little rice grains were in fact covered in a custard like pudding and the piece I had from the bakery tasted really heavenly. I liked it so much that I was determined to find out the recipe and make it myself. 

I thought to myself...hmmn it shouldn't be too difficult to make this since we always have rice at home. So I searched on the internet and came across this blog by Little Glutton. I was lazy and bought ready made pastry dough for the pie shell. Nevertheless it turned out to be a success. I got my hubby to verify the taste and he gave a nod of approval ! That was many months ago when I baked my very first belgian rice tart. Since then I had baked it many times and I also baked it for my hubby's birthday party. Since it was finished off by the guests, so I reckoned that it must have tasted good and authentic. :)

So here is the recipe adapted from Little Glutton

Belgian Rice Tart (Belgische Rijsttaart)

Ingredients (for making 1 rice tart)
750 ml milk
75g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
135g rice, rinsed and drained
2 eggs
1 ready-made pastry dough

1. Mix the milk, sugar, vanilla essence, and rice in a non-stick pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat,  stirring occasionally to separate the rice grains. Make sure the milk doesn't boil over. Then lower the heat, cover with a lid and let it simmer gently until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the milk. (I used stove fire no. 4 for 10 min and I lowered it to no. 3 for about 30 min,  40 min in total) 

2. Remove from heat and leave to cool for a while, before mixing in the eggs, using an electric whisk for 1 min.

3. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin. It should fit a cake pan or pie pan (lined with baking paper) of about 9.5 inches. Put in the dough and using a fork, prick a few times in the dough, before dividing the rice pudding evenly over it.

4. Place it in a preheated oven (180C) for about 25-35 min until the rice tart turns golden brown. Let the rice tart cool before serving.

The last time I baked the rice tart, it was finished so quickly that I hardly had the time to snap a nice picture. But here is a photo which was hastily taken before the last slice was finished off...

Updated on 20 July 2012: for more pictures of the rice tart, refer to

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