Jul 31, 2008

In the Garden

As it is often heard, or said...that Life is short. So in our busy lifestyles, we should take time off and away from it all and smell the roses and soak into the warm and love of friends and family. Take time to enjoy beauty at its very best and be thankful that God has blessed every moment in your life. Every step of the way.

Imagine standing under a canopy of hundreds of Jade Vine plants..you would think you are in Flower heaven! That was how I felt the last time I went up to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia with my family. We visited a beautiful orchard that had flowers of every kind. The kind that you don't see regularly in any florists or even on the NET.

The tour guide told us this only blooms in cooler temperatures. And it was so beautiful. And he pluck 2 of it, put it together and voila..a butterfly is formed.

And this was by far, the most unique flower we saw that day. Its shaped like a lady's shoes.

And this...well, one of Nature's misfits I guess. Once in a while, you get one of these in your little garden too. So whether its in your balcony or up there at Cameron Highlands where strawberries are grown for sale..it happens too.

A peculiar looking strawberry that is shaped like a Butterfly too.

Jul 30, 2008

Laksa mania!

Thanks to all who have written to me asking me about the Laksa recipe in regards to the Shape Magazine article. Rather than to repeat myself several times via emails, I have decided to put up the recipe here.


Laksa minus the calories!
300g thick rice noodles, soaked to soften
200g grey prawns(medium)
200ml water
400ml low fat Evaporated milk (1 can)
150g laksa paste (see recipe below)
Salt to taste
100g fresh laksa leaves
100g bean sprouts, blanched
5 pieces tau pok/ bean curd puffs, sliced
2 hard boiled eggs

Method for the stock:
1. Boil 200ml of water in a pot. Add prawns to cook for 3 minutes. Drain and peel the prawns. Discard the shells. Add the laksa paste to cook.
2. Remove laksa leaves from the stalks and put the stalks into the pot to cook.
3. Add evaporated milk and simmer over low heat.
4. Add diced bean curd and sliced bean curd puffs to cook. Add salt to taste.
5. Serve the laksa gravy over blanched rice noodles. Garnish with a pinch of chopped laksa leaves, eggs, cooked prawns, and more chilli if desired.

Laksa Paste
Ingredients for 300g paste:
10 red chillies
5 chilli padi
10 shallots
4 cloves of garlic
100g dried shrimps
20g belachan (fermented prawn paste)
2 cm piece galangal
2 stalks lemon grass
50ml corn oil for frying

1. Blend all ingredients except lemon grass.
2. Fry paste and lemon grass in a wok over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes until fragrant.
3. Allow to cool completely.

Extra Tip by Gina
If you can get fresh laksa leaves with the stalks, pluck out the leaves for toppings, and reserve the stalks to be fried with the paste.

The laksa leaves stalks does impart the flavour into the paste making it very fragrant even though you may store in the freezer for a longer period.

Jul 29, 2008

Get in SHAPE!

Finally, the August issue is out on the newsstands. Just grab 2 copies to keep. Showing here what is the rave about. Shape Magazine's editorial staff contacted me and ask me to create a sweet dessert recipe for their magazine. The criteria was :

It has to be a famous local favourite with Singaporeans
It has to use low fat, low sugar ingredients
And lastly, easy to prepare

So I did Bubur Cha Cha..The photographer came to my house early this month to do the food styling. But he found that I had some food styling skills. The interesting thing was the laksa was placed in a cartoon bowl. As I don't have a nice plain white bowl. But it was taken at an angle that you cannot see Snoopy on the other side. Clever!

However, the recipe for laksa wasn't my own. They already had a recipe from HPB(Health Promotion Board of Singapore) but didn't have a nice photo of it. And have ask me to help them. So I cook my own version of laksa, styled it for the front cover shot.

If anyone wants my authentic version, please write to me. Would gladly give it out. My recipe also uses low fat Evaporated milk. Only that my rempah is a killer version..more lemak!

They told me that I may have to write more for them in the near future..so stay tuned for more healthy, wholesome recipes.

Go easy

My doctor told me that once we hit 40, we should go slow and easy with food stuff that are heavily laden with food additives, preservatives, colouring and MSG. A little of each of these ingredients goes a long way. In time, it builds up and it does not pass out properly. It clogs our arteries, forms into stones and collects inside the gall bladder or kidney.

That would mean that I have to eat at home more. So that I can add less of those harmful ingredients. The doctor knows I teach cooking and baking too. And he suggested that I teach my students the same too. To use less of these ingredients in their cooking or baking.

Lately, I have been experimenting with cakes and pastries that uses no baking powder, no baking soda, no leavening agents used in cakes like Sponge gel, or even Cream of Tartar in beating egg whites. I try to use low fat milk, less sugar and substitute it with natural fruits or ingredients that are already sweetened by Mother Nature herself.

And this is my latest healthy cake.. Dried Blueberries Chiffon.

When you use fresh or dried blueberries, and its heated at high temperatures, the colour changes to a mild greyish purple tint. If you eat a cake that claims to have Blueberries and its actually pure Purple in colour, then you know that they have added food colouring to tint the cake.

However, this cake of mine, is natural.

Here's the recipe for the Blueberry Chiffon cake
Ingredients A
5 egg yolks
80g plain flour

Ingredients B
5 egg white
80g fine sugar

Ingredients C
100 g dried blueberries
100ml low fat milk

1. Soak Set C in a small bowl for 1 hour.
2. Using a spoon, drain 2 tbsp of plump up blueberries. Set aside.
3. Puree the rest till smooth.
4. In a separate bowl, add egg yolks to beat evenly mixed.
5. Add pureed blueberries, whole blueberries and flour to mix evenly.
6. Beat egg whites in cake mixer till foamy.
7. Add sugar slowly and beat till egg white peaks.
8. Turn off mixer and fold in egg whites with the rest of the batter.
9. Pour batter into a tube pan and baked in preheated oven 160C for 40 mins
10. Remove and invert the tube pan and leave it out to cool completely before slicing.

I have also tried the traditional Christmas Fruit cake that was often raked in brandy or hard liquer. Mainly because some of my family members are not into brandy flavoured cakes. So I substituted Brandy for Yogurt. The end result was a delicious cake that both my family can enjoy and also my friends who cannot take wine/liquer due to religion or health issues.

And don't we loved those cookies but feared of extra calories of butter, sugar and eggs. Here's one with all the great smells, great taste but minus all the trans fat, and even extra calories.

We should all celebrate LIFE to the fullest. Errr...sorry,... rephrase that to :

Celebrate LIFE to the full minus all the extras!

Jul 25, 2008

To cook with passion & to Bake with Love

I started cooking soon after I got married. Hubby grew up in a family of great cooks. His parents were hawkers selling local Asian food like Teochew soon kueh, pink peng kueh for breakfast and by noon they sell fish ball noodles. By night, I heard his dad sells the teochew beef noodles too.

I can't cook at all. Not even to the day I met him. My mom never allow me to go to the kitchen. Except to have our meals there or to get a drink. So I grew up enjoying food, eating it, savouring it. But never got to learn how to do it.

They say "Love changes everything". Well, in my case, it did. For hubby, I wanted to show him I was capable of change. So I learn some basics in chinese cooking from my mom. But she only taught me 3 things:

1. Stir fry Bean sprouts with salted fish
2. Deep fry chicken wings, Ah Gong style
3. Cook soup with pork bones and throw all the vegetables in

and she didn't teach me to cook rice. Thinking it was the simple thing anyone would know. After all, its cook by the rice cooker.

Good grief! I didn't know about water ratios and each time my rice either turn into porridge or a piece of flatten cake! My dad came to my rescue and show me how to cook rice in a rice cooker. And I didn't know anything about boiling water..dearest daddy bought me an electric kettle. He says just plug it in. Switch it on. Once the water is boiled, the kettle will automatically switched off.

Daddies are godsend!

and mothers are...err...well...hmmm..

My mom gave me a wok which she took years to seasoned and oiled to perfection. Waiting for the day to come that I got married and had a home of my own. She gave that to me. And also a large Cleaver knife.

So here it was this silly woman who couldn't cook. And though she was given such magical tools, she could whip up nothing that was edible for her dear hubby. Then her dearest hubby said to her,

Its actually very nice to eat. Just that next time add less salt.


For every meal, hubby would clean the plates, literally, into his stomach. He never throw away anything I made or try to make. I wouldn't eat some of my own cooked food. I think its really horrible. But he was so supportive of me. Then I told myself, I must MUST MUST learn how to cook properly.

Then came this zest in me that pop out of no where...I started to have a passion to cook. Not just to cook a decent edible meal for him..but to cook with passion just for him.

I don't have photos of past food I cook..only of the present. Along the way, I met people like Pauline D Loh who taught me to understand about ingredients and she taught me how to do food styling and food photography. Now my food looks as good as it tastes too. And there is also Sis Seok Buay who taught me many secrets to a good bake. With these new found skills, I ventured into the unknown with great leaps of faith. Each bake, each dish I cook, failures were non-existence. I had so much confidence now.

Over the years, my mom grew old and tired from the labourous task to cook and feed the family. Some years back, she spend all her weekends with me, teaching me how to cook. But she was a perfectionist at work. Learning under her wings wasn't the easiest thing to do. She is like Gordon Ramsay from Hell's Kitchen...only Asian style.

My dearest sweet mother-in-law, Ah Mak, forever so supportive of me. Taught me everything she knew about making those delicious rice cakes which hubby grew up on.

So this post, dedicates to the people who inspired me to be what I am today..

Can Cook and Can Bake and doing it with lots of Love and Passion.

My mother's oxtail soup

Salmon pan fried and served with home made Green sambal(an Indonesian spice sauce)

Salted Egg yolk Prawns, my friend's Cutejoos favourite

Sweet Vinegar Pork ribs, I saw this on TV while holidaying in Hong Kong in June. Never jot down the ingredients. Just cook by memory.

My home made korean kim chi. Learnt from watching a Korean cooking program on AFC

Jul 20, 2008

Where's my cake?

sigh..if you could hear me sigh... it's a very loud you know.. As I started to collect photos of wedding cakes I have made or taught my students to decorate, it suddenly dawned on me that I never had a wedding cake made specially for my wedding some 18 years ago.


There was a 3 tier wedding cake at the chinese restaurant where we held our dinner. That was a fake one just for photography. The guests were each given a fruitcake wrapped in foil and it had a gold ribbon tied to it. That's the cake.

At that time, I guess, I wasn't into cakes and didn't see the joy of having to look at it in years to come. Even at the wedding reception we had, there was NO cake!

They say as you aged, you see the world differently and wants more things you may never want when you were younger. I guess its true now for me. Oh dear! Did I just aged 10 times? Good grief!

Yesterday I had a cake decoration class at home. When my students left, my 2 daughters wanted to play with the fondant too. In the process of learning and bonding, hubby came and sat down with us..giving all sorts of wise ideas of how we should decorated a cake.

The girls made this with the leftover cupcakes from class.

Natasha tried her hand at making roses with fondant.. then her daddy came and commented that its not up to the mark! Natasha told her dad, "well, its my first rose. So its not as professional as mummy's one!" And its nice knowing that he appreciates the ones I made.

Then I reminded him we had no wedding cake on our wedding day! And then he said "But we have each other. Isn't that enough?"

Well, it is.. It more than enough. We have blessed each other over the years, with more love than anyone has come to know. Sure, we have the usual petty fights. But hubby stood by me in all and everything I wanted to do, trying to do or have done. Whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing. In return of his unfailing love and attention, I stood by him all these years. When he worked late and was never around when we had family parties, sometimes even on the eve of Christmas, I had to let him go to work. Yet, I have never question him or bored with family details. I go to great lengths to learn to cook the food he loved and the comfort food he grew up on. The food his mother did best. I mastered it all.

Yes, now I am contented. I have my cake and I have eaten it too!

Jul 15, 2008

Life in Guangzhou Part 2

I realised a strange thing in Guangzhou. At first I thought it was because it was still winter during my last trip that this happens. Now in Summer, its the still the same...

There is not a single Bird in Guangzhou. You don't hear any chirpy sounds. You don't see them flying around looking for scraps of food near the shops. And when I ate out, I don't see any house flies too. Isn't that strange?

Almost all the roads here are in dismay..my Guangzhou friends tell me its better now, in the recent years, that is.

On the pavement, there is always space for a little business. Any kind of business. This lady sells steamed corn on her cart. The purple one, she says, was Glutinous Corn. Yes, it does smell like it, taste like eating steamed glutinous rice. The corn was sticky but quite tastless.

I just couldn't out some business. What are they selling? Monkey skulls? Some still have hair/fur on it. Tiger claws..eeuuu!!!

And this is a must have to eat when I go to Guangzhou. So far only in KFC have it. Its Portuguese tart that is filled with Japanese sweet potatoes chunks. Delicious!

Today is my last day..tomorrow I fly home to Singapore. Got classes to do. Of Cake decoration and chocolate moulding. Back to life, to reality I guess.

Jul 13, 2008

Life in Guangzhou

Today marks my 3rd day in Guangzhou. And also my 3rd trip here. 1st trip, I travelled with my aunt and her sister and brother-in-law. 2nd trip I came alone. This trip I am alone again.

I've been warned not to travel alone and not to carry too much cash around. I might get robbed, mugged, pushed and trampled over. But each time, God kept me safe. I go to the night spots alone. Trying to blend in with the crowd.

In Guangzhou, I heard from friends here that there is a road called Beijing Lu or Beijing Road. That is a hot spot for locals and tourists to come for shopping, food and more shopping.

So each time I travel here, I make a trip to this place. And yet each time I come here, I find nothing I can buy. Or should I say, nothing I like. This is a paradise for people like my daughters, my niece, Tricia, my sister, Wiu. But definitely not for me!

And possibly not a place for my dear hubby too. He hates crowds. Just look at the crowds here ..in every corner.

The food here is cheap..compared with Singapore. Unless you know where to order decent chinese food, its safer to eat fast food from McDonalds or KFC. There seems to be an endless queue for everything. From fruit juices to BBQ seafood on a skewer stick. You have to pay first, pick up a ticket and go and queue for a stick of BBQ squid!

Taxi are abundant here. Just watch for the "Empty Taxi" sign that is flash in bright red in the front driver's window. Then you just hail for it. It will stop, you hop in and tell the driver where you want to go. Half the time I couldn't get the right accent of the chinese roads, thankfully, my Guangzhou friends have written notes for me to show the driver.

You won't get lost here. As long as you can speak some Chinese. Even if you speak only English, most restaurants have English menu for you to pick and choose. And will have staff who can understand you and help you with the menu.

The only thing I wonder is Halal food. Almost every restaurant or food stall here sells pork in the menu. And I have seen Malay maciks shopping in Guangzhou. I wonder what they eat or where they go for food.

Eating at some restaurants here are cheap. Most of the times I just point at the picture they have on the banner. Half the time I couldn't figure out the fancy names they have given to the dishes. Whenever I come to Guangzhou, I will eat at this particular cafe near the hotel I was staying. Its cheap and good.

Some days I would ask for Beef noodles in soup and a side dish of vegetables. Other days I will order a Wanton noodle soup with vegetables too. And this only costs RMB 8 or S$1.60. That's a steal!

But tonight I wanna go for a double boil tonic soup..this is my favourite : Ginseng Chicken soup. And that's RMB 15 only.

Jul 12, 2008

no bags, no card!

The latest thing now in Guangzhou is No Bags. Means you go shopping with your back pack or your handbag and please bring along your own bag! In the effort to save the Earth, the shopping malls now sell their stuff without giving you a bag.

Yesterday I went to a supermarket and the cashier ask if I have a bag. I said NO coz I am a tourist here. Then she says "$1 please". I have to pay $1 for every bag I used. So I ask her to put all my stuff in one bag.

And just now, I was at Beijing Road(a favourite shopping area with the locals here). I bought a card reader and wanted to pay by Credit Card, then the cashier said "Sorry, no cards allowed"

Luckily I had brought enough cash out or I have leave the place empty handed.

Well, lesson learnt. Next time bring more Cash out and bring a large bag along too!

And look what I bought ...cookie jars. Which I loved to collect although I don't put any cookies in them! Well, if anyone wants this, write to me. I can get it for them. I hope to be able to sell this online at my KC store soon.

This kitty car cookie jar is so beautiful. Well, you don't have to put cookies for humans. You can use it to store your kitty's dry food.

Remember that old nursery rhyme we had to recite as a kid?
There was an old lady, who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't what to do..

I love this..its so cute!

And this..I know my mom would love it too. My mom loves giant cookie jars. I got her one years ago. And she used it to put cotton wool balls for make up!

oohhhh....I simply must buy this too. Topsy Turvy Cups Cookie Jar.

And these mini cups cookie jar. The supplier told me people buy this to put candies, chocolates for packaging. Wonderful idea

Lastly, a muffin like tray made of porcelain. Definitely not a cookie jar. But a wonderful way to serve cookies for a tea party with good friends!

Jul 7, 2008

impulsive buying

I was in Hong Kong last month..on holiday with the family and visiting my aunt and my uncle. We didn't do much shopping as expected. Until one of the days when my uncle brought us to Ladies Market. And I saw that there are stalls selling counterfeit Hello Kitty bakeware and also Pooh bear stuff. So I just bought a few to give to my friends in Singapore.

On the last day, hours before we leave for the airport, we took a taxi to SOGO at Causeway Bay and did a bit of last minute shopping. This is what I called IMPULSIVE SHOPPING! I don't know why I buy these. I don't regret buying it. Just that I can't sell it. Maybe I will give some away to my loyal students who attends all my classes and never ask for discount!

And others I will probably wait for some birthday and give it away.

I will be going to Guangzhou this Thursday..I must restrain myself from this impulsive buying!!!!

Lilo and Stitch Cookie cutters and stamp
Winnie the pooh Pudding tin cups..3 different facial expressions

Honestly I have no idea which cartoon character this belongs to! I thought it looked cute and it was something I could bargain with so I bargain and bargain and just got one of each. I think it was the thrill of getting it at the price I wanted that made me buy it!

and all these silicone trays/moulds were just for me.! This is a diamond shape ice cube mould..

the beautiful silicone moulds for making chocolates or ice cubes

This was pure vanity! Pooh bear cake box with tray for a 7 inch cake. a Chocolate mould for making Tigger, Piglet, Pooh bear and Eeyore chocolates. Buy first, think later!

This is for Melody..she wanted this to make her own ice lolly on a stick. I showed this to my supplier for silicones in Singapore. They will try to source this for me to sell at KC online store! happiness~~

Cupcakes anyone?

These days you either hear someone going for classes on baking or know of someone teaching it. My students have emailed me and ask me to run a series of cupcake baking class with some basic decoration too. Here's what we did yesterday.

They chose what colours they like to have for fresh cream and they all wanted purple. While for buttercream, they wanted something pink.

Among the adults who came, I had a young boy and half way thru the class, a young girl join too. Pretty impressive for these young guns!

Packing up their creative cuppies and ready to go home!

We did a flat icing(spreading buttercream on a cupcake) and swirls which is the most commonly seen on cupcakes.

I used no artificial essence except flavoured oils for the cream as the creams are tasteless besides having all that fancy colours. Overall, the students loved the Tutti-Fruitti Cupcakes the most. It is by far, my best recipe I have used in all my classes. And the recipe I used for the Food and Travel Magazine 2 years ago.

While I heard on my side of town(near my home), there was also a Cupcake decorating demo at Hougang Mall by BIY or Bake It Yourself. Too bad I had class yesterday, or I would have gone down too, just to watch them do it the Wilton way!

Jul 4, 2008

Bountiful Harvest

My neighbour grows Starfruits in his little garden. During the hot months in Singapore, the tree bears much fruit. But the fruit is sour. If he is in a good mood, he would make juice with it. But the recent hot spells was just too much and he gave it all to me. And ask me to come and pluck it when I am free. So yesterday, I went to his little garden with a bag..and look at what I got:

A big bountiful supply of fresh green starfruits. I washed it, cleaned it and weigh it. That's 7.7 pounds or about 3.5 kilos! I sliced it up, 2 kilos went into making fruit wine, the balance were blended with maple syrup, water and lots of ice and made a lovely starfruit juice.

Here's an old photo of the starfruit in fermentation in a jar.

In 7 days, I will get my starfruit wine..which I will save a bottle for my thoughtful neighbour. Here's how the Starfruit wine looks like. Serve chilled, this is so good that I used it to pickled some ginger too.

Ding Dong the bells go ringing...

Today I had a private class at home where I taught 2 sisters how to bake a cake and decorated for their niece's wedding this Sunday, 6th July. I shared with them my favourite recipe which is the Cranberry Yogurt cake. But change the yogurt and added Bailey Cream instead.

So the bottom tier cake was made with Bailey Cream, Cranberries and it was rich and flavourful. The whole kitchen smells of sweet cranberries and bailey cream.

While waiting for the cake to cool, they also had a free lesson on how to cook the Guangzhou Fried Rice and got a tasting of my signature recipe for Nasi lemak sambal chilli with ikan bilis. I also cooked Sayur lodeh(curry vegetables) for them. It was the healthy version which I use fresh ingredients to make the rempah(curry paste) and only Evaporated milk to cook the curry gravy.

After lunch, we settled down to talk about dogs and life..Then I fed them with Pomerganate Soy Milk Ice Cream that was topped with strawberries, granola for desserts.

When their bellies are filled and happy..we started working on the fondant and picking the flavours and colours to mix. They wanted pink as their niece loved pink. Since we bake 3 cakes, the last cake was covered in fresh cream that was tinted in pastel blue.

This, they say, will be brought home and eaten straightaway..as evidence of the labour of love they have done for their niece.

I think they did a good job..because anything you done out of love for someone, is the best gift in the world. That no money can buy.

Congratulations to the happy couple(which I do not know their names!)