Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Baking cakes in a rice cooker

Hong Kong has many merits, but one thing it lacks is space. And that lack of space extends to one’s home and specifically, the kitchen. My kitchen is functional but small, very small and so rammed with equipment it’s a wonder I can actually cook. But the one thing I am missing, and I think I might have mentioned this before, is an oven. I admit, I probably wouldn’t use it enough to justify having one in the first place, but the absence of one makes me want one more. Sighhhh. So what are you supposed to do if you suddenly want to bake a cake, but have no oven? You turn to your rice-cooker, assuming you have one.

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Peanut butter cake with Häagen-Dazs caramel biscuit ice-cream

Bake a cake in a RICE COOKER? What is this madness, I hear you cry! Stay with me guys, it’s the next best thing since sliced bread. (There’s a pun in there somewhere). I didn’t quite realise how useful the rice cooker (RC) could be until I began some research into using one for baking cakes. Several Buzzfeed articles and tonnes of links extolling the virtues of this humble appliance later, I decided ovens were annoying and my RC was the coolest thing on Earth. Experiments began in earnest- I even managed to roast a tiny chicken in my RC once(!). But cakes, ahhhh the sweet, sweet smell of cakes, that was my real triumph and it’s honestly very straightforward to do in the RC. But how do you know when the cake is ready- there’s no timer! This, my friend, is down to pure experimentation, taking slight liberties with timings that recipes recommend and popping the lid of the RC  every now and then to work out if the sponge is cooked through. If you have baked using an oven before, your baking know-how/ baking sixth sense will help you approximate how much time each particular cake needs- it all depends on the ratio of wet to dry ingredients.

The cakes produced using the RC are a combination of steamed and baked. The cake develops a lovely sort of baked exterior, whilst the inside is moist, light and fluffy. Ginger cake and Peanut Butter cake have become the firm favourites in the RC cake repertoire, but I’ve also quite liked a milo and peanut butter variation and a traditional banana cake. Will be trying a lemon cake soon, so watch this space! Recently I posted on Instagram a new cake I baked- coconut, Malteser spread and peanut butter, (yes, PB is a recurring theme, but it tastes so good in cakes). A few of you were asking for a recipe so I will post it below, together with my Ginger cake recipe, as that’s a real winner!

Some of you will wonder if I have a fancy rice cooker. I do not. It’s old now and I only know how to press ON/ KEEP WARM/ OFF. Lol. One press of the ON button is equal to approximately 20 minutes of cooking time. My cakes usually need 3- 4 cycles (around 60- 80 minutes) of cooking time, but you should use your judgement, sneak a peak and use a toothpick to test whether it’s done.

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My humble Rice Cooker (excuse the terrible photo and lighting)

Ginger Cake

Ingredients:

100g butter

100g muscovado sugar
100g golden syrup
1 large egg
150ml milk
150g plain flour
3tsp ground ginger
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tsp of grated fresh ginger (or however gingery you want it!)
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon
Preparation:
1) Melt butter, sugar and syrup in a pan over a gentle heat. Remove from the stove and cool mixture for 5- 10 minutes.
2) Stir egg and milk into the cooled mixture and sift in all the dry ingredients- flour, bicarb of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ground and fresh ginger.
3) Mix thoroughly, ensuring there’s no lumps of flour floating around! The mixture will be quite runny.
4) Grease the rice cooker and then pour the mixture in.
This cake needs 60-80 mins in the RC- depends on how moist you want your cake!
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Ginger cake with icing- this was a very slapdash icing!

Coconut, Malteser spread and Peanut Butter Cake
Ingredients:
60g salted butter
120g sugar
1 large egg (beaten)
1 small can of coconut milk (160ml)
20ml milk
125g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp Malteser spread (or equivalent chocolate spread- you can use Nutella!)
2 tbsp peanut butter
Preparation:
1) Melt all the wet ingredients together in a pan (same as for the Ginger cake).
2) Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
3) Add the beaten egg and slowly sift the dry ingredients into the wet mixture.
4) Mix thoroughly and then pour into your greased rice cooker.
This cake needs 60 min, so approx 3 presses of the RC.
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Coconut, Malteser and PB cake

And so there you go! Enjoy experimenting!
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Itsy Bitsy Cider

I’m back! Hope you all had a wonderful gluttonous Christmas and New Years and like me, are now trying to undo the waist damage done! And yes, I have managed to a get a blog post in before the end of January, so I can still say Happy New Year readers! Or, in this case, Bonne année et bonne santé for the Francophones, as I’m writing about delightful French cider in this post.

A little before Christmas, the two founders Alex and Pierre of “La Chouette Cider”, which landed on Hong Kong’s shores last August, very kindly sent me 3 bottles of their pure apple juice cider (4.5% alc/vol), which is produced and bottled in Normandy where Pierre’s grand-fathers made cider. I LOVE cider as it’s far more palatable for me to drink versus beer (except for the Belgium fruit beers), I like fruit-based alcohol, so was more than happy to give La Chouette a try. It was great timing as well, as they sent me a packet of spices to make mulled cider!

La Chouette

La Chouette

So how does this cider differ from others? I was interested to find out that they use 100% French “cider apples”, which are specific apple varieties such as Crab Apples dedicated to cider making, whereas most ciders are made from “table” or “dessert” apple varieties. The cider apples provide a more complex aromatic profile with a hint of bitterness (not detectable when I tried it) and a lovely tart edge.

Another attractive aspect of La Chouette is that it is a pure apple juice cider with no added sugar, no added colouring and no added flavouring. Unfortunately most ciders are made from reconstituted apple juice with added sweeteners and sometimes added colourings and flavourings. And what does La Chouette mean? La Chouette, or The Owl, is so named to reflect the relationship between the farmers in the North-West of France who made their own cider with apples from their orchards in barns where owls would nest. Aww.

When my samples arrived I was excited to whip out my saucepan and make mulled cider for myself and the other half. The packaging is clever and cute with an owl face superimposed on an apple outline. Their spice packet of 4 cloves, 1/8 tablespoon of nutmeg, 2 cinnamon sticks and 2 star anise were plonked in the saucepan and 2 of the bottles of cider cracked open and poured in. After 15 minutes of gentle heating over low heat, I served our first homemade brew of mulled cider.

Making the mulled cider!

Making the mulled cider!

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Christmas was served in a mug. It was warm, soothing and delicious. The other half was too busy on the PS4 to fully appreciate the fruity aroma so I pretty much finished 1.5 bottles of mulled cider on my own. Oh well! Due to the natural sugars from the apples, there is no need to add sugar to the mulled cider mix. Whilst I liked the sour note, this may not be to everyone’s taste. When drunk chilled, La Chouette is fruity, crisp and tart and has a lovely golden hue when poured into a glass.

Christmas in a mug! See my tree?

Christmas in a mug! See my tree?

I’m excited that La Chouette is available in 35 points of sale in Hong Kong (bars, restaurants, delis) as it means that I can now enjoy a pure apple juice cider without any of the additives, as well as make mulled cider whenever I feel like! You can find your nearest shop on their website: http://www.lachouettecider.com/en/ and also learn about the history of French Cider if you want to impress people with your knowledge!

Merci Beaucoup La Chouette pour la cidre!


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Homegrown Foods IV

Last two recipes from my Homegrown Foods marathon! Both are really simple, and you probably don’t even need to see my recipes to do them, especially the strawberry fruit salad! But here they are anyway:

Kai Lan with oyster sauce

(Sorry for bad photo- my presentation wasn’t exactly brilliant! But it’s the taste that counts!)

Serves 4
Ingredients
200 grams of medium sized Kai-lan

Sauce:

1 small, thinly sliced shallot (if you have or can find)
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Small pinch of salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of sesame oil
2 tablespoons of oyster sauce

Preparation

  1. Wash and soak whole leavy Kailan vegetables in lightly salted water for 15 minutes. Boil a medium pot of water over high flame. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of sugar. Blanch Kailan in the boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes. Drain on a strainer and place on a serving dish.
  2. Heat wok with vegetable oil on medium heat, stir-fry shallot and garlic till fragrant and browned. Reduce heat to low fire when shallot and garlic are lightly browned to allow standing time. Sprinkle salt and pepper, followed by light soy sauce.
  3. Heat off and immediately pour onto the vegetables. Drizzle the sesame oil and oyster sauce. Serve.

Strawberry fruit salad

Ingredients:

Handful of strawberries

1 Granny Smith apple

1 orange

1 medium banana

Preparation:

  1.  Slice the apple and banana into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.
  2. Peel the orange, separate into segments, deseed and cut the sections into bite-sized pieces into the bowl.
  3. Remove the stems from the strawberries and slice them into the bowl.
  4. Mix, cover and store in the fridge or serve immediately.


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Homegrown Foods III- Two wholesome recipes

And so the recipes continue, and today I’m posting up this awesome chunky potato soup recipe, which is meant to serve 2-3 people, but I ended up eating the entire pot to myself in one sitting. Whoops.

Surprisingly easy to do and extremely satisfying to have on a cold, rainy day.

Chunky Potato Soup

Cook Time: 25 Min/ Ready In: 30 Min

Ingredients

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese/ Swiss cheese

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, onion, carrot, celery and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender; lightly mash.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter; stir in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir into potato mixture. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add parsley, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat; stir in cheese until melted.

The next recipe can be whipped up in a dash, it’s healthy and filling because of the pears, and who doesn’t like a bit of mozzarella now and then? 🙂

Pear, feta and romaine lettuce salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2 head Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1 Anjou pear, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup lemon and olive oil dressing
  • Handful of roasted, unsalted almonds

Directions

  1. Place the lettuce into a salad bowl, shred the mozzarella cheese on top, and add a layer of Anjou pears.
  2. Mix gently and sprinkle the almonds on top.
  3. Drizzle with lemon and olive oil dressing.


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Veggie side dish delight- Homegrown Foods II

Continuing the Homegrown Foods recipe challenge, here are two veggie side dishes you can do!

Be careful when you’re grating the beetroot- I wore gloves to prevent horrendous purple staining, and wear clothes you don’t mind getting stained, as the stuff flies everywhere! Or maybe I was just a numpty when I was grating 😛

Beetroot and cabbage coleslaw

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill (if available)
  • 1 large beetroot, grated
  • 1/2 large cabbage sliced thinly
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  • Whisk yogurt, lemon juice, and dill in a medium bowl. Add beets and carrot and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The following green bean recipe was amazing if I may toot my own horn. I honestly didn’t expect it to turn out as deliciously as it did. The key is the butter and generous seasoning!

Green beans with cherry tomatoes

 

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 cups cherry tomato halves

Preparation

  • Place beans and water in a large saucepan. Cover, and bring to a boil. Set heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain off water, and set aside.
  • Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in and lightly fry garlic, then add sugar, salt, pepper and basil. Add tomatoes, and cook stirring gently just until soft. Pour the tomato mixture over the green beans, and toss gently to blend.


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Homegrown Foods- Recipe madness!

I’m a bit of a slap-dash, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of cook. I’m the sort of person who out of desperation and starvation, will try to make a meal out of the meagre contents of my fridge and store cupboard, and pray that the ingredients somehow work together so I can declare it a work of genius. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cooking and baking, but I’m not a fan of slaving over the stove or following recipes, so when I was asked to come up with some recipes for a Homegrown Foods/ Sassy collaboration, I was slightly panicked.Homegrown Foods is a company that delivers fresh organic produce that have been grown on farms in the New Territories and across into China – namely vegetables and fruit, to anyone in Hong Kong. You can build your own box of veg to be delivered or simply order a pre-bundled basket of the season’s picks. It’s all very handy and convenient, especially for the harried professional. Prices start at around $200 for a 2-2.5kg box and you can have them deliver on a regular basis too.

When I received my lovely box of organic goodness, I found the following inside:

Multi-colour carrots, Cabbage, Beetroot, Multi-colour cherry tomatoes, Potatoes, Romaine lettuce, Strawberries, Kai lan, Green beans, Choi sum, Large tomatoes.

Bear in mind that as the produce is organic, they are at their optimum freshness when you get them, so I recommend getting through your veggies asap before they spoil, as they don’t keep long!

The first recipe I’m going to post is the chicken and carrot stew which was put up on the Sassy Mama website. You can of course modify to your liking- you can substitute the evaporated milk for full fat cream if you like, or use other vegetables. Here, I used the multi-colour carrots from Homegrown Foods.

Chicken and carrot stewIngredients

  • 2 cups 1/4-inch-thick rounds multi-colour carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced celery
  • 1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preparation

  • Cook carrots in large saucepan of boiling salted water 3 minutes. Add celery to pan with carrots and cook until carrots are tender, about 3 minutes longer. Drain; set aside.
  • Sprinkle chicken with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk flour, thyme, and paprika in medium bowl. Toss chicken in flour mixture. Heat oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium- high heat. Add chicken to skillet and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Add wine; boil until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Scatter carrots and celery over chicken. Add broth, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add evaporated milk and mustard. Stir until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Season sauce to taste with sea salt and pepper. Transfer to large shallow bowl. Scatter parsley over and garnish with thyme sprigs.
  • Serve with mixed grain rice, pasta or potatoes.