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Agar-Agar Agaration

In Recipes, Singaporean on March 30, 2010 at 12:36 am

Agar-Agar is one of my favourite desserts to make for the occasional international gathering because it’s easy and versatile, and also because I love being entertained by the disturbed responses it always elicits, especially from biology students. Despite that, any initial apprehension always vanishes instantly with the first piece of these refreshing stiff jellies. It’s simply not possible not to like these thingies!

Making agar-agar is awfully simple if you’re able to get your hands on one of these packets of agar-agar powder. It’s even got clear pictorial descriptions on how to make your own dessert (package says: dissolve 1 packet of powder in 1L water and add 250g sugar, bring to boil and pour into moulds to cool). Since I never ever have colourings or flavourings with me, I prefer to grab a can of fruit from the supermarket and use its syrup as the flavouring, then use agaration (*Singlish for estimation) with the sugar and water to get the stiffness and sweetness I want. I personally think that 1L of water makes a jelly that is way too stiff, hence I usually put up to 1.25L of liquid for these 12g packets of powder. At the same time that makes 25% more agar. Yay. And I also like to throw in some fresh kiwi / pineapple… which takes up even more volume. Yayyyy.

This time that I made agar-agar, I had with me a couple of star- and heart-shaped ice trays from Ikea, which I used as moulds for the dessert. The rest of it, I poured into a large glass bowl, which can then be inverted to get a pretty agar-agar cake like this one that I made during Christmas. I first coated the bowl with a very thin layer of agar solution, arranged the fruits, then poured the rest of the solution with the cut fruits into the bowl and left it in the refrigerator to cool.

Fruity Agar-Agar Recipe

  • 12g packet of Swallow Globe Brand agar-agar powder
  • Syrup of one can of fruit (peach, fruit cocktail or pineapple have always worked wonderfully), topped up to 1.25L in volume
  • Cut fruits into chunks, include other fresh soft fruits if desired
  • Sugar to taste
  1. Put agar-agar powder, sweet syrup solution and cut fruits in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Add sugar to taste
  3. Transfer to a mould / huge bowl, chill
  4. Unmould before serving!

Recipe alternatives:

  1. Layered agar-agar with coconut milk works great as well, especially with pineapple…mmmm! You might want to start with 750ml total volume of water and syrup, bring to a boil, then divide into two equal portions. To one portion add additional 250ml water, to the other add 250ml coconut milk. Pour one layer into the container and chill in the freezer. When the surface is just beginning to set, carefully pour the other layer over it and chill in refrigerator. If surface is too set, use a fork and scrape the surface before pouring the second layer, otherwise it wouldn’t stick!
  2. Make some almond jelly by using 500ml milk + 750ml water / syrup + sugar to dissolve the agar. Chill set, and serve with fruit cocktail 🙂

Easy Peasy Pea Soup

In Recipes, Western on March 29, 2010 at 9:35 am

I must admit that for the 6 months I spent in the Netherlands, I never really took to having pea soup a.k.a ‘snert‘. That’s not because I don’t like it, but rather because I don’t really know it and friends are telling me ‘you’ve really got try it in the winter’ instead of ‘you’ve really got to try it now’. Well, specifying an undefined time frame like ‘winter’ (and the weather in the West went bonkers this year) only feeds my huge tendencies of procrastination, and I ended up waiting and waiting and waiting.… until I left the Netherlands, and until the first break of spring.

Being Asian, I’m definitely more accustomed to clear soups with loads of chunky ingredients tangled in a network of slick noodles. Western soups never really offered the same oomph factor for me, but since my FST (Food Science and Technology) project group’s soup new food product development company assignment in 2008, I’ve started to be a lot more open about pureed soups. Just to put things into perspective about how Asians like these types of soup, the sensory evaluation conducted on our 13 blended soups (incl. timeless favourites like pumpkin, potato, pea, beet, tomato, etc…) rated an average of 2-4 on a 9-point hedonic scale. A ‘9’ is a ‘like extremely’, a ‘5’ is a neither like nor dislike’ and a ‘1’ is a dislike extremely.

A few days ago a recipe for easy pea soup caught my eye and I decided to cook it to accompany my final surviving pretzel. What caught my eye was that the key ingredients of the recipe were just ‘peas’ and ‘vegetable stock’. Easy and cheap enough for a cash-strapped student. Since my course in molecular gastronomy, I’ve been thinking of ingredients in two categories: #1 the ones that makes the dish the dish, and #2 the ones that tweaks it to suit our personal tastes. I also have a convenient hand-held blender in my kitchen… so really, there was nothing stopping me from making this simple tasty soup. 🙂

The recipe inspiration was from Nigella Lawson’s Cheap Healthy and Good site, but I have made it to suit my own tastes i.e. not too thick, needs some chunks, invisible oil, and spicyyy oh yeahhh. 🙂 Also didn’t have cheese or cream or yoghurt on me… I like to work with the ingredients that I already have.

Easy Peasy Pea Soup Recipe

  • 1.5 cups of frozen peas
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1/2 – 1 vegetable stock cube (easier to put less and adjust to taste with salt)
  • 1 large carrot, diced.
  • 1 onion and 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 slice of ham, chopped into bits
  • 1 chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli) or chilli powder , 1 bay leaf
  • dash of pepper, sprinkle of thyme
  1. In saucepan, saute the ham with the garlic and onion. The fat from the ham is quite sufficient for me. Sure, you can use any vegetable oil for a vegetarian option!
  2. Add water / vegetable stock when no.1 is fragrant.
  3. Throw in the bay leaf, carrots, peas and boil till soft (about 10-15min).
  4. Scoop out the bay leaf and half of the carrots out (or leave the carrots in), then immersed the blender in the soup and blend till smooth.
  5. Add the carrots back in, flavour with chilli, pepper and thyme to taste!

Recipe suggestions: I can imagine celery / potato / leeks tasting nice in there, or replace the bay leaf / thyme with some mint / parsley / marjoram / coriander. Take a sniff of whatever you have in the kitchen and have fun experimenting! Do adjust the thickness of the soup by varying the proportion of vegetable stock to peas.

FAB – Soft German Pretzels

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, German, Recipes on March 29, 2010 at 1:48 am

Friday Afternoon Baking (FAB) is my new venture into regular baking. I love to bake goodies for special occasions such as festive seasons (Chinese New Year and Christmas), as well as for parties and birthdays. But why should I wait for such occasions in order to bake? Loving to bake IS good enough reason to get myself away from boring lecture notes and whip up some yummylicious goodies. My theme for FAB is the search for quick and easy recipes with affordable common ingredients that I can whip up in a jiffy and give away to friends weekly without burning a hole in the pocket.

I first learnt about pretzels through Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel chain that is ever so ubiquitous in Singapore. In fact, Auntie Anne’s is pretty much synonymous with pretzels to almost any Singaporean. I’ve tried it once but never quite liked it because the one I had was soaked in an incredibly soggy amount of fat. Never really wanted another pretzel since then (in 2003 maybe?) until I had the fresh soft pretzels (mit Weißwurst und süßer Senf ) in Baden-Württemburg when I was there for a music festival in October 2009. The roasty flavour of the crust, with its soft interior and specks of saltiness was absolutely addictive. I was instantly hooked and each time I pop over to Germany (I was studying in Wageningen, NL for 6 months before Copenhagen), I’d always make it a point to grab a bag of these ‘steering wheels’.

Pretzels are pretty simple to make, they’re affordable and they make a great breakfast or mid morning / afternoon snack. They are also particularly interesting, from the perspective of a food scientist. If you’ve had any hint of a chemistry education, you might have heard of Maillard browning — the non-enzymatic browning reaction that makes our lovely roast chicken brown and bursting with caramelic roasty aromas. The Maillard reaction is a very complex one, involving a cascade of reactions that begins with sugar and protein (I shan’t go into details of Schiff base formation)… but one interesting fact is that this reaction is promoted by a basic (opposite of acidic) environment, enhancing the extent of browning and flavour development. This is the key to the pretzel’s beautiful dark brown crust. Check out khymos for more chemistry!

Here’s my first attempt at pretzel-making. Not exactly how it would look in a German bakery, but it tastes good, alright! Recipe was adapted from The Fresh Loaf, but I made 9 smaller pretzels instead of 6, sprinkled some poppy seeds and used yeast cakes instead of instant yeast (matter of availability). Enjoy!

Soft German Pretzel Recipe

  • Half a yeast cake (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar / malt sugar / any sugar
  • 2-3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Baking soda bath (about 2 tbsp sodium bicarbonate in about 500ml water)
  1. Disperse yeast in warm milk.
  2. Mix 2 cups of flour with salt, sugar and milk-yeast mixture.
  3. Add additional flour until combined into a soft dough. Knead until smooth (about 5 min), cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm water bath to rest for an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 220˚C while preparing to shape dough.
  5. Shaping of dough: divide dough into as many portions as you want pretzels (how big do you want your pretzel to be?), stretch into cylindrical lengths of dough (I find it easy to grab two ends and gently flick it like an elastic rope). Shape as desired.
  6. Dunk the pretzel in a simmering sodium bicarbonate bath for about 5 seconds, then transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt / sesame / spice mix / poppy seeds / cinnamon sugar / really, anything you want on your pretzel.
  7. Bake for 12-14min or until golden brown.

Saucy Sausages

In Danish, Eats on March 27, 2010 at 7:39 am

Oh divine-licious ristet hotdog, why have I only set my eyes upon you today?

For 25kr (SGD$6.30), this delicate hotdog packs a punch without making you feeling like you’ve gained a paunch. Gnomm gnomm gnomm! Good news is that these pølsevogn can be found in almost any corner of downtown Copenhagen, but if you’re a student counting in cents, you might want to grab a bag of these foot-long pølser from the Fakta supermarket and organise your own hotdog party!

How to make your own Danish hotdog:

  1. Grill / Boil the sausages
  2. Lightly toast a soft bread roll / sausage bun
  3. Place the sausage in the bun and squeeze a stripe each of mustard, ketchup and remoulade
  4. Top generously with chopped raw onions, fried shallots, and three lovely slices of gherkins
  5. On the count of 1, 2, 3 — munch in! 😛

Sauce tip: straight lines, no zigzag for the perfect balance of flavours!