Weekend Cooking: Black Forest Cake

My husband’s birthday is on Halloween so it’s always a tricky thing to celebrate. The day itself is difficult as there’s so much going on – school parade, class parties and of course trick or treating! And this year with Halloween falling on a Wednesday, it seemed too early to celebrate on the weekend before (and too late the weekend after). So we made do with the day before.

The husband’s favourite cake is Black Forest and I’ve been making it for the past few years. When I started out it was a bit of a disaster but I think this year I’ve gotten it almost right – well except for my cake decorating skills. I really had a tough time putting those chocolate shavings on nicely!

Black Forest Cake

Last year I used the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen but felt that the sponge cake wasn’t chocolatey enough and a bit too finicky for my liking – it uses a lot of eggs and has to be baked immediately or it starts to deflate.

When I made my son’s birthday cake earlier this year, a chocolate raspberry cake, I used this great chocolate cake recipe from King Arthur Flour which has a great chocolatey taste and texture – it uses yogurt/buttermilk and boiling water and somehow that seems to make for a great moist cake.

Black forest cake in the making

So I used that same great chocolate cake recipe for the Black Forest cake and it turned out to be the right choice.

I use the jar of sour cherries from Trader Joe’s, cutting each cherry in half and saving the juice, to which I added some sugar and boiled down a bit to make a syrup. The syrup is then brushed onto each layer of cake to add to the flavour and moisture of the cake.

Then it’s topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream – I used 3 1/2 cups of heavy cream to 1/3 cup of powdered sugar and you could add a splash of kirsch if you want.

And place some of the halved cherries on top of the cream, making sure to spread them out but not to put too many pieces. Keep going with the layers until you reach the top layer which should just have a layer of whipped cream.

I then did a quick crumb coat of a thin layer of whipped cream on the sides, stuck it in the freezer for 20-30 minutes and then finished off piling on the rest of the cream on the top and the side.

For the chocolate shavings, I just used a vegetable peeler on a bar of dark chocolate. And somehow try to pat them onto the side of the cake and sprinkle some on the top.

And that was my Black Forest Cake of 2018!

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Weekend Cooking: How to hotpot

Hotpot has become a family favourite. We don’t really do hotpot that much in Singapore where it is far too hot for hotpot but the cool winters of California are great for it.

So it has become our own little tradition to do hotpot for Chinese New Year Eve (known as reunion dinner or tuanyuanfan 团圆饭) and we do hotpot on Thanksgiving too.

Hotpot is an easy meal for a crowd, provided you have enough utensils and hotpots!

And you preferably need to have access to an Asian supermarket. But if there’s none nearby, you can make do with some other ingredients.


We use a portable gas stove and this fun dual hotpot. Those ladles with little holes in them are great for picking out just your ingredients. And we set out regular soup ladles too. Extra long chopsticks are for cooking the meat with.

But here are my typical hotpot ingredients.


I make two broths in our dual hotpot. One is a vegetable stock made with carrots, celery and whatever else I might have like corn if it’s fresh. And the other is an instant one with dashi powder (or you could make a dashi stock with bonito flakes and konbu) and miso.


I usually buy Napa cabbage and chop that up. Bokchoy would be great too. A more traditional leafy vegetable is tongho but it’s slightly bitter. This year I also added baby spinach that I had in my fridge.

We love the little bunashimeiji (beech mushrooms). There’s also shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms, which are all found at my local Asian supermarket.


While I do most of the hotpot shopping at the Chinese or Vietnamese supermarkets, we prefer the meat from Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa. It’s a bit of a drive but it’s definitely so much more flavourful and tender. Asian supermarkets usually have thinly sliced meat (beef or pork) for hotpot. But you could always buy a nice piece of meat, freeze it for a bit to firm it up, then slice it really thin yourself.


Our favourites are fish tofu, fishballs and cuttlefish balls. They’re springy and fun to eat and cook really quickly. My husband and kids like imitation crabsticks which need just like 30 seconds to warm up in the broth.

Other ingredients may include dumplings, tofu puffs, vermicelli or udon, konyaku, quail eggs and more.

Don’t forget your dipping sauces like peanut sauce, chili sauce or sesame sauce. We also like the Taiwanese shacha sauce which is made from garlic, shallots, chilis, dried shrimp.

Get that gas stove going, the broth boiling, then pick your favourite foods and dunk them in! Happy hotpot-ing.



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#WeekendCooking Eating Singapore: Whitegrass at Chijmes

This is the beautifully preserved Chijmes in Singapore. It was formerly the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and used as a Catholic convent and convent quarters for 132 years and later a school for girls. Today it holds many restaurants, cafes and bars, and Whitegrass is one of them.

Whitegrass is a modern Australian restaurant that received its first Michelin Star in 2017. It is chef-owner Sam Aisbett’s first venture. Aisbett formerly worked for

We were seated in this lovely round room, most of the other tables were two-tops, and there was a bigger round table that had five diners.

We began with some light snacks. The little crab was crunchy and so good. A pea tart was refreshing. And those little crackers were topped with this amazingly light shavings of cheese.

Interestingly, it was Chef Aisbett who brought out the dish and explained it to us. He would do that for the first few courses of our meal.

The bread was presented with some lardo (melts in your mouth), unsalted butter and some sea salt flakes

A very tomato-y dish! The teapot is filled with some ‘tomato tea’ which you get to pour over.

And we begin with the first course. And it is such a gorgeous one. The flower on top is made of alternating circles of roasted white beetroot (which are soft) and pickled white beetroot (which are a little crunchy), then in the middle, slices of hamachi. There is more hamachi at the bottom. It was beautiful and bursting with flavour and texture.

Another one not on the menu was this “egg fried rice”. It was the most luxurious ‘fried rice’ ever with such beautiful flavours and that fun texture from the egg white “bubbles” on top.



I could never imagine that octopus would be like this. I’ve had grilled octopus as well as sashimi octopus and the texture of those tend to be a bit chewy. Here the octopus was poached and it was so soft and gentle. The milk-soaked almonds on top added that much needed crunch as did the few suckers (is that what they’re called?) that seem to have been grilled. A delicate and yet crunchy dish that was really surprising.

My main course was described as Japanese sweetfish. There were three pieces of the fish itself. Very tender but with a great char on the skin. And a whole baby fish deep fried on top. Lovely fresh peas and pea shoots and a gorgeous umami-filled broth. Couldn’t get enough of it!

The husband’s steak came with a chocolate and buah keluak puree. Buah keluak is a strange fruit found in Southeast Asia and found mostly in Peranakan-style cooking. The fruit and seeds itself are poisonous unless prepared properly – it has to be boiled and fermented in ash, usually for more than a month!

There was a choice of two desserts, so naturally we got one each. I volunteered to take the jackfruit and coconut one, although I have never liked jackfruit – the other choice was a chocolate one and I’ve learnt that during a fine dining meal like this one, the chocolate choice tends to be the less exciting one. So this chocoholic a little reluctantly gave up the chocolate choice!

I was surprised by my dessert. It was a coconut meringue under those shards of jackfruit and sugar, and under the meringue was a jackfruit ice cream and a ginger cake. The jackfruit didn’t overwhelm the dish as I was expecting it to be. If all jackfruit were presented like this, I would eat far more of the fruit! Ultimately though, I felt that the dessert was a bit too sweet for me, especially with those sugar coated almonds on top.


This was the husband’s dessert, topped with a sherry ice-cream. It was a combination of chocolate, cherries, nougat and hazelnuts. Nice flavour but it felt, well, a safe choice.



And of course we weren’t done yet! There were still some petit fours. The chocolate-covered things were like Tunnock’s teacakes, except that there was a bit of raspberry inside. But I especially liked the soursop balls. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. They were so light and a little like sorbet, yet not icy at all.



A fun way to the end the meal. I loved that the fortune cookies were spiced.

What I loved most about this meal was both the very Asian influenced flavors as well as the way the chef was very careful about balancing textures throughout the meal. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit back to Singapore – and I would have to say, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten in Singapore. The chef and his team definitely deserved the one Michelin star. The service was excellent – friendly, not stuffy at all. The food was brilliant and so refreshing, and I really was very full at the end. A true delight.


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Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Strawberry Cake

My older boy turned six on Friday and he had asked for a chocolate strawberry cake.

And the number of recipes online I pored over, trying to find the right recipe. There was this one from Two Peas and their Pod that looked good but didn’t sound quite so right. It was more chocolate than strawberry, I thought. Nothing wrong there but I was looking for a cake with more strawberry frosting. Also the cake layers sounded a bit heavy. I was looking for something far lighter, kind of like a Japanese style or Asian bakery style cake, which usually has sponge-like cake layers.

After quite a few days lost in that Internet search blackhole, I had a sudden thought – last year I had made a pretty good Black Forest cake for the husband’s birthday and the cake layers were easy enough and also nice and light.


I returned to the original recipe which was from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen.

Chocolate cake

9 large eggs, room temp
1 cup granulated sugar (I used slightly less than a cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used cake flour, weighing out 120g which is what 1 cup of flour is equivalent to)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder)
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp)

Preheat oven to 350F /180C

Beat the eggs with the whisk attachment for 1 min on high. With the mixer on, gradually add the sugar and continue beating on high speed for 8 min. It will be thick and fluffy.
Whisk together 1 cup flour and ½ cup cocoa powder and sift into batter, one-third at a time, folding with a spatula between each addition. Once all flour is in, continue to fold just until no streaks of flour remain, scraping the bottom of the bowl to get any pockets of flour; do not over-mix.
Gently fold in the vanilla essence and butter, folding as you add butter in a steady stream and scraping from the bottom. Fold just until incorporated.

Divide batter equally between two prepared 9 inch cake pans and bake in preheated 350F oven 20-25 minutes. It’s important to put it in the oven as soon as possible as the batter may deflate
Let cool in pans for 10 min then run a thin edged spatula around edges to loosen cake. Transfer to a wire rack and remove parchment backing.

When completely cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the cake into layers.

Strawberry frosting (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

I loved this frosting – it uses freeze-dried strawberries (Trader Joe’s always has them, sometimes places like Sprouts do too) and so you don’t have to fuss with fresh strawberries. I had read some comments on other frosting that use fresh strawberries that it can be too watery. So this solves that problem by using freeze-dried strawberries. And yes, they still taste like strawberries. However, I found that the frosting was just too sweet (as a lot of things in the US are for me), so I may reduce the sugar more next time. 

1 cup (10-12g) freeze-dried strawberries

1 cup (235g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar (when making this again, I will cut down the sugar further. I had reduced it to 400g but I think I may try another 25g-50g less)

3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream (I used about 4 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salt, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp salt but I would add more, about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp)

Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a powdery crumb. You should have around 1/2 cup. Set aside. No blender or food processor? Then do what I did and place the strawberries in a ziplock and give them plenty of good whacks with a rolling pin. 

In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, strawberry powder, cream, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Taste. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I would recommend more than a pinch – consider at least 1 tsp of salt)

To decorate

This cake was to have four layers. And essentially it was a cake – frosting – sliced fresh strawberries (repeat) kind of cake. Ending with whole strawberries on the top of the cake!

The birthday boy had the biggest smile on his face when he saw the cake. And that made all the hard work worth it!


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend eating: Din Tai Fung in San Jose

Din Tai Fung opened a branch in the Bay Area last year and after ridiculous lines, they decided to make it reservation-only except for counter seating. And even today, when it’s been open for more than six months, a weekend seating still requires booking a month in advance. Luckily it’s easy to do on Yelp. It does require a credit card number but they won’t charge you unless you don’t turn up.

In case you’ve not heard of Din Tai Fung, they originated in Taiwan. The founder Yang Bingyi was born in China and moved to Taiwan where he worked at a cooking oil shop. Business slowed when tinned cooking oil became more common so he and his wife started selling xiaolongbao and it became so popular that they eventually turned it into a xiaolongbao restaurant. The first Singapore branch (franchised by BreadTalk Group) opened in 2003. And there are now 19 locations in Singapore! In comparison, there are 4 in LA, 1 in Orange County, 1 in the SF Bay Area, 2 in Seattle. 

And at the restaurants, you get to see the dumpling making in action. It is not easy – they make about 20 a minute!
We lucked out on a great time slot on Saturday at 11.15, were promptly seated and made sure to order our favourites like the xiaolongbao, pork chop fried rice, soy noodles and taro xiaolongbao. Also ordered some sliced chicken noodles for the 3yo who declared he  wanted rice and noodles. There are plenty of Din Tai Fungs all around Singapore but I think there may be different items on the menu here in California like the stirfried rice cakes. Before this one in Bay Area opened, we had previously been to the ones in Glendale and Orange County down in Southern California. Both require lots of patience. I always remember that we had arrived at the Glendale outlet around 2 or 3 something on a weekend and still had to wait 45 minutes for a table.

So I kind of like the reservation system in the Santa Clara branch. One just has to remember to go online a month in advance, that’s all! 😛

The tofu noodles – I didn’t like this as much as I usually do at other places. Most of the tofu noodles I’ve eaten are sliced thin, but these seem to have been extruded, probably to look more like noodles, but I feel like its too soft this way.

The xiaolongbao were light and flavorful. We sometimes order xlb at another Shanghainese restaurant we eat at, and their version is quite good too but definitely not as thin as this one.

Pork chop fried rice. The fried rice at DTF is always good and I love the high egg to rice ratio. We ended up bringing half of it home and the 3yo requested it for his dinner.

The steamer basket behind is of the pork and shrimp siu mai. I had always wondered about their siu mai which is also available in Singapore but now that I’ve tried it, I don’t think I’ll order it again. It’s like a xlb at the bottom and the skin stretched up to crown the shrimp. But the skin in the middle is thicker, possibly to give it more support to the dumpling, so it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.

We really enjoyed the sliced chicken noodle soup, which was simple but really delicious, well-cooked noodles and nice and soft chicken and lots of vegetables like carrots, bok choy and sliced bamboo shoots. Wish I had remembered to take a photo of it!

The three-year-old’s favourite part of the meal was probably the lychee slush.

And the five-year-old’s was the taro xiaolongbao. The taro is sweetened and mashed and wrapped in the dumpling dough and steamed. So it’s a sweet purpley and slightly sticky xiaolongbao. He probably ate five of them!

As we were nearly done with the meal, the husband wondered, should we just make another reservation now for next month? But of course when I checked the Yelp reservations, the only time slots for Saturday – FOUR weeks from now – was 1015 and 245. And similar odd times for the Sunday! I’ve made a note on my phone’s calendar to remind myself to check next week!



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: What I ate at Singapore Day

The day we had been waiting for finally arrived! It was the first ever Singapore Day to be held on the west coast!

Singapore Day has been held once a year in a different city since 2007. It’s been held in the US twice but always in New York City (it’s also been in Australia, China, London). So we’ve never had the chance to go to one. It’s organized by the Overseas Singaporean Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office. The Singapore consulate does organize a yearly event but nothing on this scale. And scale it was. They flew in not just entertainers, hosts, singers, musical acts but also hawkers who are known for their Singapore food. Oh boy what a treat!!! And even the Deputy Prime Minister and some other ministers joined in the fun.

It was held at Pier 70 in San Francisco, and it was such an odd place for an event celebrating Singapore, a country known for its strict rules,  well-manicured landscapes and clean streets. This place was an old warehouse with a big outdoor area where the hawkers were set up.

And wow the variety they provided! Laksa, nasi lemak, chicken rice, carrot cake, Hokkien mee, satay, roti prata, BBQ sambal stingray, desserts like pulot hitam and cheng tng and even Singapore-style coffee!

My kids loved the satay and the chicken rice. What we call “carrot cake” is actual a steamed white radish ‘cake’ then chopped up and fried with eggs and preserved radish. This is the ‘white’ version. The ‘black’ version has sweet black soy sauce added so it is sweet and salty.

The two desserts – pulot hitam or black glutinous rice cooked down and served with coconut milk on the left; cheng tng or a ‘cooling soup’ on the right with dried longan, gingko and barley inside.

Singapore-style coffee. There are lots of ways to order coffee in Singapore, here’s an infographic! Essentially if you order ‘Kopi’ you get condensed milk in it. ‘kopi o’ is black coffee and ‘kopi si’ is with evaporated milk instead of condensed. If you want tea, you order ‘teh’ with the same ending sounds as below.



The uncle making the roti prata looked like he was having fun. When it was almost my turn he said, “where’s the cameras? You ready?” Then started flipping his prata!






Of course there was entertainment and they were very fun, although naturally the jokes were very Singapore-centric. It was just a fun weekend hanging out with other Singaporeans in the Bay Area (and beyond – some even flew in from Canada, Seattle, Texas etc). And it made everyone think of home. Which is obviously the point that the Overseas Singaporean Unit is trying to put across. So mission accomplished!


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Weekend Cooking: A two Michelin-starred meal in Singapore

I keep meaning to write a post about what we ate in Singapore. I mean to talk about all my favourite local foods that I gobbled up, but I think I will write that in another post. Instead, here’s a post about some fine dining dinners that I enjoyed when we were there for two weeks in July.

We happened to be in Singapore during the launch of the country’s first ever Michelin guide. Two hawker stalls, one selling soy sauce chicken rice and noodles, the other selling pork noodles (bah chor mee), received one Michelin star each! Of course these days one has to queue for several hours just to get a plate of Michelin-starred noodles. But hey, I guess nowhere else can you say that you had a Michelin-starred meal for less than US$5!

The Husband and I had planned a little couple time, a long-awaited get away at a local hotel in Singapore. One of his relatives is the general manager there, so he upgraded us to a lovely suite with its own private hot tub outside on the balcony. It was good to get away from the kids, with the added plus of free babysitting from both sets of grandparents!

Before we flew to Singapore, the Husband said, pick a restaurant! I had mulled over the choices. Singapore is full of good places to eat at. Should I pick that hot new restaurant in the National Gallery, Odette? Or was that just too trendy for me? In the end, that was decided as it was impossible to get a table! Even for weekday lunch.

So we went to Les Amis, which has been around since 1994, and supposedly the first independent fine-dining establishment in Singapore.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening, and we were the first table to be seated on the ground floor. A private function seemed to be going upstairs as the hostess brought quite a few people up, some dressed surprisingly casual, then again, this is Singapore. And this fine dining establishment didn’t require a jacket – the Husband had made sure to ask when he called to reserve a table.

The maître d’ was very pleasant and explained the menu to us. The sommelier was surprisingly young (the legal drinking age in Singapore is 18 and part of me wanted to ask if he was that!), and so was one of the waitresses, who brought us some light bites to savor while we perused the menu.

There were several prix-fixe menus to choose from, but we went for the six course menu. I was enticed by the lamb chops and the husband by the steak (which was the only course in which there were choices). So that was that. We decided to share a half-bottle of pinot noir, as we aren’t big drinkers.

I wish I had taken a photo of the bread basket. They had a lovely teeny tiny baguette, a really delicious tomato bread and some others that I cannot remember now, but oh, that French butter!

Hmm can’t remember exactly what this was. A cold delicate jelly-like dish with some thing sliced asparagus and some roe on top.

An intriguing dish of lobster puree, topped with what was kinda like spaghetti on top. And oh, those truffle slices!


The husband wasn’t fond of this, but I liked it. A kind of artichoke salad

But he really was impressed by this one, salmon done two ways. He said that he was stunned by how soft and moist the cooked salmon was. Before tasting the dish, I had assumed that we both would prefer the raw version of the salmon as we are both sashimi lovers, but I think the delicate cooked version won us over.

And those lamb chops! They were just finger-licking good. The waiter thoughtfully placed a wet towel by my side and I gleefully picked up the chops. Perhaps the best lamb chops I’ve ever had!

A lovely palate cleanser sitting in some fortified wine. 

I am a chocolate person. I am the kind of person who immediately steers towards the chocolate desert. So I was just thoroughly surprised and pleased by this upside down apricot souffle, which, had I been given a choice, I would never have picked. It was light, refreshing, and had several different textures, from the crispy noodle-like nest at the bottom, the grilled apricot, the souffle and the cake that it was sitting on.

It was the perfect end to the meal. But then came the mignardises, a lovely pineapple tart, canele and chocolate.

And more cookies to bring home.

The maître d’ stopped by to ask how our dinner was and asked if we would like to have a look at their wine cellar. The sommelier was happy to have us look around this pebbled cellar (as in, pebbles instead of a floor, apparently to have it feel like a vineyard!) and showed us some of their really expensive (and I mean six figure-expensive) wines, as well as some of their regulars’ private shelves of wines and wine menus. As he ushered us to the door, he remarked that we were smart to come in and eat there before the Michelin announcement (and I’m presuming, crowds and possible price increase!).

And of course, a few days later, it was announced that Les Amis received two Michelin stars. I think it was well deserved. It was an expensive meal but we were treated so very well, the food was exceptional and just delightful. And we had a wonderful time!

Les Amis Singapore
1 Scotts Road,
#01-16 Shaw Centre,
Singapore 228208
(65) 6733-2225

If you’re interested in the rest of the restaurants that made the rest of the Michelin Guide Singapore, check it out here

And here is what the food critic of Singapore’s main newspaper had to say about it

As well as some alternatives for places to eat in Singapore



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs